Europe—Building a Lasting Peace

The Treaty of Versailles created major problems in Germany that led to German resentment and their desire to erase what the treaty had done to their country. The resentment and desire to restore Germany as it once was created by the Treaty of Versailles led to the rise of Hitler and fascism in Germany. Hitler’s actions, supported by the German people, to erase the restrictions put on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles led to the beginning of World War II. With the harshness of the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, World War II was inevitable because it was natural for German people to desire the return of their nation to power and unity. The Treaty of Versailles was the major cause of World War II.

The Nazis took advantage of the lack of vigilance of the European authorities. They believed that the Allies had something worse to fear: Communism. The Soviets and the Nazis had a “peace treaty,” but Hitler broke it. Consequently, Stalin lost trust in Hitler and decided to fight Germany. This contributed largely to Hitler`s fall. Even though the Allies did detect some of the signals of the Nazis’ main goal, they decided to turn their back on those signs and work on things that they considered more important, such as rebuilding their economies. No one but Germany wanted a new war at this time. The costs of getting involved were too high, and WWI had ended not that long ago. No one could gain much from direct involvement in a second war; watching from the side lines would be more beneficial. This is what the Soviets wanted particularly. They prefered to see everybody fight against the Nazis while their own nation spent its time and resources building a stronger economy.

One of the Nazis’ strategies was to treat Western Europeans with more respect than their Eastern counterparts with the intention of diverting their attention; the Nazis were a very new concept that many did not know what to expect from. This lack of alertness from the Westerners saved Germany time as the Nazis rebuilt their military and removed Slavs, exterminated Jews, and imported slave workers from both west and east. Thus, many European civilians primarily experienced involuntary economic migration during WWII. Even if some had been brought to Germany by force, their economic situation was considerably better in Germany than back in their home countries. Soviets, especially, had good reasons to flee to Germany, seeking refuge from Soviet retribution. Many Europeans were either displaced or became refugees.

On June 1st, 1948 the Western Allies, meeting at a post-war conference in London, announced plans to establish a separate West German state leading to more divisions within the already broken states of smaller nations. The Berlin crisis committed the United States to its first significant military presence of indeterminate length in Europe. However, the Brussels Pact–a conventional 50 year treaty between Britain, France, and the Benelux countries–was a collaboration “in measures of mutual assistance in the event of a renewal of German aggression,” whereas European politicians were becoming markedly more aware of their helpless exposure to Soviet pressure. The Dutch foreign minister once said that those in Europe only had a verbal pledge from President Truman of American support, which was not too comforting. It was generally very hard to convince the US to commit itself to anything that did not have a certainty of success unless the situation was totally out of control and only US intervention remedy it.

In fact, control mattered much more than the policies used. For example, one of the strategies the Soviets adopted was to join the Socialists, who could not easily be defeated. In keeping with the transition from united front coalitions to a Communist monopoly of power, Soviet strategy during the course of 1948 reverted to a radical policy of state control: collectivization, destruction of the middle-class, and purges of real and imagined opponents. But the Communists needed to present a softer image, especially in front of the Anglo-American allies, in order to be able to advance in their plans smoothly. The Soviet Union became the self-appointed protector of the new borders of Romania and Poland, as well as the redistributed land of expelled Germans and others all across the region.

The Anglo-Americans had been re-arranging the World behind most other countries’ backs; their power was superior to the other participants; the decision making was unbalanced, favoring one side over the other. The British regarded the NATO Treaty as a signal in their struggle to keep the US engaged in Europe’s defense. The US presence made NATO credible; it was meant “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” The US knew it was not right to spend billions of dollars to defend European countries, especially West Germany, from Russian attack without asking them to make a contribution of their own. The US wanted to avoid a free ride from anyone. The US was Britain`s role model. Before making any decisions, the British would ask themselves, “What would the US do in this case?” The UK had no attraction to any long-term economic cooperation with Europe that could cost them more than it would benefit them.

The Allies were determined not to repeat the mistakes of World War I, in which Allies had failed to set up an organization to enforce the peace until after World War I ended. Europe had now entered a period of insecurity pervaded with much talk about the war. As before, WWI started and kept going on because Europeans felt strongly the need for nationalism. After WWII, it was a different era; it was all about creating this new order where people think European, speak European, and feel European, as a single unit. The Victor`s peace was in favor of  the winners. The two superpowers that emerged from the defeated Germany were central to the development of the cold war. Rapidly evolving from defeated objects of Four Power policy, the two Germanys became important actors in their own right on the front line of the cold war. Both superpowers initially treated their part of Germany as war booty to be plundered and kept weak, but as the cold war developed, they would each come to see their part of Germany as an essential ally whose needs were intertwined with their own. For political, military, economic, and ideological reasons, the superpowers engaged in a competition for allies to show that their side of the cold war was the stronger, more popular, more vibrant one. They also wanted to ensure that their German ally would not unite with the other against them. Beginning in the 1950s, the super powers invested themselves, and their reputations, increasingly in their German allies, who were adept at taking advantage of this situation. The Victors peace did in fact last mainly because of the fear of the worst war with the assumption that anyone who possessed the atomic bomb would use it.