Irina, aged 16

“Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us.  To build a world without fear, we must be without fear.  To build a world of justice, we must be just.” – Dag Hammarskjöld 

This quote comes from a time when the UN had to try to keep peace in a world threatened by the Cold War. By 1949, what were the dangers to peace? May 1945, Germany surrendered causing the Second World War to terminate. While major powers, USA USSR and Britain had assembled to fight against their common enemy, Germany, once defeated their good relationships were bound to erode. These leading to various conflicts which threatened would threaten world peace on several occasions.

While the big three were able to agree on most subjects at the Yalta conference, various points affected the Potsdam conference, as to start creating tension between USA and USSR. Foremost Stalin’s troops remained in a major part of Eastern Europe, meaning Stalin had control over these countries, and wished to establish pro-soviet governments. Due to this the new president Harry S. Truman, who was very different from Roosevelt, less of an optimist and was very much against communism, viewed Soviet actions as preparations for a possible communist takeover, which Truman would not tolerate.

Therefore he opted for a change in attitude towards Stalin, he as well informed Stalin that the USA had tested an atomic bomb with success, which only served to frustrated Stalin. Therefore the Potsdam conference ended without full agreement on certain issues, especially concerning Germany, and then began the tension between the two superpowers.

By 1946 Stalin had taken over Eastern Europe, with established communist governments which guaranteed their devotion to Stalin. By fear that Stalin would attempt to takeover Western Europe, a border was created between the Eastern area being controlled by theUSSRand Western countries as an iron curtain, as to stop communism from spreading. Relations between leaders at this point were completely destroyed, ruled by suspicion and accusation. Both leaders themselves spoke of threats of war, and increased their stock of weapons, instead of stopping arm production as expected after a war. Tension was great between leaders, and by that time a propaganda war developed.

USSR and USA had been united due to their common enemy, however this “friendship” they had established was bound to end. Even before the war, they had strongly doubted each other, and their countries did not have much in common, as well as their political views being a complete contrast to one another. The fact that the US troops had been sent to fight against communists during the Russian civil war in 1918-21 remained in the memories of soviets, as well as US not sending troops to aid the Soviet Union to fight against Hitler’s troops. As for American’s, polls had demonstrated that they trusted communist even less than Nazi’s, and had been revolted that Stalin had agreed to a pact with Hitler. From this we can see that even before the war relations between both these countries were very poor, and even though they had been able to put their differences aside for a certain time, it could not be counted to last. As tension grew stronger between both these countries, threats of war became more important. This not only impacted by their opposing political views, but as well for their desire of overpowering the other.

The communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in March 1948, where anti-communist leaders were purged and one pro-American minister Jan Masaryk was found dead below his window, communist having said he had jumped. Yet Americans believed he had been pushed to his death, this event causing them to change their attitude towards Stalin, and causing the Congress to immediately accept Marshal Aid. While Marshall Aid itself was very helpful to Western Europe and truly charitable, America did also have its own interest at hand. Truman wished to trade with other countries to avoid a repeat of the great depression, as to be able to do so, post war countries needed to rebuild themselves this including their industries. Stalin however only prevailed to view this action as wary; he was in fear of western influence which could impact the strength of his totalitarian regime. Trade being yet another conflict of opposing views between both leaders. Yet still at this point neither leader had justifiable reason to declare war on one another.

The most imminent threat of war was during the Berlin blockade.Germany had become a great issue, while Stalin wished to maintain Germany crippled, for fear of attack, it was obvious to the allies thatGermanyneeded to rebuild its industries as to be able to feed the German population. Therefore allies chose to combine their zones as to create one which would be known as West Germany, and within months there were signs demonstrating a recovering Germany.  Stalin perceived such actions as provocation, and although he could do nothing about it, he wished to establish some sort of authority, causing him to blockade Berlin from all Western help. Cutting off the two-million population of West Berlin from the Western Germany entirely. Consequently if US troops interfered, or tried to make passage, Stalin would declare those actions as acts of war, allowing him to declare war on the US, with legitimate reason. As a solution, and to also demonstrate his strong will to preserve the containment policy, Truman had supplies brought toWest Berlinthrough air, travelling over Soviet territory. People feared planes would be shot by Soviets, as they flew to West Berlin, and if such thing were to happen, this would equally be considered as an act of war, and launch a war. Yet as the population waited anxiously no plane was shot, and for the ten months to follow, supplies were brought in through air. Even though there were still shortages, and some decided to fully leave West Berlin, once Stalin understood allies would not give up onWest Berlin he re-opened connections.

Berlin Blockade was the closest countries had come to, actually going to war. Nonetheless we can see how various conflicts between the “superpowers” impacted other countries in Europe. What is also very noticeable is that all threats to peace were mainly concerning the USA and USSR, while Britain and France also opposed communism, they strongly desired to preserve peace, and stayed out of the conflicts between Stalin and Truman.  Both superpowers had such divers opposing views that conflict between them was truly inevitable, as well as the fact that they sought to subdue the other. However even though tension was clearly present, it didn’t seem likely that either country wanted a third World War while Europe was still recovering from the one which had just finished. Meaning that even though peace had been threatened on various occasion, until 1949 it was fully preserved.

About UN News Geneva

Sharing entires to the United Nations Peace Essay competitions run by the Information Service in Geneva in 2011
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