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The Cold War

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The Berlin Airlift

The first Cold War tensions between the United States and the USSR came about over the question of how to treat Germany after the end of WWII. The United States had hoped to transform the German economy into one that could be self-supporting and stable. On the other hand, the Soviets had a completely different view. They blamed Germany for the extreme destruction that they had suffered and demanded that German resource be used for the Soviet reconstruction. To them, it seemed only fair to strip the Germans of their industries in order to pay for the 20 million dead Soviets and the millions of Soviet refugees living in poverty (Geary). As a result of the Yalta and Postdam Conferences, Germany was to be divided into fourths allowing each of the allies to run their division until a national government could be formed and the country put back together. The United States, Great Britain, and France occupied the western half of Germany and Berlin, leaving the USSR with the eastern half of the territory. The divided Germany was supposed to be under the supervision of the Allied Control Council, ACC (The Berlin Airlift).

The moods of the people of the western zones were tenser in the early parts of 1947 than any other time. The British and American staffs had began to leave Berlin and were expanding throughout the rest of the territory. This gave the people of Berlin a reason to believe that the Western powers were leaving for good. Food rations had been cut to about 900 calories a day in parts of Germany. Labor unrest continued to prevail throughout the entire regions of Germany. The Communist groups on all sides of Germany were gaining support in hopes of a promising future prosperity. The worst fears of the American, British, and French authorities were coming true. The desperate German people were searching for solutions (Finkelman).

In September of 1947, the United States and Great Britain combined their zones in hope to bring back security to the German people. The military province between the two became known as “Bizonia.” Soon after, France gave up its zone and annexed its section to Bizonia. The leadership of the new Trizone then looked to secure some hopes of economic stability in the midst of the rebuilding of Germany. In February 1948, the United States and British proposed to the ACC a plan that would create a new four-power currency. The Soviets refused to accept the currency and favored the over-circulated Soviet Reichsmark. The Soviets hoped that by doing this that it would cause civil unrest throughout post war Germany and foster in Communism. The ACC met again in March of 1948, and it became evident that no agreements could be reached on a unified currency. Marshal Sokolovsky and his Soviet delegation were infuriated by this and stormed out of the meeting. Both sides appeared to wait for the other to make a move, and finally on June 18, 1948, Trizonia established its own currency in order to stabilize the economy (The Berlin Airlift).

The Soviets countered this move by requiring that all Western convoys be searched before traveling through Soviet Germany on their way to Berlin. The Trizone government recognized this as a threat and refused the Soviet demand to search all cargo. The Soviets then cut off all traffic on route to West Berlin on June 27. John Winnant, the American ambassador to Berlin, stated the Western view when he said, “that the right to be in Berlin carried with it the right to access.” The Soviets continued to disagree and shut down all shipments by rail and the autobahn. Berlin, faced with starvation, was in desperate need for food and vital supplies. They looked to the West for help. On June 27, United States General Lucius Clay approved the order to begin supplying West Berlin by air. President Truman also supported the air campaign even though many of his advisors disapproved. He hoped by doing so to avoid war or a humiliating retreat from Berlin (The Berlin Airlift).

The airlift became unofficially known as “Operation Vittles” and began with the USAF C-47s carrying eighty tons of food into Berlin. This was far less than the estimated level of 4,500 tons of daily needed materials to maintain survival. The USAF was soon replaced by the U.S. Navy and Royal Air Force Cargo aircrafts. The United States and British created a unified command, the Combined Airlift Task Force, in order to promote and increase safety and cooperation between the two. Planes landed in Berlin at a rate of one plane every three minutes. Airlift pilots were required to follow strict systems of traffic control that required each pilot to fly an exact route at a speed and altitude that was pre-determined. If a plane was unable to land at Berlin on its first attempt, it was required to return back to its base in West Germany. The Soviets harassed pilots by jamming radio signals, blinding pilots with searchlights during the night, and buzzing them with Russian fighters (The Berlin Airlift).

The airlift succeeded in carrying over two million tons of supplies in 270,000 flights and survived a normally harsh German winter. The Soviets finally lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. The Berlin Airlift became a symbol to the world of the United State’s resolve to stand up to the Soviet threat of Communism without having to use force or creating a direct conflict. The two new states were formed in 1949, less than a month apart. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was established as a democratic parliamentary regime, while the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was ruled by a single-party state that took directions from the Soviet Union (The Berlin Airlift).

The Berlin Wall

East Berlin began to pose a problem for the Communist rule in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s because it was unable to successfully compete with the wages and standard of living in the western capitalist section of the city. East Berlin saw an increasing number of its population crossing the line to West Berlin to a more prosperous life, especially among the educated and professional classes. From January to the beginning of August 1961, about 160,000 refugees were counted crossing into West Berlin. In all, 2.7 million people fled East Germany between 1949 and 1961 (Finkelman).

Early in the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961, the GDR began to block off East Berlin from West Berlin. Under the leadership of Erich Honecker, the GDR set up barbed wire and antitank obstacles. The streets in the city were torn up and barricades made of paving stones were erected. Tanks were positioned in crucial places throughout the city, and the subway and local railway systems between East and West Berlin were halted. Inhabitants of the GDR were no longer allowed to enter into West Berlin. Among those not allowed to enter were the 60,000 workers who had worked in West Berlin. In the following days, the provisional barriers began to be replaced by solid walls built by construction brigades (The Berlin Wall).

The reaction of the Western allies was moderate due to the fact that the barrier didn’t interfere with the American policy regarding Berlin. The three essentials of the American policy were: the presence of allied troops, free access to Berlin, and the right of self-determination of the West Berliners. None of these three policies were greatly affected by the building of the Berlin Wall. West Berlin citizens were no longer allowed to enter into East Berlin after August 25, 1961. In September, people in Western Berlin were forced to evacuate their homes that were directly situated on the border. Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old citizen of East Berlin, bled to death after an East Berlin patrol shot him for trying to escape over the wall in August of 1962 (The Berlin Wall).

The wall was built 12 feet high and stretched for 103 miles. Where the wall was not possible, buildings were bricked up. There were only two openings in the wall, and both were closely guarded. Even though the GDR said that the wall was built in order to prevent military and political interference from West Germany, the East German government built tank traps and ditches along its eastern side of the wall. This suggests that it was constructed mainly to keep East German citizens in. The border cut through 192 streets, 97 of them leading to East Berlin and 95 into the GDR. At least 100 people were killed at the Berlin Wall. On July 1, 1990, East and West Germany formed an economic, monetary, and social union and all restrictions concerning travel between the two were dropped. The Berlin Wall had almost completely disappeared by 1991, and in February of 1997, a red line was painted on the pavement at the former “Checkpoint Charlie” to mark where the former Berlin Wall stood. The line reached a length of 20 km and was replaced by two rows of paving stones (Finekelman).

Cold War Cartoons

Description:

This French cartoon appeared during the Berlin Airlift. Stalin is pictured with a gun in hand standing inside the top of a chimney. He appears to be getting ready to shoot the storks carrying food right out of the air. The storks represent the American and British planes that carried food into Berlin. The cartoon is almost funny in the fact that it takes a traditional symbol of a man standing in a chimney (Santa Clause) and associates it with the symbol of a stork making deliveries (babies).

Description:

This cartoon was taken from a German magazine before the Berlin Wall was built. The cartoon shows an East German worker flying to the West to work. Two others have already been caught in flypaper. Meanwhile, the stay-at-home East German bees are literally in the roses. Part of the justification for the Berlin Wall was in the claim that the innocent East German citizens were being lured to the West, only to be exploited.

Description:

This cartoon shows a closed movie theater, money-changer, and a cigarette shop in West Berlin. The cartoon’s point is to show that without East Germans to exploit, the businesses in the West Berlin have gone bankrupt.

Description:

This cartoon was taken from Punch Magazine during the late 1980’s. I think that it is intended to show that security is becoming less of a concern. The Soviets are actually allowing their cats to cross over into West Berlin.

Description:

This cartoon is taken from Punch Magazine immediately before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It emphasizes the point that the Wall was about to be taken down.

Works Cited

“Berlin Airlift.” 10 April 2004 .

“The Berlin Airlift.” Truman Library.org. 10 April 2004 .

“The Berlin Wall.” 10 April 2004 .

Finkelman, Paul. “Berlin Wall.” Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1997.

Geary, Patrick, Mark Kishlansky and Patricia O’Brien. Civilizations in the West, Fifth Edition. New York: Longman, 2003: 945-946.