Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Cold War, Twentieth Century, United States, Soviet Union, foreign policy, international affairs
Thucydides wrote in his History of the Peloponnesian War: “Right… is only in question between equals in power… the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” and “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men the most.” These words continue to provide insight into conflicts between states, especially between the most powerful of states. The Cold War was such a conflict, one that would test the power and restraint of history’s two most powerful countries. Lasting nearly half a century, the Cold War dominated global affairs following the Second World War, with former allies turning against one another for control of the postwar world.
Like the Peloponnesian War, the Cold War’s belligerents bore few similarities other than their immense power – the United States being a liberal democracy with constitutional protections for its citizens, and the Soviet Union being a totalitarian, oppressive, single-party dictatorship governed under the guise of utopian communism. These ideological and societal differences are commonly acknowledged as major underlying factors in the Cold War’s outbreak, worsened by crises which gradually deteriorated US-Soviet relations and officiated hostilities.
However, history is rarely that simple, for the Cold War’s origins are a matter of great dispute, as are the factors which allowed the conflict to arise. Its “beginning” is attributed to many events, some often-cited and others little-known; ideological narratives further complicate historical analysis, with each side accusing the other of ultimate responsibility for inciting the conflict. Several schools of thought have emerged to explain the Cold War, yet its origins remain unclear and under contentious debate. This work will attempt to extricate the breakdown of US-Soviet relations from 1945 to 1948 without ideological obfuscation, thereby providing context and reason for the Cold War and its primary causes.
By examining the conflict’s earliest days, this thesis will investigate four cases as explanatory factors in bringing about the Cold War. First, the Iran Crisis was an initial and little-known crisis, yet it exposed the superpowers’ differing postwar goals and cautioned the notion of harmonious peace. Next, the Greek Civil War and related events in the Balkans were significant escalations of already-brewing tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, inducing political shifts which further entrenched both camps. In addition, the Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia brought the Cold War to the heart of Central Europe, enflaming the mutual suspicion and enmity simmering since World War II’s conclusion. Finally, The Berlin Blockade embodies the final birth of the Cold War through direct confrontation and standoff between East and West, solidifying the frontline which became known as the Iron Curtain.
Through case-by-case analysis and research of contemporary US government documents, this work will exhibit how disputed wartime agreements, antagonistic geopolitical rivalry, and mutual lack of understanding were the primary factors which led to this colossal showdown between history’s mightiest states. While ideological differences created inherent mistrust and laid bare the contrast between both superpowers, these divergent characteristics merely played a secondary role in causing the Cold War. Rather, facts reveal that the Cold War was mainly a classical clash of great powers repeated through the ages by Athens and Sparta, by Rome and Carthage, by England and France, and by countless others.
Meger, Joshua, "The Struggle for Peace: Origins of the Cold War" (2018). Honors Theses. 929.
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