The Strategic Problem

Another area of disagreement, as mentioned above, was the number of soldiers that the United States and the Soviet Union maintained in Europe after the War ended. As American troop strength was drawn down to 1.3 million, Soviet troop strength, while reduced from wartime levels by 2/3 in the immediate postwar period still maintained 175 divisions, or 2.6 million men in uniform - twice that of the United States. This was partially due to the greater amount of territory occupied and administered by the USSR after the war, and partly because of a perceived need by Soviet leaders for security and military power to deter any possible attackers. American planners, noting that the USSR had faced nearly 2/3 of the Germany Army in Europe, whereas the other allies had faced only the remaining 1/3, and had not travelled as great distances as that between Stalingrad and Berlin, came to believe that not only did the Soviets have a numberical advantage, but that their soldiers were more experienced, and thus more useful in battle, than American soldiers of the time. To compensate for this precieved imbalance of conventional forces, the United States came to rely on technology - specifically, weapons systems and atomic bombs. The United States even developed tactical, or battlefield-sized, atomic weapons in the early 1950's in order to gain force parity with the USSR.

Ideology and Elections

It is important to see the Cold War in the context of relationships between nations. That is to say, both the United States and the USSR had national interests, and their use of diplomacy at different levels, along with military threats and force, in order to mover those interests forward are normal activities of normal states. Still, the fact that ideology was so different between the two nations, and that both tended to give ideology a large role in social organization meant that an unusual degree of importance must be attributed to ideological differences in studying the Cold War.
Additionally, Soviet control of Eastern Europe remained a thorn in the side of American diplomats, and Stalin refused to relinquish even a small part of that control. This had to do with differing approaches to security – in a way, an ideological difference in its own right. Although Stalin had agreed that the Eastern European countries would be allowed to hold free democratic elections, it became clear very early that the meaning of the term "free democratic elections" was different for Stalin than it was for American leaders and diplomats. Stalin and the Politburo refused to accept any democratically elected or otherwise empowered government that was not also friendly to Moscow.
In 1956, Poland and Hungary both decided to try to experiment with communism by installing slightly more market-friendly, less oppressive governments. At this, the Soviet Union sent soldiers into the capitol cities of both countries, and quickly squashed the rellion. In Hungary, students supportive of the change appealed to the United States to oppose the Soviet soldiers and tanks, since they had heard for years from Radio Free Europe American exhortations to free themselves from Moscow's orbit.