Declarations of Cold War

Tensions between the two countries escalated during the post-World War II period and declarations by leaders on both sides, including Stalin and Churchill, and strategists, such as United States diplomat George Kennan, began to formally announce the existence of a Cold War. At the heart of their message was recognition of the posturing by the two superpowers with opposing ideologies and world views.

Such declarations of Cold War began as early as 1946. In February of that year, Stalin’s Soviet Party Congress speech made the growing East-West conflict seem inevitable. Cold War historian Walter LaFeber discussed how Stalin’s speech cast a pall over contemporary East-West negotiations,

“In an election speech of February 9, the Soviet dictator announced that Marxist-Leninist dogma remained valid, for ‘the unevenness of development of the capitalist countries’ could lead to ‘violent disturbance’ and the consequent splitting of the ‘capitalist world into two camps and the war between them.’ War was inevitable as long as capitalism existed. The Soviet people must prepare themselves for a replay of the 1930s by developing basic industry instead of consumer goods and, in all, making enormous sacrifices demanded in ‘three five- year plans, I should think if not more.’ There would be no peace, internally or externally. These words profoundly affected Washington. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, one of the reigning American liberals, believed that Stalin’s speech meant ‘The declaration of World War III.’”

Two weeks after Stalin’s speech, in late February, United States diplomat George Kennan responded to a State Department request for an analysis of Soviet expansionism and global intentions with what became another such declaration of a Cold War. Kennan’s response, later given the descriptive title “The Long Telegram,” warned that Soviet policies assumed western hostility and that Soviet expansionism was inevitable. Moscow would only be deterred by forceful opposition, be it political or military, and Kennan thus recommended that the United States employ a policy of “long-term patient but firm and vigilant containment.” His analysis was well received by United States policymakers who felt that the telegram confirmed their views and the tougher stance the Truman administration was taking with the Soviets.

One month later, in his March 1946 speech at Fulton, Missouri, ex- British Prime Minister Winston Churchill presented his views on the East-West conflict. Churchill coined the term “iron curtain” in this speech and outlined a global alliance between Europe and the United States, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

During the final passage of the American Treasury loan to Britain in July 1946, American Congressional leaders outlined their own declaration of Cold War, as they described the world as half free and half communist in order to win approval for the politically contested loan. Leaders, such as Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, argued that the United States must support its longtime ally in Britain, especially as the bipolar division of the world seemed impossible to overcome. The United States committed $3.75 billion in loans to Britain for reconstruction of its economy, which was, in the words of historian Derek Leebaert, the “first distinctly postwar commitment of U.S. economic and political power.” As Rayburn explained in defense of the loan, “I do not want Western Europe, England, and all the rest of Europe pushed toward an ideology that I despise” and “I fear that if we do not cooperate with our great natural ally [Britain] that is what will happen.” As Cold War historian Dr. Jeffery A. Engel has written, to thinkers like Rayburn, “Only a strong Great Britain, an unsinkable American island-base of anticommunism set off the coast of Europe could prevent Soviet domination of the continent, he argued, and only an economically strong Britain, a Britain strengthened by a $3.75 billion loan, could possibly remain solidly in the American camp.”

Part of a series of articles titled Origins of the Cold War.

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Last updated: October 20, 2020