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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
But this was not really the case. Up to the great purges of the 1930s it was true that many Russian Communists still thought and acted in response to ideological impulses. But the purges of the 1930s had largely destroyed these illusions. And enlisting the energies and the devotion of the Russian people for the tremendous exertions of World War II had forced Stalin to shift the basic appeal from the ideological one to its nationalistic counterpart. So in the postwar period, although the vast majority of Russians were reconciled to the necessity, for reasons of prudence, of continuing to speak in ideological terms, the realities behind what they said would never again be primarily ideological. Nationalistic impulses were already the stronger force. And in Stalin’s case there was then, as there had been even in the pre-war decades, a decisive pre-eminence given to the cultivation and the protection of his great personal power. He too had no choice but to respect the rule that all decisions and discussions should be cast in the Leninist Communist rhetoric. There was no other conceivable rationale for his tremendous power. But he never had any great trust in his own personal-political environment. And there can be no doubt that the deepest and most decisive motivating force behind his words and his behavior was not really ideology but rather the protection of his absolute control over the movement and the country that he headed. Americans would have found it easier to understand Stalin, and to measure the possibilities of coming to terms with him, had they been willing to recognize the depth of this commitment.
Now one of your final questions is about my own consistency—of the consistency, that is, of the statements I made in the period from 1945 to 1947, compared with the positions I took throughout the Cold War.
Let me invite attention to certain things said in the paper (written, actually, almost precisely fifty years ago from the day I am now writing) entitled Russia’s International Position at the Close of the War With Germany and included in the first volume of my Memoirs . In it I questioned Russia’s capacity for living up to the responsibilities it had already assumed in Eastern and Central Europe. I voiced the view that Russian power was already overextended and expressed my doubt that Moscow would “be able to maintain its hold successfully for any length of time over all the territory over which it has today staked out a claim,” in which case the lines of Russian power, I thought, “would have to be withdrawn somewhat .” (This proved actually to be the case in Austria, in Finland, and in Yugoslavia.) If and when this limited retirement became necessary, I wrote, the Kremlin would use all its unpleasant devices of propaganda and vituperation to strengthen its position in the rest of the world. But , I went on to say, “Should the Western world stand firm through such a show of ill temper and should democracies prove able to take in their stride the worst efforts of the disciplined and unscrupulous minorities pledged to the service of the political interests of the Soviet Union in foreign countries, Moscow would have played its last real card. . . . Further military advances in the West could only increase responsibilities already beyond the Russian capacity to meet. Moscow has no naval or air forces capable of challenging the sea or air lanes of the world.”
My differences with Washington over the Cold War became serious during my final months at the State Department.
This should have sufficed, I think, to make it clear that I did not see our postwar contests with the Russians as being primarily military. No one who had given attention to these passages could have found in the “X” article a portrayal of the Soviet threat as chiefly a military one, calling for a similar response from us. (I was never told at the time what disposition had been made of this paper, which I simply submitted to the ambassador in Moscow, Mr. Harriman, who received it without comment and who never told me what, if anything, he did with it.) I did, however, frequently call attention to the basically hostile attitudes toward us of the Soviet regime under Lenin and Stalin and toward the noncommunist world generally, and I do not think that anything I wrote in the ensuing years reflected any change in my own opinions in this respect.
My differences with Washington policy became serious ones, from the Cold War standpoint, only in the final months at the end of my tenure as director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. They were occasioned, first, by my disagreement with the treatment of the problem of Soviet power in the now-famous governmental document entitled NSC-68, a paper with whose authorship my good friend and successor as head of the Planning Staff, Paul Nitze, was closely connected. But I was also greatly affected by Dean Acheson’s almost contemptuous rejection of my urging that we should adopt a position of “no first use” with regard to the now-emerging nuclear weaponry. Neither of the lines of policy that actually flowed from these developments accorded with my own view of where the emphasis ought to be placed in our policies toward the Soviet Union. But there also was, beyond this, the question of our plans with regard to Germany and of the implications these held for our relationship with the Soviet Union.