To what extent was the Cold War inevitable after the end of World War 2?

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Unless you believe in predeterminism, nothing is inevitable in history. However, some things have a higher probability of happening than others, and this is what this study addresses. It looks at possibilities other than the outcome which occurred and explores why these scenarios did not prevail.

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It then looks at the actual unfolding of events and the deeper history which led to the Cold War emerging between 1945 and 1947/48. It analyses the factors which inclined the world towards ideological polarisation and evaluates what was the most significant. Several outcomes other than an armed, hostile stand-off could have emerged at the end of World War II. There might have been a hot war, with the vast armies of the Soviet Union pitched against the equally powerful armed might of the Western Allies. Alternatively, there could have been electoral successes and popular uprisings by communist and other radical left-wing movements across Western Europe leading to the coming to power of regimes less willing to take a hostile stance towards the USSR. Thirdly, elections in Eastern Europe might have resulted in Soviet influence stopping at her own borders and hence no Iron Curtain “stretching from Stettin to Trieste” (Thomas, 1988, 703). Finally, a more cooperative, consensual and less suspicious approach to diplomacy would possibly have achieved a mutually acceptable rapprochement. Apart from some hot-headed, dyed-in-the-wool anti-communists, such as General George Patton, there was little desire to start up another war against erstwhile allies. For the politicians of the democracies, initiating a new war would have been political suicide. For Stalin, there was little to be gained since he was in control of sufficient east European territory to create a series of buffer states to protect the Soviet Union (Leffler, 1986). Additionally, the USA had developed and demonstrated the use of the atomic bomb, something which the Russians had not yet mastered. Equally significantly, despite Churchill’s extreme wariness about Soviet post-war intentions in Europe, President Roosevelt was less concerned with ideas of Russian expansionism and he was by far the senior Western partner. He was willing to treat with Stalin, seeing the winning of the war as much more important than manoeuvring for later anti-communist geostrategic advantage (Offner, 1999). Despite his death a month before victory in Europe, his cooperative legacy prevailed long enough to make a shooting war with the USSR a non-starter (van Alstein, 2009). The prospect of a much more left-leaning political Europe was a genuine possibility. In Britain, the Labour Party won an overwhelming victory in the 1945 election, while in Italy there was a very real possibility of the Communist Party at the least being a participant in Italy’s first post-war government. Determined that Italy must remain in the Western camp, President Truman authorised the covert transfer of vast amounts of cash to the anti-communist Christian Democrat Party which proved significant in overcoming the initial broad support for the anti-fascist parties of the left (Mistry,

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