Let’s parse this and break down some of the reasons that the Cold War “broke out.” First of all, at the end of the Second World War the Soviets were the dominant land force in Europe, but this force had some severe limitations. First of all, their logistical machinery was largely supplied by the Americans: they couldn’t have been nearly as successful without those Studebakers and the thousands of miles of phone lines, etc., that came in from the US.
Furthermore, this army had run out of replacements in January 1945, so its combat strength could only go down. Next, there wasn’t an easy way to feed these troops, because the Soviet Union was so decimated. Also, while the Soviet Air Force was good, it wasn’t on the level of the US and British Air Forces. And, of course, the Soviet Union did not have the atom bomb. This means that while the Soviets were imposing and very scary to the West, they had weaknesses of which Stalin was largely aware. The Westerners understood that the Soviet military was flawed, but they also knew that the cost of fighting the Soviet Union would have been enormous. Could the Soviet Union have won a war with a determined West in 1945? Absolutely not, but victory would have taken years and several more atom bombs. Now, the Soviet Union’s leadership were concerned about the Western threat.
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In fact, they had been paranoid about this threat for decades. Let’s be clear, there were many times that the threat had manifested itself in violence. Stalin and his cronies made some incorrect assumptions about the Western threat, though. First of all, they lumped the Nazis in with the British and the Americans: Stalin always feared they would come to an accommodation. Secondly, the Soviet Union’s leading economic theorists believed that the prime economic engine of the West was the United States. The United States produced an enormous amount of stuff, but it did so with deficit spending and its spending was devoted to war materials. With the war coming to an end the US home front was going to be flooded with returning veterans for whom there were no jobs.
Furthermore, there was practically no consumption at home to sustain spending, so American industries would collapse again from lack of demand. This would open the door for communist success in the West and Stalin wanted to be ready for that. Let’s add something into all of the above: the Soviet Union had a huge army that it could not feed. It couldn’t afford to release its veterans back home because there was no place for them to go. The solution was to keep them in uniform occupying Eastern Europe. They looted the land under the guise of reparations and also provided a useful buffer for the Soviet Union.
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