“Conflicting views about the treatment of Germany were a major cause of the Cold War.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

From the May 2012 Paper 2 Final IBDP examination

 This will be a popular question but should not be treated as a simple analysis of the causes of the Cold War. Candidates should present a well-structured analytical response in which they assess the importance of the differing views on Germany as a cause of the Cold war. They may challenge the statement and introduce other causes, but they must take a position on the importance of differing views on Germany between the US and USSR as a major cause of the Cold war.
The views of the US
The US had a desire to rebuild the German economy and reunite Germany as a nation and this was demonstrated by the disagreement over reparations at Potsdam; the Byrnes speech in 1946 which supported a rebuilt German economy; Marshall Plan aid and currency changes in 1948. In addition, the decision to unify the three western zones into Bizonia and then Trizonia was a clear statement that the US wanted a strong and economically powerful Germany to assist US trade and to act as a bulwark against communism. The decision to create the Federal German Republic and to rearm Germany after 1951, and to allow them to join NATO in 1955, were all indicative of American support for German rebuilding and the lack of fear of a strong Germany. These actions caused fear and apprehension in the USSR, which felt that Germany might be used to launch an attack on the Soviet territories in Eastern Europe or the USSR itself. Such actions were also seen as an indication of possible US imperial motives in Europe.
The views of the USSR
The USSR demanded huge reparations both to weaken the German economy and help Soviet post- war recovery. The USSR did not wish to encourage German development and refused Marshall Aid for East Germany. It was clear that the USSR wanted Germany to remain poor and neutral to prevent another attack and, perhaps, to create conditions for a possible Communist takeover. These actions increased Western fears of further Soviet expansion in Europe. The Berlin blockade was seen as an example of Soviet aggression and hardened Western attitudes toward the USSR, leading to the formation of NATO and the further division of Europe into rival blocs.
There is no endpoint stated but do not expect candidates to go beyond 1949, although it may be that some will discuss events up to 1961 and beyond.

Samples of writing from senior students

The first act of open aggression between the East and West occurred in 1948, when Stalin closed off all Allied access to the divided city of Berlin in what would become known as the Berlin Blockade.  Here for the first time we see the Soviet Union taking measures directly against he United States since after the end of the Second World War, done as a result of the tensions resulting from disagreement between the two countries over the treatment of Germany.

The primary disagreement over Germany was about the extent of the reparations she should pay for her participation in the war. The Allies, learning from Versailles, pursued a strategy to rebuild Germany as a lucrative trade partner with the hope that economic prosperity would lead to stability in Europe. The Soviets, on the other hand, took an all-together different lesson from history.  They remembered vividly how Germany had devastated the Motherland twice in the first and Second World War as well as the barbarism with which they conducted themselves in their occupied territory. It was imperative to Russia to keep Germany weak so that if nothing else the millions of Russian military and civilian lives who died fighting the Germans in both wars could have ensured that Germany would never again threaten the Motherland. There were also more immediate concerns. The two powers who most prominently represent the Allies, the United States and the United Kingdom, had came out of the war with their industry largely intact whereas Russia had lost most of it to the Germans. Reparations were supposed to be a way to allow Russia to rebuild but now instead of allowing their most contributing allies of the war who had fought off 90% of the German army singlehandedly the Allied powers were saying that they needed to reduce them in the interests of rebuilding a terrible enemy which had proved twice that it could not be trusted with the means to create an army. From the Soviet perspective America was willing to sell Russia out if it meant gaining influence in the new order of Europe.

The 1948 signing of the Marshall Plan only served to compound that fear. Billions of the United State’s money would be invested into Europe to rebuild it, a tactic Molotov deemed “dollar imperialism”. Stalin was fearful that by giving out money the United States would come to exert considerable influence in Europe and push the Soviets out, leaving a country who has explicitly acted against the Soviet government in the past with control over the country which had done the most damage to Russia in the past along with all the other old great powers of France and England. 

The final nail in the coffin leading to the Berlin Blockade and by extension the kickoff of the Cold War was when the Allies introduced a new currency in the western part of Berlin to replace the struggling Reichmark. Stalin saw this as the Americans implementing a way to control the economy of the city and by extension the economy of the country as a whole and took actions to reduce the Allies influence in the city by way of the Berlin Blockade.

Intro student EXAMPLE 1:

The treatment of Germany was a crucial source of conflict contributing to the cause of the Cold War , yet it is essential to understand that it [] a more global subject which led to the Cold War- Europe. The significance of Germany can be seen in the conferences of Yalta and Potsdam of 1945, yet the events of the Truman Doctrine of March 1947, and Marshall Plan of September 1947, show that it was conflicting views and interests which were a major cause of the Cold War.

Intro student EXAMPLE 2:

The first act of open aggression between the East and West occurred in 1948, when Stalin closed off all Allied access to the divided city of Berlin in what would become known as the Berlin Blockade.  Here for the first time we see the Soviet Union taking measures directly against he United States since after the end of the Second World War, done as a result of the tensions resulting from disagreement between the two countries over the treatment of Germany.

Intro student EXAMPLE 3:

By 1949, the DDR was formed and consequently all chances at peaceful coexistence between the Soviet Union and Western Powers, most importantly the USA, were extinguished. What was it that had caused this final clash between the two ideologies? Post-revisionist historian John Lewis Gaddis argues that Germany was bound to be the source of conflict, [;] after all, she had started WWII. However, this essay will argue that the extent to which Gaddis'[s] argument is significant is limited by several other events such as the atomic bomb, Kennan's Long Telegram and the Iron Curtain speech.

 sample paragraphs/arguments 

"There are many people in the world who really don't understand- or say they don't- what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin!" As John F. Kennedy's words echo in context of current US-Russian relations regarding Crimea today, his statement powerfully portrays the western views which would later be considered to be the cause of the Cold War. The issue today in the Crimean, which is called by "Der Spiegel" as the "New Cold War," can be understood when considering the conflicting views of 1945-1991. USA's view and opinion was that of benign treatment of Germany in order tio rebuild its economy and make it any ally against the war on communism. With Russian expansionist attitudes regarding Georgia and the Crimea today, the USA in 1945 felt the urge to send a clear message to the USSR. Truman had the hyperinflation of 1923 in mind, and demonstrated that Germany should be treated in a way that would allow "it to re-enter the world of international discussions" Evidence can be seen in James F. Byrnes speech in Stuttgart.....

However, there was much tension and apprehension created otherwise between the two ideologically differing powers. Frank Capra's 'Why We Fight' makes it clear that the causes of the Cold War cannot be discussed without addressing the atomic bomb. As Molotov stated [sic] the "USA negotiates as if they have a pistol in their back pocket- the atomic bomb." When Eisenhower dropped the fatal weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it was to scare Stalin, which Capra's documentary makes clear.

The beginning of the clash between the Allies' interests came in July 1946 in the form of the Potsdam conference. A key point in this conference was Germany. Already, the US and Britain had begun to develop different theories to Stalin's as to Germany's future, and these reasons dwelled in its past. Remembering the Versailles conference just 27 years before, the British and Americans concluded that it must have been excessively harsh terms of that treaty, {sic] which allowed Germany to be in such a state that they staged war again. Yet Stalin believed the opposite, he[sic] believed Germany reached this state because Versailles had not been harsh enough and believed in the Morgenthau, [sic] castration and agriculturization of Germany, as the best option.

Another key area in which Germany's role can be examined can be shown through the Marshall Plan. It's [sic] aims were to rebuild a war[-]devastated region, remove trade barriers and modernise industry. Although it signalled the start of containment, or as Foreign Minister Molotov dubbed it "dollar imperialism", it can also be used to highlight the role of Germany in the Cold War causes. From the American perspective, Europe relied on Germany's rebuilding. According to an economist from the time, Germany could not be reduced to a "pastoral state" without the removal of 25 million people. Europe needed their raw materials and manufactured goods. America, according to John Lewis Gaddis, writing in 1972, claims that America was looking for a partner and rival in trade in the nation of Europe. What this involved was building up Germany. The Marshall Plan aimed to create three key zones of trade; Western, central and Eastern Europe. Germany would be the key player in the central block [sic]. This is where differing views play a key role. After Versailles, and its evident failure after the rise of the Nazis, The West maintained its position from post WWI in the new post world war II view, that being too harsh on Germany creates key problems, while the Russians followed the post-WWI French perspective that Germany should be punished...

The most obvious example of the American departure from the warmongering, evil portrayel [s[c] of the German peoples presented in the ‘Why We Fight’ propaganda films directed by Frank Capra is the ‘Restatement of policy on Germany’ speech made on September the [sic] 6th, 1946 by Byrnes, the then US secrety [sic] of state. Within the speech he presented a change in US policy from the essential military occupation and denazification of Germany towards a complete rebuilding of Germany into an entirely capitalist American style democracy. Later commenting that “the nub of the program was to win the German people… it was a battle between us and Russia over minds…” Its [sic] perhaps therefore not surprising that just 2 years after the speech when the Wirtschaftswunder was in full swing the USSR elected to blockade west Berlin in order to limit East German exposure to a country which was clearly winning the battle for calories. As such this change in US policy could certainly by [sic] argued to be a major cause of the escalation of the Cold War.

However, according to historians such as William A Williams it is not Germany who [sic] is to blame, but Churchill and Truman. Williams criticizes Truman and Churchill for their lack of understanding of Stalin's interests. Stalin had a true fear of Germany and did not wish to be attacked by them again, just as Clemenceau feared Germany attacking France again after 1919 if Versailles was not harsh enough, and they did. Truman took a very aggressive stance towards Russia, claiming he was going to "get tough" with communism. Molotov was said to have complained about his swearing and rude language during their conferences. Russia felt heavily provoked by Truman, and this was not an unjustified feeling. Truman's testing of the a-bomb and use there [?} of during the Potsdam conference built mistrust in Stalin, especially as Truman was keeping this a secret. Thus tension built between the two as a consequence of mistrust. As Truman continued to bomb Nagasaki it became clear that he was trying to scare the Soviets and the tension rose further, Germany aside....

... Lastly, another key event in the origins of the Cold War was the so-called 'Iron Curtain speech' of March 5th 1946. It was an address by Churchill towards the people of America warning them of 'Soviet expansionalism" [sic] while claiming that Eastern European countries were under "Soviet influence... totalitarian control and police government." The speech urged "imperialistic" powers of the world to fight the Soviet Union- in other words, Churchill called for a unified Britain, France and America who should face the USSR. Not only was this seen as a threat to Russia but also as a main cause of the Cold War by Kruschev. [sic] The Iron Curtain speech antagonised Russia and showed the lack of trust just a mere year after WWII. Interestingly enough, Churchill's speech acted almost as a reaction to Stalin's Bolshoi speech from January 1946 which praised communism and called for a 'war'  on capitalism as it "proceeded through crisis and the catastrophe of war. While to some Stalin's behaviour seemed threatening, they failed to recognize that the speech was given by Stalin in order to justify collectivization and was not different from his other speeches."

The Orthodox perspective, [sic] usually blames Stalin and Communism for causing the Cold War, as opposed to disagreements on Germany. It was the aim to spread the ideology, the development of Eastern Europe and the weakening of Western Europe which was the cause for the war. The Orthodox perspective, [sic] frequently uses the Marshall Plan of September 1947, [sic] to prove this idea. The Marshall Plan, which was an action taken by the USA to restore Germany and Europe as a major trading partner rather than economically reducing it to an imperial dependency, was described by the Russian Foreign Minister Molotov as 'Dollar Imperialism', and motivated workers to be "liberated from capitalism" to prevent an economic dependence which would lead to American, democratic control. Tony Judt argues that the way he handled Marshall aid, [sic] was "Stalin's greatest mistake" , as the USA had no choice to include Eastern Europe, yet instead Russia "broke Europe into two halves" leading to only the West receiving support. Living in Western Germany, this is an outcome which until today can be recognized, as clearly the East still relies on significantly poorer and less advanced infrastructure. So instead of accepting the strengthening of Europe, Stalin in the same month formed 'Cominform' which would be the organisation leading communist, eastern states, and controlling their economic support. The denial of the USSR, [sic] is the attitude which was further and further developed which can be seen in the eastern expansion towards Czechoslovakia in March 1948 and the Berlin Blockade in June 1948 which was solved through the airlift which the US provided. This shows that the continuous aims of Russia to limit Europe in its development to expand its own ideology and territory, [sic] is a main factor which the orthodox view defends, as opposed to the views about Germany.