|The Cold War
|Digital History ID 3401|
In February 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed his belief that world peace was nearer the grasp of statesmen than at any time in history. "It would be a great tragedy," he said, "if they, through inertia or carelessness, let it slip from their grasp. History would never forgive them if it did."
Peace did slip through their grasp. World War II was followed by a Cold War that pitted the United States and its Allies against the Soviet Union and its supporters. It was called a Cold War, but it would flare into violence in Korea and Vietnam and in many smaller conflicts. The period from 1946 to 1991 was punctuated by a series of East-West confrontations over Germany, Poland, Greece, Czechoslovakia, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and many other hot spots.
The Origins of the Cold War
In March 1946, Winston Churchill announced that "an iron curtain has descended across" Europe. On one side was the Communist bloc; on the other side were non-Communist nations.
One source of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union was the fate of Eastern Europe. The United States was committed to free and democratic elections in Eastern Europe, while the Soviet Union wanted a buffer zone of friendly countries in Eastern Europe to protect it from future attacks from the West.
Even before World War II ended, the Soviet Union had annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and parts of Czechoslovakia, Finland, Poland, and Romania. Albania established a Communist government in 1944, and Yugoslavia formed one in 1945. In 1946, the Soviet Union organized Communist governments in Bulgaria and Romania, and in Hungary and Poland in 1947. Communists took over Czechoslovakia in a coup d'etat in 1948.
Another source of East-West tension was control of nuclear weapons. In 1946, the Soviet Union rejected a U.S. proposal for an international agency to control nuclear energy production and research. The Soviets were convinced that the United States was trying to preserve its monopoly on nuclear weapons.
A third source of conflict was post-war economic development assistance. The United States refused a Soviet request for massive reconstruction loans. In response, the Soviets called for substantial reparations from Germany.
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