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4 History Essay Examples with Topics

History Essay Example #1

Essay Topic: The Impact of the First World War

    The Treaty of Versailles was ratified as a result of the Paris Peace Conference, where it was finally signed after four months. The Treaty seemed to satisfy the “Big Three” but only to a limited extent. All three had varying degrees of their agendas satisfied. Germany had been weakened yet they were still strong enough to stop the spread of communism. The French border with Germany was safe from another German attack and the organisation, the League of Nations, created ostensibly to end warfare throughout the world.

Clemenceau seemed the most satisfied with the Treaty because most of his aims during the Paris Peace Conference had been included in the Treaty. The fear of a German uprising was no longer in the minds of the French as all the land that Germany was required to hand over was returned; the most important regions being Alsace and Lorraine. Germany’s army was down sized to a maximum of 100,000 men; they were denied the use of tanks. The air force was disbanded and the navy was only allowed to staff and operate six ships; however, no submarines were allowed to remain operational. The land fifty kilometres east of the Rhine was pronounced a demilitarised zone, where no soldier with a weapon could enter. Overseas land previously owned by Germany was given to different European countries. The League of Nations controlled the Saar, Danzig and Memel.

One of the more important outcomes was the “War Guilt Clause” that required Germany to take on full responsibility for starting the war. This was important as it would show the world France’s reason for participation in the war was only to defend against the German attacks. This also meant that Germany would have to pay reparations to France for the physical damage caused during the war.

Clemenceau was the most satisfied out of the three leaders with the humiliation of Germany, and France now found new power in the world.

Wilson was very pleased because as a result of the Paris Peace Conference his vision of the League of Nations had become a reality. The League would make it possible to solve conflicts all over the world in a peaceful manner, displaying Wilson’s desire for worldwide peace. He said as much: “To promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security.” (Wilson) The cost of creating the League was losing his other 13 original ideology points to gain the global support that was necessary to start the League and make it a success. As the post-war world was in struggle of finding peace, there were a lot of countries intrigued by the international organisation that promised to bring the world peace. Wilson was of a peace loving nature and was clearly angered by the great number of restrictions that Germany had to agree to in the Treaty as well as all the reparations they had to make. The harsh conditions that were imposed on Germany embarrassed and shamed Wilson. Nevertheless, he was very satisfied with the start of the League of Nations. One fact to be noted is that reparations to the United States were not mandated in the Treaty. It is true that the losses of the United States were not on the same scale as Britain and France because of their late entrance into the war.

Lloyd-George was perhaps the least satisfied with the final terms of the treaty because of Clemenceau’s persistence to bankrupt the German economy. As Lloyd-George’s key point was to keep Germany’s economy as stable as possible so as to increase European market strength, he was not happy with the end result. Most people in Great Britain had wished for revenge on Germany, and indeed received satisfaction as some of Germany’s colonies went to Lloyd-George. Transjordan and Palestine were the two major colonies that went to Britain.  British armies occupied Asia minor also called Turkey. This was the most rewarding condition for Great Britain in the Treaty, as they could more easily recover power and wealth quickly. Additionally, with the immense decrease in size of the Germans navy, the seas could once again be controlled by the British.

4 History Essay Examples with Topics

With Lloyd-George’s constant “on the fence” attitude at the Paris Peace Conference he was largely overpowered by the other two in his requests. This caused more frustration in Lloyd-George and among the British public who thought more reparations should be given to Britain. Lloyd-George was reasonably happy with the colonies gained, but was upset with the fact that the German economy was in very poor condition.

None of the three leaders had all of their requirements met, but at least one major desire each was to keep them content. Clemenceau received the most satisfaction out of the humiliation of Germany and marvelled at the down sizing of their army. Wilson was not content with the unforgiving treatment of the Germans, but was very satisfied with the founding of the League of Nations even though he was compelled to surrender thirteen of his points in exchange for realisation of the one that he held most dear – the League of Nations. Lloyd-George was not as happy as the other two because of the destruction of Germany’s economy, resulting in no help from the Germans to strengthen the European market

History Essay Example #2

Essay Topic: “The League of Nations failed because of America’s absence in the organisation.”

How far do you agree with the statement? Explain your answer.

I agree to a large extent that the League of Nations failed because America did not join the organization. However, there were also other contributing factors such as the frequency of meetings of its members and structural weaknesses within the League.

The most important reason why the League of Nations could not succeed in its aim of global harmony was the fact that the United States, the country that first proposed the idea of the organisation did not, itself, join. The U.S. Senate prohibited America from entering on the basis that it did not want to forsake national sovereignty, it did not want to police the world, and many German-Americans, at the moment a important proportion of the population, resisted the concept of the United States as a member of the League of Nations because of their outrage at the role of the United States in ratifying the Treaty of Versailles.

The American perspective on the world was different from that of Europe, which was deep rooted from the early days of European settlers in America, fleeing religious persecution. It caused them to be weary of alliances and friendships.  The farewell speech of American president George Washington shows the outlook of the country towards alliances with other countries and especially European countries. He said “Europe has a number of main concerns that we do not have, or a very distant relationship. Therefore, the causes of which are fundamentally foreign to our worries must be involved in frequent disputes. It must therefore be unwise in us to engage in the normal vicissitudes of her politics or the normal combinations and collisions of her relationships and enmities”. This philosophy towards alliances led the senate to vote against becoming a member of the league.

Because the United States has not joined the League of Nations, the League has lost considerable credibility in other countries ‘ eyes. Furthermore, the United States was a respected nation and its apparent flexibility made them a suitable for a mediator’s position; the loss of them as a mediator was a blow to the League’s effectiveness in negotiations with other countries. Nations would have had more confidence in the League if the U.S. were part of it, as other countries leading the League were considered to be only looking out for their own interests; the U.S did not have that image. In addition, the League’s economic and political weight would have risen exponentially if the US joined, as it was a financial superpower with even greater impact after the First World War. Without the Americans, the League was less effective, both in terms of economic and arbitration power.

Another fact and a major fault in the League of Nations’ functioning involved the fact that the General Assembly met only once annually, with the Security Council only meeting a few more times per year. The League’s objective of unifying the world through debates rather than violence would be highly hard to achieve if the nations concerned were there only to discuss problems once a year. Additionally, the Security Council, which consisted of the “Big Four”, only met three or four times a year, which was also insufficient to bring peace to the world. The organization would have been more successful if the nations involved were prepared to put more time and effort into making the world a better place instead of making false claims and then not trying to solve problems that would require more time than was actually intended. Furthermore, when the General Assembly met and would discuss events, any decisions made would have to be by a unanimous vote. An organisation consisting of over 42 countries needing to reach a unanimous vote for any idea to be passed is an extremely unreasonable and completely unrealistic expectation. The veto power also proved to be difficult for the Big Four. Britain, France, Italy and Japan were able to present any choices taken after hours of debate if there was a easy concept on the agenda that one of the powers disagreed. This created a slow and arduous negotiation process, and was yet another reason why the League of Nations was ineffective in solving global issues and establishing, not even considering maintaining world peace.

Another important reason for its failure was the structure of the League. The Security Council was given the greatest power in the League, and it consisted of Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. With excellent reason, the remainder of the globe had little faith in these forces. Britain and France, two major colonial powers, were regarded as selfish and imperialistic by other nations, who believed that the two countries would only consider their national interests. Wielding so much power would ultimately be an opportunity for them to improve their own countries, and that suspicion by the rest of the world was the main seat of unrest within the League. There was also frequent disagreement between the two primary powers, Britain and France, and they did not get along particularly well. This caused even more disruption in the elite group that was supposed to be resilient and confident in their decisions, which weakened the structure of the League even further.

Italy was also centered not on the welfare of the remainder of the globe but on its own territorial benefit. Japan has been separated from the other powers, the only Asian country. As the only country in the East, all accountability for Asia’s well-being was put on Japan’s shoulders, an unreasonable and unfair duty for Japan, which found it impossible to patrol the world’s biggest territory. The four main powers were also distant geographically from the rest of the globe, with three powers concentrated on one small continent, and the other power being an archipelagic nation with no easy access to other countries.

Without America as a member, problems such as frequency of meetings, unviable policies on decision making and an unstable structure was proving to send the League of Nations crashing to its knees from its very inception. The League did not have sufficient resources to achieve all of its goals; although Britain and France were donors to the cause, their contributions were not nearly sufficient to sustain the continued efforts of the League’s idealistic goals.. Obviously, without the resources to carry out a task, an organisation would be rendered, to all intents and purposes, useless. All these factors together caused the failure of the League of Nations.

History Essay Example #3

This question is about Japanese aggression towards China and the War in the Pacific.

(a)

Essay Topic: Explain why Japan adopted an expansionist policy towards China during the 1930s.

The most important reason for Japan’s expansionist policy was the rise of militarism in Japan. The military officers responsible wanted to make Japan a great power–comparable to the Westerners. The need to be on equal footing was seen in the worsening relations with Western Powers.  Japan was unhappy because it was not treated equally by the westerners. Japan wanted a statement in the Covenant of the new League of Nations stating that all races were equal, but it was blocked by the western powers. This dogmatism was seen by the Japanese as an act of racism. In addition, Japan was forced to accept the decision made at the Washington Naval Conference of 1922, whereby her navy size was reduced to three-fifths the size of those of Britain and America. This provoked Japan’s sentiment that the Western powers did not consider Japan to be their equal.

From an Economic point of view there was reason to adopt the expansionist policy as well. Japan needed desperately to solve her economic problems of food shortages and unemployment. Before the Great Depression, Japan was able to export its goods and purchase raw materials and food from the profits of trade. The Great Depression in the early 1930s greatly reduced the prices of Japanese agricultural products. Japan’s exports fell by 50% between 1929 and 1931. The Western countries’ imposition of taxes on all Japanese goods also impacted her economy and added to her economic hardship. By 1931, half of Japan’s factories had closed and millions of peasants were reduced to severe poverty. Hence Japan looked towards China, which had many valuable resources for her industries such as oil, iron and coal. Industrialisation also calls for a ready market, and China, with its huge population, was a profitable market for Japanese goods. Japan had to pursue her imperialist policy towards China to keep the Chinese market open to Japanese trade and to preserve her economic position in South Manchuria.

Definitely the most important factor was the rise of militarism in Japan which advocated an expansionist policy towards its neighbouring countries, which was seen as a means to gain access to raw materials and potential markets for its goods. This was especially crucial after the Great Depression when the Western markets for Japanese goods shrank and higher taxation of Japanese goods was imposed. The militarists’ domination of the government was strengthened by the successes of the invasion and control over Manchuria and North China. The increase in military strength and the leadership of Tojo pushed for further aggression towards China. The militarists wanted a new order in East Asia. Its aim was to create a political and economic bloc comprising Japan, Manchuria and China under Japanese domination. In 1940, Japan proclaimed an expanded version of the ‘New Order’ called the ‘Greater East-Asia co-prosperity sphere’ which included Southeast-Asia. There were few strategies that were promising to Japan that would improve their stand against the western world.  Militarism was the foremost and the most viable option since it would help determine most of the other factors such as the economy and their stand in politics as well. This made Japan devise expansionist policies against China

The other contributing factor for the policy was the deteriorating relationships with the Western powers. Japan was forced to accept the decision made at the Washington Naval Conference of 1922 and the Western countries’ imposition of taxes on all Japanese goods. The worsening relations with Western Powers simply made Japan evermore determined to be a great power comparable to the Westerners.

(b)

Essay Topic: “The attack on Pearl Harbour led to the eventual defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific War.” How far do you agree with the statement? Explain your answer.

I agree to a large extent that the attack on Pearl Harbour led to the eventual defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific War. However, there were also other reasons for Japanese defeat such as the Battle of Midway and the dropping of the atomic bombs.

The most important factor that led to the eventual defeat of the Japanese in the war was Japan’s decision to bomb Pearl Harbour, and execution of the plan. As a result of the war, the attack helped spark a turning point for the Allies. Germany now had to enter the war. This was because of Germany’s Tripartite Agreement with Japan, they would undoubtedly be compelled to engage in war with America; something they were not ready to do. This eventually proved to be disastrous. The Japanese were trying to severely damage the U.S. fleet, and then force the U.S. into negotiations with Japan. Instead, what the attack did was to spur the U.S. to strengthen its navy, and more importantly, through bombing Pearl Harbour, Japan unified a divided America against the Axis powers. President Roosevelt did not know whether or not he should ask congress to declare war before the bombing, because he was afraid that he would not have enough popular support . The public opinion was apparently against war since the first world war when thousands of American soldiers died when President Wilson had promised that if the public supported that war it would the war of wars and there will be safer world thereafter. But after twenty years the warring factions were at it again and the public realised that the soldiers they had sent died in vain. The American president had openly declared in his campaign speech that American soldiers would not be sent to fight any other country’s war The Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbour made up his mind for him. This lead to the declaration of war by the U.S against the axis powers and changed the direction of the war that ultimately lead to the surrender of Japan and removed any option of negotiated peace.

As mentioned above, another change in the tide that led to the eventual defeat of the Japanese was the Battle of Midway. The Japanese hoped to take over the little U.S. at Midway. base at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian islands. To ready themselves for their huge assault, the Japanese, under Yamamoto, amassed over 200 ships, including the Yamato, which was the greatest battleship that the world had ever seen. Yamamoto believed victory was inevitable, but U.S. code-breakers, assisted by Washington and Australia intelligence units, were able to crack about 90% of Japanese emails. Because of the help of the code-breakers, the Americans, under Midway commander, Raymond A. Spruance, were able to assess the grandeur of the impending strike. Armed with that knowledge the Americans were able to set up an adequate trap able to deter the Japanese. It was the Japanese’s first naval defeat in over 300 years.  At first, however, it seemed that the Japanese would win this huge naval clash. Almost all of the U.S. fighters which were carrying torpedoes were shot down before deploying their ordinance, and those torpedoes which did manage to get fired were too slow, thus allowing the Japanese ships to avoid the torpedoes. What did inflict heavy damage on the Japanese ships were the precise dive bombers. They succeeded so greatly that the Japanese were defeated at Midway with heavy losses. After this defeat, for the rest of the war, the Japanese were on the defensive.

The final nail in the coffin for the Japanese was the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although Japan had suffered conventional bombing and a naval blockade, the Japanese were unwilling to surrender. They felt that it was shameful to surrender and were prepared to fight to the very last man.  President Truman was concerned that America would suffer enormous losses if they were to invade Japan hence he was prepared to use the atomic bombs on Japan. America dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August causing the deaths of 80 000 people. There was no immediate surrender from Japan, so two days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki which killed 40,000 people. The devastation of the two atomic bombs pushed the Japanese government to commit to immediate surrender. The Japanese government was informed of more nuclear attacks and this time in Tokyo where the cabinet was meeting. At this time Japan was militarily defeated. While the military leaders where against surrender at any cost, the cabinet unanimously agreed to surrender. Any opposition by the military leaders were removed when the emperor wished to surrender, since the emperor was considered inviolable by the Japanese and the military had to respect his word above all else. The declaration of war against Japan by USSR further pushed it into the corner. Japan also realized that the US would invade if the bombs did not result in unconditional surrender, and anymore attempt at war was pointless. All these factors combined to push Japan into surrender.

In conclusion we can see that the bombing of the Pearl harbour opened the door for America to get involved in the war and eventually lead to the Hiroshima, Nagasaki bombing. One other major event that proved a severe setback to the Japanese was the Battle of Midway. In June 1942, the US navy inflicted a serious blow to the Japanese, which it failed to recover from. The Americans won the battle despite fighting against heavier odds due to the fact that they had broken the Japanese radio code. This U.S. victory was a huge turning point in the Pacific Theatre since it severely weakened the Japanese. Thus the pearl harbour bombings together with the Battle of Midway, the atomic bombs and other events like the declaration of war by Russia brought Japan to unconditional surrender.

History Essay Example #4

This question is about the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe during the 1980s’.

(a)

Essay Topic: Explain why Gorbachev introduced his policies of Perestroika and Glasnost in 1985.

On taking office in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev inherited an economy with a diminishing rate of industrial and agricultural output and both sectors were in desperate need of reform. Gorbachev decided to adapt the ancient scheme to a Perestroika era. Perestroika translated literally, means restructuring and was the term attached to the attempts (1985-91) by the Prime Minister to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized market-oriented economy.

The first policy, Perestroika was formulated to restructure the centrally-controlled economy. Under the current economic system, there was an over centralization of power and privileges. Under perestroika laws were passed that enabled the economy to bring about basic changes that were necessary to attain a market driven economy. For example the Law on state enterprise allowed the industries to decide their output capacity. They could now fulfil the state orders and then dispose the remaining produce as they found profitable. The law on co-operatives was also brought about under the restructuring concept. This was one of the boldest of reforms made. It permitted private ownership of businesses in manufacturing services and foreign trade sector. This program eliminated the monopoly that the ministry of foreign trade had over trade operations. Regional and local organizations were permitted to conduct foreign trade Gorbachev had realised that Russia was falling further and further behind the west technologically. He decided to invest heavily in the machine-building industry in order to stimulate an implosion in technological development. By investing considerably more it was expected that living standards would rise due to the fact that there would be more funds available for distribution. There would also be more competition in industry and as a result unproductive workers would be dismissed. There was also an attempt to delegate more responsibility to the management of the individual enterprises to induce them to make more decisions for themselves. In the centralized communist system these privileges were denied to businesses and industries. Gorbachev hoped that by introducing such measures, he could encourage enterprise and boost the Soviet economy. All these dimensions hit at the foundation of the existing economic system. Thus a restructuring was in order to make inroads into a shift towards a market driven system.

The second policy, Glasnost was developed in response to the lack of progress made under Perestroika. Gorbachev soon realised that his ‘restructuring’ was failing. He blamed this on the resistance of the upper-level ideological and economic structures. His reaction was an attempt to instigate reform from the bottom upwards. This led to the introduction of Glasnost meaning openness, his philosophy being that political change must be the precursor to economic change – the economic crises and subsequent events of 1989 – 1992 were to prove him wrong. Gorbachev hoped that the idea of Glasnost would encourage openness at different levels and allow people to debate and participate in perestroika. This was especially so when Perestroika failed to deal with two major economical issues – prices and ownership. Hence little progress was made. This was largely because the supposed managers of enterprises were used to being told what to do and were almost incapable of independent thought and decision-making. It was an alien concept to them having been raised and educated in a Totalitarian system.

The immediate reason for the introduction of the reforms would be to encourage the economy of the USSR to pick itself up; and the ripple effect would be to meet the needs of the people. In addition, Gorbachev wanted to revive the people’s faith in communism and the communist government. By 1985, the people were disillusioned with the political system, one facet of this system being a high level of corruption especially among the senior members of the Communist Party. They had access to consumer goods and were living in comfort while the common people were suffering. Glasnost was Gorbachev’s solution to build the people’s confidence in the political system and its leaders as well as to endeavour to end corruption by means of a more transparent government.

(b)

Essay Topic: “Gorbachev’s reforms yielded unexpected results.”  How far do you agree with the statement? Explain your answer.

I agree to a large extent with this statement because these reforms were indeed the root causes that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the change of the global order. At the same time, there were several other contributing factors which might have caused the same result given enough time such as the sheer size of USSR and the inherent economic problems before Gorbachev’s time.

The most important reasons were the reforms undertaken by Gorbachev. Gorbachev had inherited a weak economy and a system still suffering from the corruption that exploded during the later Brezhnev years. Agriculture was still the primary occupation of the people during Brezhnev’s regime. Collectivization brought about by Stalin destroyed independent peasants, thus dealing a major blow to agriculture. Production of industrial and consumer goods stagnated.  There was also a huge military expenditure to be met.  All these factors resulted in imported food grains sold at high prices, which in turn lead to growth of black market. This fostered corruption on a large scale. Apart from this, the Soviet bureaucracy also served to slow down the political process. It is because of these factors that two of the most important words during Gorbachev’s time in power were ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost’ which were designed to increase the degree of decentralization and democracy in the system without abandoning the basic principles of socialism. Gorbachev had hoped that these reforms would strengthen the Union while also modernizing it. It is commonly accepted that he never intended them to help the break up of the USSR, but this is what happened.

Perestroika (economic restructuring) was meant to boost the flagging economy by abandoning the old, centrally planned and controlled system and allowing more private enterprise. Gorbachev had hoped that by doing this he would be helping to put life into a stagnant economy while also damaging one of the strongest black markets in the world. Perestroika is considered to be the most important of all his reforms and was what Gorbachev felt was the answer to the economic problems that had hindered the Soviet Union for decades. However, instead of the economic benefits it promised, Perestroika proved to be ineffective and failed to improve the situation. The reforms brought about some decentralization but most of the fundamentals of Stalin’s system were left untouched or simply modernized. Price control policies, private property ownership and the monopoly of the government over production facilities were some of the areas that were not addressed. State support to unprofitable businesses increased and revenues from alcoholic beverages industry declined due to the anti-alcohol campaigns. Thus Gorbachev’s reforms were neither on the side of central planning nor market driven economy. Thus it resulted in the collapse of the existing system while failing to put in place a new and more efficient system.

Glasnost (openness) was an attempt by Gorbachev to engage the great majority of the population in the task of modernising the Soviet economy by subjecting the bureaucracy to political criticism from above and below. The relaxations in censorship lead to the loss of control over the media. Realities that had been long covered up by the government like poor housing, alcoholism, mortality rates, etc, came into full view of the public. The positive image that was given to the public about the soviet system was totally crashed by the new found freedom of expression.  Adding to this, the horrors committed during the regime of Stalin was also revealed. Under his dictatorship millions of ordinary people were killed in labour camps.  Political orientation was the key variable in these atrocities. In all, instead of aiding perestroika, glasnost undermined the faith of the people in the soviet system.

One factor deemed to be at fault for the collapse of the Soviet Union was the massive rift that had occurred in the Communist Party by the late 1980’s. The party had largely split into two groups, the conservative traditionalists who were opposed to the reforms happening in the system and the reformists pushing for change. Some commentators think that “the greatest error of Gorbachev was in … ‘ Awkward tries to preserve a centrist stance ‘”. Gorbachev was a reformist but was not committed enough to reforms to satisfy that part of the party while the conservatives felt his changes would ruin the Communists. His inability to unite the two factions severely weakened an already damaged party.  The strength of the communist party which played an important role in the security of the USSR was now undermined.  This also lead to the weakening of the Union and aided the process of the collapse of Soviet Union

The most important overt event, a milestone on the road to the collapse of the Soviet Union, was the attempted coup of 1991. Gorbachev, while away from the political centre on holiday, was placed under house arrest and a group of politicians now known as “The Gang of Eight” announced that Gorbachev was unable govern due to reasons of ill health and that Gennady Yanayev, the vice president, had taken over temporary control. However, the coup was badly organised (it later emerged that some of the gang of eight were drunk for its duration) and was met with mass demonstrations despite curfews enforced by the new ‘leaders’. The resistance was lead by Boris Yeltsin, a long-term political opponent of Gorbachev who was to become the next President of Russia. The coup collapsed. While it seemed that Gorbachev’s position had been secured, the reality was the people believed they had found “the country’s saviour” in Yeltsin. On December 8 the leaders of states like Belarus, Ukraine, and Leonid etc. met to form the commonwealth of independent states and annulled the treaty that had formed the Soviet Union. All these events had their genesis in Gorbachev’s attempt to reform and restructure the economy, politics and society of the Soviet Union.

More importantly, I feel, the entire horrifying dimensions of the contemporary crisis were revealed. The fact was that the Union was in a state of decline and the openness of Gorbachev’s regime served to confirm for many citizens what they already believed, that the system wasn’t working properly. Had he not taken the glasnost route to reform, Gorbachev may well have been able to avoid having to show the people just how bleak the situation was and it is in this respect that his role in the collapse was highly significant.

Another contributing reason for the collapse of the USSR was its geography and the diversity of the numerous nationalities within the country. The wide spread of nationalities had always been a problem for the USSR. The country is home to over 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous people. As of the 2002 census 79.83 of the population is Russian followed by Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, etc., Other smaller groups live in their respective regions and can be classified by the various languages they speak. (For statistics refer to “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Russia”). Many organizations were angry at what they thought was a Russian bias in fields such as jobs and advantages, and many nationalities endured a great deal of oppression from the Communist Party, especially during the Stalin years. National pride was often directed at a person’s own state, not the U.S.S.R. as a whole, and while these sentiments could not be publicly demonstrated, many people longed for independence from the Soviet Union. The nationalities problem is widely accepted as being one of the key factors in the collapse of the USSR and Gorbachev can hardly be blamed for it being a current problem; but he does come into criticism for the way he handled the situation, even though he did not create it. His use of force against dissenting republics like Lithuania was defined as clumsy and ineffective, and ultimately his failure to fix the issue proved fatal to the Soviet Union. When he could not convince them with words he tried economic blockades and a brutal military crack down to make his point.  He did not realise that Lithuania was not simply trying breakaway from the Soviet Union for economic or political well being but they were fighting against an occupier who had wounded their language and religion. Lithuania was one of the first republics to breakaway from soviet Union. However I do not feel that this puts the responsibility at his feet, as it is commonly believed that the nationalities question was virtually unsolvable and it is therefore very difficult to suggest anyone else would have handled it much better than Gorbachev. His decision making with regards to reform, however, could have been far better.

The other contributing factors for the collapse of the USSR were the inherent economic problems. This is the one aspect that Gorbachev could not be blamed for: The way the Soviet Union had been run before he came to power, particularly by post-Stalinist leaders. Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko did not live up to the image of the strong, decisive leader that had been set in the times of Lenin and Stalin. The level of economic growth in the country had steadily fallen from the 1950’s to the 1980’s and by the time Gorbachev came to power were among the lowest in the Soviet Union’s peacetime history. Leaders found it increasingly difficult to keep increases in living standards up to speed with those in the West, particularly the U.S.A., and, instead of increasing, agricultural output sometimes fell. When this is taken into consideration, the extent of responsibility Gorbachev has to take for the collapse lessens somewhat and if he is to be blamed then this blame should be shared amongst leaders who came before him as well.

While there were other contributing factors to the collapse of the Soviet Union, none were as significant or seminal as the reforms brought into play by Mikhail Gorbachev. They further weakened the economy and brought about awareness among the people of how bleak the Soviet system was. Alongside the reforms the geographical size and diversity of nationalities, the weakening of the communist party, and the coup that sparked the final events are all factors that lead to the demise of the second world super power.

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