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american history
the post-war world

*during the war, there were numerous conferences between the leaders of the allied powers, especially fdr and churchill.  towards the end of the war, they also met several times with stalin.  this was awkward for all concerned, as the west and the soviets did not much like each other—the usa had not even officially recognised the ussr until 1933.  however, each member of the alliance was too valuable to be left out and too vulnerable to go it alone.
and too vulnerable to go it alone.

*the most important meeting of the big three before the end of the war was at yalta, where the allies had decided how to divide up germany and her old conquests.

*austria was to be jointly governed by all the allies.  germany was to be divided into four parts, as was the city of berlin itself.  in lands east of the elbe river, the soviets promised to hold free elections and allow the conquered territories to govern themselves, although poland was to be dominated by the soviets for security reasons.  stalin also wanted to demand $20 billion from germany, but fdr and churchill rejected this, remembering the problems that resulted from the reparations of versailles.

*at yalta, the big three also decided to create a new and improved league of nations—a group of united nations.  this was formed in april 1945, and the us joined.  all member nations (at the time mostly europeans and americans, since most of africa and asia were colonies of europe) sat in a general assembly, and 11 countries (now 15) sat on the security council, with the usa, britain, france, ussr, 15) sat on the security council, with the usa, britain, france, ussr, and china getting permanent seats and veto power.  the un would take concerted military action, where necessary, to prevent wars before they started and crush those they did.

*in july 1945, just two months after v-e day, the leaders of the allied nations met in potsdam, a suburb of berlin.  truman, churchill, and stalin met.  truman had replaced fdr at his death shortly after his return from yalta.  churchill would be replaced during the meeting by clement atlee of the labour party.  despite their joint victory over germany, these allies would soon being to disagree over the disposition of europe.

*truman was angry, because the soviets had not allowed free elections in poland as they promised, and he was rude to vyacheslav molotov, soviet foreign minister.  americans had fought for freedom and democracy, and wanted to see free elections in europe.  the soviets had fought to defend themselves against invasion, and wanted to prevent another one.  they also wanted subject nations as rewards for their sacrifices in the great patriotic war.

*the soviets used their military presence throughout eastern europe to manipulate elections and other government functions until these countries became satellite nations, as the soviets’ subjects on their western border were known.  because the soviet army was much more powerful than that of the allies and because the other allies were still very busy in the pacific, they could not stop him.  furthermore, neither truman nor atlee was a brilliant negotiator at this conference.  therefore, they had to acquiesce to most of stalin’s demands for territory at potsdam.

*bulgaria was largely under communist control by 1946 when tsar simeon ii was run out of the country.  in 1948 albania, dominated first by the italians and then the yugoslavians asked for soviet aid and became dominated.

*the czechs tried hard to fight for their freedom, especially after seeing how badly the communists treated their neighbours, but the communists already in the czech government began replacing their opponents with other reds until they had complete control, although the czechs would continue to fight and have to be repressed again and again by the ussr.

*in hungary, communists lost the elections in 1945, but the soviet army demanded the police be given to the communists.  soon anti-communists were arrested on flimsy charges and elections were never held again.  in rumania, the red army forced king michel i to appoint a communist prime minister, who, in 1947, forced the king to abdicate.

*the finns signed a treaty of co-operation with the soviets in 1948, but it allowed them to remain neutral and govern themselves, making them essentially a free country. 

*in yugoslavia, communists came to power under josip broz, also known as tito.  he refused to blindly obey stalin, who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow him in 1948.  yugoslavia would remain almost completely free of soviet domination, but tito would still be a brutal and ruthless dictator.

*at potsdam, truman learned about the successful test of the atom bomb in new mexico, and tried to threaten stalin with it.  stalin already knew about the bomb and told truman so in infuriating detail.  however, the threat of the a-bomb would characterise us-soviet relations for 45 years to come.

*in february 1946 with the war over and the need for co-operation gone, stalin publicly predicted the triumph of communism over capitalism.  in fulton, missouri a month later, winston churchill, perhaps the greatest speaker of all the allied leaders, responded:  ‘from stettin in the baltic to trieste in the adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent. behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern europe. warsaw, berlin, prague, vienna, budapest, belgrade, bucharest and sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what i must call the soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from moscow.’  this, said churchill, was not the free europe for which the allies had fought, and spies and fifth columnists throughout the world were threatening to snuff out democracy elsewhere.

*churchill said america needed to stand firm against the soviets and not turn her back on the world as she had after wwi.  for the next fifty years, america and her allies would confront the soviets and her satellites at every turn and in every way, but would do so without directly going to war.  rather, the two sides would engage in trade sanctions, spying, and minor wars fought by minor allies.  because there was a constant state of tension during which the danger of nuclear war soon became a real and constant possibility, this period of extended peace was called the cold war.

*during this period america would follow the policy of containment, or the attempt to keep communism from spreading by whatever means necessary, including economic and military aid to countries that seemed to be in danger of falling.  the hope was that, if unable to expand, communism would eventually collapse on its own from internal failings—their bad economic system and repressive governments could not last.

*in 1947, the british, who had been doing much the same, said they could no longer afford it and asked the us to start helping greece and turkey.  this forced america to become a world power, and the us did so, sending $400 million to those nations.  this was part of the truman doctrine, stated in 1947, that the united states would support any nation that tried to fight against communism.

*to make sure there was an alternative to communism, and to ensure that poverty and chaos would not lead to the rise of a new generation of dictators, the united states spent unprecedented sums of money rebuilding europe’s industries through the marshall plan and maintaining a military and political presence in europe.  this kept western europe allied with the united states throughout the cold war.

this page last updated 26 october, 2009.
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