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  • Yong Loo

H2 History Cold War Case Study with Model Answer

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

In this H2 History article, we will delve into a case study that explores the End of the Cold War, offering you a model answer that showcases the key elements of a top-notch response. By examining this H2 History model answer, you will gain valuable insights into the art of crafting a quality case study response while avoiding common pitfalls.


Before diving into the model answer, please read and familiarize themselves with the following H2 History case study first. This initial step will enable you to develop your own understanding of the topic and engage critically with the model answer provided. Take the time to thoroughly analyse the key events and factors involved and form your own perspectives and arguments. By doing so, you will be better equipped to appreciate the nuances and insights offered in the subsequent model answer.


This H2 History model answer serves as a guide to help students understand the elements of a well-constructed case study response and provides them with a solid foundation for their own writing endeavours. (H2 History Syllabus 2024)


Case Study


Section A: End of the Cold War


Read the sources and answer the questions.


Source A

The reorientation of Gorbachev’s policy toward the Warsaw Pact countries was further signalled in December 1988 by his announcement, on a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, that the Soviet Union would unilaterally reduce its military forces in Europe by 50 000 troops, 5300 tanks and 24 tactical nuclear weapons. Gorbachev pressed ahead with his efforts to restructure the domestic system in the USSR and to recast Soviet foreign policy, above all policy towards Eastern Europe. As the pace of perestroika and glasnost accelerated in the USSR, the ‘winds of change’ gradually filtered throughout the Eastern bloc, bringing long-submerged grievances and discontent to the surface. Under growing popular pressure, the authorities in Hungary and Poland embarked on a much more ambitious paths of reform in 1988-1989 than Gorbachev himself had yet adopted. As agitation in the region continued to increase, Gorbachev’s public comments about Eastern Europe grew bolder. Against the backdrop of the remarkable changes under way in Poland and Hungary, including the imminent formation of a Polish government led by Solidarity (the independent mass movement that was banned in Poland from December 1981 until early 1989), this declaration took on even greater importance.


Excerpt from an academic book written by a professor of East European History, 2004


Source B

The changes in Eastern Europe did not begin with Gorbachev, let alone with the fall of the Wall. In August 1980, millions of Poles demanded the legalisation of Solidarity, an independent mass-membership organisation whose very existence challenges the one-party state. Previous protests had ended in bloodshed. In June 1989, a re-legalised Solidarity won partly free elections by an overwhelming margin. In the Senate, they gained a faintly absurd 99 out of 100 freely elected seats. When I interviewed Jaruzelski a few days later, he admitted the Communists might now lose power. The fall of the wall took the world’s politicians by surprise. (“Are you sure?” Chancellor Helmut Kohl asked his adviser when he heard the news.) But that was because the politicians believed that only their fellow-politicians mattered. They underestimated what Vaciav Havel, a decade earlier, had described as “the power of the powerless”.


The fall of the Berlin Wall and other miracles of 1989 were an unintended consequence of the more limited revolution Gorbachev wanted to unleash. With his much heralded perestroika and glasnost – economic restructuring and fewer lies, the twin of reform – he sought improved efficiency. But things went much further than he had ever dreamed. Gorbachev did not control the direction of events.


Recollections by a journalist who covered the fall of the Berlin Wall


Source C

Solidarity H2 History

Image of iconic American figure (Gary Cooper in the western movie High Noon) with Solidarity text as background. Election campaign poster by Solidarity party, 1989.


Source D

Our union – the “Solidarity” – had grown into a powerful movement for social and moral liberation. The people freed from the bondage of fear and apathy, called for reforms and improvements. We fought a difficult struggle for our existence. That was and still is a great opportunity for the whole country. I think that it marked also the road to be taken by the authorities, if they thought of a state governed in cooperation and participation of all citizens. “Solidarity”, as a trade union movement, did not reach for power, nor did it turn against the established constitutional order. Our movement expanded by leaps and bounds. But we were compelled to conduct and uninterrupted struggle for our rights and freedom of activity while at the same time imposing upon ourselves the unavoidable self-limitations. The sole and basic source of our strength is the solidarity of workers, peasants and the intelligentsia, the solidarity of the nation, the solidarity of people who seek to live in dignity, truth, and in harmony with their conscience. Let the veil of silence fall presently over what happened afterwards. Silence, too, can speak out.


Taken from a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by Lech Walesa, Solidarity leader, 1983.


Source E


We live today in the world that Ronald Reagan began to reshape with those words. It is a very different world with different challenges and new dangers. All in all, it is one of greater freedom and prosperity, one more hopeful than the world he inherited on becoming president. As prime minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagon for eight of the most important years of all our lives. We talked regularly both before and after his presidency. When his allies came under Soviet or domestic pressure, they could look confidently to Washington for firm leadership. Yes, he warned that the Soviet Union had an unsatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systemic failures impossible to reform. Yes, he did not shrink from denouncing Moscow’s “evil empire.” But he realized that a man of goodwill might nonetheless emerge from within its dark corridors. So the president resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagon stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation.


Extracted from former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s, 11 June 2004.


Source F

“If you study the situation of Solidarity, you see they acted very cleverly, without pressing too much at the crucial moments, because they had guidance from the church”, says one of the Pope’s closest aids. “Poland was a bomb that could explode – in the heart of communism, bordered by the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Too much pressure, and the bomb would go off. “With clandestine broadcasting equipment, Solidarity regularly broke into the government’s radio programming, often with the message “Solidarity lives!” or “Resit!” Armed with a transmitter supplied by the CIA through church channels, Solidarity interrupted television programming with both audio and visual messages, including calls for strikes and demonstrations.


On Feb. 19, 1987, after Warsaw had pledged to open a dialogue with the church, Reagon lifted U.S sanctions. Four months later, Pope John Paul 2 was cheered by millions of his countrymen as he travelled across Poland demanding human rights and praising Solidarity. On April 5, 1989, the two sides signed agreements legalizing Solidarity and calling for open parliamentary elections in June. In December 1990, nine years after he was arrested and his labour union banned, Lech Walesa became President of Poland.


Adapted from Time magazine.


(a) Compare and Contrast Sources A and B on the impact of Glasnost and Perestroika on Eastern Europe.


Sources A and B are similar in arguing that Gorbachev’s policies had wide-ranging effects on the desire for independence among Eastern European states and revealed long-standing disgruntlement against the Soviet government. Source A says that “the authorities in Hungary and Poland embarked on much more ambitious paths of reform in 1988-1989 than Gorbachev himself had yet adopted”, due to popular pressure that was motivated by the freedom to express long-suppressed unhappiness, which now had the liberty to reveal itself without fear of repression. This matches Source B, which argues that the legalization of Solidarity was demanded, and was seen as a form of resistance and reprise against the system if the ‘one-party state’. This means that the Poles forced the recognition of Solidarity as a legitimate participant in future elections, and this was one of the achievements of Glasnost and Perestroika in Europe. Both sources demonstrate the same opinion of the issues during the period of 1988 to 1989 as the professor and journalist are covering the change that results from Gorbachev’s policies and the perspective with which the Eastern European governments viewed this change. Such definitive changes in policy had not been possible under previous leaders – attempts by governments to do this had been quashed unabashedly.


Sources A and B differentiate on the extent to which the impacts had been within Gorbachev’s expectations. Source A seems to suggest that Gorbachev had intended to gradually increase the intensity of his attacks on the system and weight of his criticism, as “Gorbachev’s public comments about Eastern Europe grew bolder”, which can be paralleled with the increasing mass movements’ activity. On the other hand, Source B’s recount of the Poles’ demand for the legalization of Solidarity as a challenge to the one-party system, and the journalist’s conclusion that the events of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall were “an unintended consequence of the more limited revolution Gorbachev wanted to unleash”. This suggests that Gorbachev had not intended to cause the domino of events that would lead to the Eastern European states leaving the unity of the Soviet Union. The two sources are recorded sometime after the events of 1989, and their different perspectives will presently be accounted for. Source A is written by a history professor, and his work and training would require him to note the concurrent trends and events and draw a relationship through his research. On the other hand, the journalist’s work appears to cover the angle of the Eastern European and Soviet community and government and given the untenable position of the Soviet Union’s leader taking apart the Soviet Union, he could only reach the conclusion that the actions Gorbachev set out to achieve were as unexpected as the response of Jaruzelski, whom he interviewed.


(b) How far do Sources A to F support the assertion that it was the people’s power that ended the Cold War?


Question requirements: You are required to assess the source information, putting them in the context of the events surrounding the end of the Cold War, with particular attention to the rise of Solidarity in Poland and the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. Sources that support the statement should not merely make mention of the role of people’s power, but show the initiative that comes from that factor, challenge sources may show the role of other factors, and where relevant, show a determining role that accounted for the success of people’s power.


It is in that context that the answer is as followers:


Sources B, C and D support the statement, while A, E, and F challenge it.


Sources B, C and D support the hypothesis, arguing that it was people’s power that gathered the political clout and pressure needed to force the changes in Eastern Europe and led to the end of the Cold War. This is visible in B, which argues that Solidarity’s resurgence back to the centre of Polish politics was through the demands of millions of Poles in 1980, and its failure was a steppingstone towards its success 9 years later, something that Gorbachev had no hand in creating. In this way, the source suggestions that the revival of inspired the rest of Eastern Europe to take up the banner of change, rather than being triggered by the singular, isolated policy of Glasnost and Perestroika. Source C agrees, demonstrating through the American figure of Gary Cooper that people’s power needs to confront its challenges head-on and not run from the oppression of the Soviet state, and is meant to inspire the people into taking the initiative by voting for Solidarity, thereby strengthening source B on the popularity of Solidarity going into the 1989 elections. The message of the election poster is then further support by Source D, in which Lech Walesa’s speech glorifies the difficult road taken by Solidarity in its growth into a ‘powerful movement for social and moral … reforms and improvements.” The three sources together demonstrate how it was people’s power that in its movement for “rights and freedom of activity”, forced the governments of Eastern Europe to accept and adopt changes that were far beyond the expectations of Gorbachev, and ended the Cold War by both validating, and further inspiring further movement towards the rehabilitation of the Soviet Union’s image vis-a-vis America. Source B is useful in viewing the perspective of the politicians from Eastern Europe and their response to Solidarity, although its source as that of a journalist seems to imply the expectations of a more well-balanced selection for this source. Source C is also useful in displaying the images that inspired the people and belief in what they were voting for. However, as an election poster, it is meant to encourage and mystify and popularize the party in question, so that the electorate will vote for it. This has a tendency to reduce the reliability of the source. While source D may appear overly indulgent in its glorifying tone, the speech should be largely reliable as the significance of Solidarity should not be exaggerated in an important event in the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.


Sources A, E and F on the other hand, challenge the hypothesis, arguing the central role of key figures of Gorbachev, Reagan and the Pope and Catholic Church. Source A suggests that it was in the climate of political and foreign policy change that Gorbachev’s reforms laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, and the build-up of people’s power and their mass movements. Source A argues that the Soviet Union’s unilateral reduction in military forces and stockpiles, and attempt to “recast Soviet foreign policy, [and] above all policy towards Eastern Europe”. The argument that the success of Solidarity was not its own is supported by F, in that the Catholic Church guided the actions of Solidarity and preventing them from acting in such a way that would invite repression, and that the CIA (USA) provided Solidarity with the means to spread news of their ideology through the interruption of Soviet-sponsored programmes to inform the public about their work and rallies. The USA’s role in making an example of Poland by lifting sanctions against it, can be seen in the context of E, as one of Reagan’s strategic moves to defeat the USSR by “pressing down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse”. This suggests that Reagan defeated the Soviet Union, along with the Soviet Union’s “own failures”, which Gorbachev visibly attempted to deal with in Source A. Source A is by a professor of Eastern European History and as one examining the events from 2004, the hindsight, balanced arguments suggest a reliable source, but one with a focus useful based on Eastern European perspective. E is less reliable, given that it is a speech by a fellow politician in the wake of Reagan’s death in 2004, would be scripted to celebrate his achievements and give him a significant role in ending of the Cold War, through the defeating of the Soviet Union. This perspective is reflective of the American triumphalist view, considered a more outdated argument, and thus a less useful one than A. Source F, as an article form a reputable magazine, Time, and it is useful in examining the role of Religion as a uniting factor that galvanises people’s power and is reliable as it has the onus of presenting a well-informed and researched argument to maintain its reputation and readership.


Evaluation & Conclusion of Answer


As a whole the sources do not prove that people’s power was central to the end of the Cold War. Instead, the sources suggest collectively, two ongoing conflicts, where people’s power was central to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but because the Soviet Union’s control and grip over Eastern Europe define and dichotomized itself from the West, Reagon and the US had an interest in encouraging and supporting movements like Solidarity against their Soviet oppressors as part of the ‘defeating’ the Soviet Union. Therefore, as a whole the sources prove that the USA was opportunistic in making use of people’s power as a tool against the Soviet Union to end the Cold War.




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