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From World War To Cold War
In an exchange of letters, a man who had an immeasurable impact on how the great struggle of our times was waged looks back on how it began
December 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 8
As for the Soviet suspicions of us and our leading Western European partners, these were aroused only gradually, but were eventually confirmed, to their satisfaction at least, by the entire trend of American policy in the immediate postwar years. The Soviets found reasons for these suspicions not only in our unwillingness to pursue with them any realistic discussions about the future of Europe but also in the increasingly obvious intention to rearm the West Germans and bring them into NATO membership. They, particularly Stalin personally with his congenital oversuspiciousness, could interpret these developments only as evidences of a determination on our part to drive them to the wall, to the abandonment of all the political fruits they thought they had earned, and to which they felt themselves entitled, by their recent war effort.
That all these fears and expectations on both sides were unsubstantial and unnecessary goes without saying. The members of the NATO pact could never have been brought together and mobilized for anything in the nature of an attack on Russia. Stalin and his henchmen should have recognized this.
As for our suspicions of them, I have already mentioned the insubstantial nature of the ones that prevailed in our military-political establishment. But there is one other reflection that in my own opinion would have reassured us greatly had we been willing to recognize its implications.
There was, by now, a widespread understanding among Americans that Soviet intentions with regard to Europe were irreconcilable with, and in that sense inimical to, our own. But how did they intend to implement those intentions? Many Americans jumped quickly to the primitive assumption that the Soviet aim was to overrun the remainder of Europe militarily and then to replace the governments there, including the West German one, with Communist puppet regimes. But if one had tried to look at this assumption from Moscow’s standpoint, particularly from Stalin’s, its unsoundness would have become immediately visible. Stalin had very good reason for rejecting any such course of action.
For one thing, it would have involved the unification of Germany under a single Communist government. But this was the last thing Stalin would have wanted to bring about. A German Communist regime, presiding over the entire population and commanding all the resources of the German state, could not have been expected to remain for long a puppet of Moscow. Such a Communist regime presiding over all of Germany would eventually occupy a position in world communism at least the equal of, or perhaps even superior to, that of any Russian Communist regime. But Stalin never forgot that to lose his pre-eminence in the world communist movement would be to endanger his position at home. He never doubted that the loyalty to himself professed by a great many senior Soviet Communists rested not in any great love for him personally but in the fear of him that he had himself inspired. And he had never been free of the fear that men of this ilk, chafing under the humiliations and dangers that attended their subordination to Stalin’s tyranny, might find means of playing the international communist movement off against him, thus extracting themselves from his power and even occupying positions from which they could successfully oppose him.
If the center of European communism had moved to Germany, counterforces of great power and authority within the communist movement would, in short, have been brought to bear against the perpetuation of Stalin’s personal tyranny in Russia. While sometimes the victim of his own diseased suspiciousness, Stalin was at other times nothing if not a realist, and his realism militated against any effort to bring the rest of Europe under control by force of arms. To be sure, he wanted a strong political position in Europe—this, for general reasons of prestige and influence. He would of course have liked to have, for example, a voice in the future development of the Ruhr industrial region. But to try to bring this about by a great military onslaught against the rest of Europe would have involved responsibilities and dangers he would never willingly have invited upon himself.
And this brings us, finally, to the question of ideology. It was, and still is, the view of many Americans that Stalin and the men around him were fanatical servants of radical Marxist ideology, as elaborated by Lenin. After all, it was in the name of this ideology that the Bolsheviks had seized power and that Russia had, as the world war ended, already been governed for some thirty years. The pretenses of the Soviet leadership, and the justification for all the sacrifices it had required from the Russian people, could be found only in the constant assertions of the validity of this system. Thus over the entirety of the Communist period in Russia, all discussions and decisions of official Kremlin policies had to be clothed in the curious rhetoric and ritualism of Leninist communism. And this spectacle could easily convince outsiders that the power of this ideology was the driving force of Stalin’s own efforts and of the regime he headed, and of the spirit in which the Russian people had fought the war.