“Truman caused the Cold War and, in 1962, Kennedy resolved its greatest crisis.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

 This essay evaluates the perspective that places Truman and Kennedy as the central figures in the Cold War, attributing the genesis of the conflict to the former and its peak resolution to the latter. By employing an analysis grounded in historical contexts and narratives, this argument's nuanced implications will be assessed. 

Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, ascended to power during the closing stages of World War II. Truman's foreign policy, outlined in the Truman Doctrine, has been seen by some as the harbinger of the Cold War. Indeed, Gaddis argues that Truman's hard-line approach to communism, particularly his adoption of the containment policy, had a profound impact on escalating tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Truman's decision to sanction the Berlin Airlift, his direct intervention in the Greek Civil War, and his support for the Marshall Plan could also be interpreted as measures that ignited Cold War hostilities. However, we should be cautious about attributing the onset of the Cold War solely to Truman's actions. For instance, McCauley suggests that the root cause of the Cold War was not the actions of any one individual, but the underlying ideological differences between the capitalist West and communist East. McCauley contends that these differences were exacerbated by mutual suspicion and miscommunication, which further contributed to the Cold War's inception. In this sense, Truman's foreign policy can be seen as a reaction to the geopolitical situation rather than a cause in itself.

To delve deeper into Truman's role, we need to consider the geopolitical context in which he was operating. Truman became president during a period of global restructuring, with World War II leaving two superpowers in its wake: the United States and the Soviet Union. The ideological clash between capitalism and communism, coupled with a power vacuum in war-ravaged Europe, provided a fertile ground for conflict. LaFeber argues that the Truman Doctrine, which advocated for containment of communism and provided economic and military support to nations threatened by it, effectively declared a cold war on the Soviet Union. However, containment was not solely an American concept; it mirrored Stalin's policy of Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe. Truman's authorisation of the Marshall Plan in 1948, which aimed at rebuilding Western Europe's economy and fortifying it against communism, further exacerbated tensions. Still, one might argue that these policies were reactions to Soviet aggression rather than their root cause. The Berlin Blockade of 1948-1949, a direct confrontation resulting in the Berlin Airlift, clearly reflected the escalating tensions. The airlift, a colossal logistic effort by the US and its allies to supply West Berlin, marked an early peak in the Cold War. However, interpreting this event as Truman 'causing' the Cold War, as Westad suggests, might be an oversimplification of the intricate dynamics of post-war politics.


 Moving onto Kennedy, his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis undoubtedly stands as a high point of Cold War tensions. Under his administration, the US discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, merely 90 miles off the American shore. Kennedy's decision to enact a naval blockade rather than launch a military strike, as advocated by many advisers, appears to be pivotal in de-escalating the crisis. His secret negotiations with Khrushchev, leading to the removal of US missiles in Turkey, proved instrumental in averting a potential nuclear war. Schlesinger emphasises Kennedy's balanced diplomacy, arguing it was instrumental in achieving a peaceful resolution. However, attributing the entire resolution to Kennedy overlooks the role of Khrushchev. As Taubman posits, it was Khrushchev's decision to dismantle the missile sites under UN supervision that ultimately diffused the situation. Additionally, one must remember that Kennedy himself played a role in escalating the crisis by authorising the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, aimed at overthrowing Fidel Castro's communist regime. Moreover, as Paterson argues, viewing the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the resolution of the Cold War might be misleading. In reality, the Cold War continued for another three decades, with several more crises, including the Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, Hershberg argues that while Kennedy's leadership played a role in resolving the crisis, it was Khrushchev's decision to remove the missiles that ultimately averted disaster. In this view, attributing the resolution solely to Kennedy oversimplifies the complex diplomatic negotiations that took place. Furthermore, White contends that the claim that the Cuban Missile Crisis marked the end of the Cold War is misguided. Rather than ushering in a period of peace, the crisis intensified Cold War rivalry, leading to further escalations, including the Vietnam War. 

Conclusively, the roles of Truman and Kennedy in the Cold War were significant but were also part of a larger geopolitical framework shaped by numerous factors. Their actions, driven by the exigencies of their time, reflected their leadership but do not singularly account for the inception or the resolution of the Cold War. Truman's policies marked the beginning of a prolonged ideological conflict, but it is an oversimplification to view him as its cause. Similarly, while Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis showcased his leadership, attributing the resolution of the Cold War to him overlooks its subsequent developments. Therefore, it is essential to approach the roles of these leaders with a nuanced understanding, acknowledging the complexity and intricacy of the Cold War era.