Causes of the Cold War

GERMANY DURING THE COLD WAR

A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE COLD WAR

   

This excellent overview was posted to the web in 1999, but disappeared when the geocities site closed down in 2009..

 

 

Table O' Contents

    A General Overview of the Cold War
    Germany Divided
    The Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine
    The Berlin Crisis and the Berlin Airlift
    Reconciliation
    Tension Between the Superpowers Rises
    The Berlin Wall

 

 

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 power.
    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.

 

Germany Divided

    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.

 

Reconciliation

    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 Eisenhower

    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.

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    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.