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Post war planning - continued

The political situation

Five and a half years of war had left Great Britain severely impoverished and on the verge of bankruptcy. The Labour Government elected in 1945 was keen to enact the social programmes outlined in its manifesto and, beyond ensuring a rapid return to civilian life for many in the armed forces, were disinclined to allot a high priority to defense matters. Indeed, the Defence White Paper of 1946 was a masterpiece of economies; beyond maintaining a reasonable war potential such funding as could be spared was to go to research rather than building obsolete equipment, there would be only a limited introduction of the most modern equipment and maximum use was to be made of accumulated stocks. Expenditure on radar, radio and electrical equipment was virtually non-existent. By the spring of 1948 three and a half million people had left the munitions industries and four and a half million had left the forces, leaving the total number of people in the armed forces at a little over one million.

The uneasy war time alliance that existed between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and Russia on the other was in danger of falling apart within months of the war ending. Most of Europe lay in ruins, all the European countries were suffering greater or lesser degrees of economic hardship and the full horror of genocide was now becoming common knowledge. The winter of 1945-46 saw millions die of cold and starvation. By way of contrast the United States economy had more than doubled during the wartime years from a gross national product of $90 billion in 1939 to one of $212 billion in 1945. The impoverished European governments looked to the US for loans and aid.

Joseph Stalin, fearful of the effects of outside influences on the Soviet Union, was deeply suspicious of western capitalism and dealt ruthlessly with those of his countrymen whom he suspected might corrupt the Soviet peoples. He put pressure on the Soviet states to shun US aid, insisting that their aid should come from Moscow. Over the succeeding decades much of Russia's natural resources were squandered as the satellite states were supported with cheap loans and below cost petro-chemicals.

The western countries were equally suspicious of Soviet intentions, fearing the spread of communist influence. Matters took a turn for the worse when in a speech on the eve of elections to the Supreme Soviet in February 1946 Stalin claimed that capitalism made war inevitable, stating that, "The development of world capitalism proceeds not in the path of smooth and even progress but through crisis and the catastrophes of war". To Stalin's audience this merely repeated familiar communist rhetoric but in Washington the speech was met with great alarm. State Department policy advisor Paul Nitze stated that the speech represented a "Delayed declaration of war against the United States". US officials hastily sought clarification from their embassy in Moscow. The task was given to George Kennan, a man deeply immersed in Russia and its culture. His nineteen page reply, now known as "The Long Telegram", was to have a profound and long lasting effect on US attitudes to the Soviet Union. In essence Kennan predicted that, "We have here a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure." As might be imagined, Kennan's telegramme caused great alarm when it was received in Washington. Meanwhile Winston Churchill, now out of power, travelled with President Truman to Missouri, the President's home state. On 5 March 1946 in an address at Westminster College, Fulton, Churchill made public what was being said privately in Washington and summarized the situation thus, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." US public opinion was not ready for this attack on a wartime ally and President Truman was forced to distance himself from Churchill's comments. In Moscow Churchill's speech, coming as it did from the heart of America, confirmed Stalin's suspicions of the west's hostility towards the Soviet Union. From this point on relations between the Soviet Union and the west would deteriorate further. A pattern of confrontation between Soviet and western ideologies began to develop that would become familiar over the next few decades; 1946-Iran, 1948-Berlin, 1949-China, 1950-Korea, 1961-Berlin and so on, and the many UN walkouts.

By mid 1948 the Russian threat was becoming increasingly apparent to the western public as the Soviet blockade of Berlin and the subsequent airlift operation brought the deteriorating situation fully into the public gaze for the first time. On 29 August 1949 the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb, just four years after the US. Suddenly the balance had been restored. On 31 January President Truman announced that he was directing that a new "So-called hydrogen or super bomb" be developed. The US H-weapon was tested on 1 November 1952. Nine months later the Soviets exploded their H-weapon on 12 August 1953. The Arms Race was on.

Most of the information on this page is drawn from "Cold War" - see References for further details on this publication


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Constructed by Dick Barrett


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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.