From Allies to Enemies

The Soviet and United States alliance during the second World War turned shortly after into one of the greatest rivalries in history.  How did these two powers cooperate so efficiently to defeat Nazi Germany and a couple of years later do all they could to defeat the other? It is often the case that countries ally themselves with others that they don’t see eye to eye with during wartime, but the dichotomy between the US-Soviet relations from World War II to the Cold War seems especially strange.  However, when you look deeper into their relationship during World War II, the quick change in relationship is not as surprising.

The leaders of the Great Alliance: Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin (source)

The “grand” alliance, as Winston Churchill dubbed the alliance between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, was not as much of it was a commitment to each other as it was a commitment to defeating Nazi Germany no matter what.  The threat of Nazi Germany was so great that each of these countries would do anything to defeat it—even if that meant allying with countries they normally would not agree with. US President at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, commented,

The other day the Secretary of State of the United States was asked by a Senator to justify our giving aid to Russia. His reply was: “The answer to that depends on how anxious a person is to stop and destroy the march of Hitler in his conquest of the world. If we were anxious to defeat Hitler he would not worry about who was helping to defeat him.”

This quote shows the strength of US commitment against Hitler and Nazi Germany.  The alliance was strong strategically, and the war could not have been won without Soviet efforts on the eastern front. Both the US and the Soviet Union used propaganda to encourage their citizens to view their unlikely ally as a friend and someone they could, and should, trust.

US propaganda to encourage the US people to trust the Russians (source)

However, their combined hatred of the Nazi Germany was the main thing that these countries had in common.  They had different ideas of how the war should be fought, and what means and methods were necessary to get there.  Lend-lease, which involved the US giving aid to the USSR for the war effort, began even before the US became militarily involved in the war.  Stalin thought the aid was not enough, and was further upset when the aid was reduced by almost half in 1943.  Small details often bogged down the relationship between these countries with vastly different ideologies.


I think it’s very interesting and almost encouraging that the US and the USSR were able to put aside all their differences and conflicts in ideology to fight for a cause that they so strongly believed in.  Obviously, after the war these conflicts created a huge rivalry and satellite conflicts that killed many people. But I think their very unlikely alliance shows that differences in ideology, whether they are drastic or not, doesn’t have to keep groups or countries from working together if they want to make a change or work towards the same thing.


Russia, A History: Freeze, Ch. 12

Click to access 1404666.pdf

5 thoughts on “From Allies to Enemies”

  1. I enjoyed reading your post, it is very relevant to our time now. I also find it interesting how the two could not make the “friendship” last, but not shocking I suppose. You made a good point by saying how the two had a common end goal, yet their means of reaching that goal differed greatly, not to mention their views of what to do after that goal had been reached. I also liked the picture of U.S. propaganda, nice post.


  2. I agree that American and Soviet cooperation despite ideological difference was encouraging to see in the midst of war. I found the FDR quote to be interesting, specifically as you mentioned strategic importance in the relationship. From the perspective of the United States, I think a great deal of denial went in to maintaining the cooperation, as Elizabeth’s post on the Katyn Forest Massacre suggests:


  3. Hi Caroline, I enjoyed reading your post this week! I do not remember where I read it, but I heard that America did not see Communism as much of a threat during the war, but when the common enemy in fascism was defeated, we no longer had a world view to oppose so we shifted our adversarial stance to the Soviet Union. As such, it is very interesting that we worked together with them in both the European and Pacific theaters and then ultimately caused the collapse of their entire system of governance about fifty years later.


  4. I definitely agree with you that the combined hatred of the powerhouse that was Nazi Germany was definitely the only thing that these two countries really had in common. After all, when we consider just how many countries Nazi Germany was able to sweep through, killing mass amounts of people, it’s no surprise that super powers would see this as a reason to come together; no matter how different the ideologies. In the end, it really comes down to the fact that had these unlikely countries not become allies, Nazi Germany could have continued their rampage for a lot longer. I also really like the picture of U.S. propaganda; it’s humorous to compare that to todays times! Great post!


  5. It has also interested my how the United States could be allies with the Soviet Union and become enemies only a couple years later. You did a good job outlining how the United States was not committed to the Soviet Union, but how they were both committed to destroying a common enemy. I like how you point out that it is somewhat relieving to observe how the United States and the Soviets could put aside their differences and cooperate.


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