February 28
Origins of the Cold War

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Paul Nitze, author of NSC 68

In 1947, the journalist and commentator Walter Lippmann penned an article describing the developing US-USSR confrontation as a "Cold War."  The term came to describe the state of superpower relations for the next four decades.  This class focuses how the Cold War developed.
Historians debate an appropriate starting point for the onset of the Cold War; and this debate, in many ways, provides an opening for any study of the Cold War.  Authors such as David Foglesong and William Appleman Williams trace the beginning to the US intervention in the Russian civil war; still others point to the domestic anti-radicalism of the first Red Scare and the 1920s.

Those who pin the start to the post-World War II period divide largely into three camps.  New Left historians, such as Walter LaFeber but most outspokenly Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago, see US policies as primarily responsible for the onset of tensions.  They argue that the US acted in such a way that created fears of encirclement by the Soviet Union, and the Soviets responded defensively by consolidating their position in Eastern Europe.

This viewpoint has been most passionately challenged by Yale University historian John Lewis Gaddis, who sees Soviet actions in general and the decisions of Josef Stalin in particular as the driving force behind the postwar tensions.  In recent years, Gaddis has pointed to a large batch of Eastern bloc documents that bolster his view.

Taking a position somewhere in the middle is the author from whom we read for the next week, University of Virginia historian Melvyn Leffler, who has argued in two recent books that the war resulted mostly from a combination of the domestic institutional situations in both nations and balance-of-power forces, in which both the US and USSR were drawn into a power vacuum in central Europe.

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