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Setting the Stage for the Cold War

The United States was preparing itself for a postwar peace even before Pearl Harbor and the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and Great Britain knew that postwar boundaries would be the major issue in postwar Europe. Roosevelt met with Churchill in August 1941 to discuss a plan for Europe after the war ended. They came up with the Atlantic Charter. This charter mapped out a plan for postwar Europe. When Stalin was asked by Anthony Eden, British Foreign Secretary, to agree to the provisions in the charter he demanded that the Soviet Union be given the Baltic States and a part of Eastern Poland. A few months later when asked the same question, by Roosevelt, Stalin agreed to the provisions contained in the charter. Although he agreed he issued the strong statement “The practical application of these principles will necessarily adapt itself to the circumstances, needs, and historic peculiarities of particular countries...” (LaFeber, Page 291). Stalin’s statement set the tone for the coming Cold War.

Key leaders in the United States believed that the key to the stability of a postwar world would be a stable world economy based on the Atlantic Charter. In order for the United States to avoid a period of depression immediately following the end of the war they would need an open market to sell their surplus goods. The United States feared that if the Soviets were allowed into Eastern Europe they would continue to expand to the West thereby dominating European markets.

Roosevelt had promised the Soviet Union a second front in Western Europe by the end of 1942. Churchill did not think that it could be done. He persuaded Roosevelt to attack North Africa, historically colonized territories of Britain. To Stalin this looked as if the United States and Britain were only interested in reclaiming old British territories.

The Grand Alliance was in trouble when Roosevelt called Stalin and Churchill to Casablanca to try to improve the relations. Stalin refused to attend and again requested that the allies open a 2nd front in Western Europe. Churchill this time did not think the allies were strong enough. He proposed that they move from North Africa to Italy. In an effort to appease Stalin, Roosevelt announced that the allies would only accept an unconditional surrender from Germany.

After the United States had successfully invaded Italy, the United States and Britain wanted to keep the Soviet Union out of Italy. They feared that the Soviets would help strengthen the Communist Party in Italy. Churchill argued the point, “We cannot be put in a position where our two armies (the American and British) are doing all the fighting but Russians have a veto and must be consulted," (LaFeber, Page 295). Churchill had made a huge error because Stalin would later use that argument in Eastern Europe.

The big three leaders met at Teheran, Iran, in 1943 for the first time to try to heal the ailing alliance. Once again a 2nd front was promised by Churchill and Roosevelt within 6 months in return for the Soviets assistance with Japan after the defeat of Germany. Roosevelt informed Stalin that he was not going fight a war with the Soviet Union over the Baltic States. They agreed the Soviet boarder with Poland must be moved westward. The conference failed to resolve the question of which political party would gain control over Poland, the pro-western government exiled in London or the pro-Communist government working out of the Soviet Union. This would be a major issue for the next 1 1/2 years while at the time weakening the Grand Alliance.

In February of 1945, the big three met in the Soviet city of Yalta. They easily agreed on the establishment of the United Nations, and resolved the Far East issue. The major disagreement was still over the Polish government. After the Soviets captured Warsaw they installed the pro-Communist government and weeded out the anti-Soviet underground. The United States and Britain refused to accept this. Finally Stalin agreed on a more broadly based government, the inclusion of Polish democratic leaders, and that free elections with universal suffrage be held. Stalin took the agreement to mean that all he had to do was add a few pro-western leaders to the communist government. Roosevelt then demanded a new restructured government be imposed. The Polish issue proved to be the major postwar conflict in postwar Soviet-American relations.

The last major issue discussed at Yalta was the restructuring of Germany. The United States’ economic well beginning depended on European markets that had been centered in Germany for the past century. Stalin was for the breakup of Germany. He did not want to see Germany once again become a European power. Stalin wanted $20 billion in reparations from Germany, with half going to the Soviet Union. Roosevelt refused to agree to that high of a figure. The Soviet Union needed large quantities of money to rebuild their devastated county. Their two options were to get loans from the West or to gain complete control over Eastern Europe. Stalin asked the United States for $6 billion in credits. Roosevelt agreed to grant these credits only if the Soviet Union was to keep Eastern Europe open to the West. Stalin did not agree to this condition. It took only 6 weeks after Yalta for the Iron Curtain to descend over Eastern Europe thus starting the cold war.

In late 1946 and early 1947, Truman set out to encourage the American people to become anti-Communists. Truman Doctrine divided the world between free people and the people in countries where he minority was in control of the majority. He stated that unless the United States gave aid to Greece and Turkey they would fall to communism. $400 million was appropriated and military aid given to these countries. The Truman Doctrine set the stage for the new world order. The Cold War was now the major issue that, for the next 45 years, would dictate the relationship between the East and West.