Comments on a Research Paper

by Dr. Derek Buckaloo

Origins of the Cold War

Soviet insecurity following a period of turmoil and torture [1] combined with aggressive US rhetoric and military actions functioned to produce the origins of the Cold War. Analyzing events before World War two and peace attempts during the war indicates that the United States acted as an imperial bully in trying to protect its security interests, plunging both countries into a period lacking communication, negotiation and understanding. [2]

Before world war two, Europe was devastated by the first great war. Understanding the developments during the Russian Revolution and at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 [3] provides insight into how the major powers of the world would interact in the future and more interestingly, how the United States viewed its role in creating peace in the world. [4]

During the war Americans intervened in the Russian civil war to aid the non communist side. Their efforts to influence Soviet domestic politics resulted in an "enduring anger among many Russians …some justification for the communists' use of the world 'imperialists' to describe them" (Levering 6). This anger lasted into the cold war and laid the groundwork for Soviet perception of American actions.

Like most of the victorious countries following the first world war, Wilson very much wanted a say in the peace process. He went to the Paris Peace conference with many goals and ideas about how Europe should be reconstructed. Wilson focused on what became known as his fourteen points including, self determination for nations, freedom for all people and establishing a league of nations to solve global problems. More than anything, Wilson wanted "America to have a prominent place at the peace table in order to help make the world better"(Levering 4). Wilson and Americans saw this as an honorable goal and something that would make the world safer for democracy. More than anything America's approach to the Paris Peace Conference demonstrated its willingness to embark on an ideological crusade in Europe to ensure its security interests. Wilson wanted to make the world safe on America's terms even if his definition of freedom and its pursuit differed from Eastern Europe's in fundamental ways. Therefore Wilson's call for sovereign nations and freedom-in the American sense-in Europe simply revealed to the world America's readiness to impose its values and beliefs on other countries. [5] During the cold war the Soviet Union feared the dogma of United States foreign policy that continued to follow the spirit of Wilson at the Paris Peace conference. [6]

Nearing the end of the second world war, the allied powers began to grow curious about what political and economic structures the new world would adopt. With Germany out of the picture, new emerging powers in the East and the great involvement of the United States in another European war, questions about how world politics should operate began to emerge. The major allied powers met in Yalta in February of 1945 to discuss the post war world. One of the major issues talked about was the future of Poland which was currently being run by a Soviet led communist government. The United States wished for the Soviet Union to reinstate the original democratic government that was now in exile in London.

After negotiation a compromise was reached, Stalin would be allowed to keep the Soviet government in Poland but must agree to free elections. Americans did not approve of this compromise, seeing it as Roosevelt weakly acquiescing to Soviet demands to continue the unfair and undemocratic actions of a puppet government. The Soviet Union saw the Poland issue as a Soviet concern because of the devastation it had endured during the wars. Poland was used twice as a gateway to the Soviet Union. When a compromise was finally reached, "Stalin agreed to allow free elections and a democratic reorganization of the pro-Soviet Lublin government - a formulation representing the maximum price Stalin was willing to pay for his preserving 'comity' with his Western allies" (Levering 98). To the Americans this attitude represented an overwhelming sense that Soviets were being uncooperative in establishing peace and needed to be dealt with firmly. In reality, the Soviets were acting to protect their frequently violated security by creating a buffer of friendly as well as strong governments on its western border, particularly in Poland. Americans also saw their inflexibility as a sign that the Soviets were trying to put in place puppet governments around the world to spread the influence of communism. Though Americans saw these fears as legitimate at the onset of the cold war, several conditions made Soviet ideas of imperialism impossible. In light of "Russian history, the huge war debts, and the country's perceived vulnerabilities, as well as the mentality of Stalin and his subordinates, concerns about security were especially pronounced in the Soviet Union" (Levering 88). In the wake of the conclusion of what the Soviets hoped to be one final devastation of their people and country, the Soviets only had self protection on their minds. At Yalta, "security concerns remained paramount in Soviet leaders' thinking about the postwar world" because they had suffered so much (Levering 88). Americans had the luxury at Yalta of ignoring the realistic perceived threats of the Soviet Union for idealistic goals following WW2 because the US military was stronger than ever, it's economy was booming and the proximity of aggressors was greatly lessened for the Americans.

The Soviet Union's lack of desire for imperialism is further demonstrated by the agreements reached at Yalta. The Soviet Union signed a Declaration of a Liberated Europe, agreed to sign a friendly agreement with the non communist leader of China and promised the Western powers that it would declare war on Japan following the end of the current war. All of these actions prove that although battered from the war, the Soviet Union was willing to make more sacrifices for its Allies in the spirit of cooperation. Additionally, the Soviet Union established that it was not motivated by the ideology of communism in its actions when it signed a friendly agreement with the non communist side of the Chinese civil war.

Going into the meeting at Yalta, President Roosevelt wanted "to strengthen Allied Cooperation and fashion a communiqué that would convince the American people and Congress that the Big Three were working together effectively in waging the war and planning the postwar world" (Levering 26). The Soviets had similar aspirations, Stalin said himself "'there is no doubt…that without Great Britain, The USA, and the U.S.S.R creating joint military force capable of preventing aggression, it would be impossible to secure peace in the future'" (Levering 95). These sentiments of both world leaders reflect the desire for cooperation in a post war world. The Soviet Union's insecurity was intensified by Western words and documents like the Declaration of a Liberated Europe and fight for Poland to be democratic resulting in the destruction of the pre-cold war mentality of cooperation.

The major powers met in Potsdam in July of 1945 and the meeting illustrated the improbability of close cooperation between the Soviet Union and the United States. The new president was Harry Truman who didn't share all of Roosevelt's concern about establishing an alliance with the Soviets. The American public had also become more skeptical of Soviet motivations. They held the same sentiments the "news media conveyed…that the U.S.S.R. was not cooperating in establishing a just peace" (Levering 36). The media capitalized on the issues that divided the powers, notably the issue surrounding Soviet influence in Iran. The Soviet Union refused to leave Iran after the war ended and Americans saw that as empire building. A subsequent shift in American policy took place and was noted by the Soviets in a telegram written by Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov where he reported that "the foreign policy of the United States is not determined at present by the circles in the Democratic party that (as was the case during Roosevelt's lifetime) strive to strengthen the cooperation of the three great powers" (Levering 161). The Soviets were correct in noticing the change in which they were dealt with because "new issues, notably Russian pressure on Iran, tipped the balance in US policy in the winter of 1945-46 from grudging accommodation to open confrontation" (levering 35). At the same time that Americans were feeling the Soviets were uncooperative, the Soviets felt the United States was not seeking cooperation. Americans had the luxury afforded by distance and economic stability during this time period to value accommodation over the real security issues the Soviet Union was forced to acknowledge. American foreign policy was too heavy handed and ignored Soviet instability in many instances. For example, the Soviet Union didn't have the choice of whether or not to give in to US demands regarding Iran. After the hardships they endured during the world wars the Soviet Union had to be attentive to its weaknesses and "Soviet policy-planners viewed this neighboring country as a potential launching pad for attack against the USSR" (Levering 118). The American government and media often ignored the reality of situations facing the Soviet Union and were attempting to discredit the honest Soviet efforts to cooperate, as evidenced by the Yalta agreements, in order to further its imperialist goal of shaping the world in its image. Unlike in the United States, "Soviet policy options…were always constrained by the weight of history, by lack of resources, and by the nature of the Stalinist system" (Levering 149). [7]

In analyzing World War two diplomacy at Yalta and Potsdam, the motivations of the two super powers and their contributions to the conflict become apparent. Both countries attempted to establish post war communication but efforts were made null by American forcefulness that accompanied Truman and the Potsdam meetings and growing Russian insecurity after the war. [8]

After World War two the sense of insecurity on the Soviet side was insurmountable and for several reasons. First, they viewed the US's interference in the Russian Revolution as evidence that the United States had the propensity to intervene again. Second, their country had suffered major damages during the war because of lack of a western boarder. Third, their lack of a western boarder also revealed weaknesses in their military. Finally, the United States had also proven its willingness to use the atomic bomb. To day this countries still fear the United States nuclear arsenal because of American's previous acceptance of causing devastation on such a level. These reasons all emboldened the United States and gave them little to worry about in terms of losing their influence.

It is easy to pass off the origin of the cold war as a misunderstanding or miscommunication between two superpowers however that is very unlikely. The Soviet Union and the United States had clear pictures of what the other wanted as each country's case was made in public addresses that were easily and readily accessible in an ever increasingly globalized world. In creating a peace Americans made clear their aspirations that "the peace should be based on such Wilsonian principles as national self-determination, religions and other personal freedoms protected by law, growing freedom of international trade and investment, and increasingly effective international institutions" (Levering 14). In efforts to create this world characterized by democratic principles they would need the support and cooperation of the other super power, the Soviet Union which could not make concessions to such principles without sacrificing its security whether on its western boarder or in countries that formerly threatened its security. World war two had a different effect on the Soviet Union than it did on the US, it "exposed critical strategic vulnerabilities: easily penetrable borders,
lack of ready access to key seaways, and absence of a strategic air force and an oceangoing navy" (Levering 88). These insecurities led the Soviet Union to do everything it could to secure its borders and prevent aggressors from entering the country again. American policy changed as its attempts to establish a world order that mirrored western democracy intensified. The Soviet Union's actions can not be attributed to imperialism, "its overriding goal was remarkably consistent throughout World War II and the Cold War: security through aggrandizement and consolidation of the Soviet sphere" (Levering 147). [9]


1. Write self contained papers - if a reader didn't know the question, would they be a bit lost opening this way? It feels like you jumped into the middle of the paper. Find a way to orient the readers into the paper.


2. The opening is too assumptive. The implicit audience should always be a well educated person. Don't make the reader work too hard to understand what the paper is talking about and where it is going.

3. Better way to introduce this? Be clear that the reader understands where we are coming from, be clear with transitions.

4. This idea about world war one is difficult to understand because it is not introduced very clearly. Work on clearer transitions to guide the reader along.














5. Insert commas into long series of sentences to indicate the rhythm of sentences to the readers. A lot of students undercomma and sentences seem to run on and on. Read paper out loud to edit out awkward phrasing such as here. You don't want to confuse the reader with bad comma usage, so paying attention to grammar can increase clarity.

6. Consider organization - could these points (and others) be presented more clearly. (i.e. American view, Russian view, then compare and contrast through events)





































































7. Think critically about each and every quote. Part of this quote, "the weight of history" seems like it deserves further analysis because the United States was also shaped by its history



8. Further analysis on this point needed. Consider further questions, did Truman have other options? Could he have acted differently? Peel back the layers of your arguments, dig in and analyze what happened. Don't just accept everything as fact, look at the reasons behind Truman's actions. Take advantage of opportunities to be analytical.





















9. Overall, this paper could be much more focused and the argument could be built better by reorganizing and finding more evidence for your point. Always consider the reader in argumentative essays. What point are you trying to prove to your audience? The thesis should be the purpose of the essay and the audience should be who you are communicating it to. Further editing can also improve the clarity of this paper. Lack of clarity due to editing mistakes harms efforts to communicate the point you are trying to make, no matter what the content is. Editing is not as important as content, but can harm a paper.




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