HIST 1043 module 7 topic summary part 2

HIST 1043 module 7 topic summary part 2

5. Germany, Berlin, and “the Wall”

After the close of WWII in Europe, Germany was divided into four zones of military occupation. British, French, and American zones were created in the west, and a Soviet zone was created in the east. This was intended to be a temporary and short-lived division. The assumption was that Germany would soon be re-united under a new government. However, the British, French, and Americans on one hand and the Soviets on the other hand could never agree on how to reconstitute a government for all Germany. The result was that Germany remained divided for the entire Cold War period. The three western zones became the Federal Republic of Germany—“West Germany”—which was a democratic government allied with the U.S. in the Cold War. The Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic—“East Germany”—which had a Soviet style dictatorship and was allied with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

The German capital of Berlin was entirely within the old Soviet zone, but because it had been the German capital, it was divided into four zones of occupation as well. And strange as it may seem, when the Federal Republic was created in the west, the British, French, and American zones—“West Berlin”—became part of it. The result was an island of democratic freedom—“West Berlin”—in the middle of communist East Germany. Soviet leaders saw this situation as a problem for many reasons but mostly because of the many refugees who sought to escape communism by fleeing into West Berlin. The Berlin Crisis of the late 1940s (1948-49) resulted when Stalin blocked access to West Berlin, hoping West Berlin would cut its ties to the west and be absorbed into East Germany. This did not happen because of President Truman’s “Berlin Airlift” of all needed supplies to West Berlin. However, Berlin continued to be a major Cold War issue.

Finally, in 1961 the Soviets built a wall across Berlin to prevent additional refugees from escaping communism. “The Wall” became the symbol of the Cold War and a divided Germany. Fast forward to 1989—the Soviet style dictatorship in East Germany, like the communist dictatorships which had ruled eastern Europe for the previous 40 years and eventually the Soviet dictatorship itself, collapsed. As that occurred, the citizens of the city of Berlin converged on “the Wall” and tore it down. Just as the Berlin Wall had been the symbol of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall became the symbolic moment in the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. And soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany was re-united, and Berlin is again the capital of all Germany.

6. Dimensions of the Cold War

The Cold War lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. Below are some of the major developments during that period.

Arms Race—the US and the USSR, as well as many of the allied countries on both sides, were locked into an arms race during most of the Cold War. Both the US and the USSR maintained large military forces and built more and more costly weapons. When the USSR developed its own nuclear weapons, the arms race included a nuclear component, and by the early 1960s, both nations probably had enough nuclear weapons to destroy human civilization on this planet. The only serious attempt to stop or slow down the nuclear arms race was “SALT” (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), which were arms reduction negotiations between the US and the USSR started in the early 1970s during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Although some agreement was reached and the talks continued for the rest of the Cold War, SALT slowed but never ended the nuclear arms race.

Cold War Crises—–There were several Cold War crisis points—moments when the Cold War almost became a real—and probably nuclear—WWIII. The Berlin Crisis of the late 1940s (mentioned earlier) was one, but the most dangerous was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. The crisis began when the Kennedy administration discovered that the Soviets were preparing to base missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in Cuba, which is only a few miles from the US southern coast. Kennedy demanded that the Soviets remove the missile launchers, and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war for several days before the Soviets agreed to comply.

Secrecy in Government—Secrecy became a much more prominent part of American government because of the Cold War. The best example of this tendency is the creation of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the late 1940s to serve as America’s Cold War spy agency. During the Cold War the CIA spied on the USSR, but just as important, Cold War American presidents used the CIA to conduct secret foreign policies such as helping to overthrow certain foreign governments deemed too friendly with the USSR (Iran is an example) or attempting to assassinate certain foreign leaders (such as the communist dictator of Cuba Fidel Castro).

“Red Scare”—-In the late 1940s and 1950s American society experienced a wave of fear and panic about possible Soviet spies and influence within the US. The House of Representatives (one of the two houses of Congress) Un-American Activities Committee investigated various areas of American society and questioned many witnesses without finding much communist influence, but some vote hungry politicians tried to exploit the popular fears by making—usually without evidence—wild charges about communist influence within American government. Senator Joseph McCarthy was the most outspoken, and the practice of exploiting popular fears for political gain by making wild charges without evidence has came to be known as “McCarthyism.”

Limited War—At certain times and places the Cold War involved actual fighting. The Korean Conflict of 1950-53 is a good example. Like Germany, Korea became a divided country after the Cold War with a communist dictatorship in North Korea (which is still there) and a non-communist government in South Korea. In 1950 communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The US, with the support of the United Nations, came to the aid of South Korea and repelled the attack. It is important to note that the Truman administration was determined to fight a limited war in Korea—that is, a war with fighting only in Korea—even though the communist North Koreans were receiving significant aid from communist China and the USSR. When American General Douglas MacArthur demanded that the US expand the war, Truman fired him as US commander. Truman was determined not to let the fighting in Korea start WWIII with the USSR.