The Marshall Plan; Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil. Simon & Schuster, 2018.
What precipitated the rupture in Russian-U.S. relations after they jointly defeated Nazi Germany? Benn Steil makes it clear that it was both sides that initiated the “Cold War” in the late 1940s. As it unfolded, both were motivated by their intention to make sure that Germany would not again pose a threat to Europe, though it would need to survive and revive. Post-war policy would also have to take into account the sacrifices involved in defeating Germany. The victorious Allies were hoping to avoid the economic disruption that followed WWI. Western Russia was in ruins and would need American assistance. But to contain Russia’s threat to Central Europe there must be a restoration of industrial Germany.
This new policy of containment was delineated by George F. Kennen, a senior U.S. diplomat hen serving in Moscow. His “long telegraph” called for the U.S. to stay engaged in Europe. Germany’s industrial recovery, with American support, was essential to Europe’s long-term revival. American Lend Lease had supported the British war effort. The Marshall Plan, would now help restore Europe’s industrial economy.
The Russians were ambivalent about the Marshall Plan from the beginning. Was it a capitalist conspiracy to restore a capitalist economy in the heart of Europe? Or a means of keeping the U.S. invested in making the outcomes of WWII permanent?
The Russian demand for reparations from Germany, in the form of industrial plant and amounting to $268 billion in today’s dollars, would have to be in the form of industrial plant. (Germany had no Russian rubbles with which to pay!) resulting in the dismantling of German industrial plant. However, we were anxious to insure the German recovery because it would block the expansion of Russian communism. In the absence of any agreement on reparations, the Russians were helping themselves to Eastern Europe. American aid to postwar Germany was being used to meet the Russian demands for reparations and for a territorial buffer.
The Marshall Plan was offered to the Soviet Union. They declined to take part because they believed that it was a pretext for imposing a capitalist economy on post-war Germany. Surprisingly the Soviets initially allowed their “satellites” to choose, though soon blocked their participation. Gradually, beginning with Czechoslovakia, they reigned in their Eastern Europe allies – Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. We would have extended Marshall Plan aid to Yugoslavia despite its being a communist state. But its break with the Soviet Union made the Marshall Plan available to this remaining Balkan state.
Steil makes the point that the peace that followed the Great War involved moving borders rather than people. After WWII it was the opposite; mostly people moved into regions where they could enjoy a majority or at least a significant minority.
The European Recovery Program – the Marshall Plan – was welcomed by most Europeans, but also Americans. In fact the Russians were largely correct in assuming that with Marshall Plan aid and a reemergence of Euro-American trade, we were also looking to use a continued U.S. involvement as an assurance of a liberal democracy.
Perhaps the most dynamic event of the emerging Cold War was the Berlin Airlift. We had been sending shipments of food, fuel, and chemicals to Germany through the port of Rotterdam. No problem. But there was no agreement about the establishment of a new German currency that would replace the Reichmark and be agreeable to both Russia and the U.S.
The currency issue was a particular problem for Berlin, which had been divided from the rest of the Russian occupied territory by the different currency and by a guarded concrete barrier, the Berlin Wall. The Soviets could exert pressure on the Western Allies by a blockade of essential imports from the U.S. by ground transport. The U.S. and its Allies responded with the Berlin Airlift, bringing those imports, especially food, in by means of air transport.
The Russians were certain that we could not pull off an airlift, at least for a long enough time to make it a permanent fixture of our occupation of Berlin. To their dismay we did so. There is a photography that captured American hearts; young Berliners waving at planes bringing their supplies into Tempelhof Airport In 1948-1949.
There was one happy American politician. Harry Truman, running for a second term in1948, defeated Thomas Dewey. Truman was well aware of the jeopardy that Russian moves in Berlin placed on his political career. And isn’t this true more generally of the Cold War. In its ‘dawn’ political careers were at stake on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Did the Marshall Plan impede German reunification? Very likely it did.