the Cold War
Table O' Contents
General Overview of the Cold War
Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine
Berlin Crisis and the Berlin Airlift
Between the Superpowers Rises
A General Overview of the Cold War
The Cold War was an ideological war between the two
world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning after
World War Two. After the war, Germany was left defeated, and Britain
and France were left drained and exhausted. The United States and
the Soviet Union, though also drained, held considerable power, and both
soon rose to superpower status. The two became rivals through "conflicting
ideologies and mutual distrust"1, and constantly competed for
The Soviet Union wanted to spread Communism in Eastern
Europe and create a "buffer zone" of friendly governments as defense against
Germany. In 1946, with Eastern Europe under Soviet control and influence,
Europe was divided into a West (western democracies and the United States)
bloc and East (Soviet Union and Soviet occupied territory) bloc.
An "iron curtain" separated Europe.
The aftereffects of World War Two were what shaped Cold
War Germany. The post-war state of Germany was grim: about 1/4 of
housing had been destroyed, the economic infrastructure had largely collapsed,
inflation was rampant, there was a shortage of food, and millions of homeless
Germans from the east were returning. After its unconditional surrender,
Germany was divided into four zones of Allied military occupation: American,
French, British, and Soviet. The old capital of Berlin was also divided
into four zones, but Berlin itself remained inside of the Soviet zone.
In 1949, the French, British, and American zones merged and formed the
Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublic Deutschland), with its capital
city Bonn. Also in 1949, the Soviet zone became the German Democratic
Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) with the Soviet sector of Berlin
as the capital.
West Germany became a suprisingly stable western
democracy. A new policy required a 5% vote for a political party
to be represented in the Bundestag (the upper legislative house), in order
to prevent any small extremist parties from gaining representation too
easily. This was what brought the downfall of the Weimar Republic
and the rise of the Nazi Party, after all.
East Germany was established as a Stalin-style Socialist
state. It became a member of the Warsaw Pact and came to have one
of the most advanced economies and standard of living of the Soviet-bloc
states (though that's not saying much, as it still lagged behind West Germany).
The East German government was formed into a centralized and dictatorial
regime. The State Security Police (Stasi) maintained the Soviet expectation
of the people. Free speech and opinions against the regime were not
tolerated, and artistic and intellectual programs were strongly controlled.
The partition and division of Germany drove a block
in between both United States to Russia relations and West German to East
German relations. The Allies were at the same time trying to be forgiving
to the Germans for World War Two while also insuring that the Germans could
never again begin the expansionism that had led to the two previous wars.
During the Cold War, Germany became the center for
all the tensions between Democracy and Communism. The location of
Germany as the gateway between East and West Europe made it the ideal place
for these political struggles to occur. When Russia had tried to
expand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were
checked by the rising power of the German state. Therefore, after
Germany fell in World War Two, Russia attempted to begin its expansion
across a now weakened Europe.
The end of World War Two left Russia in possession
of all of Germany up to 300 miles west of Berlin. This new annexation
caused the powers in Europe to become unbalanced and Russia replaced Germany
as the country that was getting too big. Contrary to their actions against
rising powers in the past, England did not try to stop the Russian expansion.
They did this because they thought it preferable to give Russia parts of
Germany over giving them other territories that would allow Russia access
to the Mediterranean.
The Allies had many reasons for partitioning Germany.
Overall, the purpose of dividing land up was to control Germany until a
new government could be instated. France, America, England and Russia
all had parts of Germany that were put temporarily under their control.
While the Allies were still in occupation of the country, decisions were
made by a council of the four powers. The representatives were then
responsible for carrying out the decisions of the council in their allotted
territory. There was a catch that the Russians exploited to thwart
the other powers. According to the treaty, proposals to the council
were only put into effect if there was a unanimous vote. The Russians
could use this just like they used the U.N. Security Council. The
Russians had annoyed the other powers by using their veto power in the
Security Council to veto every proposition that came before them.
By exercising their right to arbitrarily veto any decision made regarding
Germany, they could prevent any actions that were against their best interest.
The Soviets then would be able to run Eastern Germany as they wished, because
no proposition stopping them from doing so could be passed.
The Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine
In June 1947, the Marshall Plan was put into effect
in order to stop the Russians from influencing any of the weakened western
powers. During the time the United States sent massive economic aid
to Europe democracies to help rebuild. Billions of dollars were spent
to help countries recover quickly and to reduce the influence of Communism.
This plan helped to restore West Germany and rebuild it as a new ally in
America's fight against Russia. Russia refused the aid of the Marshall
Plan and, as a result, East Germany was not completely rebuilt. This
lack of reconstruction showed through even after the reunification. The
German economy after reunification took a big hit, because it had to pay
for all the reconstruction that the Communists never did.
The Truman Doctrine, a plan to help states going
through a struggle for freedom against their oppressors, was instituted
in 1948. President Truman said, "I believe it must be the policy
of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted
subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The Truman
Doctrine instituted a policy of containment; Communism would be limited
only to areas already under Soviet control, and Americans would resist
Soviet expansion everywhere else.
The Truman Doctrine could not have been more clearly
directed towards East Germany and, technically, West Germany. Germany
was both under subjugation by an outside force and also under the power
of the armed minority that the Russians would soon put into power in the
form of the DDR (Deutsches Demokratische Republik). In 1949 the Allies
made good on what they promised in the Truman Doctrine and unified West
Germany into the BDR (Federal Republic of Germany). At the same time
the Russians instituted the DDR, which turned out to be more of a regime
than a government.
The Berlin Crisis and the Berlin Airlift
Due to horrible conditions in East Germany, its citizens
had begun to cross over to West Germany and were allowed to proclaim themselves
refugees. 2.6 million out of 17.5 million residents of East Germany
had crossed over by 1961. This caused labor shortages in East Germany
and also the further degradation of an already failing East German economy.
As East Germany got worse and worse, Russia became willing to take offensive
measures to reclaim West Berlin.
In December of 1947, Russia and the United States
finally parted ways and the Western Powers began to meet about German business
without the Russian ambassador present. On March 20, 1948, Russia
declared that the Allied Control Council of Berlin no longer existed and
voluntarily withdrew from all of their meetings. As a result, there
were no government relations existing between Russia and the other Allies.
The problems worsened when the Russians decided
that they wanted all of Berlin under their control. There had been
no previous treaties giving the Allies free access to West Berlin through
Russian territory, so Russia exploited this situation and isolated Berlin
from American soldiers and supplies. The Berlin Blockade began in
mid 1948 as Russian forces surrounded West Berlin in an effort to make
Allied soldiers there surrender from starvation. The Soviets sealed
off railroads and highways to the Western sector of Berlin, effectively
cutting it off from the Western Allied sector of Germany. In response
to this, the Allies instituted the Berlin Airlift on June 21, 1948, in
order to provide West Berlin with food and fuel. Cargo planes dropped
food, fuel, and other supplies into West Germany 24 hours a day.
Russia rationalized the blockade by saying that
they were doing extensive roadwork (this didn't fool anyone). Russia
then went on to claim that Berlin was rightfully theirs and that the Western
powers had control only of West Berlin because they had more votes when
the partition was being made. Marshall answered this by declaring
to the Russian government that all Allies had a right to be in Berlin and
that the United States intended to stay. He then went on to
cut off all passage of trains between East and West Germany.
The conflict intensified when America secretly moved
60 long-range bombers into the British Isles. Russia saw that the
Allies did not intend to surrender so they offered the citizens of West
Berlin food on the condition that they came over to the Russian side.
The West Berliners decided that they would rather starve than be under
Russian authority. In May, 1949, Russia called off the failed blockade.
They lost this confrontation for two reasons. First, the Russians
had not yet acquired nuclear capabilities and therefore could not stage
a larger offensive. Second, the Russians were in an extremely bad
position in regard to foreign relations; "...before the eyes of the world,
it appeared to be trying to starve over 2 million men, women, and children
in West Berlin. While the Berlin Airlift continuing month after month
provided a tangible demonstration of western determination and competence."2
So basically, through this whole conflict, Russia was making themselves
look like murderers and the Allies looked like saviors. The Western
powers' unflinching support of Berlin gave other parts of Germany more
confidence in their commitment to Germany's well-being.
West Germany began their first big step toward making
amends with France in March of 1950. They made a peace treaty with
the French that ended the conflict that had been going on since the early
1800s. The peace treaty was a step toward assuring the Allies that
there was no possibility of German expansion and the outbreak of another
war, the only things the Allies required to guarantee Germany its autonomy.
On May 9, 1950, France and Germany made a treaty that gave joint control
of the steel and coal industry in Germany and France making it "not merely
unthinkable, but materially impossible"3 to have a war between
the two countries. This treaty was called the Schuman Plan and was
a large step toward France's approval of West Germany's autonomy.
Soon after, the European Coal and Steel Community was established consisting
of six European powers. As a result of these actions, West Germany
became accepted again in European affairs.
At about the same time as the treaty (May 1950),
the Korean War broke out, and Europe tensed for a Russian invasion into
the West. West Germany was allowed to contribute soldiers under the
power of NATO. This showed that some of the Allies were beginning
to trust the Germans again. The only obstacle was France, who greatly
opposed any German army, even under the authority of NATO. They thought
if German got an army of any kind, they would immediately make an alliance
with Russia and attack the French. On May 26, 1952, the occupation
of West German was officially over according to the treaty, and West Germany
was supposed to have its own government. The Allies would not let
go of the country until they were absolutely sure that Germany would not
return as a threat. On May 27, 1952, a defensive treaty against Russia
called the European Defense Treaty was proposed between France, Italy,
Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium. This was to create an
army that was composed of all these countries under the command of NATO.
The French Assembly rejected this treaty for fear of the German army, and
as a result, attempts to unify West Germany under its own authority were
very temporarily dropped. The English, on October 3, 1952, made the
last step that France needed to be assured that Germany was not a threat
by declaring that they would maintain a military presence on mainland Europe.
This gave France the security they wanted against a German invasion.
France then consisted to end the occupation of West Germany and to admit
it into the 1948 Brussels Treaty. West Germany was now a wholly independent
state except for West Berlin.
Tension Between the Superpowers Rises
During the time elapsed between the first blockade and
1958, Russia had developed nuclear capabilities and they were ready to
go after West Berlin again. In 1958, East Germany began to again
block immigration to West Germany by establishing barbed wire fences and
patrols along the whole border between East and West Germany. Berlin
was the only spot open to immigration between the two countries.
At the time of Russia's second offensive, the Western powers had 11,000
troops in Berlin compared to the 550,000 that Russia had. The Russians
restricted access to West Berlin, except through two routes. The
first route consisted of heavily guarded roads where Russian soldiers harassed
travelers. The second consisted of three airlines; Russian fighter
planes "buzzed" flights. Basically, these tactics were adopted to
demonstrate to the Allies that they were helpless to stop any Russian movement.
Russia at that time had the technology to prevent another airlift, so the
Allies had no option of peacefully supplying West Berlin with food.
"We are certainly not going to fight a ground war in Europe.
What good would it do to send a few more thousand or indeed a few divisions
into Europe with something like 175 Soviet divisions in the area?" -President
Russia intensified the conflict when it declared
it would hand over all power in East Berlin to the DDR regime effective
on May 27, 1952. The Allies had no alliances with the DDR in terms
of established passages into Berlin, and so the Allies had no way to hold
Berlin, but still refused to let it go. Russia and the Allies entered
a stalemate. But, as May 27 got closer, Russia began to look for
a way to back down and get out of the situation. Russia launched
a flurry of new deadlines. On March 5, they declared that they were
willing to delay the transition of power to the DDR. On March 9,
they declared that they wanted to have all countries involved in the conflict
withdraw their troops. They finally backed down completely on March
11, when they declared that they would allow free access to West Berlin
for all travelers. And so, again, the Communists lost the cosmic
game of chicken.
The Berlin Wall
In 1961, Berlin, the last place through which immigrants
could leave East Germany, was blocked off by the "infamous" Berlin Wall,
at which more than 80 persons were shot while trying to escape East Germany
on non-consecutive occasions. This state of affairs continued until
the the summer of 1989, when the reforming Hungarian government opened
Hungary's borders and allowed passage of East Germans through that country.
From Hungary, East Germans could go directly into West Germany. The
Berlin Wall was then rendered useless (except to keep the neighbors' dog
out, and even it could go through Hungary). By November 9, 1989,
the people had begun to openly destroy the Wall and so Russia decided to
take it down, allowing free immigration between the countries and also
instigating the first of the movements to unify Germany.
During the Cold War, Germany became the
center for the conflict between Communism and Democracy. Germany
was the site where all the tensions between the two ideals was played out.
Because of its location as the farthest western city to the east, Berlin
was torn in half by the struggling parties. The repercussions of
this are what is shaping the problems in modern day Germany. The
neglect that East Germany suffered through at the hands of the Communists
would cause not only economic problems but also social problems as the
Western and Eastern Germans grew apart as a people. The scars that
the Communist Party left on the East Germans are still being repaired.
The reconstruction of East Germany would almost bankrupt the West.
Not only had much of East Germany not been rebuilt, most of what was produced
had been shipped back to the Soviet Union as "war reparations".
Divided Germany had also caused a social split to
occur between the Eastern and Western Germans. The Western German's
lives had greatly improved since the end of World War Two but the Eastern
German's lives were still mired in the destruction wrought by the war that
could not be fixed under the Communist regime. These differences
caused East Germans to view their western relatives as pampered and privileged.
These social end economic issues are still being repaired in Germany and
the end of the social schism does not appear yet to be in sight.
1. World History: Connections to Today, 809- 813.
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