Chapter 3 - The Cold War Builds From the Hitler-Stalin Pact to the Iron Curtain 1939 to 1950

on the dignity of each individual person, consent and legitimacy via elections and democratic parliaments, and the rule of law, both domestic and international. For the totalitarians, the first victims of Nazism, Communism, and Japanese imperialism were the people and civil communities of their own nation, followed by those in neighboring countries, then those within the totalitarian’s global reach.

2. Soviet-Axis Collaboration: The Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 and the Soviet-Japanese Pact of 1941

On the path to the horrors of the Second World War, the Soviet leaders’ long opposition to peace and freedom critically enabled the Axis totalitarians of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to wage wars of aggression. Going even beyond the Soviet betrayals during and after the First World War, such Kremlin betrayals proved important in shaping the Cold War and Western attitudes toward the Soviet Union yet are seldom referenced in Cold War histories.

The Western Democracies Turn from Appeasement to War. At the Munich Conference of September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain demonstrated a “peace in our time” appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia into Czech and German speaking areas. Joined by the Prime Minister of France, Édouard Daladier, their policy became a historic symbol of shame. Yet, Great Britain and France soon realized the nature of Hitler and National Socialism and their tragic mistake. They reversed course, rejected appeasement, and began to mobilize their nations for confrontations and possible war with Hitler. Unlike Stalin’s Soviet Union, they started serious preparations for the diplomatic and military defense of their own people and (in a pledge on March 31, 1939) of their ally Poland. They subsequently added Greece and Romania as additional nations to be defended against the mounting prospect of Nazi aggression and war. (Romania’s government subsequently switched sides to join the Axis on November 23, 1940 after the Soviet Union had seized Romanian territories.)

The Hitler-Stalin Pact and Soviet Appeasement—August 1939. While the Western Allies prepared for war against Nazi Germany, Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov, his new foreign minister and deputy head of state, decided in June 1939 to accept “peace” overtures from Hitler. While the Kremlin maintained a pretense of consultation with Great Britain and France, it demanded impossible conditions for future cooperation with the two democracies. Most notably, the Kremlin insisted on moving Soviet military forces into Poland despite Warsaw’s historically grounded opposition to such a Soviet military advance that, for the Polish, foreshadowed outright Soviet occupation. Hitler’s overtures to Moscow resulted in a new Soviet-Nazi trade agreement, signed on August 19, 1939, that provided for Soviet delivery of strategic raw materials to Germany in exchange for German gold Marks. Next in the sequence of Soviet betrayals came a fateful “Treaty of Nonaggression” between the German “Reich” and the Soviet Union, generally known as the “Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact” or Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. Negotiated by Molotov and Hitler’s “Reich Foreign Minister” Joachim von Ribbentrop and involving the latter’s direct conversations with Stalin, the Soviet-drafted pact and an associated secret protocol were signed in the Kremlin on August 23, 1939, at the same time as French and British diplomats were in Moscow seeking Soviet support against Hitler.

Pact Documentation, Pledges, and Toasts. Stalin’s folly in entrusting his nation’s security to Adolf Hitler and ignoring all Soviet and Allied warnings was famously, if too briefly, described and denounced in Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech of February 25, 1956 based on official Soviet files. An authoritative and detailed presentation of the archival Nazi and Soviet documents of this history is found in the 1948 book Nazi-Soviet Relations—1939–1941, edited for the U.S. Department of State by Raymond Sontag and James Beddie. Readers are also referred to documentation and analysis of the lead-up to these fateful developments in George F. Kennan’s Soviet Foreign Policy 1917–1941, first published in June, 1979.

The German-Soviet “Anti-Capitalist” Alliance and Stalin’s Toast to Hitler. The official documents include Ribbentrop’s statement of August 14 to the Soviet leaders that: “The Reich Government and the Soviet Government must, judging from all experience, count it as certain that the capitalist Western democracies are the unforgiving enemies of both National Socialist Germany and of the USSR.” The official German report on Stalin’s August 23 meeting with Ribbentrop includes Stalin’s enthusiastic toast to Hitler: “I know how much the German nation loves its Fuhrer; I should therefore like to drink to his health.”

[Book pg. 48]