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 “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.
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