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America And Russia, Americans And Russians
The Cold War was an anomaly: more often than not the world’s two greatest states have lived together in uneasy amity. And what now?
February/March 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 1
In the long run none of this mattered. In 1941 Hitler attacked Russia. That was what mattered. The United States and Russia became instant allies again. Their troublesome alliance did not survive World War II, as it had not survived World War I, but there was a great difference now. In 1918 the Western Allies, including the United States, could win World War I even after Russia dropped out. In World War II, without Russia they could not have conquered Hitler’s Third Reich. Eventually enormous amounts of American materiel were funneled to Russia during the war (by an odd coincidence lend-lease to Russia cost nearly the same—$11 billion—as the Marshall Plan, aimed to build up Western Europe after the war). Still, the fact remains that on D-day there were four German divisions struggling against the Russians in the east for each one facing the Allies in France. There was even more to that. By early 1945—at the time of the often debated Yalta Conference—the entire American military and naval establishment, including later vocal anticommunists such as General MacArthur, was praising the Red Army to the skies. One of their main reasons was to expedite an eventual Russian attack on Japan. (The Japanese had not joined the Germans in going to war with Russia in 1941; they had chosen instead to war with the United States and Britain, for reasons known only to themselves.) At Yalta Stalin promised Roosevelt that he would attack Japan three months after V-E day in Europe. He was as good as his word—for reasons of his own, of course. They were the reconquest of Russian lands and bases in the Far East that the czars had lost to Japan in 1905 (a Russian defeat that Lenin had welcomed at the time).
By 1920 the odd episode of Americans fighting in Russia was over; what was not over was the powerful popular attraction of anticommunism.
By then—August 1945—the first signs of the coming Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union were accumulating. They had less to do with the Far East than with Europe—particularly with Eastern Europe. Entire libraries have been written about the origins and the development of the Cold War, including books by this writer. I will sum up my view as briefly as I can. In essence it conforms with the views of Winston Churchill, who—as early as 1940—saw things clearly. There were only two alternatives: either all of Europe dominated by Germany or the eastern part of Europe dominated by Russia—and half of Europe (especially the western half) was better than none. Moreover, as Churchill told de Gaulle in 1944, that division, in the long run, would not last: the Russians would not be able to digest Eastern Europe (that is what happened). In any event, at the end of the war, when the Anglo-American presence in Europe would become very strong, a limit must be set to the Russian sphere of their interest. Very few Americans, including President Roosevelt, saw this quite in that way.
They wanted the Russian-American wartime alliance to prevail; they put undue hopes in the United Nations, that American-made international instrument that Stalin consented to join. They did not devote much attention to Eastern Europe, where they hoped that Stalin (in addition to a few, relatively minor territorial gains) would be satisfied with the establishment of pro-Russian, though not necessarily communist, governments in that Russian sphere of interest. That was not the case. Stalin thought that his sphere of interest could not be secure unless it consisted of satellite governments composed by people who were wholly subservient to him. Otherwise the Americans, who were now the greatest world power, holding the monopoly of the atom bomb, would be able to challenge and reduce his predominance in Eastern Europe, including East Germany. That was not really what the United States wanted, but Stalin’s suspicions governed him.
The Cold War grew from the congealing reaction to the Soviets’ repellent brutalities in Eastern Europe and East Germany, including the fear that the Russians were now making ready to advance beyond the Iron Curtain, to foment and foist communism on Western and Southern European countries. The result was the American policy of containment and the beginning of the Cold War, which was under way by 1947. The recognition that the United States was the only power on the globe that could—and should—contain a further Russian, or communist, expansion was both timely and proper. The concomitant belief that the Russians were willing, or even able, to risk a third world war with the United States for the sake of conquering more territories for communism was not. The wartime illusions about Stalin and the Soviet Union had contributed to the bitterness of the disappointment of Americans and to the rapid change from American-Russian alliance and friendship to confrontation and enmity. The no less illusory attribution to communism of most of the existing evils in the world, the inability to distinguish between communist propaganda and Russian state interests, and the elevation of anticommunism as if it were not only an ingredient but the essential element of American patriotism were no less damaging in the long run.