Created by Adam Waisanen. This video is a digital project completed as part of Professor Lilia Fernandez's History 4015: Research in Modern U.S. History course at Ohio State University in the spring of 2015.
Growing up during the last few years of the Cold War, I was taught by my parents and the media of the evils of the Soviet Union. Movies were steadily released during the 80s that feature the newest communist threat to the American hero. I felt things had always been that way until I stumbled across a film, "The Battle of Russia", which spoke of a proud faithful Soviet citizen, who was an ally of the Americans. Who were the Soviets that they spoke of in the film, and how did they change into the people I learned to distrust? As I began to do my research on this subject, I found that neither the US nor the Soviets had changed their ideals between the making of the film and my childhood. So what had caused this admiration displayed in the film to dissolve into two nations becoming bitter enemies of the Cold War? To find out the answer, I had to first look at how the two countries acted before World War Two, and see how their relations progressed from there. It was not until 1933 that the US officially recognized the Soviet Union as a sovereign nation, and even then neither nation totally trusted each other due to the overwhelming differences in government. While the United States have been built upon the ideals of democracy, the Soviets had embraced communism as their government system. These two types of government are at odds with each other as democracy depended upon the right to capitalism, while communism states that capitalism is the root of all evil, and was thus outlawed. While these two systems were at odds, the US did not see the Soviets as a real threat at the time, as they were located so far away, it would most likely fail before they became too powerful. It was not until late 1940 that the US started to take real notice of the growing threat that the Soviet Union could be in the growing war in Europe. The Soviets had already signed the Treaty of Friendship with Germany, and acted out a synchronized invasion of Poland and the US came to the conclusion that these two nations combined would be a large global threat. It was then decided that the US would need to steer the Soviet Union into siding with the Allies instead of the Axis powers with Germany. To make this plan work, there was a need for a propaganda shift from distrusting the Soviets, to seeing them as equals in need of help. One of these major words was a film "The Battle of Russia" by Frank Capra. This film was the fifth installment in the seven part series titled "Why We Fight," intended to be used to boost troop morale engaged in the war. The film had such positive reception with the civilian population at home that it went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary. During the film, many earlier issues between the US and Soviets were either ignored or misrepresented. One example of this is that the film refers to the Soviet Union as Russia multiple times as a term Soviet previously had negative connotations. Another example is the word communism is completely left out, ignoring the main divide between the two nations. Instead, the film shows the vast differences between the cultures in the Soviet Union and relating this cultural mix to how the US was built by showing the similarities, this build a level of trust on the home front that was needed for the two nations to fight together. But as the war began to end, suddenly, there was no need for Soviet support. This led to a drastic shift in the propaganda while the two nations were still dependent upon each other. For the last few months of the war, reports began to be published stating that the Soviets were not keeping their commitments of support. While at the national level, it was still claimed that the two countries were allies, the media began to show a distrust of the Soviets and how they were going to try and invade the US to spread communism because they hated our freedoms. Once the war had officially ended, the two governments declared their mistrust for each other due to both of them amassing large stockpiles of weapons and munitions during the war. This fueled a quick shift in public sentiment that provided the government with the resources it needed to enter the Cold War with the Soviets that would last for decades to come. In the end, I found that during World War Two and the years thereafter, the US media was able to shift public sentiment in general distrust to friendship, and finally to hatred of the Soviet Union. As the generation I learned from grew up during this final shift of anti-Soviet propaganda. There's no surprise that I was taught these very same things that they were shown during their childhood. With a solid backstory of the evil communists. They made it easy for Hollywood directors great the latest Bond or Rocky villain, one that their viewers would instantly recognize and despise. In reality, there was no real change in the politics of the Soviet Union since the beginning of the war, only a shift in need of mutual support.