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Historiographical perspectives of the Cold War - Essay Example

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Cold War" was popularized to refer to postwar tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, interpreting the course and origins of the conflict have been a source of heated controversy among historians, political scientists, and journalists. In particular, historians have sharply disagreed as to who was responsible for the breakdown of Soviet-U.S…
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Historiographical perspectives of the Cold War
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Download file to see previous pages While the explanations of the origins of the conflict in academic discussions are complex and diverse, several general schools of thought on the subject can be identified. Historians commonly speak of three differing approaches to the study of the Cold War: "orthodox" accounts, "revisionism," and "post-revisionism." Nevertheless, much of the historiography on the Cold War weaves together two or even all three of these broad categories.
The first school of interpretation to emerge in the U.S. was "orthodox". For more than a decade after the end of the Second World War, few U.S. historians challenged the official U.S. interpretation of the beginnings of the Cold War. This "orthodox" school places the responsibility for the Cold War on the Soviet Union and its expansion into Eastern Europe. Thomas A. Bailey, for example, argued in his 1950 America Faces Russia that the breakdown of postwar peace was the result of Soviet expansionism in the immediate postwar years. Bailey argued Stalin violated promises he had made at Yalta, imposed Soviet-dominated regimes on unwilling Eastern European populations, and conspired to spread communism throughout the world. From this view, U.S. officials were forced to respond to Soviet aggression with the Truman Doctrine, plans to contain communist subversion around the world, and the Marshall Plan.
U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s disillusioned many historians with the premises of "containment", and thus with the assumptions of the "orthodox" approach to understanding the Cold War. "Revisionist" accounts emerged in the wake of the Vietnam War, in the context of a larger rethinking of the U.S. role in international affairs, which was seen more in terms of American empire or hegemony.
While the new school of thought spanned many differences among individual scholars, the works comprising it were generally responses in one way or another to Williams' Apple man landmark 1959 volume, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Williams challenged the long-held assumptions of "orthodox" accounts, arguing that Americans had always been an empire-building people, even while American leaders denied it.
Following Williams, "revisionist" writers placed more responsibility for the breakdown of postwar peace on the United States, citing a range of U.S. efforts to isolate and confront the Soviet Union well before the end of World War II. According to Williams and later "revisionist" writers, U.S. policymakers shared an overarching concern with maintaining capitalism domestically. In order to achieve that objective, they pursued an "open door" policy abroad, aimed at increasing access to foreign markets for U.S. business and agriculture. From this perspective, a growing economy domestically went hand-in-hand with the consolidation of U.S. power internationally.
"Revisionist" scholars challenged the widely accepted notion that Soviet leaders were committed to postwar "expansionism". They cited evidence that the Soviet Union's occupation of Eastern Europe had a defensive rationale, and that Soviet leaders saw themselves as attempting to avoid encirclement by the United States and its allies. In this view, the Soviet Union was so weak and devastated after the end of the Second World War as to be unable to pose any serious threat to the United States; moreover, ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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