Leaders and nations: Graded student examples

On this page, you will find sample essays for this section - comparing leaders or nations from different regions.


Essay one

This essay takes Stalin and Truman as the two leaders to compare and contrast. It got into the lower end of the top mark band.

Compare and contrast the roles of two Cold war leaders from different regions in the development of the Cold War.

Possible tasks to set for students while reading this essay could be:

  • highlight evidence of comparisons
  • highlight evidence of contrasts
  • look at opening sentences; do they indicate a comparative approach to the essay?
  • identify areas in which the essays could be improved

Click on the eye to see the essay or download the PDF.

Marked essay: Compare and contrast the roles of two Cold War leaders from different regions in the development of the Cold War

Joseph Stalin and Henry Truman both played a role in the development of the origins of the cold war; from the moment they met in Potsdam, the different ideologies and the lack of trust between the two resulted in the first step towards decades-long divergence. Their actions and beliefs would lead to the division of Europe and the spreading of cold war tension to Asia. Although Stalin’s actions were key in Europe for causing initial tension, it can be argued that Truman’s actions with regard to Korea were key for globalizing and militarizing the Cold War.

From Potsdam in 1945, when they the two leaders met for the first time, the ’old continent’ become the stage of the first Cold War confrontations. Stalin carried out a strong sovietization program thanks to the so called “Salami Tactics” which brought Eastern Europe under Soviet control.
Truman, fearing a possible expansion in Europe, introduced the Truman Doctrine, which was followed by the Marshall Plan. Both the actions of Stalin and Truman thus played a key role in developing tensions. While Soviet action were seen in the West as “the systematic destruction of democracy, by terror, murder, corruption, lies and propaganda”. (Kruassman), and based on military actions the actions of Truman were seen by the Soviets as ‘dollar imperialism’ and an attempt to spread capitalist ideas throughout Europe via economic means. Stalin reacted with the introduction of the COMECON and Cominform, starting a ping-pong dispute which led to ideological disputes from both sides, becoming the base of the Cold War.

The actions of both leaders also created a divided Germany by 1949. Both sides focused on Germany as a key strategic territory and each had different aims for the country. At Yalta and Potsdam it had been agreed that Germany should have been divided temporarily into four zones of occupation, administered by the Allied Control Council (ACC). However, while the West wanted to build up Germany, Stalin was worried that a united, economically powerful Germany would pose a threat to its security. Also, he wanted to get as much out of Germany as possible in terms of reparations. The clash in different aims between Truman and the West and Stalin led to an early breakdown over reparations’ agreements and set the stage for the ultimate division of Germany.

In 1948, Truman and the West introduced a new currency into the Western sector of Berlin. This caused resentment with Soviets who saw the new currency as the first step toward establishing a West Germany state. Stalin eventually cut off all rail and road links to west Berlin, introducing a Blockade. As described by Byrnes, this was “the first major crisis of the Cold War, setting up the stage for the decades of tension that were to follow.” Truman and Stalin therefore saw in Germany the possibility of expanding their sphere of influence, having as a consequence a further rise in tensions and escalation of the Cold War. The blockade resulted in the setting up of the FDR and then the DDR as well as the establishment of NATO in 1949 as Truman realized the importance of having military bases in Europe.

Furthermore, both Stalin and Truman engaged in an arms race which had a dramatic impact n the conduct of the cold war. As stated by Gar Alperovitz, the dropping of the A-bomb was the first diplomatic move by the USA in the Cold War. However, if the intention was to keep Stalin in check, this did not work and by 1949 the USSR had its own nuclear weapon. This triggered a nuclear arms race which was have a dramatic impact on the increase in tension and to determined how the cold war was conducted in later years.

Stalin and Truman also played a role in expanding cold war tensions to Asia though it could be argued that Truman’s actions were more significant. USA’s involvement in China had no impact on the final result; despite the large amounts of US aid to the GMD, the CCP defeated GMD due to the incompetence of Jiang Jieshi and the popular policies of the CCP. However, with the Red Scare in the USA, the ‘loss’ of China was seen as major defeat for the USA and led to pressure on Truman to prove that he was not ‘soft on Communism’. This, when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Truman saw this as an advance of Communism instigated by Stalin and, under a UN flag, sent a US army to defeat the North Koreans. This prolonged the Korean conflict, which would have been a short civil war, into a three year war ultimately involving not only the UN forces but the Chinese forces, with devastating results for the Korean peninsula. The USA successfully contained the North Koreans and re-established the 38th parallel as the dividing line between North and South Korea, but it led to the implementation of NSC 68 which effectively globalized and militarized the cold war by giving the go ahead to substantially increased spending by the US on the military. The USA also set up SEATO as a result of what it saw as the new communist threat in Asia, and became committed to defending Taiwan.  Stalin also bears responsibility for the escalation in tension caused by the Korean War as it was his decision to give Kim Il Sung the ‘green light’ for the invasion that led to this conflict. However, the reaction of the US to the invasion and the subsequent actions of the US in increased spending and in implementing its containment policy on a global scale that took the cold war to a new level.

Important to also consider are the diverse personal qualities of Stalin and Truman. As argued by John L. Gaddis “Narcism, paranoia and absolute power come together in Stalin.” Given Stalin’s suspicious nature, it is therefore not surprising that he saw the actions of the West as a threat for himself and for the USSR leading to his desire to have Satellite States around the USSR. As reported by Gaddis “as long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union, a Cold War was unavoidable”. On the other hand, Truman was completely blinded by the fear of Communism. This brought the American president to have a monolithic view of such ideology, according to which all Communist actions around the world were organized by the USSR.

In conclusion, both Stalin and Truman played a fundamental role in causing the Cold War and in determining the nature of the conflict. The actions of both leaders In Europe were key in the escalation of tension and both played a role in the expansion of tension into Asia, though Truman’s intervention in Korea and the implementation of NSC 68 meant that he was responsible for globalizing and militarizing the cold war in the early 1950s. The arms race also originated under the leadership of these two men. By the time the two leaders left the international scene in 1953, the world was facing high political and militarily tensions as never before in history

Note that this is a graded sample of an essay on Gorbachev's role in ending the Cold War under Theme One of this topic: 2. Rivalry, mistrust and accord: Graded student examples 


Essay Two

Examine the impact of Cold War tensions on two countries [excluding the USSR and the US] each chosen from a different region.

This essay uses Cuba and West Germany as the two case studies for this essay and got into the top mark band.

It was written as a homework essay so is fairly long.

In addition to the questions above in the previous essay, students could decide what information could be cut in order for it to be written in 45 minutes.

In addition you could ask them to rewrite the introduction and conclusion, both of which are quite brief and could be improved on.

Graded essay: Examine the impact of Cold War tensions on two countries each chosen from a different region

The two countries which will be discussed in the essay are Cuba and the federal republic of Germany (west Germany).  Both Cuba and west Germany were affected by the tensions of the cold war conflict between the USA and the USSR in their internal politics, foreign policy, economy and they were both also the focus of cold war crises which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Domestically, both countries experienced a shift in the political nature of its government due to the influence of superpower rivalry and tension. After suffering total defeat at the hands of the allies in May 1945, Germany was divided into two main zones of occupation, one in the west controlled principally by the US and UK, and one in the east controlled by the USSR. Although having agreed to a joint administration of Germany during the Yalta conference of February 1945, the two zones of Germany were never merged as the disagreements between the capitalist western allies and the communist USSR escalated.  The Soviets attempted to secure a popular pro-communist government by unifying all left-wing groups into the SED.  However, after the London Conference between the Grand Alliance partners broke down in recriminations in 1947, the US moved to establish a government in line with its own ideology.  At the London conference of 1948 the US and Britain drafted a new constitution for a separate west German state.  The western allies also agreed to introduce a new currency into west Germany without the assent of the USSR.  The US was determined to create an independent west Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany, with a constitution designed to establish a liberal democratic capitalist state. By the end of 1949 the building cold war tensions had ensured that two separate Germanys emerged, with the imposition of a western style government in the FRG and a communist government in the DDR.

The nature of Cuba’s government was similarly affected by cold war tensions. In 1959, Castro overthrew the unpopular regime of Batista. This was height of cold war tension and  Castro’s manifesto for ‘social justice’ alarmed the US as it involved implementing an agenda of land redistribution and the nationalization of key industries which they saw as ‘communism’. In fact, Castro did not associate his regime with Soviet communism and had attempted to discuss his aims with the US government.  However, after the US backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 Castro turned to the Soviet Union to protect his revolution. Castro then declared the Cuban revolution to be “Marxist Leninist”. Castro subsequently purged Cuba of political opponents and began to implement soviet style economic policies.  In both Cuba and Germany, cold war tensions had influenced the establishment of new governments orientated towards either the USSR or US.

The internal politics of the governments established in both countries continued to be influenced by cold war tensions and rivalry. In the newly created west Germany, re-unification with the Soviet backed east Germany became a central issue of politics, with the government of the west rejecting an offer of re-unification on the basis it would turn the entirety of Germany into a soviet satellite in 1953. Opposition to left-wing parties which were perceived to be backed by the USSR and the support of the established Churches led to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) dominating west German politics for the first ten years of its existence with Konrad Adenauer as the chancellor of Germany for this time. Adenauer’s government focused on building Germany into a liberal democratic state and did not recognise the existence of east Germany. Nevertheless, a challenge to this perspective can be seen under the Chancellorship of Willy Brandt.  Despite the concerns of the USA, under Brandt west Germany attempted to pursue a more independent political path.  Brandt pursued ostpolitik and recognised east Germany in 1971.  In 1989, the collapse of the soviet bloc led to the re-unification of Germany and the fall of the Berlin wall. With the end of the cold war the whole post-war territory of Germany was represented by the FRG and its western style government.

In Cuba, the US’s hostility towards Castro’s government, which it perceived as not merely communist but a puppet of the USSR, shaped its internal politics. Following the US sponsored campaign of terrorism against Cuba known as “operation mongoose” as well as provocative reconnaissance flight over its territory and military manoeuvres around the island, Castro determined to consolidate his power by promoting a ‘siege mentality’ and whipping up nationalist support. Castro ruled Cuba by executive decree until 1975, and after which he was able to occupy all three of the most senior positions in government. The opposition of the US, as has been discussed, led to Castro declaring his government to be ‘Marxist-Leninist’ in a pivot to the USSR. Castro’s government would promote Marxism and anti-capitalism, arresting dissidents and critics for ‘counter-revolutionary activities.’ In both Cuba and west Germany, internal politics were largely dictated by the tensions of the cold war.  Indeed, as with the re-unification of Germany, the collapse of the USSR at the end of the Cold War led Cuba into diplomatic isolation and precipitated a period of famine and crisis in the country.

The economic policies of both the FRG and Cuba were essentially dictated by the respective superpower each state was aligned with.  Both countries received economic aid from their respective superpower.  Devastated by the second world war and having lost much of its productive capacity, working population, and territory west Germany faced economic ruin in 1945. In order to counter the possible effects of economic devastation and create support for the US and liberal capitalist democracy, the US began the programme of Marshall aid in 1948, sending over 12 billion $(130 billion $ adjusted for inflation) to countries of Europe. 12% of this aid went to west Germany, helping it to re-build and undergo  an ‘economic miracle’ in the 1950s, creating support for the US and the US aligned CDU government. Furthermore, west Germany benefited economically from the cold war tensions in Korea as it exported large amounts of steal to support the US backed war effort. Germany played a key role in establishing the European Economic Community which facilitated free trade across Europe.

In Cuba, after failing to secure loans from the US, Castro’s government turned to the Soviet Union, which offered to buy Cuban sugar at a generous rate and supply Cuba with oil. In accordance with Marxist doctrine and in the hopes of further aligning itself with USSR in order to protect Cuba against US aggression, Castro implemented a centrally planned economy, but became increasingly dependent on the USSR. It subsequently pursued 5 year plans on the recommendation of its Soviet advisors and in order to continue to receive loans and investment.  In 1975, Cuba joined COMECON was able to secure some 130 million $ in subsidies from the USSR which was keen to support the sole Marxist state in the Americas. Following the USSR’s collapse in 1991, the Cuban economy suffered a 30% loss in GDP and the government was forced to declare the US dollar legal tender. In both Cuba and West Germany cold war tensions produced economic policies which sought to align each state with its superpower backers.

Cold war tensions also dictated the foreign policies of both Cuba and the FRG. After declaring independence in 1949, the FRG remained host [or some would say occupied] by large numbers of US troops as the US feared Soviet military expansion in central Europe. Eventually, in 1953, west Germany was permitted to establish a military force, the Bundeswehr and join the US backed military alliance of NATO to deter soviet aggression. The FRG formally joined NATO in 1954.  Furthermore, the CDU government pursued a policy of not recognising East Germany (the DDR) or any country which recognised east Germany as a legitimate political entity. In Cuba, with the support of the USSR, Castro sought to back Marxist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa, sending over 1500 advisors to the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua in 1978 and sending over 12,000 troops to Mozambique to support the Marxist FNLA in the civil war there, and significantly sent forces and military advisers to Angola.  These interventions were with the direct approval and military support of the USSR which provided funding and arms to spread communism, particularly in Africa. Thus, the foreign policy of both nations was shaped by the dictates of the cold war tensions as each country acted in line with its superpower ally.

Finally, Cold war crises impacted both countries as they became the focus of direct confrontations between the superpowers.  In both cases these confrontations had brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. During the Berlin Blockade in 1948-49, that had led to the establishment of two Germanys, there had been the real jeopardy of an escalation to all-out war.  In east Germany in 1958, the Soviet premier Khrushchev sought to have the west German, and the associated American forces, withdraw from their enclave in west Berlin and cede the former capital deep in the heart of the eastern sectors to East Germany.   The Soviets issued an ultimatum to that effect. US president Kennedy refused to withdraw US troops or hand over control of the train stations into the city resulting in Khrushchev backing down not willing to risk an escalation to war. But there has been the real risk of the FRG being in the forefront of a superpower war.  In Cuba, following the failed US backed invasion of 1961, Castro sought to have soviet missiles stationed on the island as a deterrent to US aggression, Khrushchev had approved the plan.  When Khrushchev’s nuclear missiles sites were identified by US spy planes the US blockaded Cuba demanding their removal.  For 13 days the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. Eventually an agreement was reached and the missiles were removed in exchange for a public declaration the US would not invade Cuba and a secret deal removing US missiles from Turkey. In both cases Cuba and Germany became focal points of the international confrontation between the superpowers, and their respective government were not consulted by the superpowers in resolving the crises. Nevertheless, recent historiography has suggested that both in precipitating the crisis and in heightening the danger during the course of the Cuban missile crisis Castro had played a more significant and independent role than previously acknowledged.

During the cold war, the political, economic, and foreign policies of both Cuba and west Germany were dictated by the global confrontation between the US and the USSR, and Cold War tensions.  Both countries became the sites of international crises between the two powers



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