Cold war: Who is to blame

My question is-Who was to blame fo the cold war? Was the USSR to blame for Stalin’s aggression? Or was it USA who misintepreted his intentions? Or maybe both sides were to blame fo their excessive paranoia.Which of these views do you agree with and why?
I’m doing my final year of high school and the cold war is an essential part of our history syllabus. Your answes might mean the difference between an A and a U fo me. I respect you guys more than google so thanks in advance and feel free to make an analysis on anything to do with the cold war or post any good links.
PS: Apologies for the incoherence and bare bones state of my OP. I’m in a bit of a rush right now.

Probably more like the other way around.

As far as the USA misinterpreting Stalin’s intentions, that would be hard to do in light of stuff like the non-aggression treaty Stalin signed with Hitler, especially with the secret protocols splitting Poland between them.

Good luck in your history course. Whether or not you can get good marks for coursework that does not blame the US for everything is a question you will have to answer for yourself.


It would be a disservice to try and answer your question directly. It would be a gross oversimplification to cite any one cause for the cold war, let alone place blame on a single party. Study the history that lead up to the cold war. You’ll have to go to the late 18th century to find the causes of the Russian revolution and WWI for starters. Look at how those played out and the outcome of the wars and later depression set the stage for WWII. Look at how the US avoided direct involvement in WWII as long as possible and only gave material support to Russia. If you want to look at a single concept consider the (IMHO mistaken) notion that “the enemy of my enemy is therefore my friend.” We allied with Russia in WWII because we shared a common enemy. In the cold war we allied with and propped up a lot of right wing dictatorships because they were anti communist.

Blame? Harry Truman deserves credit for starting a “Containment” policy – a practice of controlling Soviet expansion. Western containment vs. Soviet expansion was the essence of the cold war. Truman’s policy was continued by every President through Reagan.

Thanks to the cold war, Soviet Communism was eventually overthrown without a direct war between the US and USSR, without WW III, and without a nuclear holocost. From the POV of 1950, this was quite an achievement.

I think the blame for the Cold War lies squarely and solely with the previous 1 million years of human history.

But seriously, forks.

Neither side was blameless by any means. However, I don’t think any reasonable person would say that Stalin’s leadership and policy decisions were ethically or morally comparable to any of the democratically elected presidents or their European allies, dubious though some of their actions might have been.

That said, I have little doubt in my mind who was the bravest leader throughout the Cold War: Mikhail Gorbacev.

I’d be interested to know what you and other Africans think, since you are in a rather more independent position to judge than most Americans or Europeans.

(I wonder when Chumpsky will turn up.)

“Blame” is not a useful concept here. Both the USA and the USSR behaved in a way which they thought would serve their own best interests. To that extent there was a moral equivalence between them.

One can go further, however. The USA’s long-term objective was to preserve the freedom and prosperity of its people and, even if we feel that at times they made compromises which were not justified, we broadly sympathise with that aim. The USSR’s aim was to advance to a society in which equality, freedom and prosperity were assured to all. From our perspective, we may think that aim was less likely to be realised than the aim of the USA, and that much more morally questionable compromises were made in the hope of acheiving it. Moreover the USA was ultimately successful - i.e. it survived the Cold War as a free and prosperous society - whereas the USSR was not.

But all that this means is that the USA adopted a position closer to ours than the USSR did, and that its aims were more realistic and/or more effectively acheived. None of that translates to “blame” for the USSR, and to make these observations is a comment on us and our values as much as it is on the USA or the USSR of the time.

Oh, and I share december’s view that the Cold War should perhaps be seen as an acheivement deserving credit rather than a failure deserving blame, when we consider alternative ways by which militarily powerful countries might have resolved conflicts of their interests.

Stalin was a great leader, his people loved him. He industrialized the Soviet Union. Any deaths attributed to him are overstated.

The Soviet Union was constantly under attack from the capitalist aggressors from the time of the Russian Revolution to the Velvet Revolutions which undid communism in Eastern Europe.

Any possible little bumps in the road related to the implementation of Communism are due to the presence of malevolent capitalist influences lurking around behind every corner. There’s one now, get it!

Communism has never been tried in any of the dozens of countries which have tried it. It may not work in one or two nations sometimes, but if we could just globalize it then it will work really well.

How I love the smell of the workers’ struggle in the morning.

Capitalism vs. Communism; no blame just two ideologies locking horns, maturing at the same time and bent on gobbling up as much of the globe as possible, expanding their respective ‘spheres of influence’ – the US wanted the markets, control of resources, etc. The Rooskies wanted political (and centralized) control of as much as possible, presumably for ideological reasons.

I don’t see any ‘blame’. Nor how Stalin was more aggressive than naked capitalism let loose – is that even possible ?

I would hardly say that this was the aim of the USSR under Stalin.

Part of Stalins motivation for conquering Eastern Europe was to have a buffer between the USSR and Europe so there would not be a repeat of WWI and WWII.

From the US point of view, we were the strongest nation in the world after WWII so the burden fell to us to halt Stalins aggression.

Of course, mistakes were made like assuming that Soviet communism was the same as Chinesse communism was the same as Vietnamese communism.
Overall, I would say that the Cold War was a success since the alternative is full blown war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO.

I hope this isn’t too facile an answer, but I think Hitler’s adventures had a lot to do with the cold war. Take Hitler out of the historical equation and lot of things would change:
No mass invasion of Poland and Germany by Soviets
No direct east-west confrontation in Berlin
No Manhattan project (or much delayed)
No development of rockets as strategic weapons (or much delayed)
No “super” – or hydrogen bomb
Survival of independent buffer states, such as Poland
No development of the Soviet T-34 tank in huge quantities, which changed the balance of power
Britain would have retained economic and military strength after 1945 (more balance of powers in the world)
The US would have stayed isolationist
No Cuba missile crisis
No policy of Mutually Assured Destruction

My grad school taught that there are three main theories of why the Cold War began.

Classical: Stalin was intent on building an empire, and he took advantage of the partition of Europe (for the purposes of occupation) immediately after the surrender of Germany to launch a long-term plan to spread communism.

Revisionist: The West made the first moves to beginning the Cold War by consolidating its control of Germany in the years 1945 to 1947. During that time (can’t remember exact date) the US, UK, and French sectors of Germany merged into one common administration, indicating to the Soviets that the West was planning something. The Soviets, in turn, consolidated their control of the East.

Post-Revisionist: Most commonly referred to here, the way the Cold War began was a result of miscalculations on both sides. The West viewed the Soviets as reneging on the Potsdam Declaration that Europe shall be free and democratic, Stalin thought the West was going back on a promise for a buffer zone in Eastern Europe to provide security for the Soviet Union.

Like any theories, there are advantages to each theory. For more info, John Lewis Gaddis, Walter LeFeber, and Geir Lundestat are recognized scholars who work in their field. Look for their books in the local library.

Oh man… Are we already at the point where we are drawing moral equivalence between Stalin and the U.S.?

Here’s the way it was: Josef Stalin presided over the bloodiest regime in history. Adolf Hitler came along and built an equally bloodthirsty dictatorship. Because Hitler was bent on attacking Europe, he became our enemy, and because Hitler also attacked the Soviet Union, Stalin became our ally.

As the war neared an end, it became clear to anyone who was willing to pay attention that the Soviet Union could turn into as big a threat as Hitler. The Soviet Union was an evil, expansionist empire. In the waning days of WWII, the Soviets declared war on Japan and started capturing Japanese held islands in a blatant land grab. They occupied what became East Berlin.

In case there was any doubt about the nature of the Soviet regime, in 1945 Hungary held an election in which the Communists only got 17% of the vote. Stalin then eradicated all opposing political parties and assumed dictatorial control of the country.

In 1947, Romania was ‘converted’ to Communist rule, and Hungary formally became a Soviet client state. This caused the U.S. to institute its policy of ‘containment’.

In 1948, the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, which is technically an act of war. The Soviets attempted to claim west Berlin for themselves. The Allies responded with the Berlin Airlift, and this was the first real confrontation between the Soviets and the West, I believe.

Also in 1948, the Communists staged a coup in Czechoslovakia. Thousands were murdered, and another state got added to the Soviet Sphere.

In 1949 the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb, kicking off the nuclear arms race.

In 1950, the Sino-Soviet pact is established, and the U.S. responds to the growing threat by increasing military support to Indochina.

1950 - backed by Soviet and Chinese weaponry and aid, the Communist North Koreans invade South Korea. Now imagine the U.S. position here- within three years, there have been Communist takeovers in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, North Korea, and now they were invading South Korea. The U.S. pulls out the stops and goes to war. All of this also kicks off the ‘Red Scare’ and McCarthyism in the U.S.

1955 - the Warsaw Pact is created.

1956 - Hungary revolts against Communist rule. Soviet tanks roll into Hungary and brutally crush the revolt. Kruschev goes to the U.N. and bangs his shoe on his desk and screams, “We Will Bury You!”

1959 - The Cuban revolution puts a communist country in the U.S.'s back yard. Heavily supported by the Soviet Union.

1961 - Construction of the Berlin wall commences. The wall is not intended to protect East Berlin from the west, but to prevent Eastern Berliners from fleeing a horrible, despotic regime.

1962 - The Cuban Missile Crisis -The Soviet Union attempts to plant medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Kruschev backs down after the U.S. blockades the fleet.

1965 - The U.S. sends active military troops to Vietnam, rather than just ‘advisors’. Over 180,000 troops land, to prevent yet another communist invasion and takeover of a friendly government.

1968 - The Dubcek government in Czechoslovakia announces reforms to ease the oppression of Communism. People dance in the streets - until the Soviets roll the tanks into Prague and brutally end the ‘Prague Spring’.

1975 - The Vietnam war ends. The Communists take over South Vietnam

1979 - Communists take over in Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. President Carter starts a new round of military buildups.

1980 - Ronald Reagan is elected President, and begins to take a harder line with the Soviet Union.

1983 - The Soviet Union shoots down a Korean Airliner that strays into their airspace, killing 179 people. Communists in Grenada sieze power in a bloody coup. Reagan invades Grenada to restore a democratic government.

1985 - Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of Soviet Union. His policies of Perestroika and Glastnost begin the restructuring of the Soviet Union. Reagan continues the rhetorical pressure on the Soviets, going to the Berlin Wall and saying, “Mr. Gorbachev - Tear Down This Wall!”.

Gorbachev and Reagan and Margaret Thatcher develop mutual trust and admiration, and for the first time honest negotiations are carried out with the Soviet Union. These three leaders almost immediately began arms reduction talks, and during their time they reduced the nuclear arsenal by 50%.

1989 - The Berlin Wall falls, The Romanian dictator Ceaucescu is killed and his government falls, the Communists in Bulgaria resign, and the Soviet Union begins to crumble.
1991 - The Gulf War starts, and the implied shift of power away from the Soviet Union towards the U.S. causes an attempted coup of Gorbachev by the military. The coup fails, and it’s the last dying gasp of the old Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin is elected, and the cold war is over.


Nice post! It would be hard to add much to your chronology, and I don’t have your command of dates, but here are just a few items that are relavent.

Space Race: Soviets are the first to launch a satelite (Sputnik) into space. 1959? Then the Soviets are the first to launch a human (Yuri Gagarin) into space. 196? Much of the US space rocket technology is due to the expertise of German scientists who immigrate to the US after WWII.

Nixon visits China 1972? Mao dies 197? (not because of Nixon’s visit) and Deng Xiao-Ping takes over in China. Deng introduces quasi-free market reforms saying “Who cares if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

Solidarity Movement in Poland: The first successful opposition movement in a Warsaw Pact country. 1980s. Started as a shipworkers union in Gdansk (formerly Danzig, Germany in WWII).


Space race: US lands a man on the moon in 1969. Several other missions follow. The Soviets never land a man on the moon.

I left China out of the mix, and also the shenanigans that went on in central and South America. They were sideshows to an extent. I tried to just hit the high points.

I also wanted to put to rest this silly notion that there was anything resembling a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The Soviet Union was an expansionist empire that would have swallowed Europe and most of Asia had the U.S. not spent trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives to oppose them.

I agree.

Your earlier post had me laughing and clapping at the same time. It was a great read!

I hope our young high school friend can dig up a video of Krushev bagging his shoe at the UN and of Reagan at the Berlin Wall. That pretty much sums things up. (The shoe banging episode is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.)

I’ll play the devil’s advocate, here. Well, sorta. I think the Communist Russians were slime, and Mao Zedong was only about 1/2 half a percent better.

The USSR probably would not have gone so Imperial had Hitler not come about. And granted, I’m sure they probably felt frightened of Germany.

Still (look, I can defend the devil, but not Stalin, ok? :slight_smile: ) there were many other ways to deal with the German problem, not the least of which was to have Russian and American bases in it.

So, this US dominance we see all around us is just an accident, one born of the desire of successive presidents to protect the world from Communism. What a stoke of luck for you guys that empire should be the product of nothing other than a desire to act generously and protect your neighbours !

And I agree there can’t be any moral equivalence between immorality and amorality, except when you’re living in a shanty town, without fresh water, education, healthcare opportunity, etc., etc., etc….while your ‘leaders;’ drive around in Limo’s supplied by your superpower ‘friends - for just the price of some mining rights, or similar…

In fact, teaching any African about political morality is more than a little like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.

Sam Stone – Here’s a couple of quick one for you: For how many years did the US (and the UK) support murderous, torturing, bigoted, apartheid South Africa and does Dick Cheney – as he voted in 1989 in Congress – still consider Nelson Mandela a terrorist who should still be in prison ?

Capitalist free market morality – pleeeeesasee !

Hi, Sam Stone -

Don’t forget the 1953 East German uprising against the Soviet Union’s occupation.