Friday, August 22, 2014

Did the Cold War have Roots in World War I?

Americans tend to think about the Cold War as lasting from about 1947 to 1991. We see it as a contest pitting the USA and NATO allies representing democracy and capitalism versus the Communist USSR, Warsaw Pact countries, and -- after 1950 -- China.

It was a "cold" war since the major powers never declared war against each other, and it did not erupt in a feared World War III. We think of the USSR and China being allied with the USA and the British and French empires in World War II against the Axis forces, and thus we see the Cold War as starting with the breakdown of that alliance. If you think about it, though the dates assigned to the cold war are arbitrary and indeed the designation of a title to a period in which a complex set of forces resulted in events all over the world for more than a generation is itself arbitrary.

I wonder if the Communist leaders shared that understanding of the origins of the antipathy between the USA and the USSR and Communist China. Perhaps they trace the conflict back to the first world war, and actions of the United States under the Woodrow Wilson administration at the end of the war.

The U.S. Intervention in Russia

I draw from an article in Wikipedia on the west's involvement in northern Russia. The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in October 1917 and established the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Five months later, they signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, which among other things formally ended the war on the Eastern Front.

In response to Bolshevik actions, the British and French governments decided that a military intervention was needed in north Russia, with three objectives:
  • prevent the Allied war materiel stockpiles in Arkhangelsk from falling into German or Bolshevik hands,
  • mount an offensive to rescue the Czechoslovak Legion, which was stranded along the Trans-Siberian Railroad and
  • resurrect the Eastern Front by defeating the Bolshevik army with the assistance of the Czechoslovak Legion and an expanded anti-communist force drawn from the local citizenry.
In July 1918, against the advice of the U.S. War Department, President Woodrow Wilson agreed to a limited participation in the Campaign by a contingent of United_States_Army soldiers. Apparently some 8,000 American troops took part in the campaign that lasted from late 1918. Those troops became involved in support of White Russians fighting the Bolsheviks. The last significant battle fought by the Americans before their departure took place from March 31 through April 4, 1919.

The American Expeditionary Force Siberia (AEF Siberia) was a United States Army force that was involved in the Russian Civil War in Vladivostok, in the far eastern part of Russia, during the end of World War I after the October Revolution, from 1918 to 1920. The AEF Siberia eventually totaled 7,950 officers and enlisted men.

An article from Critical Inquiry states:
It may also be argued that this incursion into the fledgling Soviet Union (then called the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) by Allied forces set the stage for later Soviet fear of attack from the West. Certainly the intervention of foreign troops and their action against the new communist regime was a useful propaganda tool. It could be used to justify fear of capitalist states, the later creation of the eastern European Soviet bloc (as a buffer against invasion), and even the extermination of Soviet soldiers who came into contact with non-Soviet governments and military agencies.
In a recent talk on American History TV, Graydon Tunstall said that in one of his speeches, Stalin had dated the start of the cold war to American troops landing in Archangel and Vladivostok (about 18 minutes into the video).

Shandong, China


Shandong is a historically, culturally and economically important province in the northern coastal area of China. Quoting from Wikipedia:
During the nineteenth century, China became increasingly exposed to Western influence, and Shandong, a coastal province, was especially affected. Qingdao was leased to Germany in 1897 and Weihai to Britain in 1898. The rest of Shandong was generally considered to be part of the German sphere of influence.
And from a different Wikipedia entry:
During the First World War, China supported the Allies on condition that Germany's concessions on the Shandong peninsula would be returned to China. However in 1915 China agreed to Japan's Twenty-One Demands which acknowledged Japanese control of former German holdings. Britain and France promised Japan it could keep these holdings. In late 1918 China reaffirmed the transfer to Germany and accepted payments from Japan. Article 156 (of the Treaty of Versailles) in 1919 officially transferred the concessions in Shandong to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China. 
Despite its formal agreement to Japan's terms (in 1915 and 1918), China at Paris in 1919 now denounced the transfer of German holdings, and won the strong support of President Wilson. The Chinese ambassador to France, Wellington Koo, stated that China could never relinquish Shandong, which was the birthplace of Confucius, the central Chinese philosopher, as much as Christians could not concede Jerusalem. He demanded the promised return of sovereignty over Shandong, to no avail. Japan was adamant and prevailed. Chinese popular outrage over this provision led to demonstrations and a cultural movement known as the May Fourth Movement and influenced Wellington Koo not to sign the treaty.
China's refusal to sign the Versailles Treaty necessitated a separate treaty with Germany in 1921. The Shandong dispute was mediated by the United States in 1922 during the Washington Naval Conference. In a victory for China, the sovereignty of Shandong was returned to China. However Japan maintained its economic dominance of the railway and the province as a whole.
In its article on the May 4th movement, Wikepedia states:
Many in the Chinese intellectual community believed that the United States had done little to convince the imperialist powers (especially Britain, France, and Japan) to adhere to the Fourteen Points, and observed that the United States itself had declined to join the League of Nations; as a result they turned away from the Western liberal democratic model. Marxism began to take hold in Chinese intellectual thought, particularly among those already on the Left. It was during this time that communism was studied seriously by some Chinese intellectuals such as Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. 
Some historians have speculated that Chinese history might have taken a different course at this time had the United States taken a stronger position on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and self-determination. The United States was not a major imperialist power and was in a relatively strong position to take an anti-imperialist stance; however, it did not do so. As a result, China turned its attention to utilizing other political tools that could potentially resolve many of the nation's issues. These tools subsumed the concepts of Marxism and Leninism.
Also from the Wikipedia article on the May 4th movement is this quote from Mao Zedong:
The May 4th Movement twenty years ago marked a new stage in China's bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism. The cultural reform movement which grew out of the May 4th Movement was only one of the manifestations of this revolution. With the growth and development of new social forces in that period, a powerful camp made its appearance in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, a camp consisting of the working class, the student masses and the new national bourgeoisie. Around the time of the May 4th Movement, hundreds of thousands of students courageously took their place in the van. In these respects the May 4th Movement went a step beyond the Revolution of 1911.
And from a review of  Bruce A. Elleman's book Wilson and China: A Revised History of the Shandong Question.
Wilson helped China regain political control of Shandong in 1922, but since the transfer was from Japan and not Germany, the Chinese saw it as a betrayal. Had China signed the Treaty of Versailles, the transfer of the Shandong from Japan to China would have been swifter (p. 130). China, it seems, should have counted its blessings--under the 1898 treaty with Germany there was no legal obligation for Shandong to be returned to China until 1997 (p. 28). Looking for a scapegoat for its mismanaged diplomacy, Beijing blamed Wilson. On July 28, 1919, the Beijing Daily News published an open letter to the U.S. Senate, recommending that it reject the Versailles Treaty. The letter blamed Wilson for allowing imperialists to continue their exploitation of China (p. 128). This letter, argues Elleman, contributed to the Shandong myth, its perception that Wilson had betrayed China, and it helped convince the U.S. Senate to reject America's joining the League of Nations. Perhaps Wilson's ultimate failure was his lack of success in setting the record straight about the Shandong question. 
An important consequence of the Shandong myth is that it "opened the door to Bolshevik propaganda and influence" in China (p. 135), providing the Chinese Communist movement with an issue (pp. 2, 107, 130, 135-154). The 1919 May Fourth Movement, largely a reaction to the Shandong question, turned many Chinese intellectuals away from the West. Wilson was seen as being hypocritical when he spoke in favor of national self-determination. The Soviet Union was able to exploit what happened and thus exert an ideological influence over its neighbor next door. Indeed, the same year that the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the Comintern sent its first operative to China. The Chinese people, believing they were betrayed at Versailles by the United States and its European allies, looked to Soviet Russia for an alternative political model. Elleman writes, "To a large degree the Chinese rejected the American model because they truly believed that Wilson had betrayed China's national interests; by contrast, the Chinese believed that Soviet Russia would treat China fairly" (p. 136). The question as to "who lost China" that certain political conservatives in the United States were asking during the 1950s might have an answer in the Shandong myth (pp. 2, 4, 180-181). According to Elleman," After World War II, the long-term impact of the Shandong question can be seen in the origins of the cold war in Asia" (p. 179).
Final Comment

Woodrow Wilson was a neophyte to foreign affairs when he took office as president of the United States in 1913. Indeed, the United States was only then on the brink of assuming a major role in global affairs, and I doubt that there was a great deal of expertise in the State Department or the Departments of the Army and Navy. Perhaps the U.S. diplomacy at the time lacked a long term perspective that it might later gain.

Wilson's 14 points, represented a transformation of World War I from one of imperial competition for territory to one with a moral justification. People all over the world saw that statement as a guarantee of U.S. support for self-determination. We have to remember, however that Wilson was a racist; his support for self determination did not extend to nations he thought to be unready to rule themselves. Moreover, the British and French allies were not about to sign away their African and East Asian holdings as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

Not surprisingly, American boots on the ground in Russia in support of White Russian armies rankled the USSR leadership for many decades. Apparently, the Shandong problem and the myth of American involvement triggered similar feelings among China's Communist leadership.

Russian distrust of Germany as well as the ideology of a global spread of Communism would have tended to lead to serious differences with democratic and capitalistic societies after World War II. So too, I suppose, would the Chinese anger at European takeover of much of China for centuries before World War II. Still, one wonders it Wilson's government acted differently, would the Cold War have evolved differently. Counter-factual supposition is always dangerous.

The U.S. actions at the end of World War I left bad feelings toward this country among communist leaders. The USSR takeover of a swath of countries that became the Warsaw Pact nations and its support of Communist movements in other, Western European countries was clearly going to create a counter reaction in the United States and other countries with democratic governments. Moreover, it seems to me that the anti-Communist feeling was very strong among a large portion U.S. leadership and the U.S. public, that our British and French allies shared that, and that our alliance with Nationalist China put the U.S. at odds with Chinese communists. The Cold War might well have started even had U.S. foreign policy in from 1914 to 1925 been sufficiently prescient to try to avoid antagonizing the Bolsheviks and the Chinese left.

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