It was a glorious meeting. On April 25, 1945, at the Elbe River in Germany, two powerful armies met. Coming from opposite ends of Europe, the Americans and Russians had cut Hitler’s Germany in two. Now at the Elbe, soldiers from the Red Army of the Soviet Union reached out their hands to their American counterparts. It was a time for great happiness. World War II, the deadliest war in all of human history, was nearly over.
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Unfortunately, the warmth of the handshakes did not last. The Soviet Union and the United States had serious differences. Their greatest difference was over a political and economic system called communism.
In its pure form, communism is a belief that private property should be replaced by community ownership. In the Soviet Union this idea was not easily accepted by the people. Russian leaders Vladmir Lenin and Joseph Stalin were ruthless in their elimination of those who had different ideas about Russia’s future. It is estimated that in the 1930s, Stalin was responsible for killing more than 10,000,000 Soviet people who he believe were in his way.
Soviet communists did not like capitalism. They opposed private ownership economies of the United States and its allies. Russian leaders believed that capitalism was doomed and that communism would spread throughout the world. This caused great tension and the emergence of a new kind of war, a Cold War. Mistrust ran deep. In the words of Winston Churchill, it was as if an “iron curtain” had been drawn between the Soviet-controlled countries in Eastern Europe and the Western democracies.
The Soviets had suffered terribly in World War II, losing more than 27,000,000 soldiers and civilians. Stalin was determined that Germany would never be able to strike Russia again. To protect Russia, Stalin wanted a buffer zone in Eastern Europe. It was no secret that Stalin and his successors wanted to expand the Soviet Empire.