JASON D. GROSE
December 3, 2001
Like many wartime coalitions, the Grand Alliance rapidly fell
apart after the defeat of the Axis. Why did this happen?
Could this have been preserved? If so, how?
The opportunity for a post-World War II global utopia was
not only possible but very close to becoming a reality.
Instead, the two emerging superpowers, the United States and
Russia, spiraled down into what has been dubbed “The Cold War”
and triggered malignant competition in world events nearly culminating
in nuclear devastation. But what caused this and how could
have it been avoided? I will address three hinging factors
associated with American and Russian interactions originally
mentioned in the seventh chapter of John Lewis Gaddis’ book
Russia, The Soviet Union, And The United States: An Interpretive
Furthermore, I will outline alternatives to each problem
which, if implemented, would have increased the probability
of an alternate, more benign yet fruitful relationship between
the two superpowers. These factors; personality, ideology,
and technology combined to put the two countries at odds and
I argue that an effort by either side to repair, bridge, or
accept these differences would have preserved the Grand Alliance
and benefited human civilization to this day.
Fresh from the defeat of the Axis powers, the Grand Alliance
faced a precarious choice to stay connected and evolve into
a global co-op of sorts or to disband. The unprecedented
unity between such large civilizations as the United States,
Britain, France, and Russia formed the aptly name Grand Alliance
whose integrated cooperation won a world war and showed great
promise to follow up that victory with global stabilization.
While it would be easy to find differences in such divergent
countries, the more difficult task was to continue the unity
and take advantage of the opportunity to address, understand,
and find solutions to unavoidable points of contention.
For Russia’s part, the defeat of the Germany left a large
power vacuum in Europe enabling Russia to become that continent’s
major presence. With the defeat of Germany and in the
rubble of war-torn Europe, the conditions were ripe for reestablishing
order among chaos. In keeping with its policy of creating
buffer zones to protect the motherland, Russia felt justified
in filling the vacuum by absorbing land on its periphery and
establishing a European order while concurrently establishing
the desired buffer.
The United States, on the other side of the globe, had their
new nuclear arsenal and was flush with victory. After
showcasing the new American atomic capability by ending the
war in two mushroom clouds over Japan, there was no question
that the United States would be a dominant figure on the global
stage. But a post-war isolationism and military draw down
combined with a containment policy of communism bred mistrust
of the former Russian ally.
It is interesting to note that individuals alone rarely
have historic repercussions. Out of the billions of people
that have ever lived, relatively few have made significant,
long-lasting, individual effects that alter human existence.
But I would contend that during an era that saw one of these
emerge, namely Adolph Hitler, there also came another whose
choices and personality effected not only the world he lived
in but the one where we now find ourselves.
Joseph Stalin, the staunch communist and leader of post-war
Russia, not only drove the perception of Russian ideology inside
his country, but outside it as well. His decisions and
personality would pervade and alter all interaction and perception
of Russia as a whole and was a major reason the Cold War even
came into existence.
After the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,
the Soviets did not trust America. In fact, the official
Russian history of that transition states “the policy pursued
by the US ruling circles after the death of Franklin D.
Roosevelt amounted to renunciation of dependable and mutually
beneficial cooperation with the Soviet Union …” (Gromyko, 27).
As President Truman took the American reigns of power, he
too made some mistakes in his dealings with the Soviets.
By refusing to show even a perception of weakness and taking
a tough approach amounting to not-so-subtle threats of power,
Truman was forcing the Soviets into a corner. Stalin had
a obvious and historical Russian response to such boldness which
all but required the Soviets to put up political barriers if
for nothing else than to satisfy Soviet pride. Suddenly
what started out as a promising union of superpowers turned
into a war of words and breakdown of communication ready to
poison all other American/Russia interactions.
Stalin was an ageing dictator whose political situation
was replete with danger and stress. He was dealing with
the loss of 20 million Russians by the end of World War II,
a ruined economy, and the perceived struggle with a powerful
Western counterpart. His views had to be tinged with the
recent memory of American involvement in the Bolshevism neutralization.
Furthermore, the atomic bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
must have infused fear in his dealings with America.
It was no secret that fears and personality prevented Stalin
from being reassured of his nation’s status. Stalin’s
irrational behavior when it came to Western influence was legendary.
George F. Kennan, the foremost expert on Russian affairs
at the time, went as far as to note that,
Nothing short of complete disarmament, delivery of our
air and naval forces to Russia and the resigning of the powers
of government to American Communists would even dent this problem…
and even then Moscow would smell a trap and would continue to
harbor the most baleful misgivings. (Gaddis, 183).
With such hard line beliefs, the United States found themselves
in a tough situation with little hope of gaining the trust of
the Russian leader and therefore of breaking down the barriers
between the two superpowers.
The resulting decision at the time was just to continue
to promote capitalism in emerging markets and wait out the current
Soviet leadership until a more cooperative regime came to power
By being such powerful leaders of their respective countries,
both Truman and Stalin had an incredible opportunity to initiate
a spirit of cooperation that would have trickled down within
their political systems. If they would not have allowed
the communication breakdowns to occur and instead had forced
their cooperation through their very own example, the results
would have been history-changing. That this did not happen
is a failure they both shared. Truman went as far as to
call Stalin “a fine man who wanted to do the right thing” (Blum,
490) but he still feared that any sign of weakness or appeasement
would result in Russia asking for even more. Stalin, facing
internal catastrophes listed above, became more and more anti-American
as events unfolded. In 1945 he shipped hundreds of thousands
of returning prisoners of war to labor camps because he believed
their exposure to Western ideas while incarcerated would somehow
corrupt the Communist purity of the Soviet Union (Gaddis, 190).
If the entirety of the Cold War could be mapped as a branching
chart of events, the highest order split between the two superpowers
would have to be the communication breakdown between Truman
and Stalin right from the start. If that personality-driven
fissure could have been mended early, the resulting contentions
which bred even more friction could almost surely have been
If high-level personalities played a big part in the strained
American/Russian relations, the ideologies represented almost
irreconcilable differences. By their very nature and by
definition, capitalism and communism can almost never co-exist.
But it is not hard to see why each country chose their form
of government. With its millions of square miles of homeland,
satellite nations, and population, the Soviet Union had a history
of needing cooperative communism to survive. On the other
hand, America has always thrived on the competitive spirit of
capitalism to fuel innovation and production.
Many believed that Soviet participation in the Grand Alliance
coupled with Stalin’s downplay of communism during the war proved
that Russia was ready to convert to a more capitalistic world
view. After all, Stalin had even abolished the Comintern
in 1943. (Gaddis, 177).
But after the war ended and Stalin felt he could fill the
power vacuum by absorbing surrounding countries, the natural
way to govern those new territories, from the Russian perspective,
was by communism. What set the Soviet states against not
only the American government but also the American people was
the way in which they achieved their goal. America wanted
its Western influence within the new geo-political landscape
also but the big difference, as America and Britain saw it,
was that while non-communistic states also felt the need to
extend their influence and fill the post-war vacuum, they did
so with the will of those countries. America believed
that their Western views could be seen for its merits while
Russia imposed its ideology on the states it wanted to own.
The situation only gave credence to latent fears about communism
and that Russia wanted to take over the world. Anti-communists
argued that the world was trading one Hitler-style dictator
state for another with much more influence politically and militarily.
Even Truman himself publicly announced that Russia was the “one
nation [that] has not only refused to cooperate in the establishment
of a just and honorable peace but –even worse– have actively
sought to prevent it.” (Truman, 265).
To deal with this “threat,” America developed a containment
strategy that sought to restore the balance of power in Europe.
The containment strategy originally aimed to restore confidence
in individual European powers that would balance out power,
in essence keeping everyone in check so as not to let one system
dominate. The way America implemented this idea was with
economic aid for the struggling nations and promoting capitalism
to counter communistic influences in Europe.
The best both sides could have hoped for is to agree to
disagree and try to increase communication, cooperation, and
diplomacy. With two such divergent systems, it is hard
to say what could have brought the two to an understanding.
But with a shut down in communication and stubbornness on both
sides, mutual hatred festered. It is ostentatious to believe
that Russia should have embraced capitalism just as it would
be to say that an American conversion to communism would have
aligned the two superpowers. If the Soviet takeovers of
neighboring states could have been accomplished with the will
of the people, Russia would not have appeared so predatory.
If America could have been more open to concessions, Russia
might not have been so defensive of its tactics.
What emerged was policies on both sides that reflected their
own ideologies, independent of the other. America wanted
to infuse money accompanied by capitalistic ideas into the struggling
European nations. Russia simply took over by force.
Under a more cooperative and fair system, a better national
tactic at the time would be to offer the nation a choice between
the two ideologies and respect their decision. If communism
was as beneficial as the Soviet government believed, a fair
choice between two alternatives should not have been a problem.
In this way, the predatory tactics of strong-arming a struggling
nation would not ignite the United States and breed mistrust
in their true intentions.
There is no doubt about the technological status of each
country after World War II. While much of Europe bore
the ravaged scars of battle, not a American blade of grass was
scathed as a result of the war, excluding Pearl Harbor of course.
In fact, America emerged with a more advanced industrial plant
than when it started while much of the Russian industry was
all but destroyed. (Gaddis, 178).
The biggest technological difference though was the atomic
bomb. The power that now belonged solely in the American
arsenal scared the entire world but the opportunity for a monumental
cooperation was at hand. With a temporary advantage in
nuclear technology, the United States could have turned a weapon
of mass destruction into a trust offering of never before seen
History has proven that such advancements in technology
rarely enjoy a singular master for very long. America
had to know that the Russians would eventually obtain their
own nuclear capability and that it was working on it at a fevered
pace. Therefore the advantage of being the sole owner
of nuclear weapons had a short lifespan. As radical as
it sounds, America should have helped Russia come up to speed
with their nuclear technology.
The fact is that there was going to be an arms race and
Russia would eventually get the bomb. The real advantage
to America having the technology first was not a deterrent factor
but a bargaining chip to usher in the nuclear age in a spirit
of cooperation. An announcement that the United States
would share nuclear technology with Russia at the end of the
war in the spirit of cooperation and unity could have sealed
a friendship that strengthened and extended the Grand Alliance
While this might sound ludicrous in view of the Cold War
and the nuclear proliferation that so scared generations of
Americans and Soviets, it must be remembered that international
friction did not begin until the post-war reconstruction period.
Before that, America was allied with Russia and while Russia
was licking her wounds, America had a technology that was sure
to be developed by the Soviets. By extending the inevitably
obtainable technology to the Russians, a bond could have been
created that had a chance to thwart the diplomatic breakdowns
seen after the war.
The atomic fig leaf was short lived because, as history
has shown, the Soviets did indeed develop their own nuclear
program. Maybe the tactic would not have worked but it
could not have worsened the situation. The Soviets would
still posses nuclear weapons and the Cold War would still occur.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to help a struggling Soviet nation
and promote a trust that could have altered world events passed
and with it, global stability.
There is little doubt that the differences inherent in the
United States and Russia at the end of World War II made the
continuation of their alliance difficult to maintain after the
Axis Powers had been defeated. Creating such a large European
power vacuum, each side had its own motivations for a post-war
world fashioned after their respective political beliefs.
The Soviets felt they needed buffer zones to protect their motherland
against future attacks. The Americans wanted to promote
Capitalism and open foreign markets while at the same time,
balancing out the power in Europe.
During this critical period, two men had the opportunity
to lead their nations toward this cooperative coexistence.
Joseph Stalin, the gruff Russian, was a strong leader but had
a deep mistrust for Western ideas. His fears and irrational
choices made it difficult for Americans to shake of the stereotype
of communism as evil. Harry Truman, the normally astute
leader of the United States, chose to assert himself to the
Russians in such a bold manner that friction was almost guaranteed.
The two personalities, or more importantly the clashes between
them, filtered down the entire chain of command and suddenly
communication between the two nations became strained.
A more asserted effort to cooperate by the leaders would have
most certainly went a long way to set an example and spirit
of cooperation between the two superpowers they represented.
What the two sides needed at the time was a common focus
and an instrument to base their cooperation upon. Cutting
through their personal and ideological differences, a technological
solution was at hand to bridge the widening gulf between them.
If Truman could have approached Stalin with the nuclear bomb
information, even the cold Russian mistrust may have melted
away. The dividends realized for such an unprecedented
act would have reverberated through the two countries for decades.
Building on that initial offering of trust and understanding,
other differences could have been worked out in a frank and
honest manner which would mitigate many of the setbacks between
the two countries that are currently part of our history.
The Grand Alliance could have continued and the resulting world
would have never known of the term “Cold War.”
1. Blum, John M. The Price of Vision: The Diary
of Henry A. Wallace 1942-1946, Houghton Mifflin: Boston,
2. Gaddis, John L. Russia, the Soviet Union, and
the United States: An interpretive History, McGraw-Hill:
New York, 1990.
3. Gromyko, A.A. and Ponomarev B.N. Soviet Foreign
Policy 1917-1980, Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1981.
4. Truman Press Conference, June 5, 1947, Truman Public