Sunday, December 26, 2010

National Identity in Transition: Political Economy in European Reconstruction

At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, it was clear to the participants that Europe would never be the same; they could never go back to the pre-war situation after the conclusion of World War II.  France wasn’t even involved in the conference, and the future of Europe would be would be under the direction of the United States and the Soviet Union.  Drastic changes were needed, and Germans believed this just as deeply as the victors.  A new Europe was being formed, and the decisions regarding Germany were emblematic of the new Europe as a whole.  The old and thorny German problem was addressed with indefinite occupation; Germany was to be demilitarized.  In 1949 it would become two states.  The Prussian German militarist spirit was dead, and punishment of war crimes was to further exorcise the demons of Nazism.  The Iron Curtain fell across Europe.  The Truman Doctrine would take the place of Great Britain in guaranteeing the security for Turkey and Greece against the Soviet Union.  The United States would also guarantee the security of Western Europe.  As remarkable as this new strategic commitment was, the greatest challenge was economic; the challenge for both the United States and Soviet Union was how to rebuild Europe on both sides of the curtain.  The economic misery would be a great opportunity for Stalin and Communism in the West, and the Marshall Plan 1947 was much more significant than the Truman Doctrine.  One insured the other: “The American leaders decided that preventing Europe from falling into Russian hands required measures of two kinds: in the political fields and in the economic field”(Gilbert and Large 355).  The reconstruction remade Europe by effectively eliminating the separation of political activity from economic reconstruction.  The political and the economic would have to work together.  This political economy required the suppression of nationalism, which paradoxically gave European nations the opportunity to explore new forms of national identity and integration.    
Great Britain and France were not great powers anymore, though was true before the war even started.  Less dramatically than Germany, they would be finding a new role in the world with the leadership of the United States.  Europe would not be the central arena of the Cold War, which was just as well for the continent.  It had seen enough warfare.  Economic reconstruction was the order of the day, and nationalism was subordinate to the economic challenges.  The 1949 NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact integrated military personnel from the different countries.  The trend towards European integration over nationalism was occurring in both East and West.  The economic considerations of all people, not simply the wealthy elite, was to provide the barrier against Communism in the West.  Both East and West encouraged science and technology, and a consumer economy eventually made a wide range of products available to many Europeans.  It was a painful process, but it showed a flexibility and adaptability by European countries.  National identity was not static; it evolved.  It was not found only in colonies, hegemony, or power in warfare.  The Cold War and the rise of the United States as a superpower allowed Western European countries to explore new self-understanding and economic unity.    
Nowhere was the new Europe more apparent than in Germany itself.  Germany was the focus of a new Europe.  No one was defending Hitler and German behavior in World War II, though the Holocaust has still not been fully processed or understood.  In Germany was the greatest break with nationalism, and Germany had in many ways the greatest freedom.  While occupation was for an indefinite period of time, there would be no reparations.  The Berlin Airlift showed the Soviet Union that the United States was not going to back down in Germany, or even in Berlin.  The new government in Bonn attempted to avoid conflicts that would impede economic activity.  The German chancellor would be elected by the people, and the rights of parliament were reduced to avoid political stalemates.  The pragmatic Chancellor Conrad Adenauer had no time to dwell on the past.  He was creating an economy that would guarantee prosperity without exploiting workers.  He sought a strong relationship with France, and the Korean War helped the German economy.  Economic success overcame national movements, and the shadow of the Third Reich.  Germans had a common purpose in both the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.  The German Democratic Republic was perhaps the most successful satellite country of the Soviets, and it lacked the industrial base of the West.  The Soviet challenge was not all that different in East Germany: “Of necessity, all governmental activity centered on the revival of economic life; thus, economic issues shaped and dominated political reconstruction”(Gilbert and Large 367).  The reconstruction of satellite countries were the same: “The primary aims in of all these plans were identical.  The Soviet model—that is, industrialization that placed emphasis on heavy industry and collectivization of agriculture…”(Gilbert and Large 371)  The biggest problem for the East Germans was being able to see how the other half lived, and the Soviets tried to solve that problem with the Berlin Wall in 1961.  Both German nations showed a commendable ability to adapt.  In some ways the past for West Germany was the greatest motivator; it could not look back for fear of what it would see.  Many nations helped to facilitate a new Germany: “Germany began to rebuild its industrial base.  Industry tripled between 1949 and 1962”(423 Gilbert and Large).  Being demilitarized was arguably the best thing that happened to the German people. 
While continuing the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev also represented a significant change from Stalin in the Soviet Union: “He admitted the possibility of different ‘forms of transition of various countries to socialism,’ and he revised the traditional Marxist thesis that ‘war is inevitable so long as imperialism exists’”(430 Gilbert and Large).  Khrushchev also acknowledged that socialism could take multiple forms in different countries, and there was a heterodoxy in economic planning that would have been unheard of under Stalin.  Though more reasonable and certainly more progressive than Stalin, the Cold War also became very hot under Khrushchev with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.     
The Cold War created two clear sides, but it also caused a yearning for a third way, especially as American foreign policy grew inconsistent in the second half of the twentieth century.  There was a desire for greater forms of European unity.  Economic reconstruction was the political business of Europe, and this produced unity among Western European nations.  The European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and the Atomic Energy Community were early precursors of the European Common Market and European Union: “the aim of all three bodies was to harmonize policies and achieve a real measure of economic integration, and eventually to reach political federation”(843 Thomson).  Economic activity became the focus as France and Great Britain shed her colonies.  President Charles de Gaulle of France heralded a third way that looked like the old flame of nationalism in France: “Providence had created her for either for complete successes or exemplary misfortunes…France cannot be France without greatness”(Gilbert and Large 417).  But this greatness would not take the old forms by fighting the ghosts of French glory in Algeria, or anywhere else.  Greatness would be found in working closely with Jean Monnet’s economic plan which “established voluntary programs for updating the basic industries, improving farming methods, and furthering reconstruction and new building”(Gilbert and Large 390).  A vision of political economy was the new form of greatness that departed from the doctrines of liberalism: “The underlying assumption of liberalism, either as laissez-faire domestic theories or as free trade principles, included the belief that economics could be to a large extent divorced from politics”(Thomson 878).  National identity would just have to adapt.

Works Cited List
1.      Gilbert, Felix and Large, David Clay. The End of the European Era: 1890 to the Present. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1970.
2.      Thomson, David. Europe Since Napoleon. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1957.

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