The United States and the Soviet Union were considerable powers before World War II. Despite the decisive role the United States played in the first World War, and despite the international influence of communism, both states were principally focused on domestic matters. The United State was busy with the crisis and aftermath of 1929, and its subsequent, remarkable recovery. The Soviet Union was occupied with Stalin’s fantasies and massacres. Despite their reluctance, the United States entered World War II, joining the Allies and leading them to victory. The Soviet Union, despite its desire to stay out of the war, was attacked and forced to respond. By war’s end, these two victors had been transformed into world powers: the United States due to the fact that the war forced it to be everywhere at once, and the Soviet Union thanks to the incomprehensible generosity of Roosevelt and Churchill, who permitted its unanticipated expansion. Once beyond their borders, there was never a question of receding.
In becoming world powers, the two states, formerly allied, promptly become adversaries. Churchill famously saw the Iron Curtain lowering, as the expression goes, and Truman declared a start to the Cold War without uttering a word.
Many years later, in 1964, I was tasked with picking up Truman from the airport in Athens. He was in Greece as the representative the government of the United States for the funeral of King Paul of Greece. I was anxious to meet this remarkable man. He was short, modest, and not particularly talkative, but in some sense a genius. While in the car on the way to his residence, I pointed out a statue of his likeness, which had been erected by the Greeks in recognition of him. He made the following sulky, disappointed remark, “It is wrong to erect a statue of a living person, they could fall out of favor and the statue could be toppled.” Which is exactly what happened to his statue.
The two principal consequences of World War II were, on the one hand, the creation of the tiny, miniscule state of Israel, and on the other, the debut of the Cold War between these two vast, global empires. Despite their disproportion in scale, the two events would have an equal importance in terms of History in Motion, which doesn’t stop yesterday, but continues through today and tomorrow.
Photographs by Justin Creedy Smith