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Owen's essay and what his lecturer thought

Read the following essay and click on the red comments or the highlighted text to see the lecturer's detailed feedback on the writing.

Essay topic:

Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?


comment

The three great allies of the Second World War, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia together destroyed the Axis powers and shattered their imperial ambitions. Their "shotgun marriage" 1 was always unlikely, given the history of antagonism between them. comment The union was to be short lived, with the ideological and political differences leading to the collapse of the Grand Alliance within five years of the end of the war. Despite wartime hopes that the great allies may be able to continue in their relationship in peace and provide stability to the world community, the diplomatic and military relationship between the two dominant powers, the United States and Russia, quickly degenerated into the so-called 'Cold War' which was to dominate world politics for the next half a century.

During the war the allied leaders were aware that victory in Europe and the Pacific meant much more than just the abolition of an intolerable political regime. comment Talking in 1944, Stalin said: "This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army has power to do so. It cannot be otherwise." 2 Consequently, as the threat of Nazism in Europe was clearly destined for defeat, the attention of the allies turned to post-war Europe. comment With fear of a Communist dominated Eastern and Central Europe in mind, British army chiefs even went so far as to advocate spearhead assaults on Berlin, Prague and Vienna in order to stop them falling into Soviet hands.

When the political leaders of the three countries met, in early February 1945, the end of the war in Europe was imminent. The Yalta conference sought to settle the allies' apprehensions about the post-war period. Despite President Roosevelt's belief that the "relations in peacetime should be as strong as they had been in war" comment 3 the leaders were nonetheless cautious of the actions and intent of their allies. Soviet officials had often questioned US and British motives in the war, from the appeasement of Hitler to their holding back of a second front 4, and toward the end of the war began to suspect that the US and British diplomats were brokering a separate peace with Nazi leaders. comment Likewise, Soviet actions in Poland had alarmed the Western allies 5 and the American ambassador to Russia W. Averell Harriman wrote, "There is every indication the Soviet Union will become a world bully" 6.

Approaching the Yalta conference each of the leaders had differing objectives. Roosevelt wished to pursue the Wilsonian vision of a peaceful and democratic Europe with strong free market economies. Stalin wanted to protect the interests of Russian security, noting that Poland had twice in the past few decades been the route of aggression against the Russian State. Roosevelt returned to Washington with high hopes for the future of Europe and the continuing relationship between the great wartime alliance. Stalin returned to Moscow comment with the belief that the West accepted a Russian free hand in Eastern Europe.

With the death of President Roosevelt of the 12th April, vice-President Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt to the Presidency. Possessing an altogether different style to Roosevelt, Stalin viewed Truman as an unpredictable quantity 7. After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, Truman had said: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances." 8 Roosevelt had apparently kept Truman in the dark about foreign policy issues and Truman was therefore unaware of both the public and private negotiations between Roosevelt and Stalin 9.

After the German surrender on the 8th May, domestic political pressure forced Truman to swiftly end the lend-lease agreements that the US had with both Russia and Britain, amongst others. The agreements needed to be terminated as they were legally only permitted by Congress under a state of declared war. Although Truman wished to wind down the lend-lease agreement in a diplomatically sensitive manner, a misunderstanding in a government department lead to the severest of withdrawals of this foreign aid, even to the extent of requiring some ships to turn around and return to port. The Soviet outcry was immediate and led to the suspicion amongst the Soviets that the US was provocatively using foreign aid as a tool of coercion. 10

comment

Despite the diplomatic tension and suspicion the Western allies were convinced that Russia needed to be kept on side. The war in the Pacific still needed to be won and the Russian promise to declare war on Japan six weeks after the end of the European war was considered vital in bringing about a swift end to the Pacific war. However, by the Potsdam conference in late July, 1945 Truman had been informed of the successful explosion of an atomic weapon on New Mexico - a development that gave him an appreciable confidence in his negotiations with Stalin. 11 Although Potsdam was intended to help to clarify the post-war issues that still remained unresolved, the negations were frustrating and did not progress noticeably on several key issues. Although Stalin had not been officially informed of the US atomic weapons, Truman, Stalin and Churchill were well aware that the unresolved issues were now to be resolved in a nuclear age. 12

comment

The rhetoric continued to escalate. Stalin made a speech on the eve of the election of the Supreme Soviet which, although not particularly threatening or expansionist were misconstrued by the many analysts, including Justice William Douglas who believed that it was "the declaration of World War Three". 13 comment These comments worried Washington, who requested an explanation and background information on the meaning of the speech from the American ambassador in Moscow, George F. Kennan. Kennan then sent back a 5,540-word telegram to Washington on the 22nd of February 1946, outlining his beliefs that the Soviet Union was a "political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi." 14 He claimed that the Soviets were "highly sensitive to the logic of force." Kennan's telegram was widely circulated throughout the Washington administration, and was followed soon after by the "declarations of Cold War" 15 by Churchill and Stalin. Churchill, now opposition leader in Britain, in his Fulton speech, called for a military alliance between the English-speaking western nations, outside the United Nations, that could resist the "iron curtain [that] has descended across the continent" 16. Stalin responded in an interview with the Russian newspaper Pravda saying that Churchill was sowing comment "the seeds of dissention among the Allied states" 17 and that the British opposition leader was the heir of Hitler's racial supremacy beliefs. Stalin said "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the U.S.S.R." 18

The views expressed by Kennan became the "New Orthodoxy" 19. On the 12th of March 1947, President Truman made a speech to Congress calling on them to financially support Greece and Turkey who had been left to fight communist insurrections on their own when the British government had been forced to withdraw aid. In doing so, Truman declared that the US should be committed to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." 20 By the time Kennan's anonymous article, "The sources of soviet conduct", was published in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy in July of 1947, with its call for "counterforce" 21 the concept of containment was firmly entrenched in the thinking of the US administration.

Less than three months later, the US government announced that they would lend assistance to a united European plan for economic recovery. They were fearful that the still sluggish European economies would lead to more social instability, and potentially aid the spread of communism in Europe. British and French foreign minsters invited representatives of countries from all across Europe, including Russian foreign minister Molotov, to Paris to discuss the proposed American aid. Several states under Russian influence expressed and interest in the meeting in Paris. However, Soviet officials sensed a ruse, and feared that such a co-ordinated plan would be a "Trojan Horse of the American dollar" 22. Moscow threatened grim consequences for Eastern countries who wished to participate in the plan, and their harsh rejection of the Marshall Plan has been seen the "the moment when the Soviet boot crushed itself into the face of Eastern Europe." 23 comment Some historians feel that the invitation for Russia to participate in the Marshall Plan was simply an attempt to gain a moral high ground when they refused 24, or for the propaganda value of blaming the Russians for its failure 25. What is certain is that the Marshall Plan simply created a bigger rift between the two rival governments. 26

In June 1948 the political and economic disputes between the emerging western and eastern blocs became militarised when the threat of direct conflict was used to end the Berlin blockade. The blockade was the result of Soviet concerns over western designs for West Germany, including moves to strengthen it economy and militarily. Russia responded by blockading Berlin, which despite being jointly controlled by a committee of wartime allies, was deep inside Russian East Germany. The suggestion from military advisers that the blockade should be forcefully broken down was rejected and an airlift of aid was used for eleven months. But Truman's warning gesture, of sending B-29 'atomic' bombers to London clearly sent the message that the stakes were higher.

The signing of the NATO agreement in April of the following year completed the division of Europe and marked the total breakdown of the wartime Grand Alliance. Although the military agreement was rigorously debated in the US it was clear that "containment had taken a distinct turn to military means" 27 with any provocative military threats potentially triggering a Third general war in Europe, but now under the shadow of nuclear weaponry. Only four months later, in August, the Russian military successfully detonated an atomic weapon themselves.

By the end of 1949 a divided Germany remained as a stark reminder of the division of Europe. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was declared in May. West Germany were signatories to the NATO agreements and were thoroughly integrated into Western Europe's trade systems. In October, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded, thoroughly under the influence of the Soviet regime.

comment

From the end of the Second World War to autumn 1949 the Grand Alliance that had defeated the Axis powers failed to sustain the working relationship that had won the war. The ideological and political differences were exposed in their attempts to reorder the post-war world in the image of the two rival super-powers. While the United States hoped to encourage and defend democracy (understood as liberal capitalism) in Europe and Asia the Soviet state hoped to extend their influence in Eastern Europe. While the tensions may have started as diplomatic debate, the rhetoric soon escalated, and financial aid and military alliances eventually hardened the distinction between the US and Russian spheres of influence.

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[Lecturer's overall comment]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Primary documents

Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Truman H., speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Churchill, W., speech at Fulton, Missouri, 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Secondary documents

Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988)

Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991)

Gaddis, John, Lewis, 'Containment: A Reassesment', from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 873 - 887

Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969)

LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, (5th edition, New York, 1985)

McCauley, M The origins of the Cold War 1941-49 (2nd edition, London, 1995)

Paterson TG et al. American Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, (3rd edition, New York, 1991)

Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993)

Footnotes

  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 1985) pg. 7
  2. Walker, Martin, the Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993) pg. 12
  3. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 9
  4. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 9
  5. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 11
  6. ibid., pg. 12
  7. Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988) pg. 25
  8. LeFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 6
  9. ibid., pg. 23-24
  10. Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969), pgs. 106 - 108
  11. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present (third edition New York, 1991) pg. 434
  12. Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991), pg. 24
  13. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 38
  14. Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 219 - 222
  15. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 40
  16. Churchill's Fulton speech, "the Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 214 - 215
  17. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000, pg 215 - 217
  18. ibid.
  19. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 40
  20. Truman H., Speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 217 - 219
  21. Gaddis, John Lewis, 'Containment: A reassessment' from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 877
  22. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 51
  23. ibid. pg. 53
  24. ibid. pg. 51
  25. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, pg. 453
  26. ibid., pg. 455
  27. ibid., pg. 456

Strong opening

This sentence makes it clear who and what we're dealing with. It provides the historical background for the issue being dealt with - the breakdown of the alliance.

Is this your argument? A bit broad?

The student is expressing here his response to the question - i.e. that the Grand Alliance fell apart because of 'political and ideological differences'.

The argument could have been

  • signalled a little more explicitly, e.g. "The principal reason for the collapse of the alliance was..."
  • a bit more specific about this principal cause. 'Ideological and political differences' covers a lot - and ultimately isn't saying terribly much. What would have been better here is a sense of priority. That is, the student could have written "there were a number a ideological, political, strategic, economic differences, which mushroomed over the period, but of these I shall be arguing that it was principally reason X that made the alliance impossible".

Here in the body of the essay, the student is going straight to the primary source. You'll notice how he uses this quote from Stalin to back up his claim in the previous sentence - that the allied leaders knew that victory in the war meant much more than just the end of intolerable regimes (the Nazi and Japanese Imperial governments).

Footnote?

This assertion - that British army chiefs wanted to act to prevent territory falling into Soviet hands - is not common knowledge. It is also a bit contentious. It would therefore need to have a footnote and reference, either to a primary or secondary source.

But note that the the first sentence of the following paragraph - that the political leaders met at Yalta does not require a footnote. This is because here we are dealing with an event that, whilst not necessarily common knowledge, is something nobody would dispute.

One way of deciding on the issue of when to footnote is to employ a kind of "But-how-do-you-know-that?" test. If you describe an event and somebody could legitimately ask "But how do you know that?", in all likelihood you will need a footnote.

Footnoting good - but one missing

The student has supported most of his assertions here with reference to the secondary sources (see footnotes 3, 4, 5, 6). Arguably though, he has missed out one. Notice the assertion that the Soviets suspected the US and British of doing a deal with the Nazis. This is a contentious statement about which we could legitimately ask: "But how do you know that?" So like the other assertions in this paragraph, it really needs a footnote.

Good quote

Notice here how the student effectively uses the primary source as evidence for his claim.

First he states that Soviet actions had 'alarmed' the Western Allies.



Then he includes a quote from an American official which serves as evidence for this 'alarm':



"There is every indication the Soviet Union will become a world bully."

More footnotes

There are numerous assertions in this paragraph about the supposed ambitions and thoughts of the leaders - Roosevelt wished to pursue...; Stalin wanted to protect...; Roosevelt returned with high hopes... ; Stalin returned with the belief...

We can apply the "But-how-do-you-know-that?" test. And we need footnotes for many of these assertions, preferably to primary sources such as, in this case, speeches or announcements by the Allied leaders.

Good use of topic sentence

You will notice how this opening sentence provides a very clear link between paragraphs. In the previous paragraph, there is discussion of problems between the Soviets and the US over lend-lease agreements. This information is neatly summarised in the opening phrase "Despite the diplomatic tension and suspicion...". The student then goes on to discuss efforts made by the US to keep the Soviets onside.

Strong paragraph opening

This is a great opening sentence - one that gives us a clear sense of what the rest of the paragraph is about. Notice how in the following sentence the student immediately provides an example of this 'escalating rhetoric' - a speech made by Stalin which was construed by one analyst as "the declaration of World War Three". In the remainder of the paragraph, other examples of this rhetoric are given - in a "telegram" from the American Ambassador, in other "speeches" by Stalin and Churchill, in an "interview" by Stalin.

This is good writing, because all the information in the paragraph is well chosen and relates back to that first topic sentence.

Good detail

It's only a minor point, but it's good the way the student has told us a little bit about the background of the telegram, i.e. that it was written by George Kennan who was at the time "the American Ambassador in Moscow". We also find out that the telegram was "requested" by the US government, so we get a sense of political processes at work.

Many students in their essays will refer to the "Kennan telegram" - which is quite famous - but just mention it as something happening out of the blue. You can see how providing this contextual information makes the material more accessible and also gives a sense of the historical drama.

Good use of quotes

Notice how the student uses quotes extensively to show how the rhetoric was "escalating" between the various participants:

Kennan: The Soviet union was "a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi".
Churchill: "An iron curtain has descended across the continent".
Stalin: "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the USSR".

These quotes are very well integrated into the student's description. They also give support to the various assertions made in the paragraph. This paragraph is as good as you could expect from a first-year essay.

Could be more of this

This is an example of the student identifying an interpretative position in the secondary sources:

Some historians feel that the the invitation for Russia to participate in the Marshall Plan was simply an attempt to gain a moral high ground etc.

This is a good use of secondary sources - although we do need to know precisely who these "some historians" are. If anything, there could be more of this type of "historiographical" material in the essay. So, it would have been good to outline in more detail some of the different interpretations offered by historians for the breakdown of the alliance.

Conclusion could be stronger

Here the student restates his argument from the Introduction - that the breakdown of the alliance was due to "ideological and political differences". It is good that the student has presented an identifiable argument, which is often lacking in first-year history essays.

However, as mentioned earlier, this argument is a bit broad. The student could have tried to be a little more precise. For example, was the breakdown principally due to irreconcilable ideologies (e.g. that the US was committed to encouraging "liberal capitalism" in Europe and Asia)? Or was it a problem of diplomatic misunderstandings (e.g. that the Soviet government's need for territorial security was construed by the US as a drive "to extend its influence into Eastern Europe")?

The quality of an essay will often depend on how clearly and cogently your argument is constructed and supported.

Overall comment

This is an excellent essay. In particular, the writing is very well crafted, with paragraphs that have a clear sense of purpose. The student has also provided evidence for most of the assertions he makes.

The only reservations are:

  1. the argument could have been a little more developed - it is pleasing however to see an argument!
  2. more attention could have been paid to the historiographical debate, i.e. what different conclusions have historians come to regarding the breakdown of the alliance
  3. whilst in the main the footnoting is very good, there are several instances where these have been left out.
Description 0 1 2 3 4 5
1. RELEVANCE Does the essay consistently address the question? correct
2. SOURCES Number, range and complexity of books and articles consulted for an essay correct
3. INFORMATION Is the reader given enough background information (names of people,places, dates etc.) to make proper sense of the story? correct
4. STRUCTURE How is the essay set out? Does it have a proper introduction and conclusion? Does the narrative proceed logically? Is there a smooth transition between paragraphs? correct
5. ARGUMENT How is the argument reconciled with opposing viewpoints in the secondary sources? If a synthesis of views expressed in the sources, is it presented in a way that shows independent thought and critical judgement? correct
6. ANALYSIS The concepts and skills used in developing the argument: including models, generalist theories, logic, deduction analogy, comparison, empathy, sensitivity to cause and effect. correct
7. EVIDENCE The data on which the argument rests. This will mostly consist of factual statements but might also include statistics and quotations. Is the data comprehensive? Is it conclusive? Does the essay show a proper regard for the bias of the secondary sources? correct
8. EXPRESSION Is the essay written in a clear, lucid and engaging style, with appropriate grammar and punctuation? correct
9. FORMAT Does the essay observe School requirements about footnotes, bibliography, pagination etc? See Handbook for details. correct
10.PRESENTATION The overall "look" of the essay. correct
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