Manual For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War

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From Stalin's point of view, the proper Russian borders were those of , which included a good part of what was then eastern Poland and included the Baltic states. So from his point of view, you know, the aim in this war, this second war with Germany, was to restore the borders that the Soviet Union had had in , and they were achieved again as a result of the pact with Germany in August—August Now, whether that means Stalin was intending on and—and really desired a Cold War, I'm not so sure.

I mean, my argument is that the main reason why Stalin wanted to continue—not that he was going to give up Eastern Europe, but the main reason he wanted to continue the alliance after the war was that he—after World War II was that he was afraid of yet another German invasion, and he thought that an alliance with the United States and Britain was the best guarantee against the new German aggression.

That's from his point of view. Now, obviously, we can criticize that, but I think that was his point of view.

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I'd ask the question, did—that I was going to ask, did Stalin, Churchill, later Attlee and—and Truman—did any of them envisage coming out of World War II and continuing the wartime alliance? I mean, one of the really interesting developments in Cold War scholarship, I would say, of the last fifteen years, as Soviet documents have become more available, is the growing realization that Stalin did want to continue to—or perpetuate in some form the wartime coalition primarily and precisely because he thought that would serve Soviet self interest at a time when he saw the Soviet Union, saw his own country as being economically and financially vulnerable and in—and in need of enormous reconstruction.

So preserving some continuous coalition with the Western allies was indispensable in terms one, of hopefully getting a loan from the United States, which had been discussed during the war. But even more importantly, a tenuous perpetuation of the coalition was essential both to control the future of German power, which is what Frank was alluding to, but also the coalition was perceived as essential in order to allow the Soviet Union to continue to get reparations from the Western zones of Germany.

So Stalin did have a sense that the coalition, that the perpetuation of the wartime coalition in some form would serve Soviet self-interest. And therefore, I would say most of the accounts of the last ten or fifteen years do not portray Stalin as eager to sunder, totally sunder that—that coalition. That doesn't mean that he didn't want to pursue a very determined sense of Soviet self-interest.

Same thing, I would say, just in shorthand, would have been—was true with Truman. I believe that Truman definitely wanted to sustain the wartime coalition but according to Truman's own sense of American self-interest, on American terms. And so ultimately, there is a clash of what are the terms that might be prospectively reconcilable with one another, and it's in the irreconcilability of those definitions of self-interest that ultimately lead to the disintegration of the coalition itself.

But yes. Short answer to your question is that I think all the key parties wanted to continue the wartime coalition in some form to serve their respective definition of self-interest.


LEFFLER: Yeah, but often—often nations' views of their self-interest are contradictory, and it's the challenge of statesmanship to try to reconcile contradictory conceptions of self-interest, sometimes through ambiguous and sophisticated language and sometimes through smart compromises. ZELIKOW: This was not meant—this—this brief moment was—was in no sense the illusions that we are now friendly countries; it was that we have certain practical things we can work on together amidst inaudible.

One is this dangerous equation that Russia of—the Russia of was Russia. No, it was a Russian empire, not Russia. It's different. It was an autocratic multinational empire and knew it was. And this is very important, because it's very important to understand—the difference between a Russian empire and the Soviet Union. A Russian empire—the people who created the Soviet Union knew very well that they were replacing an autocratic empire What was—the governing principle of a Soviet Union is a union of Soviets, that is a union of republics who have joined a common ideology.

Sharing that common ideology, these republics have joined a union in which they are bound by that rather than by an autocratic emperor. And so basically, the—the effort to kind of push great Russian nationalism either onto the borders of the Russian empire or the borders of the Soviet Union is—it's an old enterprise but—so one needs to be careful about the usages of these terms and—because no one thought that these nationalities actually were really Russian, inside any of these borders. The—the second thing I wanted to focus on is the issue in the immediate post-'45 period of Russian views on Germany and fears of another war with Germany.

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The people who ran the Soviet Union were—at this time were very knowledgeable about military affairs. They knew how to count divisions, and they knew how to analyze military capability. One third of that Germany had been pulled off and completely destroyed. It had been distributed among the Soviet Union inaudible.

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About another piece of that Germany, 25 to 30 percent of it, was actually under direct Soviet military occupation. The notion then that this—the—the remainder of that Germany could actually pose a credible military danger in terms of numbers of divisions, any serious counting, to the then-sized Soviet Union would've assumed that these people actually didn't know how to count troops. The other puzzle, too, about that analysis is that the United States, of course, sensitive to the Soviet concern, actually promulgated a draft treaty to demilitarize Germany, and it was a thorough-going document, just way, way beyond anything that people had contemplated at Versailles in and The treaty of the Americans actually tabled—would say Germany will have no military forces for at least twenty-five years, not a token army, nothing, and the entire country will be policed by four-power policemen roving the country at will.

And that treaty was put on the table for Russian—for Soviet agreement, and the Soviets actually displayed not actually very much interest in that document. But everything we have learned about Stalin in , '45 and '46 demonstrates that he had an enormous fear about the revival of German power, long-term. Yes, what Philip said was true short-term, but all of Stalin's discussions—and we have many, many memos of Stalin's discussions He's not talking about two years, three years or four years; he's talking about fifteen or twenty-five years.

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We also a lot of information about the exact treaty that—or proposal—that was presented for the long-term demilitarization and unification of Germany. We know that Soviet officials actually did look at the proposal very carefully and very systematically and then rejected it. Virtually every person in the Soviet foreign ministry who read that document rejected it. They rejected it because they thought it was a shrewd American maneuver conditioned upon—the whole point—demilitarizing Germany for twenty-five years on condition that the Soviet Union withdraw its troops from Germany and from Eastern Europe, conditioned on that.

And Stalin's view and the view of most of his subordinates was that this would provide a framework for the eventual unification and rearmament of Germany. Keep in mind what's in the memory of every single Soviet official, and by the way, every single European official in and '46 and ' Yes, at the end of World War I, Germany had been defeated, Rhineland was supposed to be demilitarized, its army was supposed to be limited to ,, et cetera, et cetera.

And what had happened? In twenty years, Germany dominated all of Europe. This is what pulsates through the memory of every single European diplomat and every single Soviet policymaker, most notably Joseph Stalin, in and ' Of course, you have to remember that, you know, it's not just a matter of counting—counting divisions and counting possible economy recovery; Stalin had the emotional—emotional experience of seeing the Germans slash through the Soviet Union in—in after the June 22nd invasion of and getting to the gates of Moscow.

You said when Eden was in Moscow in December of , you could hear the booming of the German guns from And in the Potsdam Conference in July and August , one of the things Stalin remarked upon, he was just amazed. He said, "We destroyed these—these people, these Germans, and yet despite all the bombings, despite all the hand-to-hand combat in the street, there's still underground factories, there's still so much left undestroyed.

Melvyn P. Leffler | Wilson Center

These are amazing people. The Germans are amazing people.

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And as Mel said, he said inaudible , within fifteen to twenty years, they'll be back, and we have to try to deal with that. So given all those factors, very quickly, was there, you know—the inevitability question—was there anything either side could've done at a certain point to somehow change the course of events and to prevent a full-blown Cold War, or is that—and—and here, within this context, of course, it's died down quite a bit, but in the '60s and the '70s, there was a lot of talk about, you know, the revisionist school on the Cold War.

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The reason was that Roosevelt—it was not that Roosevelt was naive in thinking that his personality would affect Stalin. That was not what Roosevelt was doing. Kennan, of course, in '46, '47 was one of the people who helped launch the Cold War. But Kennan then repeatedly—as early February , Kennan started arguing with the State Department and then when that met on deaf ears, outside the government.

Kennan kept on saying repeatedly—, , , other times as well—that there was possibilities for negotiating and easing of tension, maybe not an end to the Cold War but an easing of tension that would forestall the dangers of a third World War. I—I say this because Philip made an extraordinarily important point at the beginning when he said the Cold War was in part an ideological battle about how to organize modern industrial economies.

In , , '47, there was profound doubt about the viability of democratic capitalism in the wake of two World Wars and a Great Depression. In , '46 and '47, American policymakers were not reacting even primarily to what the Soviets were doing. They were extremely worried about what Stalin was doing in Eastern Europe.

But was—but what was extraordinarily important to American policymakers was the prospect that Communist parties and their allies would come to power through free elections or internal subversion, sponsored by themselves, not by the Soviet Union, because we know that Stalin was cautioning the Italian and the French Communists not to seize power.

But the prospect that given the disillusionment, the post-war instability, the economic dislocation in post-war Europe, American policymakers hugely feared that Communists would come to power in Italy, France and elsewhere, and there was a concern then that these countries would slowly gravitate, by their own volition, if this happened, into a Soviet orbit. So a key factor—American policymakers were reacting to the socioeconomic turmoil in Western Europe and in Germany, since there was a huge worry about what's going to happen to the future of Germany, the Western zones of Germany, and not because there was fear that Germany would go Communist, but there was fear that the internal turmoil would lead to a revival of some intense form of nationalist xenophobia in Germany over the long run.

Keep in mind, in , '46 and '47, most American policymakers are still thinking, "We're going to withdraw from Germany, and what then is going to happen to Germany"? There was huge worry about that. So it's these indigenous circumstances that—not just Soviet moves and actions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere in Iran and Turkey, but it's these circumstances that generate an enormous sense of apprehension and fear, which then impels American policymakers to undertake three critical programs that are indispensable to understanding the origins of the Cold War: the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and most important of all, probably, the unification and reconstruction of the Western zones of Germany.

Those are critical dimensions, and I don't think American policymakers could avoid doing those things, which, in turn, inspired a cycle of fear and apprehension and countermoves by Stalin and the Soviet Union. Fear and power. You can feel great power and have great fear at the same time, and understanding how the calculus of fear and power shaped the policies of both sides and I think, made the Cold War inevitable. That, actually, I think, was not so inevitable. If I think back, actually, on, you know, what is—what was not—the tension was inevitable. I actually don't think it was inevitable that America would be as engaged on the ground in Europe as it became.

I don't think actually—I'm not sure a Marshall Plan program was inevitable. I think with a different set of personalities, I can imagine an American policy without a Marshall Plan. And now you—since I don't regard that as a tragedy, I think that's actually a really interesting good story, because I think the ambient default condition is probably one where you don't do anything quite as energetic or ingenious as the Marshall Plan.

The other thing that I think is kind of a—is a break-off, is the developments in East Asia, which I know we're focusing more on Europe today, but the developments in East Asia immediately ran back to Europe and the consequence that they had, and that's China and Korea and even more Korea, perhaps, than China, since the Chinese War had already been going on off and on before World War II and was continuing the—and then this—and that gets into the details of the issues of why the—why the Soviets did what they did and then why the Chinese did what they did.

Please identify yourself, wait for the microphone, speak into the microphone and ask a direct question. Thank you for a great opening panel.

This was really stimulating. I have two questions that are provoked by things that were said by individuals but that I'm happy to have anybody answer. And my question is, is there now consensus among historians about what happened at Yalta and why Roosevelt did what he did? Because I remember when I was in graduate school, there were all these questions about, you know, was Roosevelt sick at the time? Did he not think straight? Because he had been somebody who had such a liberal vision of things, was he now actually accepting spheres of influence? And the second question was provoked by something Philip Zelikow said, which is if—if the Cold War was ideology but it was not just about Bolshevism versus capitalism, could we make the argument that the Cold War actually hasn't ended and it's just gone on to the next ideological struggle between liberal democracy on one side and a more authoritarian view of state-centric development on the other, and are we just in the next iteration of things?

It's too—too controversial.