The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 assembled the victors of the First World War, i.e. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) of the United States, Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863–1945) of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) of France, and the Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando (1860–1952). Whereas Germany and Russia had not been invited, many other countries attended the meeting, which eventually led to the Treaty of Versailles being signed on June 28, 1919. / Photograph by Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps), Wikimedia Commons
By Dr. A.W. Purdue / 04.18.2016
The article evaluates the degree to which the Second World War was responsible for the development of Europe since 1945. It seeks to disentangle effects that were clearly directly due to the war from those which can be seen as the result of changes already affecting pre-war Europe, and those due to post-war developments, such as the Cold War and the European Union. It examines the relationship between long term social, economic and cultural developments and the impact of the war and political turning points.
The Impact of the War
That great events have great effects seems a truism and it would follow that the Second World War, a conflict which caused a colossal loss of life, saw a continent divided as mighty armies strove for supremacy, and ended with much ofin ruins and the rest impoverished, must have had a transforming effect. Few would deny that the great context for the development of Europe, politically, socially and economically, in the immediate post-war years was the war, but did it really transform Europe and, if so, for how long?
Among the problems in assessing the changes to Europe, its nations, societies, economies and cultures, that may or may not be seen as consequent upon the war is the perennial historian’s dilemma in distinguishing between short and long term developments. Many of the changes that seem at first sight to have been due to the conflict and its aftermath may well have been simply the further effects of salient developments evident before the war. Then, of course, the impact of the war varied considerably as between the defeated and the victorious states, and indeed between combatants and neutrals, the latter providing a “control” for any assessment of the war’s effects. Post-warand looked very different in, say, 1950 to what they had been in 1939, but can the same be said for or, for that matter, ?
An essay on this subject written in, shall we say, 1950, 1970 or 1992, would have a very different perspective, for many of changes made by the war were far from permanent and, arguably, post-war developments had a greater effect. This is most obviously the case when we consider the redrawing of the map of Europe in the immediate post war period. The war ended with what in historical terms was an odd peace, for there was no peace treaty with Germany,1 in part because the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers had left no authority to conclude peace with, and also because of the disintegration of the alliance of the victorious powers shortly after the moment of victory. Nevertheless, states ( , and ) disappeared, frontiers were changed, and, most importantly, the division of Germany into occupied zones provided the blueprint for the emergence of two German states. In general, moved west, in terms of frontier changes, seen most evidently in those of Poland, which lost territory to the and gained it at the expense of what had been Germany, and because of the movement of millions of people, expelled from their homes and moving west in search of security. There was also a movement in the opposite direction as Latvians and other people and numerous other ethnic groups, such as Tartars, were forcibly moved eastwards by the Soviet authorities.
From left to right: The English Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965), the American President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) and the General Secretary of the CPSU Josef W. Stalin (1879–1953) at the Potsdam Conference (17/07–02/08/1945). The representatives of the three major victorious powers signed the Potsdam Agreement. It provided for the occupation, demilitarisation, denazification and democratisation of Germany as well as an “orderly transfer” of the remaining German population in present Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Germany. / German Federal Archive
A feature of the post-1945 settlement was thus, if settlement is not an inappropriate term, the brutal displacement of populations. Whereas the Versailles Settlementhad attempted to make frontiers coincide with national or ethnic divisions, the aftermath of the Second World War saw peoples made to fit frontiers. In particular, millions of Germans were expelled from and other German territory ceded to Poland, and from the , while there were parallel movements of Poles from the territories ceded to the Soviet Union into that gained from Germany. Although the fate of and was largely decided at in February 1944, the future political shape of the continent was formally agreed at , 17 July to 2 August 1945, where the Allied leaders decided that there should be an inter-allied council to co-ordinate the four occupied zones of Germany and agreed that should be independent, be returned , and the Sudetenland, and that Poland’s western frontier should be the Oder-Neisse Line (previously the Curzon and then the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line).
The palimpsest of the 1945 arrangements was distinct in 1950 and discernible in 1970 or even the late 1980s, when troops of the wartime allies still garrisoned, but by 1992, after the implosion of the Soviet Union, the “velvet” revolutions in the satrap people’s republics, and the reunification of Germany, the map of Europe resembled that in the wake of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918, rather more than that of 1945-92, though the end of and recent events in the remind us that political geography is rarely permanent; a hundred-year-old inhabitant of will have been an , a Polish, a Soviet, and a Ukrainian national during his or her lifetime.
We must also consider the view that the two World Wars should not necessarily be treated as autonomous but perhaps be seen as parts of a single conflict, a “Thirty Years War” of the twentieth century,2 a conflict that arose from the long-term political and economic rivalries of great powers and Europe’s fault lines which led these rivalries to ignite into warfare. It is, indeed, possible to argue that the Cold War period can be seen as at least a sequel to it. Such an interpretation of the dark history of Europe in the twentieth century does, of course, downgrade the importance of ideology and of the “great dictators” and has been attacked on the grounds that the coming to power of was, not only the major cause of World War II, but that his hysterical and paranoid agenda gave that war its own unique and horrific nature.3 Acceptance of the “long war” thesis would tend to shift enquiry from the particularity of World War II as an engine of change to longer term European developments, problems and rivalries.
After the Second World War, the Marshall Plan, named after the US Secretary of State George C. Marshall (1880–1959), supported the gradual rebuilding of the European economy and thus helped to reintegrate the German Federal Republic and other countries into the international trade network. / US government: Logo used on aid delivered to European countries during the Marshall Plan, 1948–1953
Map of NATO, 2007 / Wikimedia Commons
Nevertheless, the outcome of the Second World War and the nature of the fracturing alliance that triumphed was clearly the major factor in determining, in political-geographic respects, the map of post-war Europe. Its impact was clearly discernible for nearly half a century, although we can debate whether it was the position of the armies of the western powers vis-a-vis the Red Army in 1945 or the subsequent announcement of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Planin 1947, the formation of NATO in 1948, or the entry of into the alliance in 1954 that decisively made for a divided Europe. In that the division was also an ideological one, it determined the nature of economies and societies. It is, however, when we come to the economic and social effects of the war upon Europe, that determining the degrees and the ways in which the experience of the war as well as its outcome shaped the post-war world becomes difficult. The major problem is that of distinguishing between pre-war influences, the experience of the war, its result, and the Cold War, which followed so swiftly.
Devastation and Recovery
The relentless advance of Allied forces in 1944 and 1945 achieved a victory, so complete as to prevent any revival of the defeated regimes. Although celebrated with justice by the victors, it was gained at an enormous cost to all of Europe. The excesses of the Soviet forces, which raped and looted their way through 4 but for many years this went unrecognised by western writers. If the conduct of the western Allies was far superior, total war cannot be waged without leaving desolation and a huge loss of civilian life in its wake and, what one author has called, “collective amnesia”,5 has obscured the costs of liberation as armies fought their way through France, and .are now well known,
The air war began with German attacks on Polish cities in 1939. Notorious bombings of 1940 included the German attack on Rotterdam, destroying most of the old city, and the beginning of the “Blitz”, the bombardment of British cities. The British bombing campaign against Germany began in 1939/1940 with attacks on coastal and western cities. Major raids began in 1942 with “Operation Millennium”, in which over 1000 aircraft of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command attacked Cologne. The strategy of “moral bombing” sought to break the morale of the German civilian population. Daytime raids by the US Army Air Force began in 1943. Some 60,595 civilians were killed by bombing raids against Great Britain, and between 305,000 and 600,000 in Germany. This aerial photograph of the old city of Frankfurt, taken in June 1945, is a fairly typical image of the destruction wrought by fire bombing. / University of Wisconsin via Wikimedia Commons
Europe in 1945 offered a picture of desolation and ruin. Parts of the Soviet Union had been fought over three times, while Poland had suffered aggression from both Germany and 6 while, in Berlin, “Ninety-five per cent of its urban area lay in ruins”.7 The state of and France was better only in comparison. Victorious but battered, Britain was, a threadbare and austere country with an exhausted economy, now that American aid was withdrawn, and the French economy was dislocated: “food was scarce in the winter of 1944-5, and there were virtually no reserves of gold or foreign currency”.8in 1939 and the Soviet advance in 1944 had paused only to allow the German army to destroy . Central Europe has been described as a “lunar landscape dotted with enormous heaps of rubble and bomb craters”,
Two European civil wars (or one punctuated by a lengthy armistice) had not only resulted in the problems of reconstruction, but had substantially reduced the power and influence of the major European states with the exception of Russia, long perceived in western and central Europe as largely an extra-European power, but one whose armies had penetrated deep into Central Europe in 1945 much as they had done in 1815. As the Cold War developed, it became clear that only two powers in the world had emerged from the war with enhanced strength and that these two “super powers” were theand the Soviet Union or USSR.
[LEFT]: Beginning in 1900, Winston Churchill was a member of the British House of Commons, initially for the Conservatives and later for the Liberal Party. He held many government offices: among others, 1908–1910 President of the Board of Trade, 1910–1911 Home Secretary, 1911–1915 First Lord of Admiralty, 1919–1921 Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air, 1924–1929 Chancellor of the Exchequer. Due to his position on the question of India, he became increasingly isolated in the 1930s and his demand for a more resolute opposition to National Socialist Germany went unheeded. Only after the outbreak of World War II did he regain his popularity. In 1939, he was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. As Prime minister (1940–1945), he symbolized Britain’s spirit of resistance. With Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) and Josef Stalin (1879–1953) he laid the corner stone for the European postwar order. In his second term as Prime Minister (1951–1955) he tried to reduce the tensions of the East-West Conflict. / Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
[RIGHT]: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945), 32nd President of the United States of America from March 1933 to April 1945. A Democrat, he led the USA through the Great Depression and the Second World War. / Photo by Leon A. Perskie, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
A further weakening of the position of Europe came with the diminuendo of the 9 at a single blow with the Dutch Empire, collapse and precipitate withdrawal as with the Belgian Empire, or accompanied by a hard and lengthy struggle as with France’s wars in and ,10 but it was practically complete by the early 1960s. Essentially the imperial powers lost the appetite and will to hold on to empires, which were no longer seen as worthwhile by their home electorates. As has commented, “imperial powers were rarely forced to retreat as a direct result of military insurrection – Algeria was the exception rather than the rule”.11 Nevertheless, decolonisation impacted severely upon the political positions of the imperial powers, particularly Britain and France. Britain, at first sought a substitute for Empire in the Commonwealth, but was then to waver between Atlanticism and Europe, while France, hastily, turned its attention towards Europe and followed a policy of forming a close relationship with West Germany.of Britain, France and the Netherlands. The stress and expense of war and of humiliation at the hands of Japan had already impacted severely upon the positions of the imperial powers, while the opposition of the USA and of the emergent United Nations to colonial possessions was a further factor. had, perhaps, failed to realise or had ignored the anti-colonial implications of the Atlantic Charter, which he and had signed in 1941, or the strength of American opposition to empires. US policy was, nevertheless, ambiguous as anti-imperialism could conflict with its Cold War interests; having refused to back Britain during the Suez crisis in 1956, it proceeded to press her to retain bases of strategic importance, as with and . The process of set in, sometimes “with astonishing – and in some cases excessive speed”, as with the British Empire,
The physical and economic recovery of Europe was, despite the enormous damage done to the infrastructure, industry, agriculture and commerce, to be quicker than most observers expected and that of Western Europe was spectacular after the bleak and austere immediate post-war years. It has been argued that it was the depths to which Germany had sunk in 1945, the near-starvation, disorder and hopelessness that inspired a West German recovery that prioritised economic recovery stability, and order,12 while another view is that it was a determined effort to erase the past.13 A major characteristic of those years was the deepening divide between Eastern and Western Europe, while the concept of central Europe, which states like and Czechoslovakia had identified with, disappeared for several decades as a political and cultural concept. These developments were underpinned by different economic and social systems and, if in part the result of the war and differing national traditions, were also consequent on America’s aid to the West via the Marshall Plan. A salient feature of the recovering Europe has been identified as the increased role of the state as director of economies and, via increased taxation and state welfare, of civil societies and the organisation and direction of states for the war effort has been held to be a major influence on these developments. A little disputed effect of total war is that it vastly increases the power of governments and both governments and peoples had become accustomed to, respectively, positions of command and dependency.
Whether these post-war developments represented a continuation of war-time systems of government, had already been evident in pre-war Europe, or were largely a response to the problems of a ravaged Europe can be debated. The more extreme forms of state control of economic and social life experienced by the states of Eastern and Central Europe may be seen as imported from, or imposed by, the Soviet Union, though many of these states had formerly been used to a high degree of government direction and were experiencing some of the worst problems of post-war dislocation and poverty. Central to the recovery of Western Europe was a balance or synthesis between liberal capitalism and socialism, though in France andthis was challenged by powerful Communist Parties, strengthened by the Resistance movements which had developed late in the war. The general direction of governments’ policies was contested between social democratic and moderate conservative parties, but moved steadily towards the latter from the early 1950s.
The Cold War Divide
Whether the Cold War divide, the formation of the Soviet Bloc and the imposition of socialist one party economic and political systems of government on much of 14 In addition, the fact that the process of establishing one-party governments was not complete until 1948 has enabled some historians to claim that there was no overall blueprint.15was planned by from the beginning has been much debated. The East European Revolution (1950) identified a pattern for the Communist seizure of power and in The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict (1960) identified a similar process. , Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 (2012) has, more recently, provided support for this thesis. Certainly the take-over of the Baltic States had already provided a taste of what was to come, while Communist parties in states overrun by Russian forces clearly expected full support for their seizure of power. Against this interpretation, there is Stalin’s apparent flexibility in making his “back of an envelope” Percentage Agreement with Churchill, while Mark Mazower has queried whether over Italy and Poland there was not, “at the highest levels, a tacit quid pro quo?”
Blueprint or not, the fact remains that, one by one, socialist states, closely allied to the 16or “people’s democracies” emerged: , where from 1944 a Communist-dominated Fatherland Front was the only legal political group; Poland and Romania, where a strong parallel state was dominated by Communists; and Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where, until 1948, a limited degree of democracy was permitted. Some have argued that the timetable of the Soviet takeover was dependent on Stalin’s reactions to US policies – the ending of aid to the Soviet Union, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan -but there are good reasons for believing that whatever flexibility he demonstrated elsewhere, as in , Stalin was determined to place sympathetic governments and economic systems in the countries “liberated” by the Soviet forces. As he said to , the Yugoslavian partisan, who eventually fell out with Marshal , “This war is not as in the past: whoever occupies a territory also imposes his own system”.
That the USSR would reject the aid proffered by the Marshall Plan of 1947 to it and its satellites had been foreshadowed by its refusal to be bound by the conclusions of the Bretton Woods Conference of July 1944 or to join the two economic organisations set up by it, the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and development, considering, correctly, that the new economic order they represented gave a considerable advantage to the USA and to the US dollar which became the lynchpin of the world’s financial system. Essentially the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan represented the policy of the containment of Soviet power and influence and they and the Soviet reaction reinforced the emerging division of Europe.
The Irresistible Rise of Germany
This Hungarian map depicts the European continent with the familiar dividing line of the Iron Curtain, which politically separated western Europe from eastern Europe (which was under the influence of the Soviet Union) after 1945. / Hungarian National Museum
Before the Nazis came to power, Konrad Adenauer had been the mayor of Cologne and a member of the Catholic Centre Party. After the war, Adenauer was encouraged to re-enter politics by the western Allies, leading the Christian Democratic Union to become the strongest party in the 1949 elections to the Bundestag and becoming the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Adenauer won three more elections (1953, 1957 and 1961) before retiring in 1963 in favour of Ludwig Erhard. Besides the consolidation of German democracy, his achievements include rapprochement with France and the integration of West Germany into western alliances (NATO and EEC). / Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
The most striking post-war development was the division of Germany into two states by the “Iron Curtain”, a term first used byand later, in different circumstances, by Churchill. By no means planned by the Allies (though the Morgenthau Plan had toyed with idea of dismembering Germany, just as and , had done in 1918), the division of Germany proceeded in step with the development of the Cold War; the defeat of Germany provided the opportunity and the Cold War the rationale. As with Europe as a whole, troops on the ground in 1945 largely dictated the character and loyalties of the two Germany’s, but, even after the establishment of the two republics in 1949, a unification of Germany remained a theoretical possibility until the rejection by the new Federal Republic’s first chancellor, , of the “Stalin note” of March 1952, which offered the possibility of unification at the price of the Federal Republic of Germany not entering into an alliance with the western powers.
The photograph shows the signing of the treaty that established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) on 18 April 1951 in Paris. From left to right: the Belgian foreign minister Paul van Zeeland (1893–1973), the Luxemburg foreign minister Joseph Bech (1887–1975), the Italian foreign minster Carlo Sforza (1872–1952), the French foreign minister Robert Schuman (1886–1963), chancellor and foreign minister of the German Federal Republic Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967) and the Netherlands’ foreign minister Dirk Uipko Stikker (1897–1979). / European Union
Reconstruction in the Soviet Zone of Germany (the German Democratic Republic since 1949) was slower than in the West, hampered not least by the large-scale removal of industrial equipment in lieu of war reparations. In time, however, East Germany rebuilt its industrial base, though production of consumer goods could never quite keep up with demand. This gap widened in the 1970s and 1980s, and was only partly compensated by gifts from Western friends and relatives. / Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S86402 via Wikimedia Commons
A pre-war design originally central to Hitler’s plan for the mass motorisation of the German public, full-scale production of the Volkswagen (“people’s car”) only began after 1945 under British military authority. The millionth “Beetle”, as the car became affectionately known, rolled off the conveyor belt in 1955. Total production exceeded 21.5 million by the time the last Beetle was built in 2003, in Mexico. Known for its reliability, the Beetle was a huge success in export markets, too, and soon became an icon of Germany’s post-war “economic miracle”. / 1973 Photo by Lothar Schaack, Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S86402
Europe’s first indoor shopping centre or mall was bulit in the northern Swedish town of Luleå to a design by the Englishman Ralph Erskine. Although the “Shopping”, as it was called, was intended to provide a public space during the cold, dark winter months near the Arctic Circle, comparable malls originated in the United States and can today be found in urban and suburban areas throughout the world. Unlike its forerunner, the department store, the mall offers a variety of distinct retail shops – indeed, often including department stores – restaurants and sometimes leisure facilities under a single roof or in a closed complex. / Photo by Sune Sundahl, Wikimedia Commons
A classic of Italian neorealist cinema, Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) follows the story of a poor father searching post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job that supports his young family. / Wikimedia Commons
What followed was the German “economic miracle”, the transformation of the bleak and battered landscape of post war Western Germany into a thriving industrial economy that quickly became the power house of Western Europe, although when the two German Republics were formed in 1949, neither appeared destined for economic success. Both owed their existence to the Second World War, but in the Anglo-American Bizone, 17 The contrast between the two states, the one becoming the outstanding example of a western synthesis of capitalism and social democracy and the other the most formidable example of the Soviet Bloc’s command socialism can be found in the ideologies and economic policies of Konrad Adenauer and , on the one hand, and the hard-line Communism of , who almost out-Stalined Stalin, on the other. European economic development was on the cusp of the end of industrialisation and the beginning of the post-industrialisation era. This was not yet apparent to most observers, for the very name of the major step towards the European unity, the European Coal and Steel Community, demonstrates that the economic common sense of the time prioritised coal and heavy industry. Both western and Soviet Bloc states were able to make advances within the bounds of an economic outlook that was about to become moribund. The Soviet Union and its satellites were as good at building steel works and giant shipyards as their western competitors, but the former failed to satisfy the emerging demands of consumers, just as they failed to provide political choice. Inevitably the first stage of European recovery had to be along the old lines – coal, steel and the rebuilding of the infrastructure – and here the Eastern European economies were able to compete. But, and here the two Germanys can be taken as representative, a gulf opened when it came to the consumer revolution in the production of automobiles, refrigerators and other “white goods” to satisfy the aspirations of consumers, it was West Germany and Western Europe which made progress. A famous Italian film of 1948, directed by , was Bicycle Thieves, a title and plot that would have been puzzling in Western Europe a decade later.anti-Nazism had quickly been replaced by anti-Communism, a process made seamless as it had Germany’s experience of 1945 to build on, whereas in the Soviet zone which became the GDR or , anti-fascism and the idea that German anti-fascist forces had played a great role in freeing the country of the National Socialist regime became what has been described as the GDR’s “congenital myth”.
The successful launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik (“satellite” or literally “fellow traveller”), in 1957 was widely perceived as an early victory by the Soviet Union in the “space race”. / Wikimedia Commons
The Hungarian Revolution or Uprising of 1956 was a nationwide revolt against the Soviet-controlled government of Hungary. It lasted from 23 October until 10 November 1956, when it was put down by a Soviet military force. Though the reassertion of Soviet control was effective in the medium term (at least until the “Prague Spring” of 1968), the uprising has since been taken to foreshadow the eventual collapse of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989. Events in Hungary also led many intellectuals in the West to question their own commitment to Communism. / libcom.org
The success of the Western European economies in recovering from the nadir of 1945 was infinitely superior to the much more limited progress made by the Soviet Bloc, but it is easy from an early twenty-first perspective to underestimate the limited but real achievements of the Eastern European economies in the first post-war decades. When the wave of what was virtually the looting of defeated and overrun states by the Soviet Union was over, towns and cities were rebuilt, if brutally and insensitively, while new industrial towns were established. Central planning saw employment and basic security implemented and was effective in the production of coal, iron and steel, though poor at encouraging agricultural production. Statistics were, of course, massaged for five-year plans could not be seen to have failed, but the success of Soviet science was seen as phenomenal in the West and was symbolised by the launch of Sputnik in 1957,while higher education was a priority in most Eastern European states, to an extent which contradicts the widely held belief that education and economic prosperity necessarily go hand in hand. East Germany may have lagged behind its western neighbour, but itself became by far the most economically successful state amongst the People’s Democracies, even though the uprising of June 1953, crushed by the Red Army and followed by the mass exodus of professionals and skilled workers to the West, demonstrated that without Russian intervention the GDR could have collapsed. The Hungarian revolt of 1956 again demonstrated the internal contradictions of the Eastern European economies and its suppression demonstrated that even post-Stalin, no significant deviations from Marxist-Leninism would be permitted.
This map shows the countries that were part of the Marshall Plan. Almost all European nations outside the Soviet bloc were members of the plan from the beginning. The two exceptions were Spain, which as a dictatorship under Franco was not invited to participate, and West Germany, which was under Allied occupation and did not become a full member until 1949, after a significant measure of self-government had been restored. Graphs on the map compare agriculture, industry, and foreign-trade levels in 1950, the midpoint of the Marshall Plan, with prewar production in 1938. / Library of Congress
During the Congress of Europe, held in The Hague from May 7 to May 10, 1948 under the patronage of Winston Churchill (1874–1965), the European Movement established itself as an international and independent affiliation of organisations in support of European integration. The concluding manifesto of the Congress gave impulse to the establishment of the Council of Europe in 1949. / European Movement
The war had brought the USA, as well as the USSR, into the heart of Europe, though it was essentially the disintegration of the wartime Grand Alliance that made it stay there, and American aid via the Marshall Planundoubtedly played a major role in assisting the recovery of Western Europe and determining its political complexion; the results of the Italian election of 1948 were important here in that they resulted in a resounding victory for the Christian Democrats as was Adenauer’s narrow victory in the first elections to the Bundestag in August 1949. Parallel, however, to the close association in defence and politics with the United States was a movement towards European unity. A Congress of Europe met in in May 1948 to discuss various plans for closer integration and this led to the formation of the Council of Europe the following year, which in turn set up a parliamentary assembly and then, in succession, to the Schuman Plan, the subsequent formation of the Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community (EEC). Whether these twin developments were complementary or whether the latter involved a degree of anti-Americanism is arguable, especially in the case of France. Although Ludwig Erhard, often seen as the pioneer of West German recovery, claimed that the recovery owed nothing to American economic support, the FDR was in general more sympathetic towards US policies.
As with so many aspects of post-war Europe, it is difficult to see the moves towards what was to become the European Union as a direct result of the Second World War, if only because of the pre-war antecedents, such as“Memorandum on a European Federal Union” (1930) and collection of essays, entitled The United States of Europe (1931); indeed most of the best known proponents of European unity in the post war period had been promulgating it before the war. Nevertheless, the war and its immediate aftermath, undoubtedly, gave a great fillip to the movement in that two of the motivations behind it, that a divided Europe inevitably seemed to lead to war and that individual national states could not compete in economic and political power with the USA, seemed clearly evident. Yet, paradoxically, it was the threat from one super power and the protection of the other that provided the context for the post-war success of European supra-nationalism and the most important reason for it, the rapprochement of France and Germany.
During the Second World War General Charles de Gaulle rose to become the leading personality of the French in exile. In 1945, the National Assembly elected him to the posts of Minister President and provisional President of State. Following the rejection of his call in 1946 to endow the office of the president with strong authority, de Gaulle resigned both posts. When the Fourth Republic collapsed in 1958 the National Assembly again elected him Minister President and President of State, this time providing him with comprehensive powers. His foreign policy was guided by the intention of maintaining complete independence for France (“force de frappe”, withdrawal from NATO). His policy for Europe opposed the loss of the sovereign rights of the nations and called instead for a “Europe of Nations”. The photograph shows Charles de Gaulle and, at his right, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967), with whom he signed the Franco-German Treaty of Friendship in 1963. / Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
Ever since 1870 and even more earnestly from 1918, France’s main diplomatic aim had been the containment of what was, if only potentially, the major continental power. Although the defeat and division of Germany reduced that potential, France was, at least as determined as in 1918 to exact a territorial and economic price in order to contain the country it still regarded with hostility. France’s initial refusal to join its zone of occupation with those of Britain and the USA when the latter set up the Bizone was largely because it objected to a process intended to assist German recovery and was still intent upon exacting reparations. After, Britain and the USA had failed to support France’s need for security and the memory of the way the Anglo-Saxon powers had reneged on the Treaty of Guarantee by which they had agreed to defend France against a future German attack and had been lukewarm in the enforcement of the Versailles settlement still rankled. From 1948 the Cold War resulted in commitments that gave France and Western Europe as a whole the necessary security, for the cooperation that had proved impossible previously. Added inducements for rapprochement were a realisation of the precariousness of France’s great power status especially as its colonial problems mounted and above all, the perception of the advantages of economic cooperation. Thus, the shield of the NATO alliance, though France’s attitude to the Soviet Union was more ambivalent, her membership of NATO less solid, and her acceptance of West German re-armament more reluctant, than those of other members of the Alliance, provided the basis for closer German-French relations. The Elysée Treaty of 1963, signed by Adenauer and French president codified this rapprochement. The parallel growth of intra-European economic cooperation, which was to result in the EEC, led to mutually convenient closer ties in a variety of fields. It is striking, however, that defence has been the field in which Franco-German cooperation was least evident. The failure of proposal for a European Defence Community in 1950 and France’s virtual withdrawal from NATO in 1956 revealed basic divisions in the European approach to defence. Subsequent attempts at combined European defence arrangements have come to little and, although the European Union may have become an economic super-power, it remains a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War dependent upon NATO for its defence.
The Wartime Legacy
A number of developments, which were common to most western European countries and which shaped their political, social and economic systems, are often put down to the experience and effects of the war. As we have seen, one result of the war was that the role of the state increased enormously in most countries, yet the degree to which this occurred and the forms it took differed widely, while there are anomalies in any easy elision from the war-time or pre-war experiences to this development. It might have been expected that those countries in which society and economy were officially dedicated to the direction of the state would have moved with speed after the outbreak of war in the direction of a total mobilisation of all resources including human resources. Such states have often been called “totalitarian”, though human nature, even when faced with horrendous penalties for disobedience, has inevitably eluded total control. The pre-war Soviet Union got the closest to being a state where the party controlled nearly every aspect of life and had little need to move towards a war economy because it already had one: its command economy gave armaments production priority over living standards and continued to do so during and after the war. Fascist Italy for all its supposed commitment to the corporate state never came close and the church, individual employers and the monarchy all retained a degree of autonomy and influence. Italy had peaked in armaments production and military spending before her entry into the war and both war-related production and the industrial economy as a whole fell back after 1940.18
One of the great paradoxes is that National Socialist Germany, the state, whose leaders’ rhetoric was full of words like “planning”, “corporation” and “state, party and society”, had not prepared its economy for a long war and, allowing business interests, workers and consumers to enjoy something closer to a peacetime economy than any other combatant state, managed to avoid a total war economy until 1942. The reasons for this have been the subject of debate among historians: one answer has been that many of the problems facing the German economy were able to be solved by the state’s territorial expansion and even impelled that expansion. Czechoslovakia offered rich pickings and it and further conquests provided raw materials and productive capacity and disguised the overheated state of the German economy, while prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union Germany was able, due to the pact with the USSR, to take raw materials from Eastern Europe without interference. Thus, it has been argued, Germany was able to do without the imposition of a total war economy during the first years of the war and spare its population the consequent hardships, though, of course, the bulk of the population was reduced to abject poverty in the war’s final year.19 Another theory is that Hitler did plan for a total war, but one that would begin in the mid-1940s and found himself at war while plans for a total war economy had only begun to be implemented.20 The National Socialists may also have been reluctant to impose sacrifices upon the population because of memories of the First World War, when civilian unrest at austerity was seen to have played a part in Germany’s defeat.
Throughout the Second World War, food and other necessities (e.g. clothing and fuel) were rationed in many countries, with the aim of allocating scarce resources and avoiding waste. The end of the war did not bring about immediate abundance of food, and rationing continued in some countries, in the UK till 1954. / Library of Congress
Another paradox is that it was, Britain, arguably the most liberal-capitalist of pre-war European states, which, apart from the Soviet Union, achieved with its war economy the closest subordination of economy and society to the state, introducing rationing21and controls on travel, the direction of labour, and the limitation of the production of what were deemed luxury goods. Though the efficacy and success of Britain’s state direction of the economy and especially its record of productivity of war materials has been challenged, there was a widespread acceptance in 1945 that it had been responsible for seeing the country through to victory and Britain, for good or ill, continued to employ state control in its post-war recovery programme. There was a plethora of state controlled marketing boards and rationing persisted into the 1950s. This was a world where “the man from the ministry knows best”.
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee (1883–1967) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. His administration introduced welfare measures such as the National Health Service, nationalised major industries and oversaw the independence of India. / Wikimedia Commons
The town hall of Harlow, UK, built to a design by Sir Frederick Gibberd, is a typical example of 1950s civic architecture. A sculpture by Henry Moore is visible in front of the building. / Geograph
Rather than an effect of the war, it can be argued that the growth of the state was a predominant feature of all European societies, during and before the war, driven by the social tensions arising from industrialisation and urbanisation. Imperial Germany had, after all introduced a state insurance system in the late nineteenth century and the development of state welfare was a feature of the response to inter-war unemployment in most countries, as was state intervention on Keynesian lines to stimulate economies. Sweden, which was neutral in both wars, has been described as “relatively backward, both in economic and political terms” before 1914,22 but had by the 1970s become the epitome of the prosperous welfare state. It may well be that we have to reassess the nature of the economic and social policies of the National Socialist regime in Germany and those of Vichy France when considering their impact upon post-war developments. Nazi economic policies had been largely welcomed by Germans in the 1930s and has observed that class relationships were visibly changing under the regime: “Everywhere there was the characteristic and curious mixture of the Fuhrer-Prinzip (sic) and egalitarianism”.23 He concludes that neither fascism nor war left many positive legacies, but certainly the years of Nazi rule reduced aristocratic influence and post-war Germany is sometimes seen as a “levelled middle class society”.24 The Vichy government in France, it has been suggested, had, despite its Catholic-conservative ideology, an approach to planning and a faith in a technocratic elite that had an enduring influence upon post-war French economic policies: it “attracted experts and technocrats…. their plans for modernization stood to prosper without the obstacles of parliament, party politics and trades unions”.25 Though largely still-born because Hitler viewed them as mere tools for exploitation, the economic agreements with Germany and Italy between 1940 and 1943 looked forward to the European Coal and Steel Agreement of 1951. In Britain, the war undoubtedly led to a controlled economy, and the Beveridge Report of 1942 is seen as leading to post-war welfare legislation and was a factor in the election victory of the Labour Party under in 1945. Yet the 1930s had already seen improvements in the system of unemployment benefits and a number of planning initiatives introduced to stimulate the economy, while groups in the Conservative Party shared with Labour leaders a belief in the almost miraculous capacity of planning and corporatism to transform economies. In short, the evidence for a direct connection between the experience of the war and post-war developments is mixed and varied and, when the reaction against corporatism and the swing back to the free market and a lesser role for the state began, it can be seen, in its national variations, as return to pre-war trajectories. Britain, for instance, can be seen as taking up where it had left off in 1939 in moving from the 1950s towards a consumer-orientated economy and society.
Despite the continuities, however, it can be argued that the impact of and the memory of the war led to a major change in the role of the state and what it meant to citizens in much of western Europe had changed fundamentally by the 1960s. Rather than the focus of loyalty for cultural or ethnic reasons, a body to which the individual owed obedience, the state became a dispenser of rights and it owed the individual the good life, order and stability. This process has gone furthest in Germany and has been marked by the de-militarisation of the state and by what some have seen as “constitutional patriotism”.26 has argued that the “civilian state”, marked by a commitment “to escape the destructive antagonisms of the past” and provide the good life for its populace, has become the European model.27 With the exception of France and Britain such states spend little on defence and restrict the roles of their armed forces. It has been questioned whether such liberal states can provide the sense of identity which has been such a function of nation states,28 and whether the priority they place upon peace, though it may make them unlikely to start wars, fits them, either singly or as a group, to be able to prevent them.
Social and Cultural Change
The Beveridge Report of 1942 had recommended creating “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease”. The Labour government elected in 1945 implemented this recommendation. The National Health Service was launched across the United Kingdom on 5 July 1948 and remains a cornerstone of the Welfare State. Unlike e.g. the German healthcare system, the NHS is funded primarily by taxation. Treatment, usually free at the point of delivery, is available to all legal residents of the UK. / National Health Service Western Isles Health Board
An influential view of the social effects of the Second World War argued by 29 is that total war had far-reaching effects, which went beyond the obvious negative effects of destruction, deaths and dislocation. They also tested the institutions of societies, and, due to the need to mobilise the entire economy and society for the war effort, led to “progressive” social changes. The impact of war upon societies has since become a major field of study and much work has concentrated upon the social and cultural as well as the political and economic impact of the Second World War. Central to this thesis is the argument that the war had a socially levelling impact and that significant indicators were a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor in terms of incomes and wealth due to income tax, death duties and an increase in state welfare; it did not erode class differences, but improved the position of the working classes. Marwick highlighted the growth of the British welfare state and increased state welfare throughout Western Europe, the increase in working-class wages, and the concern of governments to maintain high levels of employment. Though this thesis has been much criticised, largely by left-wing historians who feel that post-war societies were insufficiently changed,30 it is clear that conservative and Christian Democratic parties in the post-war period largely accepted state welfare measures and the responsibility of governments for wages and employment to a far greater degree than before the war.,
A view of the general office of Wright’s Biscuits in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, ca. 1950–1960, showing the increasing employment of women in clerical positions. / Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Hanna Reitsch (1912–1979), aviator and supporter of Hitler, is awarded the Iron Cross. / Deutsches Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons
Marwick also argued that both world wars had seen more women employed in a wider range of occupations and that, after 1945, women were to enjoy greater opportunities and a more equal position in society.31 The structure of economic life and the types of employment it provided meant that any major changes in women’s position had to await the de-industrialisation that began in the 1960s, while, even then, many women had different priorities to those of men. Probably, again as with most social developments, it is more realistic to see the war as, at best, giving a push, and perhaps only a brief one, to change.Certainly, for many women the war was a liberating experience. They served in the armed forces and worked in government offices, in fields and factories, and in Hitler’s bunker and Churchill’s underground Cabinet War Rooms; Hitler’s pilot, flew the last plane in and out of Berlin, when Soviet troops were already in the German capital. Just as women received the vote in Britain and Germany after the First World War, so in France and Italy they gained it, along with general declarations of equal citizenship in 1945 and 1946 respectively. Whether the war experience resulted in a transformation of the position of women in post-war society and whether many women wanted such a change have been doubted by some historians. has for instance argued that, even in the French Resistance, “women were for most of the time confined within their traditional roles”.
The major alterations to European society and culture did not emerge until the 1950s and are often seen as a process of “Americanisation”, although it may well be that American society was simply the first to display the changes that are often gathered together in the unsatisfactory term, “modernisation”. American popular culture had, of course, been influential in pre-war Europe. Even someone as anti-American as Hitler enjoyed watching Hollywood musicals, ironically, often made by American-Jewish film moguls. American films provided a glimpse of an individualistic consumer society and a lifestyle to which many came to aspire. The impact of American films was naturally, given the common language, more evident in Britain, and 32 Depictions of depression and unemployment as the salient characteristics of the Thirties too often obscure the fact that pockets of this world were to be found in continental Europe as well as England. Its advance was to be interrupted by the Second World War but was resumed in the 1950s in Britain after Labour’s “New Jerusalem” had lost its popular support.in his English Journey remarked on the “New England”: “America I supposed was its real birthplace. This is the England of arterial and by-pass roads … of giant cinemas and dance halls and cafes … factory girls looking like actresses”.
Glenn Miller (1904–1944), American musician and big band leader, who was a celebrated cultural representative of the US in Europe during World War II. He is believed to have been killed in a plane crash. / U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons
Relationships between German women and members of the occupation forces were frequent in the post-war years. A 1955 survey concluded that such relationships had produced 66,730 children born out of wedlock in the preceding ten years, with approximately 12,000 marriages. 20,000 women left Germany between 1946 and 1949 to marry their American fiancés. Such marriages and relationships also occurred before in the UK, where allied troops were stationed during the war years. This 1944 photograph shows British women and their children leaving for Canada. / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada
The war itself saw, with thousands of US troops crossing the Atlantic, a new wave of American influence, first in Britain and then in areas of Europe occupied by American forces. Jazz, the bandleader, US radio stations and GI brides were ubiquitous manifestations of America and the increased popularity of cinema was a major channel of influence. During the war cinema had become ever more popular. Warring states used it as a major means of propaganda, though overtly propagandist films were less well-received than those, like the, just pre-war, Russian Alexander Nevsky and the British Henry V which brought past victories to the aid of the present. Nothing better illustrates the importance attached to film than that in 1944, as Allied armies approached Germany, the Wehrmacht provided several thousand troops as extras for the filming of Kolberg, a film depicting the resistance of a besieged German city on the Baltic following Prussia’s defeat at the battle of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806. Such historic allegories were acceptable, but what audiences in all the combatant countries wanted was entertainment and, after the war came the period in which cinema dominated popular entertainment.
In the immediate post-war period, there was, understandably little demand for films that dealt with the war or with the problems of its aftermath. Neither the German Trümmer (rubble) films or those of the Italian neo-realists attracted mass audiences, though they were applauded by intellectuals throughout Europe who attended art-house cinemas. As 33 The British film industry, had, like those of continental Europe, to be subsidised and have government imposed quotas to protect it against the overwhelming appeal of the products of Hollywood. With Hollywood came the “American Dream” and it inspired modified versions in Europe. There were interesting reactions with both French and British cinemas presenting films that presented quintessentially native views of social life with the British Ealing Comedies championing the individual against state interference and Americanisation, but, for the most part, Hollywood produced the box-office hits. The French cinema achieved an interesting reversal of the usual trans-Atlantic cinematic traffic when the New Wave directors of the 1950s found hitherto unacknowledged merits in Hollywood directors like , whom they hailed as formative auteurs.34has pointed out, the British film, The Wicked Lady (dir. Leslie Arliss, 1945), a costume melodrama, exemplified the sort of film people wanted to see and was popular in both East and West Germany.
Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (foreground) in 1964 at the Max Weber congress of sociologists in Heidelberg. These sociologists and philosophers are perhaps the best-knowm representatives of the first generation of the “Frankfurt School”, whose “critical theory” built on the ideas of Hegel, Marx and Freud. Their centre was the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, which was refounded after the Second World War by members returning from exile. / Photo by Jeremy J. Shapiro, Wikimedia Commons
Hollywood can be seen as part of the cultural arm of the Marshall Plan and its message complemented the Plan’s aim of raising the European standard of living and attaining economic stability by 1952. Fiercely opposed by intellectuals of the left and right, by the Marxist Frankfurt School35 European societies, it has been argued, became part of an “irresistible empire” in which American consumerism and popular culture were triumphant at the expense of native national cultures. Tourism accelerated the process as, perversely, local cultures adapted their needs, thus destroying what visitors had come to see. Vast tracts of rural Europe may have been untouched, but Priestley’s New England became reality throughout Europe. In this sense the war was a long punctuation mark. It had changed frontiers and divided Europe along political and ideological lines, but social, economic and cultural changes move to a different timetable, though war and peace may accelerate or delay their development.and by , on both political and cultural grounds, much of Western Europe was indeed transformed in the 1950s into an increasingly prosperous society, which, consumed cultural products as avidly as motor cars and washing machines.
The Bornholmer Strasse border crossing between East and West Berlin, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. West Berliners welcome their eastern counterparts (in their distinctive Trabant cars) with a banner reading “Test the West”. At the time, this was the advertising slogan of a well-known brand of cigarettes, thus combining the promises of political freedom and affluent consumerism. / Photo by Hans Peter Lochmann, Deutsches Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons
Salient characteristics of post-war European society were already evident in 1939 and even in 1914. That even half of Germany was the strongest European economic power by the 1960s would have surprised few who had known Imperial Germany with its large privately-owned industries and the great department stores of Berlin, nor its combination of prosperous capitalism with an advanced system of social security have astonished those who had benefited from the pre-1914 state insurance system. It seems apposite that the implosion of the Soviet Bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s is often seen as a “shopping revolution” in that, as windows were opened by the media, the attractions of Western Europe’s consumer society became evident.
Mao Zedong (1893–1976), Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (1943-1976), President of the People’s Republic of China (1954-1959). Though venerated as the founder of modern China, his legacy also includes millions killed in the pursuit of such projects as the “Great Leap Forward” (1958–1961) and the “Cultural Revolution” (1966–1976). / Wikimedia Commons
The transformative effects of wars seem enormous in their immediate aftermath and the reverberations of the Second World War continue to effect contemporary Europe, yet, one has only to reflect upon the enormous death tolls of wars to see that they do not impede population growth for long. The Black Death had more impact upon Europe than all the wars of the medieval period. Historical change is not easily measurable and disentangling the contribution of wars from other factors difficult. To disregard the importance of wars as determinants of historical development for good or ill would be as ridiculous as to argue that only long term structural changes are important, for wars, like great individuals, are products of their ages and influence human development. The historian’s problem is the interaction between war and the broad sweep of history. Perhaps the answer to the question of how great a difference the Second World War made to Europe should be along the lines of the response, often attributed tobut more likely to have come from the more sophisticated , to the question of what the French Revolution had meant for the course of history: “It’s too early to tell”.
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Calder, Angus: The People’s War, London 1971.
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- Treaties were later concluded with Italy and other states which had fought alongside the Axis powers.
- See Howard, Thirty Years War 1986. I discuss the concept in Purdue, Second World War 2011, pp.12–16.
- Tooze, in The Deluge 2014, makes the case for a fundamental disconnection between the two wars.
- Bessel, Germany 2009.
- Hitchcock, Liberation 2008, p. 372.
- Laqueur, Europe 1982, p. 9.
- Mayne, Recovery 1970, p. 24.
- Bell, World 2001, p. 36.
- Ferguson, Empire 2003, p. 356.
- The rickety Portuguese Empire survived longer, losing its major African colonies in 1975.
- Mazower, Dark Continent 1998, p. 383.
- Bessel, Germany, 2009.
- Hitchcock, Liberation, 2008.
- Mazower, Dark Continent 1998, p. 230.
- See, for instance, Swain and Swain, Eastern Europe 1993.
- Quoted in Rupnik, Other Europe 1988, p. 72.
- Kettenacker, Germany 1997, p. 217.
- See Abse, Italy 1992, p. 107.
- Roseman, World War II 2001, pp. 238–254.
- See Overy, Road to War 1989.
- The original statement made by Douglas Jay in The Socialist Case (1937) was “the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves”, but it was simplified by opponents of the 1945–51 Labour government.
- Lowe, State and Social Welfare 1997, p. 63.
- Roseman, World War II 2001, p. 247.
- “Nivellierte Mittelstandsgesellschaft”, a phrase coined by the German sociologist Helmut Schelsky in 1953.
- Kedward, Vie en bleu 2006, p. 269.
- A phrase coined by Jürgen Habermas which is discussed in Buruma, Wages 1995, pp. 185–6.
- Sheehan, Monopoly 2007, ch. 8.
- See Kettenacker, 1997, on Germany, pp 213–235.
- Arthur Marwick’s view of the effects of war on society was first put forward in a study of the First World War in The Deluge (1965) and he developed it with respect to both world wars in War and Social Change in the Twentieth Century (1974).
- For example, see for the impact of the war on Britain, Calder, People’s War 1971.
- Bedarida, World War II 1988, pp. 89–90.
- Priestley, English Journey 1984, p. 375.
- Chapman, Film and Radio 2006, p. 194.
- Kedward, Vie en bleu 2006, p. 413.
- De Grazia, Irresistible Empire, 2005.
Originally published by EGO: Journal of European History Online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.