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The Cold War was one of the most significant moments in not only US history but also World
History. This is a period signified by mass paranoia of a communist takeover; that the Russians would
sweep across Europe, remove the capitalist democracies of the West and alter their very way of life.
Because of the advent of nuclear weapons this was a period more than any other in history that
Humanity could very well have destroyed itself. Thousands of years of human civilization could have
been undone in a single moment. One mistake, one look at a radar screen showing a blip and a
panicked observer telling his superiors who then, in their panic, order a retaliatory strike against a flock
of birds or perhaps nothing at all. That is all it would have took. This is how close we all came to
destruction. The Cold War was not an inevitability however. Through the use of Contingency, the
historical perspective that every event in history is dependent on a number of prior events or
conditions. In this paper I will argue that the Cold War was dependent on previous historical events
such as the Russian Revolution and the spread of Communism, the United States' emergence as a world
power, and the dawn of the atomic age. If any one of these moments had diverged the Cold War could
have gone very differently or may not have happened at all. Examining the causes of the Cold War can
give us insight as to how delicate history is; any given event could be considered a momentous turning
point by future historians.
The Russian Revolution, a series of two revolutions known as the February Revolution and
October Revolution, as well as a civil war, was a time of major change for the Russian people. This
event is one of the most important moments in the 20 th century. By Revolutions end there would be a
major Communist country and a direct opposition to the American capitalist system. These Revolutions
would remove the Czars from power and eventually result in the formation of the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics(USSR). Some historians credit the political and social turmoil created by WWI as
the cause but historian Edward Acton believes that it was an inevitability influenced by the materialist
conception of history, a belief created by Karl Marx stating that changes in material conditions are the

primary influence on how society is organized.1 This idea is somewhat supported by historian Richard
Pipes who writes, the incompatibility of capitalism and autocracy struck all who gave thought to the
matter.2 However, I believe WWI, while not the sole reason for the Revolution was the catalyst that
would affect the rest of the 20th century.
The Russians were doing poorly in the War 3 and seeing as how morale was low, the current
Czar Nicholas II decided to become commander in chief of the Russian army in order to raise morale
and dissuade criticism of being a poor leader. The result was not what Nicholas expected. By leaving to
lead the men he associated the czars with an already unpopular war and was forced to leave his wife,
the German born Tsarina Alexandra in charge. This was a poor decision as the Tsarina proved a poor
leader, appointing a rapid number of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma(Council
Assemblies).Error: Reference source not found The political turmoil from a lack of strong leadership is
further emphasized by a telegram by politician Mikhail Rodzianko sent to Nicholas II begging for a
minister to be emplaced with the confidence of the country and that failure or delay would be
tantamount to death4 Here we can already see contingency in action. Perhaps if the Tsar had not left
the rule to his wife things would have gone differently. Maybe if Nicholas II was a better leader or if
the army was faring better in the War the turmoil would have been more manageable or even
nonexistent. The Russian Empire may not have become a Communist nation. Any number of instances
here could have changed the Russian nation forever.
The February Revolution would bring an end to the rule of the Czars and create a Provisional
Government. According to Richard Malone, this was, at first, met with excitement and praise 5 but soon
enough the situation would erupt in another Revolution in the same year, this time called the October
Revolution. Russia was in a messy state of affairs. The country was in debt, workers rates had fallen,
and they were still involved in WWI. Eventually the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir IIyich Lenin and
Leon Trotsky, led a mostly bloodless uprising against the provisional government in Petrograd(modern

day Saint Petersburg) seizing important government facilities including, the Winter Palace. 6 According
to historian John Reed, once effectively in Power the Bolsheviks began to construct a new socialist
order. Lenin proposed to make peace with all powers engaged in WWI. He also proposed a decree on
transferring ownership of all land owners estates and all lands belonging to the crown and the
monasteries to the soviets.7 Lenin would eventually become the head of government in Russia and
declare, Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the entire country. 8 Again, this is
were we can see how events were laid down earlier in history would create the Cold War. Lenin, one of
the most influential men in the 20th century rose to power and set Russia on a path against western
ideals. Had the Bolsheviks not had the support of the people, due largely because of social unrest and
an unpopular war, or perhaps if he had not come under the influence of Karl Marx then Russia may not
have become a communist state. If the alliances set in palace that caused WWI were never created then
the War may never have happened, at least on the scale that it did and the Russian Empire would have
been able to continue under the Czars as opposed to the Soviets.
The final stage of the Russian Revolution was civil war. Soon after the Bolsheviks gained
power, resistance among those apposed to a communist government took hold. This resistance was
known as the White Movement. But the Communist government had enemies on the outside as well.
The allied powers were dismayed at the initial withdraw of Russian forces from the war as well as
concerned that communism would spread to the west(already the lines of East and West are clear to
see). Winston Churchill was a major critic of communism and was convinced that this revolution must
be, strangled in it's cradle.9 As a result the allies invaded Russia in favor of the White movement.
However the allies were bogged down by a lack of clear objectives(the Japanese were expected to send
around 7,000 men for a rescue of Czech soldiers and instead had sent 70,000 men leading the allies to
be suspicious of their intentions),10 as well as war weariness lead to the withdrawal of allied forces in
1920, though some Japanese forces stayed until 1925.

The end of Allied military support allowed the Bolsheviks to defeat the White Movement and
establish the Soviet Union. With the formation of the USSR the Russian Revolution has come full
circle. There are many events that influenced the 20 th century but the Russian Revolution is often
overshadowed by the two World Wars and the Cold War, despite the fact that without the revolution the
world may have been a far different place. If the Allies and White Movement had succeeded in their
efforts to defeat the Bolsheviks then Communism could have been halted right then and there. If the
Bolsheviks were defeated then perhaps Germany would have faced a far weaker enemy and thus been
successful in their invasion during WWII. Maybe an invasion would have been completely unnecessary
if fascist elements had taken hold in Russia and fully allied with the Axis powers.
The Russian Revolution and subsequent spread of Communism was an important moment in the
East, but what of the West? Around this time the United States, the USSR's principle enemy during the
Cold War, was undergoing a massive change in the way it conducted foreign affairs. Prior to World War
I the United States was mainly an isolationist country content to dwell on it's own issues and let Europe
take care of itself. This is illustrated in the Monroe Doctrine, written in 1823 which essentially said that
European intervention in the US would be considered an act of aggression and in return the US would
not interfere with European affairs. However, as time went on this became harder to do as the US
eventually started acting against this policy.
Following the Spanish-American War, Europe began to expect the US to be more active in
foreign affairs. It was accelerated by World War I when the US deployed troops in Europe (over 1
million men by early 191811 for the first time in it's history. Non interventionism was completely
discarded with World War II and it's aftermath. Pearl Harbor made it clear to Americans that they could
no longer stay out of world affairs. They were a world power with major economic, cultural, and
military influence. One of the more impressive feats of the American military was their ability to wage
two major conflicts at the same time with the Empire of Japan in the Pacific and Nazi Germany in

Following the Second World War, wartime allies would find themselves enemies in peace and
with the advent of nuclear weapons war between superpowers would never be the same. These
weapons, so terrible in there capacity for destruction would bring into the diplomatic world the aptly
titled MAD doctrine or Mutually Assured Destruction, the idea that the use of nuclear weapons by an
attacker and defender would result in the complete destruction of both. 12 This was one of the main
deterrents during the Cold War and in turn fuel the division between East and West as the US wanted to
prevent the Soviets from developing the technology while the Soviets felt Americans only wished to
continue their monopoly. Winston Churchill would add fuel to this division with his famous Iron
Curtain speech. The Truman Doctrine was devised in order to resist the spread of Communism by
giving economic and military aid(initially for Greece and Turkey) to countries resisting communism. 13
This overarching policy of containment would define the Cold War for the West. The division between
Eat and West had started long ago but the formation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact further exemplified
this division. The Cold War was on and would continue through a series of proxy conflicts(Korea,
Vietnam, Afghanistan) as well as some direct confrontations like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Again we can see how different history could have been. If the US had not put an embargo on
Japanese resources then the attack on Pearl Harbor may never have happened, FDR would not have had
an excuse to join the war and the US may not have entered the war and could have been consumed by
the Great Depression(WWII being one of the biggest reasons for the economic turnaround). If the
Germans had created an atomic weapon and massed produced it then they may have been able to push
back the allies and secure a more favorable peace. Or maybe it would have resulted in a longer nuclear
World War with Germany bombing the allies and the US and USSR retaliating in kind. What if
Germany had been successful in his invasion of Russia or if they hadn't invaded at all? What if the US
wasn't able to bounce back from their early defeats at the hands of the Japanese and instead were

stretched too thin? They may have been forced to withdraw from the war depriving the British a vital
ally in the Atlantic and allowing Hitler to focus almost entirely on the eastern front.
While the Cold War was a precarious time to live in, it was a period at the mercy of its past.
Revolution, War and Idealism were the driving forces behind the Cold War. All of history is dependent
on the past, without WWI and the Russian Revolution Communism may never have taken hold.
Without WWII and Americas growing influence in world affairs perhaps the WWII would have gone
differently. The 20th Century was a time of change. There are many moments that, if gone differently
could have altered the very course of history. The Cold War is just one of these events dependent on
prior circumstances.

1 Edward Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1990), 107-108
2 Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution (Paw Prints, 2008), 18
3 Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2008), 38
4 Robert Paul Browder and Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerensky, The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents
(Stanford University Press, 1961), 40
5 Richard Malone, Analyzing the Russian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 91
6 Ian F.W. Beckett, The Great War (Routledge; 2nd Edition, 2007), 528
7 John Reed, Ten days that shook the world (London: Penguin, 1977), 129-137
8 Vladimir Lenin, Collected Works (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 2nd Printing 1974), 516
9, The Churchill Centre, last modified 2001,
10 Leonard A. Humphreys, The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s (Stanford University Press,
1996), 26
11 John J. Pershing, My Experiences in the First World War (Da Capo Press, 1995)
12 Steven Mintz and Sara McNeil, The Cold War. Digital History. Retrieved October 6, 2013 from
13 Steven Mintz and Sara McNeil, The Truman Doctrine. Digital History. Retrieved October 6, 2013 from