The Berlin Wall embodies the ideological and political clash between two world powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a symbol of the stark differences in opinion between these two former Allies. Once World War II was over, the Soviets and Americans no longer had a shared purpose to hold them together, which led to further chaos in the war stricken nation of Germany.
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Initially, the allies definitive aim had been to rebuild war torn Germany which had been devastated by the allies war against the Nazi regime. The Soviet Union and the Western allies, which consisted of the United States, France and Great Britain, broke ranks when their differences with the Soviets could no longer be contained. The Western allies wanted to spread democracy and capitalism throughout Germany, while the Soviet Union was busy setting up communism and socialist policies in eastern Germany.
Reparations were a huge factor, as the Soviet Union lost millions of men and their country was devastated when the Nazis attacked them. But according to the Potsdam Agreement, “each occupying Power was to take its reparations mainly from its own zone and German assets abroad. But the Soviets, who had been promised half the total of all German reparations, were to be allowed a sixth of the surplus established in the Western zone. Many Germans feared the worst, and as Mary Fulbrook describes it, “[S]ome [former communist] Germans longed for ‘liberation’ and the possibility of a radical transformation of Germany; others felt fear and ambivalence about future retribution.”
In fact, the Soviet policy was harsh, there was a rush to dismantle the factories and the industrial facilities that once facilitate the nazi regime with economic prosperities. Although they decrease their production output, the Soviets were able to accumulate tremendous wealth from reparation payments and occupation cost. The Soviet experienced a net advantage in resources which drained the eastern sector of desperately needed assets to rebuild.
The fast paste of factory and industrialized equipment, seemed as though the Soviets had no long term plan to remain in German soil for long term purposes. By shipping both equipments and experts from East Berlin, it seemed as though that the Soviets were interested in their own economic interest within their own soil. By 1955 the total value of goods and services taken by the Soviets was in the order of $30 billion, as against an agreed figure of $10 billion. A divided nation was on the verge of creation: a democratic conservative on the West, and a hardline communist state in the East ripped Germany apart.
There were even differences within the Western allies that sometimes would emerge as confusing to the newly democratic Western Germany, who did not themselves understand democracy, as the system was foreign to them after 12 years of nazism. American film director Billy Wilder, recalled a conversation he had with a post war, German driver and this is the kind of dialogue that would develop between us: ?about this British election – now that this Atlee has defeated Churchill, what is Churchill going to do? ?I guess he will stay in politics. Or he will write a book, or paint. ?Maybe he is going to make a Putsch, night wahr? ?I don’t think so. ?You mean he is not even going to shoot Atlee? ?No, he is not. ?Are you sure? ?Look man, Wilkie did not make a Putsch against Roosevelt and Dewey did not shoot Truman. ?Thats funny. ?Its hilarious, its democratic!
With the Western powers settling in their zones, while the Soviet Union initiated its distinctive policies in their Eastern zone. Therefore, with free elections in the Western zones, rebuilding Germany was fast paced, as economically it would help spread democracy, and most importantly, trade (with Western powers). Indeed in 1948, the United States spent $13 billion to restore the economies of sixteen Western European nations. Meanwhile, in the East a one party system was formed. As Mary Fulbrook describes it, “a group of Moscow-trained German Communists under the leadership of Walter Ulbricht had been flown in to the area which was to be under Soviet occupation.”
The Soviets were manifestly ahead of the game and without disruption, they implemented their policies under the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) party, which had opposed the Nazis prior to the war and the majority of whose members were imprisoned. It was fully rehabilitated by the Soviets and merged with the also formally nazi outlawed social democratic SPD to create the ?Socialist Unity Party SED. The SED was used to take over key positions in the local administrations throughout the East.
In a strategic move the Soviets, used a non-Communists in local communities, with no or little history of political affiliations for major positions, but with communist control “behind the scenes. The Soviets also experimented with open competitive elections, but when the SED failed to win local elections in 1946, the experiment was abolished and they decided to not risk their chances within their control. The SED no doubt enjoyed special privileges in the new Soviet zone. Meanwhile, members of the rival parties were arrested: Between 1948 and 1950 there were 597 documented cases of CDU members being arrested. The new German Democratic Republic (GDR), was born in 1949, was from the start a Soviet Union controlled totalitarian regime.
Life in the Soviet zone was not as privileged as in the West, where Germans were prospering and Americanizing. Although, according to American journalist Joseph Wechsberg, in 1964, “People live a lot better than five years ago and a little better than last year, but it is probably correct to state that East Germany is ten years behind in consumer goods and the comforts of life.” Even though the East Germans were proud that they produced more motorcycles than the West, this was true because, Western Germans saw motorcycles as no longer fashionable, and preferred cars. By the same token, Wechsberg observes, the wife of a Communist official grumbled because she couldn’t get the latest-style shoes which shed seen in an Eastern German fashion journal. Eventually the stores will have them, but by that time theyll be old hat in the West, and we wont be happy. The bitterness and jealously East Germans felt was constant. The perception was that the West was being helped by the Americans and the East Germans had to work as hard for less. “The Russians buy East Germans goods at prices considerably below the world market prices, in repayment for loans, and when they send raw materials to be finished in D.D.R. factories, they charge more than the world price for their own deliveries.”
Even though East and West Germans were able to visit either side, preventative measure were gradually put in place to curb the traffic. East Germans could enroll in West Berlin Universities, but were placed in menial positions in retaliation, away from educated East Germans, so as not to contaminate them. A crisis were brewing as East Germans were fleeing from the East to the West and registering as residents of the West. Many others crossed to the West without being registered and something had to be done in order to keep track of things. From August 14th to the end of 1961 a further 51,624 were registered. Between 1949 and 13 August 1961 nearly 2.7 million refugees had been registered. Roughly speaking, the GDR had lost a population which was the equivalent of that of Albania, or Israel, or New Zealand, or the Republic of Ireland. Already, Measures had been taken to secure the frontier between the two Germanies in May 1952, when villages were torn apart and crops destroyed to make way for watch-towers, barbed wire, minefields and free-fire zones, turning the Churchillian gibe about the ‘Iron Curtain’ into grim reality.”
This created chaos and confusion, and many were questioning the future of West Berlin, which acted as a sort of escape hatch from where East Germans could travel to Western Europe. Even though Berlin was one city, it was divided into four sectors. The Western sectors represented an island of democracy behind the iron curtain. United under the Socialist Unity Party (SED), Berlin would have been a rich prize both psychologically and economically this was according to the Soviets. On the other hand Independent, West Berlin represented a magnet, spiritual as well as physical, for the East Germans. in April 1948 that the time had come to make a bid to end Berlins anomalous situation.” Tensions were flaring on both sides. The West was distributing the Deutsche (D) Marks within its zones after withdrawing the Reichsmark. The Soviets interpreted this as an economic ploy to undermine the Soviet East and considered it a breach of the Potsdam Agreement. There, it had been decided that Germany was to be treated as an economic whole. What was even more alarming to the Soviets, was that the West announced its intention to distribute the newly printed D-Mark with a “B” for Berlin into Berlin itself. The Soviets were outraged and infuriated by this announcement. They claimed it was breaching the Allied agreements and they took their next drastic step. The infamous, Berlin Blockade.
The Soviets had already made it difficult for Berliners to travel, and trains had been mysteriously re-routed to by-pass West Berlin. Traffic was banned in and out of Berlin. “Within a short time, all routes became unavailable. Claiming fuel shortages, Eastern power stations near enough simultaneously ceased to supply electricity to the Western sectors of Berlin.” The Soviets were evidently trying to starve the West of resources, and around midnight on June 24th, the official Berlin Blockade started. The only way the Western allies could get into Berlin was by air. Even though the Russians doubted that the West could supply Berlin by air, the West proved the Soviets wrong. There were discussions amongst the allies and they came up with two alternatives to an airlift, either an allied military strike of force which would open a route, but which may have led to war, or, surrender and face an international humiliation which could have consequences worldwide, and West Berlin may have led to the spread of communism, and more tension worldwide. This could be detrimental to the Truman Doctrine which called for the containment of the spread of communism. As Fulbrook puts it, America was formally committed to a world policy of stemming what it saw as the tide of soviet expansionism, wherever it might occur. The airlift was the only viable way to help West Berlin survive, and to prevent communism from spreading there. “The American supply operation was codenamed ‘Operation Vittles’, and the British ‘Knicker’ and then ‘Carter Patterson’.”
Despite numerous chaotic situations which occurred during the airlift, the Western allies were successful and no war took place between the Soviets and the allies. Close range flying by both sides created a lot of confusion and conversations about a possible war, but none of this happened as both sides was not prepared to go to war. The Western allies were able to successfully deliver supplies to West Berlin with only a small number of casualties.
But for the first time, the West Berliners felt cared for by the allies. As news of airlift deliveries saturated the West German media, changed German attitudes towards Americans as well. American music and films began playing a vital role in the West, especially Jazz, which was considered the sound of democracy. The United States sponsored West Berlin media created by the Americans was used as a tool to reach the Soviet zone which also had a large audience. It is not forbidden to listen to Western radio programs provided one doesn’t incite others to listen. You may tune in RIAS, the American station in West Berlin, but you mustn’t turn on your radio full blast and put it on the windowsill.
Meanwhile, Berlin mayor, Ernst Reuter, and thousands of anti-communists gathered in front of the Reichstag where Reuter gave a popular speech. We Berliners have said No to Communism and we will fight it with all our might as long as there is a breath in us . . . the Magistrat and the City Assembly together with the freedom-loving Berlin population will build a dam against which the red tide will break in vain. Within five years, East Berlin was ripe for an uprising against the Soviet Union, East Berliners down tools and demonstrated throughout Eastern Germany, the Soviets allowed them to protest, but kept a close eye on the demonstrators, On the morning of June 16, when Waldemar Schmidt (SED), then President of the Police in East Berlin, asked the Soviet authorities for permission to disperse the as yet relatively small crowd of demonstrators on the Stalin-Allee and to arrest their ringleaders, he was forbidden to do so.
Even though the strike leaders repeatedly indicated that the strikes were against the SED and not the Soviets and not the SED, the Soviets declared a state of emergency to deter the protesters, but with careful consideration of not creating a bloodbath that might engage the West to act on the East Berliners behalf.
There was continued tension in a city torn apart between east and west, and it was evident that something more should be done to create law and order. It was a symbolic move by Soviet Zone that erected a famous wall, known as the Berlin Wall, dividing the East from the West. This was a bold move that came in at night like a thief. With most of Berlin asleep, it was round-the-clock workers, the professional night owls, who first realized that the East-West border was being closed: transport workers, police officers, [and] journalist. The premeditated creation of the wall amplified tensions in global diplomacy.
For twenty eight years, the human race was on the brink of extinction between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. Germany became not only divided by political and social differences, but now a wall of which lasted over twenty-eight years that signified at large, a divided world.
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