Tension Escalation: 1946 in Politics

The years following the close of the Second World War would see an escalation of tensions between east & west in the political outlook and policy of the leaders of the respective sides. The USA, having emerged relatively unscathed from the war, a gift of its geographically isolated position and delayed entry into the conflict, was in a better economic state than the rest of the west, and proffered a hand to help Europe recover through its interventionist policies and European Recovery Program (ERP). The USSR, while severely damaged in both industrial and overall economic capacity, aimed to also exert its dominance over Europe. The long arm of Soviet Expansionism reached through Europe, eradicating opposition and installing communist dictatorships across Eastern Europe, in Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary amongst others. However, for now, let us look at a single year following the war: 1946.

Zhdanov Doctrine

Speech of Stalin at the Soviet Supreme

The Kennan Long Telegram

The “Iron Curtain”

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe…all [are] subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

In the following month, while touring the USA, Churchill made a speech at a small gathering, in direct contradiction of President Truman’s advice, outlining the state of political affairs of the world, as he saw it. He described, transcribed as seen above, a world separated irrevocably by an “iron curtain”. The affirmation of a distinct separation of the two sides by geographical terms by a deeply influential political figure, the ex-Prime Minister Winston Churchill, deeply revered in the west for his wartime leadership, only served to create an even wider chasm between two sides ideologically, both sides having in practice declared their separation. However, this was the first time that the border between east and west had been drawn geographically, rather than purely ideologically. The alignment of countries, whether they ‘belonged’ to the east or west, had now been drawn as the line in the sand, the lands of Europe firmly divided into two camps by country, rather than by vague ideological belief. The far more real terms of separation are shown in the speech, and served to increase tensions at the time, the much more tangible notion of a country being held on the other side of a great wall, the “iron curtain” creating an era of fear and hysteria surrounding the eastern bloc that would endure for the remainder of the Cold War.

The idea of not knowing what was happening behind the “iron curtain” only furthered this belief, western paranoia on the workings of the eastern bloc drawing suspicion and increasing tension. Fears of oppression, of dictatorships and cruel secret police regimes, exaggerated by western media, created a unique form of propaganda in which the west was told (and to high degree, accurately) of an east where the oligarchs lived in luxury separated from the impoverished masses. Similar forms of propaganda took place in the eastern bloc, the Soviet media engine, captained by the newspaper reportedly edited by Stalin himself, Pravda, presenting a west that was depraved and immoral, imperialistic and greedy.¹ The openings between the two sides, in Berlin in particular, where people from either side could look through and see what was on the other side, would become especially problematic in future, holes in the east/west wall proving to be thorny spots for international politics.

However, Churchill’s speech not only escalated tensions between east and west, but also impeded the fledgling sense of unity within the west. Truman had been wary of Churchill’s campaign against the east, particularly of any such divisive comments (that Churchill made during the speech against his advice), as he had been trying to protect some sense of unity within the west, but also throughout the world. Despite numerous internal and public declarations of hostility and animosity between east and west, Truman desperately had attempted to hold onto a sense of world unity through the new United Nations, pushing an image of a new world brought together by the ravages of the Second World War. Churchill’s statements only served to undermine this, making Truman appear disingenuous to the Soviet government, and presenting an image of a west squabbling amongst themselves, influential leaders and politicians unable to agree on beliefs and ideological policy.

¹It must be noted that while both sides stretched the truth, the east stretched it to a far greater extent: the west recovered much more quickly due to its already industrialised state, whereas the east was in no such position.

Novikov Telegram

Academic writer, conductor, performer & composer. Compositional work here: https://bit.ly/3tfKzFH

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store