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A SEMINAR PAPER ON THE MARSHALL PLAN AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF EUROPE 1948 – 1991

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Introduction

The second war brought about socio-economic stagnation in the countries that participated except the United States of America because none of the deadly battles were fought in the US soil, hence her economic, social and political strength after the war. The post war era was popularly called the cold war era- an ideological war, which Andrew Cayton posited that, the United States and the Soviet temporarily ignored their differences during the Second World War but after the war, however these differences began to put the two nations apart again. Soon the world was divided into two camp, formed around the communist and the capitalist beliefs.[1] This emphasizes the competition between the US and the USSR in winning over nations to their ideological beliefs, a policy which  war wrecked Western Europe was not an exception.

After the war, Europe was in particular economically bankrupt. The US got concerned and strategized on how to help Western Europe revitalize her economy, which was still ideologically neutral as well as contain communist control over the continent. This nevertheless gave birth to the Marshall plan in 1947- an open door call on the countries of both Eastern and Western Europe. As Cayton puts it “the Marshall plan called for nations of Europe including the communist countries to draw up a program for economic recovery from the war; the United States would now support the program with financial aid.[2]

The plan was also noted to have faced controversies and has overtime given credence to the cold war becoming a reality in the lives of peoples and nations involved. Therefore, the main trust of this work is to give a limelight to the Marshall plan as a facilitating factor in the reconstruction of Europe after the World War II and as an agent for combating communism.

 

Aftermath and effect of world war II

The end of the WW II brought the establishment of the United Nations which makes available an international organization to deal with problems arising between nations or involving the peace and progress of the world as a whole.[3]

At the conclusion of the hostilities in 1945, the situation was entirely different from that of the WW 1 because military and technological development had made the war seem universal. Very few areas in Europe had remained immune from the conflict and its consequences and the outlook everywhere was bleak.

In every direction, the whole region had been virtually defoliated and lay in ruins. Industrial production on the continent had slumped; in 1945 and 1946 it stood at only one- third of the 1938 figure.[4] Agriculture had also suffered; agricultural production was down to half the prewar level. Cities had been severely damaged. Millions of acres of valuable farming land had been rendered useless, not only from being battle fields but also through the demands of the war. Land was exhausted through over cropping, while the compensation of fertilization was lacking because commercial fertilizer were unobtainable.

Furthermore, the death rate of human beings and animals had been extremely high because of exhaustion and starvation. In the factories and mines, machinery had been crippled because it had been overworked and because it had not been maintained satisfactorily: in addition replacement was generally unavailable because Europe was greatly bankrupt.

A further important factor was the complete disruption of international trade and payments. The war had also changed radically Europe’s pattern of markets and commerce and this advocated for the task of reconstruction which was so vast that inevitably the initial progress made was slow and produced almost negligible results.  The new government now had to concentrate their attentions on the demands and needs of the population and this meant supplying them with essential services. In many ways, a vacuum had been created which was filled by the United States.[5]

 

Cold war era

Before the World War II, international politics centered in Europe, old and famous nation states of that continent – France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy dominated the scene. In the Far East, Japan’s imperial ambition and China’s internal disorder created a second largely independent storm center. The vast bulk of the USSR and the smaller bulk of the United States separated the European cockpit from the far Eastern power struggle.[6]

This pattern was utterly disrupted by the World War II. The USSR and the United States emerged from the war as the two dominant powers of the globe. Strangely enough, the same ideological principle which before the war made each of these countries unwilling to engage freely and as equals during the establishment of the League of Nations  and other aspects of the interwar diplomacy impelled both the Russians and the Americans  to interest themselves in the affairs of the post war world especially Europe.

The cold war was the bitter state of ideological struggle that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union for more than four decades after the end of World War II. This ideological difference divided Europe into the capitalist west and the communist east; resulting to hegemonic struggle of dominance over neutral nations. During the era there was the buildup of the military which would help deter the other bloc from encroachment and avoidance of dominance. There was also the presence of assistance of diverse forms melted on these neutral nations. Owning to these phenomena, the United States resulted to strategize on how best to curtail the spread of communism in Europe with her laid down policies.

 

Containment policy

At the end of the WW2 in 1945 and especially following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US emerged undoubtedly as the world power because of her military police but she had Russia to contain with because of Russian interest to expand her communist policy especially in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

The policy of containment was a strategic foreign policy pursued by the United States in the late 1940’s and 1950’s in order to check the expansionist policy of the Soviet Union. This policy was drafted in an anonymous article by George F. Kennan, a top ranking American diplomat stationed in Moscow. In 1947, he sent an eight thousand word telegram back to the state Department analyzing Soviet policy. The soviet was not going to yield he believed, and the United States needed to remove any opportunities for its enemy to establish communist government in other countries.[7]

[1] Andrew Cayton, Elizabeth Israels and Allan M. Winkler (1995) America: Pathways to the present New Jersey: Prentice Hall. P. 716.

[2] Ibid, p. 724

[3] Joseph Reither (1973), World History: A Brief Introduction. New York: McGraw Hill paper backs. P. 441.

[4] D. W. Urwin (1981). Western Europe since 1945: A Short Political History. New York: Longman Inc. p. 27

[5] D. W. Urwin (1981), p. 31

[6] William, H. McNeil (1973). A world History. USA: Oxford University press. P. 507

[7] Andrew Cayton, et al (1995)… p.724.

 

 

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