Cold War: The Conflict Between the Two Superpowers

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To try place blame on someone is as human as breathing. We always tend to look for a specific cause to any sort of problem, be it in everyday life, historical events, or politics. However, trying to assign the moral responsibility of an event as complex as the Cold War is no easy task; in fact, this issue has historically triggered several discrepancies. The orthodox (or traditionalist) historical point of view placed all the fault on Stalin’s expansionist ambitions. Later on, the revisionist current leaned on towards the other side, blaming the US’ commercial and capitalistic goals. Finally the post-revisionist wave saw historians like John Gaddis maintain that ‘neither side can bear sole responsibility for the onset of the Cold War’ (The United States and the origins of the Cold War). This new historical opinion tried to leave culpability aside in order to develop an objective analysis of events. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of its archives however, several historians now tend to place blame on the Soviet Union (aligning more often than not with the orthodox point of view), a claim which happens to be supported with hard proof. In spite of all the information made public after 1991, it is impossible to negate the importance that preexisting circumstances played in the outbreak of the cold war. For instance, World War II itself, the clashing nature of communism and capitalism, or distrust, paved the way for an imminent conflict. As detailed throughout the essay, it is impossible to objectively assign blame of any sort to a conflict which was in itself predestined to occur.

The term “Cold War” was coined after the end of World War II by George Orwell, who first used it to in the essay You and the Atomic Bomb. After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Orwell warned of a ‘peace that is no peace’. To live in a world under the constant threat of nuclear war meant to live in a permanent state of war, a Cold War. Orwell could not have been more right. World War II “had been won by a coalition whose principal members were already at war—ideologically and geopolitically if not militarily— with one another” (John Gaddis, The Cold war, A new History). Within such coalition, the Anglo-American relationship with the Soviet Union had followed a “security dilemma” pattern (According to John Gaddis’ definition of such pattern given in The Cold War, A new History, this occurs “when one state acts to make itself safer, but in doing so diminishes the security of one or more other states, which in turn try to repair the damage through measures that diminish the security of the first state”) all throughout their alliance, which added to a growing sense of insecurity and distrust in all three countries. This already established sense of distrust meant that “each crisis that arose fed the next one, with the result that a divided

Europe became a reality” (John Gaddis, The cold War, A new History). In addition to this, the joint casualties of American and British soldiers amounted for less than 700,000, while the Soviets on the other hand lost “some 27 million citizens as a direct result of the war” (John Gaddis, The Cold war, A new History). This disproportionate burden (mainly due to the delay in opening the second front by the Americans and British) gave the U.S.S.R. a moral claim to substantial influence in shaping the postwar settlement, thus increasing tensions with its “allies” even more. If this was not enough, and returning to concerns that Orwell shared in 1945 regarding the A-Bomb, such weapon of mass destruction only served to heavily intensify the already existing distrust. Supposedly allies, the USA and Britain did not want to share any details of the so-called Manhattan Project with the USSR (who anyways found out thanks to their spies); furthermore, the fact that Truman did not share any details of his intent to bomb Japan with Stalin intensified the lack of trust and suspicion. In 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first atom bomb, and due to the enormous wariness that had been built over the last 10 years, the two superpowers began to amass as many A-Bombs as possible (eventually developing the horrific Hydrogen bombs). The threat of a global nuclear war was now a reality (the americans even pondered the idea of deploying several A-Bombs along the Sino-Korean frontier during the Korean War), and Orwell’s thesis of a peace that is no peace now could not possibly be denied.

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In this atmosphere of increasing suspicion and tension, it is no wonder that the Soviets took everything the Americans did with a grain of salt. Everything the americans did was seen as an attempt to diminish the Communist system. The most clear example, the Marshall Plan: A programme of economic aid offered by the United States to any European country. The plan was rejected outright by Stalin and any Eastern Bloc countries (Communist countries in Eastern Europe whose economy and government system were modelled directly after that of the Soviet Union) for they considered that it was an strategic plan by the US to show everyone how much better capitalism was than communism. Consequently, the aid was only given to Western European Countries. While the plan itself was of great help for those countries who accepted the aid, it is hard to believe that the US did this as an act of sole charity, but rather, as Gaddis states, to defend their interests. According to Gaddis, “the gravest threat to western interests in Europe was not the prospect of Soviet military intervention, but rather the risk that hunger, poverty, and despair might cause Europeans to vote their own communists into office, who would then obediently serve Moscow’s wishes; that American economic assistance would produce immediate psychological benefits and later material ones that would reverse this trend; that the Soviet Union would not itself accept such aid or allow its satellites to, thereby straining its relationship with them; and that the United States could then seize both the geopolitical and the moral initiative in the emerging Cold War” (The Cold War, A new History). This moral initiative has been used by many to put the blame of the Cold War on the USSR. The idea that communism was a threat to liberty, freedom and humanity is widely spread, and the role of the United States in the Cold War was of paramount importance to ensure the prevalence of such rights.

No one will argue the horrific consequences that authoritarian regimes have had for humanity. Regarding the Communist regimes, particularly the USSR and Maoist China, their planned economies and reforms led to famine and starvation, causing millions of deaths that went impune. It is no question that the role that the US played in the Cold War was both fundamental and necessary. However, this “moral obligation” that they had to stop the spread of communism was tarnished by the obscure reality of what the United States was. The American country has always tried to establish itself as the most ferrous defender of liberty, morality and humanity as a whole; however, as stated by Gaddis, “the Americans did seek global influence in the realm of ideas: their Declaration of Independence had, after all, advanced the radical claim that all men are created equal. But they made no effort, during their first fourteen decades of independence, to make good on that assertion” (The Cold War, A new History). A country built upon the legacy of slavery, the near extermination of native Americans, and persistent racial, sexual, and social discrimination, was now trying to impose itself as a model of humanitarian values. The United States, driven by this moral obligation, did not have any problem to play judge in all sorts of external wars, even in those where the Soviets played no role, such as the Chinese Civil war. The Soviets, from the beginning, refused to involve themselves in such war (due to a lack of resources, little belief in the possibilities of Mao’s victory, and the desire to evade conflict with the US); the Americans, on the other hand, decided to intervene in such war. As many historians argue, had it not been for the American involvement in the Chinese war, the nationalist party would have most possibly won. Instead, Mao’s communist party proclaimed the PRC in 1949, which led in the future to many conflicts and increased tensions which could have been avoided.

The Cold War can be seen, in my opinion, as a tennis match between the two most powerful Nations of the world of the Globe after WWII. In an atmosphere of pure distrust, every move that one country made was in response to a prior one; each crisis that arose fed the next one, with the result that a divided Europe became a reality. Excanching hits in order to defend their respective objectives and beliefs, both the United States and the USSR battled in a Cold War which gravely affected the Global Community as a whole, a Cold War which never could have been avoided due to the clashing nature of communism and capitalism. In spite of this, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of their archives in 1991, the most prominent post-revisionist historians such as John Gaddis were forced to evaluate their own interpretation of history. Gaddis argued after 1991, in an orthodox fashion, that in light of all the new documentation made available, the Soviets should be held more accountable. As stated in his 1997 book We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, “Geography, demography, and tradition contributed to this outcome but did not determine it. It took men, responding unpredictably to circumstances, to forge the chain of causation; and it took Stalin in particular, responding predictably to his own authoritarian, paranoid, and narcissistic predisposition, to lock it into place”. It is of course no question that Stalin was everything but a good person, and that his own personal interest played a huge role in the outbreak of the Cold War; however, as detailed throughout the essay, it is impossible to objectively assign blame, of any sort, to a particular state for the outbreak of a conflict which was in itself predestined to occur.

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