Economic & Political Reconstruction in Europe After WWII

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  • 0:01 Europe After World War II
  • 1:40 The Marshall Plan
  • 2:41 The Soviet Union
  • 4:07 The Truman Doctrine
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

After World War II, much of Europe lay in ruins, both physically and economically. Learn how the U.S. came to Europe's aid with the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, and see how the Soviet Union and NATO played into the politics of this time.

Europe after World War II

For many of us, war is something that happens only on TV. We watch the news and see devastating footage of homes destroyed and people displaced. However, the real impact of war is something most of us have never seen, heard, smelled, or touched.

Unfortunately, many in the world are not so blessed. They have seen their homes and their countries devastated by bullets and bombs. Even after a white flag has been raised and the last tanks have rolled out, many in our world haven been left trying to figure out a way to rebuild and recover.

One of the most famous examples of recovery after a devastating war is the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Not just limited to one country, the scope of this example was an entire continent. Because this was such a monumental undertaking, we'll tighten the focus of today's lesson to the Marshall Plan, the Soviet Union, and the Truman Doctrine.

After World War II, much of Europe lay in ruins. Yes, some countries may have won but their industries, their infrastructure, and their economies had been devastated all the same. Even countries like England had emptied most of their treasuries fighting the war. The continent was struggling with a food shortage and thousands upon thousands of displaced refugees. Making matters worse, many countries had borrowed money, specifically from the United States, to keep up their wartime efforts. With their countries in ruins, getting out of debt seemed impossible.

The Marshall Plan

Realizing that a healthy Europe meant a healthy world, the United States stepped in with the very famous Marshall Plan. Named after George Marshall, the United States Secretary of State, the Marshall Plan was America's initiative to aid post-World War II Europe.

Realizing that money solves lots of problems, the U.S. started flooding Europe with billions upon billions of dollars. In order to figure out where all this money should end up, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation was formed. Known by the acronym OEEC, this body allocated aid coming in from the U.S.

Soon, countries like England, the Netherlands, and even Germany began benefitting from the Marshall Plan. So did the United States. After all, before the war, countries like England and Germany had been important trading partners with the U.S. It was in America's best interest for Europe to regain its former prosperity.

The Soviet Union

Of course, not everyone in Europe was willing to take America's extended hand. Speaking very specifically, the former Soviet Union said, 'No thanks' to the Marshall Plan. Pretty much thumbing its nose at American money, the Soviet Union decided its economic restoration and political stability would have nothing to do with democracy or capitalism.

Rather than joining the OEEC in free trade, the Soviet Union chose another tactic. Knowing that the war had demolished its industry (for example, its coal and steel production were cut in half), the Soviet Union decided to regain its strength by pretty much pillaging the territories it had gained from the war.

Sadly, this meant hardship and poverty for places like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the other territories that found themselves caught in the iron grip of Soviet influence. The Soviet Union even used prisoners of war as basically slaves. Rather than allowing them to return home, the POWs were conscripted to work in Soviet industries and on Soviet farms.

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