Cold War Origins - Conclusion




The argument here has delineated a certain U.S. horizon of expectations that permitted the Cold War to appear as a worthy, indeed vitally necessary, project to be undertaken on a massive, global scale. Roosevelt's particular framing of World War II made possible a political reorientation afterward such that Washington was able to interpret Soviet behavior as a totalitarian, fascist-like, lethal attack on the very being of the Western states and to label this attack a Cold War. The derivation, then, began with the revealed inner nature of the Soviet regime itself, which no immediate U.S. act and no negotiation or settlement could change. The Soviet Union and the communist movement were by definition a Cold War. Indeed, the central reason there was not an outright open war on the West was that the latter happened still to be stronger than the Soviet Union. The response to this mortal challenge was first to maintain and preferably increase one's massive preponderance of strength so as to keep Moscow from launching such an open attack and, second, to fight the already existing Cold War to the lethal end, an end that, logically, could only come about when the Soviet regime ceased to be or surrendered unconditionally.

This configuration or outlook was uniquely "American." The Cold War would not have happened had Britain been the overwhelmingly superior Western power. The infamous "percentage deal" between Stalin and Winston Churchill in October 1944 about their respective future influence in eastern Europe, unthinkable in any properly American context, is enough to illustrate the difference. The Soviet view, meanwhile, was conceptually and geopolitically defensive. Launching a Cold War made no sense whatsoever for Moscow and was never projected before it became a reality. When it did, the Soviet interpretation could only place it within the old antifascist frame and the heroic narrative about the Great Patriotic War. Thus, Moscow saw the Cold War as fascist-like aggression to destroy the progressive achievements of the Soviet Union and the progressive camp. At first sight this seems to be a mirror image of the U.S. position. The crucial difference lies in the logic of the response: defensive coalition politics for relative gains, the strategic object always being prevention of exacerbated forms of aggression, to be achieved by making it politically impossible for the other side not to come to terms. Such a process of recognition would then secure the foundations for future Soviet successes, presumably in the interest of everyone. Negotiations and deals in the traditional sense of Lippmann's diplomacy were at the center of this strategy of recognition. Détente, not surprisingly, would be its apotheosis.

If the manner in which Roosevelt's matrix was transposed in the United States after the war was the pivotal condition of possibility for the Cold War, it was not necessarily the ultimate "cause." A war, even a virtual Cold War, is not supposed to be a good thing, and so gives rise to questions of who is to blame for starting it, the perennial question of "war guilt." As there is no agreement on what the Cold War is or was and no agreement on when it started or ended, there can be no agreement on who began it. The present account has assumed that the question of war guilt is less interesting than the question of emergence. The decisive element in that regard was the shifting view of the United States as to the nature of the Soviet regime, occasioned by the string of events in 1945–1947 that undermined existing ideas of cooperation and served to confirm the new understanding of relentless, totalitarian antagonism. One might think this a justified view or one might think that the actual result was good for the United States and the interests of history, even if the analysis happened to be wrong. The Cold War was in any case a deeply "American" project.

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