Document Type

Honors Project


This honors thesis examines the role of highly charged, highly covered, and civilian-centered international events in the early Cold War’s development (1945-50). It does this through the case study of American students Peter Sellers and Warren Oelsner, who spent two months in Soviet military captivity in East Germany in 1949. Their case received substantial media coverage and the US government eventually obtained their release. By looking at a combination of government documents, newspaper articles, an account written by Oelsner, and scholarship on public and elite opinion, I find that although no single event of this magnitude had a significant effect on the early Cold War, the evidence suggests that repeated over time, these events had a meaningful yet modest influence, as American elites developed increasingly less favorable views of the Soviet Union, seeing it as an existential threat and the American public increasingly viewed it as a cruel and dangerous adversary.



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