JC History Skills Series: Answering SBQ (2)

Using a sample question from Paper 1, let us dissect how to correctly answer an SBQ question in this blog post.


Source A

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place. The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.

- An excerpt from the ‘Sinews of Peace’ speech by Winston Churchill, delivered at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946.

Source B

In substance, Mr. Churchill now stands in the position of a firebrand of war. And Mr. Churchill is not alone here. He has friends not only in England but also in the United States of America. In this respect, one is reminded remarkably of Hitler and his friends. Hitler began to set war loose by announcing his racial theory, declaring that only people speaking the German language represent a fully valuable nation. Mr. Churchill begins to set war loose, also by a racial theory, maintaining that only nations speaking the English language are fully valuable nations, called upon to decide the destinies of the entire world.

As a result of the German invasion, the Soviet Union has irrevocably lost in battles with the Germans, and also during the German occupation and through the expulsion of Soviet citizens to German slave labor camps, about 7,000,000 people. In other words, the Soviet Union has lost in men several times more than Britain and the United States together. It may be that some quarters are trying to push into oblivion these sacrifices of the Soviet people which insured the liberation of Europe from the Hitlerite yoke.

But the Soviet Union cannot forget them. One can ask therefore, what can be surprising in the fact that the Soviet Union, in a desire to ensure its security for the future, tries to achieve that these countries should have governments whose relations to the Soviet Union are loyal? How can one, without having lost one's reason, qualify these peaceful aspirations of the Soviet Union as "expansionist tendencies" of our Government?

- Stalin's Reply to Churchill, reported in Pravda on 14 March 1946.


Compare and contrast the evidence in Sources A and B on Soviet actions in post-war Europe.

To tackle the part 1a of the source-based section of the paper, candidates could adopt the following steps.

  1. Dissect the question to identify the key terms and topic under discussion. In this case, the key focus is on the actions of the Soviet Union in Europe in the post-war years.

  2. With this in mind, highlight sections of the extract where the similarity and difference related to the issue appear so that the relevant portions of the quotes can be incorporated into the response.

  3. Identify possible contextual material to be used in relation to the issues raised in the sources.

  4. Annotate the provenance and whenever possible, focus on the following aspects: who, when, why, what.


[Identify the basis of similarity in relation to the question.]

Both sources are similar in depicting the imposition of/extension of Soviet control over central and eastern Europe.

Source A highlights this through the description of a process by which a Russian-style Polish government was subjected to Soviet dictates, and Communist parties were now seeking ‘totalitarian control’. This perspective was also reflected in Source B which illustrates the establishment of governments in territory liberated by the Red Army, which are now loyal to Moscow. [Identify the similarity and explain it, using quotes from the sources] The similarity in both sources on the extension of Soviet control can be explained by the events in the post-war period as pro-Moscow regimes increasingly displaced existing ones in power. [insert additional contextual knowledge of the process of Sovietisation].

While both sources highlight the extension of Soviet control over the liberated territories in central and eastern Europe, they differ in their portrayal of motivations behind Soviet actions. [Transition from similarity to difference] Source A describes Soviet actions as expansionistic to the detriment of existing governments, showcasing how these countries ‘are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.’ In contrast, Source B legitimises Soviet actions as stemming from its concerns over national security, and in so doing ensures that these governments had to be ‘loyal’ to Moscow. [Repeat the process for identifying and explaining the difference] The difference in the sources can be explained by the fact that Source A is a speech intended to convince and persuade the United States to remain committed to Europe and plausibly a manifestation of Churchill’s deeply-rooted suspicion of Communism, hence the more bleak scenario of an expansionist Soviet Union. Moreover, by March 1946, the imposition of Soviet control over areas occupied by the Red Army in the last days of the war had become a reality. Therefore, it was more likely for Churchill to depict Soviet actions being borne out of expansionist tendencies. In contrast, as a rebuttal to the accusations made in Source A, Source B which is taken from the party newspaper serves its propagandistic purpose and takes on a more vindictive tone, labelling Churchill as a warmonger while legitimising Soviet actions. References made to Soviet sacrifices during the war also appear to add a veneer of righteous justification for the establishment of ‘friendly’ regimes in these areas after the war. [Use the various aspects of the provenance or the source extract to help account for the difference in the two sources]


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