Lesson 1: Sources of Discord, 1945–1946

The fact that the United States and the Soviet Union successfully cooperated in defeating the Axis Powers did not necessarily mean that the two countries would continue to get along in the postwar world. After all, the two were organized on radically different principles—democratic capitalism in the former, totalitarian socialism in the latter. By early 1945 it was clear that they would emerge as the world's two "superpowers," but it was also evident that they had conflicting visions for what that postwar world should look like. A number of issues divided U.S. and Soviet policy makers, but two loomed particularly large in 1945–46: the future of Germany and the future of Eastern Europe. As a result of these controversies the chances of continued cooperation between the superpowers seemed bleak.

This lesson will examine the U.S.-Soviet disagreements regarding Germany and Eastern Europe. Students will read excerpts from the agreements reached at Yalta and Potsdam, then, based on later documents, will study how these arrangements unraveled. Finally they will look at two opposing American views of the Soviet Union and of the strategy that the United States should use in dealing with it.

Guiding Questions

From the American perspective, why did wartime cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union collapse in 1945–46?

Learning Objectives

Articulate the agreements made at Yalta and Potsdam regarding the nature of the postwar world.

Explain the differences that emerged regarding those agreements in the months following the end of the war in Europe.

Assess the strategic options available to the United States in 1946.