The Berlin Blockade Essay Example
The Berlin Blockade began in 1948. It was an attempt by the Soviet Union to stop France, Great Britain and the United States from being able to travel to their sectors of Berlin. This caused the Western powers to organize an airlift to West Berlin. The blockade was the first major clash of the cold war and because of the actions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, American efforts, and the lasting aftermath, the Berlin Blockade is a key part of the cold war and history itself.
The Berlin Blockade first developed due to the actions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Discussion on what to do with Germany broke down over Soviet accusations that the Western Allies were violating the Potsdam Agreement. The Allied powers decided to unite their occupation zones of Germany and in protest the Soviet union withdrew from the allied control council. “The Western allies announced the introduction of a new currency in Western Germany and West Berlin.
Stalin, who favored keeping Germany weak, so that it could never again invade his country, was angered and quickly set up a blockade of West Berlin.” (Bodden, 20) France, Britain, and the United States created a new currency, the Deutsche Mark, for their occupation zones. The Soviets feared this would devalue the Reichsmarks that they used in the East. For the Soviets, this was the last straw and marked the beginning of the Berlin Blockade. After the announcement of the Deutsche Mark, Soviet guards halted trains and traffic to Berlin and delayed freight shipments. Then, Soviets severed land and water connections and stopped all rail traffic. Eventually, the Soviet Union stopped supplying food to the non-Soviet sectors of Berlin.
“He knew that West Berlin had enough food and fuel only for six weeks, and he expected the three Western allies to let the Soviet union have its way. As far as he could see, their only alternative was to use tanks to smash through the road and rail blocks and bring supplies. Such an aggressive action was bound to cause war, and he doubted they would do that.” (Kelly, 12)
This proves that Stalin was fully aware of what the blockade would lead to for the West Berliners. He wanted his way, and had no concern for the innocent people at risk. He was also confident that the West wouldn't use aggressive tactics to stop him. In 1949, Moscow proposed negotiation to end the blockade. After eleven months the Soviets realized that the blockade had failed, and reopened the borders. “The airlifts continued until May 12, 1949, when the Soviets reopened the East German borders for transportation, realizing that the blockade had failed.” (Mur, 13-14) The Americans were successful. West Berlin was freed from the blockade and transportation was allowed through. For the Soviets, this event was an absolute disaster.
The world came to see the Russians as international bullies while the United States, France and Britain hardened their resolve on issues related to Germany. It can be seen that the Berlin Blockade played an important role in world history in the actions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and in the response of the Americans.
Further proving that the Berlin Blockade is important in history are the efforts the Americans made to help West Berlin. Soviet had halted all traffic from the West to East. Finding a way to supply the city seemed to be the only reasonable response. General Clay, the American commander in Berlin, predicted that: “When Berlin falls, Western Germany will be next. If we withdraw our position in Berlin, Europe is threatened... Communism will run rampant.”(Berlin Airlift, schoolshistory.org.uk) The Western allies were put in a tough situation. The Truman administration was convinced losing Berlin would mean losing all of Germany, but using military forces to strike back against the blockade wasn’t an option: the risk of turning the Cold War into an actual war was just too great.
Truman ordered a massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin. It was a difficult task to provide food, clothing, water, medicine, and other necessities for over two million citizens. The West also introduced a counter-blockade, stopping all rail traffic into East Germany. “You peoples of the world, you, peoples of America, of England, of France. Look at this city, and recognize that this city, this people, must not be abandoned - cannot be abandoned.” (Knopp, 22:14) During the airlift Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter pleads for the West to not abandon them.
It showed the desperation of West Berliners and how fearful they were of being left alone to suffer Stalin's abuse. This speech caused a lot of people to stand up and riot against Stalin. In 1949, the blockade ended. The United States had gained widespread public sympathy and Berlin became a symbol of the allies willingness to oppose further Soviet expansion.
“With the opening of the gates, a new chapter in postwar history begins to unroll down German highways. Just 10 months and 23 days after the capital was sealed off from the ground, traffic is rolling towards Europe's number one trouble spot. It's a day of triumph for a band of men in the airlift who kept Berliners eating while they were held in an iron ring” (Knopp, 46:34)
The United States were able to keep the airlift going long enough for Stalin to realize he wasn’t going to win this battle. They showed that they were able to fight past Stalin’s walls and that they were not willing to let communism spread. The importance of the blockade was shown not only in the actions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and within the response of the Americans, but through the lasting impact on Berlin as a city.
The aftermath of the blockade and airlift also make this an important part in history. The blockade solidified the separation between West and East. After the blockade was lifted, East Berlin became a separate communist republic.. “By the middle of 1961 as many as 30,000 East Germans a month were moving to the West. The East German government had to act to stem this flow as these were the very people they couldn't afford to lose.” (Berlin Airlift - Consequences, nationalcoldwarexhibition.org)
Stalin was losing support at an extremely fast rate and lots of people were leaving East Berlin for the West. Stalin saw it as the survival of East Germany being threatened. This caused Stalin to bring more drastic countermeasures to keep the West and East separate and as many people under communism as possible. Like the East, after the end of the blockade, the three Western allies combined their sectors of Berlin into one and the state of West Berlin was made. West Berlin was a separate capitalist republic.
“On May 12, 1949 the Soviet Union officially ended the blockade allowing other mechanisms for transportation of goods into West Berlin. Though the blockade of Berlin had ended, the Allies continued the airlift until September 30. This was to ensure that the people of Berlin had three-month surplus of supplies and food.” (The Berlin Airlift-Operation Vittles, wigglywings.weebly)
For the West Berliners the threat of Stalin was still real. The West had to make sure that West Berlin had enough supplies if Stalin tried to set up another blockade. This also bought added pro America, pro West ideals. The people of West Berlin were also affected by the end of as a rethe blockade - economically and from the world's opinions. West Berlin continued to prosper as a result of the Marshall Aid and the economic gap between East and West grew. With what the West had to offer in terms of employment, wages and the standard of living many East Berliners decided to move to West Berlin. “It also transformed Berlin, once equated with Prussian militarism and Nazism, into a symbol of democracy and freedom in the fight against Communism.” (The Berlin Airlift, 1948–1949, history.state.gov) World War Two caused Berlin and the rest of Germany to be seen in a negative light, but by the end of the blockade, Berlin was transformed into a symbol of freedom and democracy. The lasting effect on Berlin is one of the reasons why the blockade is so important in global history.
The Berlin Blockade, through the measures taken by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States’ efforts and the results of the event, is an important part of history. Though the blockade had ended cold war tension remained high. The blockade foreshadowed the future conflict over the city of Berlin, and the creation of the Berlin Wall.