Causes of the Cold War

Arnold A. Offner takes the position that President Harry S Truman was a parochial nationalist whose limited vision of foreign policy prevented negotiations with the Russians over Cold War issues. According to Offner, Truman often oversimplified foreign politics, taking positions that made international issues seem black and white. However, foreign policy issues are generally much more complex than one side being good and the other side being evil. Rather than trying to understand the point of view of others, Truman often thought of other country’s leaders as “savages, outlaws, and totalitarians”. Truman also overreacted by giving military aid to Turkey and Greece in 1947. Although Stalin made no threats to either Greece or Turkey, Truman still deemed it necessary to give them aid in order to help out the “free peoples”. Truman also failed to negotiate with the Soviet Union on the issue of Germany. On March 10, 1952, Stalin proposed that the Big Four meet in order to unite Germany and rid it of foreign troops. Rather than take the offer seriously, Truman decided he had no interest in a demilitarized Germany and allowed the segregation of Germany to continue. Overall, it seems as if Truman had no ability to compromise and saw the United States’ way as the only acceptable position on foreign affairs. If you did not agree with him you were his enemy.


John Lewis Gaddis takes the position that the Cold War was caused by Joseph Stalin’s uncompromising nature. Gaddis believes that as long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union, a Cold War was inevitable. Stalin attempted to bolster the Soviet Union by acquiring neighboring territory. The only way for the Soviet Union to gain security and influence was through the acquisition of nearby countries. Unlike Churchill and Truman, Stalin was not accountable to a public constituency. While every move of Truman and Churchill would be dissected by their respective populations, Stalin was a dictator and as such only had responsibility to himself. Gaddis makes the argument that “an authoritarian’s personality will weigh much more heavily than those of democratic leaders, who have to share power”. Stalin’s wield of absolute power allowed him to make decisions that other leaders simply were not capable of. To cap off his argument, Gaddis has us use a test of counterfactual history. If we drop Stalin out of the Cold War, and replace him with a different Soviet leader, there is a chance that the Cold War does not occur. However, if any of the Western leaders were replaced, it is still highly probable that a Cold War would have occurred.

When looking at the arguments presented by both Gaddis and Offner, I would have to say that President Truman was not solely responsible for the Cold War. However, that does not mean that he did not play a role in causing the Cold War. It is clear that the Cold War was caused by two different nations with diametrically opposed goals. The United States wanted to reduce the spread of Communist governments in order to allow for the spread of democratic governments, while the Soviet Union wanted to encourage the spread of Communist governments in order to increase their own sphere of influence. In the end no matter who the leaders were a Cold War seems inevitable.