Origins of the Cold War

808 CHAPTER 26

One American’s Story

Origins of the Cold War

Seventy miles south of Berlin, Joseph Polowsky and a patrol of American soldiers were scouting for signs of the Soviet army advancing from the east. As the soldiers neared the Elbe River, they saw lilacs in bloom. Polowsky later said the sight of the flowers filled them with joy.

Across the Elbe, the Americans spotted Soviet soldiers, who signaled for them to cross over. When the Americans reached the opposite bank, their joy turned to shock. They saw to their horror that the bank was covered with dead civilians, victims of bombing raids.

A PERSONAL VOICE JOSEPH POLOWSKY “ Here we are, tremendously exhilarated, and there’s a sea of dead. . . . [The platoon leader] was much moved. . . . He said, ‘Joe, let’s make a resolution with these Russians here and also the ones on the bank: this would be an important day in the lives of the two countries.’ . . . It was a solemn moment. There were tears in the eyes of most of us. . . . We embraced. We swore never to forget.”

—quoted in The Good War

The Soviet and U.S. soldiers believed that their encounter would serve as a symbol of peace. Unfortunately, such hopes were soon dashed. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as rival superpowers, each strong enough to greatly influence world events.

Former Allies Clash The United States and the Soviet Union had very different ambitions for the future. These differences created a climate of icy tension that plunged the two countries into a bitter rivalry.


•United Nations (UN) •satellite nation •containment •iron curtain •Cold War •Truman Doctrine

•Marshall Plan •Berlin airlift •North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from World War II as two “superpowers” with vastly different political and economic systems.

After World War II, differences between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a Cold War that lasted almost to the 21st century.

American and Soviet soldiers meet (top) at the Elbe River in Germany near the end of World War II. A 1996 postage stamp (above) commemorates the historic meeting.

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