Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.
The Second World War left Europe devastated. Millions of people had been killed or wounded, while many major cities lay in ruins. Agricultural production had declined, resulting in near-famine for millions of Europeans. Industrial and transportation infrastructures had been disrupted, leading to countless problems. In Eastern Europe, the dark shadow of Soviet occupation loomed. Even as the world celebrated Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945, Europe lay in shambles.
How would Europe recover from such devastation? What plan would guide Europe through reconstruction? Let's take a look.
To assist in the recovery of war-torn Europe, the Marshall Plan was implemented. Between 1948-1951, the Marshall Plan provided economic aid to 16 European countries struggling to rebound from the destruction of World War II. The Marshall Plan was officially called the European Recovery Program, or ERP. The program has come to be called the 'Marshall Plan' because U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall was instrumental in developing it. Diplomat George F. Kennan also played a key role in its development.
When it was all said and done, nearly $13 billion dollars in assistance was given away under the Marshall Plan. Assistance took the form of food shipments, fuel, machinery, and other staples. Distribution of aid was coordinated through the Economic Cooperation Administration, a U.S. government agency created specifically for the Marshall Plan. When the Marshall Plan first rolled out, the United States invited the Soviet Union to participate. The Soviets, however, refused, along with their Eastern Bloc states.
Great Britain, France, and West Germany were among the countries receiving the most substantial aid packages. If you think about it, this makes sense. Great Britain and France were America's closest allies during the war, and America had a vested interest in seeing these countries prosper.
Okay, so what about West Germany? Wasn't Germany our enemy during the war? When World War II ended, the eastern half of Germany was occupied by the Soviets, while the western half was occupied by the Allies. In 1949 the two zones of occupation became the countries of East Germany and West Germany. East Germany was communist and highly influenced by the Soviet Union, while West Germany was democratic and highly influenced by the Western Allies.
It is helpful to consider the rivalry between the two German states. If East Germany became more prosperous than its counterpart, it could be seen as a sign of the superiority of a communist system, whereas if West Germany became more prosperous, it could be taken as proof of the superiority of the democratic-capitalist system. Both the Soviet Union and the U.S. realized the tremendous propaganda value of 'their' Germany's prosperity. For this reason, the U.S. placed high value on seeing West Germany rebuilt - and rebuilt better than East Germany.
We have to understand that the apparent generosity behind the Marshall Plan was, to a very large extent, motivated by a desire to thwart the spread of communism in Eastern Europe. The Western democracies believed that the devastation following World War II was fertile soil for Soviet expansion. The United States, therefore, felt obliged to assist in the economic restructuring of Europe in order to ward off communist expansion, and ensure the foundation of democratic states. Most historians regard the Marshall Plan as a major success.
Just as the occupation of Germany was divided between the Soviets and the Western Allies, so too was the capital city of Berlin. The Soviets controlled the eastern half of Berlin, while the Americans, British, and French each controlled sectors of West Berlin. Now the city of Berlin lay inside the Soviet half of Germany, so basically Allied-controlled sectors of the city were completely isolated, kind of like an island within a sea of Soviet-controlled territory.
In an attempt to gain control of the entire city, the Soviets began ordering American military forces out of East Berlin in the spring of 1948. In June they began restricting traffic between the eastern and western sectors. They also cut off electricity and food shipments to West Berlin. Basically West Berlin was being completely isolated. This was called the Berlin blockade. Without access to the outside world, the people in the Allied sectors found themselves in a grave situation. President Harry Truman and American officials determined they could not afford to be bullied out of the city.
When diplomacy failed, the U.S. was forced to draw up a host of plans. There was even a contingency plan for an invasion to break the Soviet's blockade. Just three years after the end of World War II, many people feared they stood on the brink of World War III. After consultation, the Western democracies decided airlifting aid was the best approach to counter the Berlin blockade. It was a monumental undertaking. An estimated 1,534 tons of food needed to be supplied daily to a population of two million.
Initially there was doubt over whether the Western Powers could muster the necessary aircraft needed to carry out such a massive operation. Adding to the logistical problem was the fact that the Allies only controlled two viable airfields. Flying through neutral air corridors into West Berlin, Operation Vittles, the codename for the Berlin Airlift, began on June 26, 1948. Its implementation was led by men like General Lucius D. Clay, Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner, and others.
Over the course of a year, the operation became highly efficient as more and more cargo planes were drawn in to supply the people of West Berlin. Eventually, planes were landing and taking off around the clock in a highly mechanized fashion. When it was all said and done more than two point three million tons of cargo was delivered to the people of West Berlin. The Soviet Union was humiliated by the success of the airlifts, and on May 12, 1949 they lifted the blockade.
As a brief side note, recently the story of 'Chocolate Pilot' Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen has come to light. Halvorsen was an American pilot who parachuted packages of candy to the delight of children in West Berlin. I don't want to go on and on about this, but if you find this as fascinating as I do, check out Andrei Cherny's book, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour.
The Berlin Airlift was a major success. It had important political value because it showed the world that the Western democracies would stand firm against the threat of Soviet aggression. It allowed the U.S to play the part of hero, and it made the Soviet Union look cruel and uncompassionate.
Let's review. After the unparalleled destruction of World War II, the Marshall Plan was implemented between 1948-1951 to provide aid to 16 European countries. The Eastern Bloc states, of course, were not among those receiving aid. The Marshall Plan was named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall. The Economic Cooperation Administration, a U.S. government agency, oversaw the distribution of aid under the plan. The Marshall Plan was put into place in order to restructure the economies of European states along capitalist lines, and to ward off communist expansion.
In the spring and summer of 1948 Soviet forces began to isolate Allied-controlled West Berlin. This was called the Berlin blockade. In June transportation was restricted, while food supplies and electricity were also cut off. Refusing to be bullied into handing over West Berlin to the Soviets, President Harry Truman and leaders of the Western Powers determined to supply two million West Berliners with aid by aircraft.
Operation Vittles, the codename for the Berlin Airlift, went into effect beginning June 26, 1948. Though a daunting undertaking, American and Allied aircraft flew around the clock to transport food to the desperate people of West Berlin for nearly a year. Embarrassed by the success of the airlifts, the Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets