When the war finally ended, American, British, and Soviet forces made a public show of camaraderie. Countless photos were taken of Soviet and American troops shaking hands and sharing hugs as they met throughout occupied Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other locations. Democracy and Communism had come together to defeat a common enemy. But could they remain partners? The answer was no. The United States and the Soviet Union soon came to view each other more as enemies than friends, and the situation grew worse with each passing year.
Though Stalin had depended heavily on aid from the United States and other Allied nations to defeat Germany, he wasted no time in eliminating such facts from state-revised Soviet history. According to Stalin, the Red Army had won the war almost single-handedly. No mention was made to the Soviet people of the more than $11 billion the Soviet Union had received through the U.S. Lend-Lease program, or of the millions more raised by concerned Americans for the Russian Relief Organization, or of the huge amounts of war materiel provided to the Soviet Union by the British. Instead, Stalin promoted what he called the Great Patriotic War, in which the mighty Soviet bear had taken on and defeated Hitler's best. It was a mountain of revisionist lies, one laid on top of another. In many cases, the truth would remain hidden from the Soviet people for decades.
Stalin's drive for power in Eastern Europe had concerned the other Allied leaders long before Germany's unconditional surrender. One of their worst fears was the installation of Communist governments in Germany and nearby nations. British and American leaders were aware of Stalin's not-so-secret agenda and understood that the Soviet Union would have to be closely watched lest its ambitions jeopardize the rest of the world. Almost immediately, the Soviet Union replaced Nazi Germany as the greatest enemy of world freedom.
The Stand Against Communism
In the months following the end of World War II, President Harry Truman tried to assuage the fears of U.S. allies in Europe by making clear that any serious aggression by the Soviet Union would be decisively met with atomic weapons. Faced with a weapon of such awesome power, the thinking went, the Soviet Union would never risk an all-out war to spread its political ideology.
However, Stalin wasn't particularly intimidated by U.S. atomic weapons because the Soviet Union was close to creating a nuclear arsenal of its own — an achievement that would influence the coming Cold War like no other. More important at the time, Stalin steadfastly maintained a strong military presence in Eastern Europe as other Allied forces were rapidly withdrawing. With nothing to keep him in check but threats, Stalin had little difficulty installing Soviet-controlled Communist governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. Later, the Soviet sphere of influence would claim Albania and Yugoslavia.
The United States, Great Britain, and France occupied western Germany, and the Soviet Union occupied eastern Germany, with Berlin — also with three parts controlled by the western Allies and one by the Soviets — stuck in the Soviet occupation zone. The United States, Great Britain, and France struggled to get the Soviet Union to agree to a unified Germany, but Stalin held firm. He used this foothold to maintain Soviet power in the region, and the other occupying nations soon realized that no agreement would be reached with their former ally.
In June 1948, hoping to hold the Soviet Union in check, the United States, Great Britain, and France decided to unify their occupation zones into an independent nation to be known as the German Federal Republic. The Soviet Union retaliated by cutting off all road, rail, and boat traffic to Allied-controlled West Berlin and stranding its more than 2 million residents. Stalin's goal was to force the western Allies to abandon their plans for a free German republic by starving the residents of West Berlin. But the United States and its Allies refused to cave in. Instead, they initiated the Berlin Airlift to deliver food by plane to the trapped West Berliners. Allied supply planes landed every six minutes, twenty-four hours a day, until Stalin finally lifted the blockade after 318 days.
Fearing that Stalin would next try to bring Communism to war-torn France and Italy, U.S. officials made a pre-emptive strike by sending food and billions of dollars in aid to Europe. The massive assistance program became known as the Marshall Plan after its designer, former Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who had become secretary of state in 1947. In 1953, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
In May 1949, the United States joined with eleven other nations to create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Uniting primarily for protection against Soviet aggression, the member nations agreed that an attack on one would be considered an attack on all, and that they would react accordingly. Turkey and Greece joined NATO in 1952, and when a newly armed West Germany joined in 1955, the Soviet Union responded by forming the Warsaw Pact, which included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and East Germany. The division between ally and enemy had never been more sharply drawn.
Stalin Spurs Advances Within the Soviet Union
Even though Stalin was spending much of his time grabbing what he could in Eastern Europe, he wasn't ignoring the home front. Realizing the need for a strong military force in the new world order, he authorized an all-out modernization of the Red Army and a dramatic increase in Soviet naval capability, including the construction of new battle cruisers, aircraft carriers, and submarines — many of them based on revolutionary concepts from the Nazis.
Indeed, the Soviet Union benefited greatly from information derived from captured German technology and the scientists who created it, particularly in the area of rocketry. Soon after the war, the Soviets began experimenting with a wide variety of missile concepts. The program would eventually lead to the launching of Sputnik — the first man-made object to be sent into Earth orbit. The success of Sputnik fueled the Soviet weapons and space programs and sent waves of fear down the backs of many Americans. Would the Soviets use this new technology to attack America from space? Not to be outdone, the United States initiated its own space program, and the so-called space race was under way.
In September 1949, the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb. In that instant, the United States lost its military superiority. To deliver its new weapons of mass destruction, Soviet scientists built a fleet of bombers based on the U.S. B-29 Superfortress. The information they used came from three of the American planes that were forced down in Siberia in 1944 after bombing runs against Japan. Soviet researchers secretly took the planes apart, studied their design, and were able to recreate them almost exactly. The threat of Soviet attack would be a cause of concern for many years to come.