The Berlin Wall

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Sep 29 12:13:27 MDT 2003

Fred Feldman wrote:
> I'm not saying this out of a general moral objection to walls.  Good
> fences sometimes do make better neighbors.  But the wall never was
> primarily an expression of East Germany's conflict with imperialism,
> but of the profound antagonism between the regime and the people of
> the country.  It was a  creation of bureaucratic reaction and it
> deserved all the hatred that the masses of East Germany felt for it.

The Nation, Dec. 16, 1996

DRAWING THE LINE: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944-1949. By
Carolyn Eisenberg. Cambridge. 522 pp. $59.95.

reviewed by Kai Bird

Nothing is inevitable in the course of human events. Yet every historian
finds it difficult to persuade readers that what happened all those many
years ago was not preordained, that indeed, choices were made which at
the time were not necessarily obvious or at all inevitable. This
challenge becomes particularly formidable when the historian's topic is
invested with powerful myths cultivated by the state.

Carolyn Eisenberg shatters the central myth at the heart of the origins
of the cold war: that the postwar division of Germany was Stalin's
fault. She demonstrates unequivocally that the partition of Germany was
"fundamentally an American decision," strongly opposed by the Soviets.
The implications are enormous. Germany's division led to the rapid
division of Europe, condemning not only East Germans but millions
throughout Eastern Europe to a forty-year siege. If the responsibility
for this cruel separation of a continent into two armed military camps
lies with Washington and not Moscow, then the entire canon of the
orthodox history of the cold war is called into question.

Eisenberg, a professor of history at Hofstra, took more than a dozen
years to produce this exhaustively researched text. Drawing the Line
opens with a moving description of the idealistic hopes evoked by the
meeting of U.S. and Soviet troops at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945.
In the face of a common peril, a Grand Alliance had triumphed over
German fascism.

A half-century later, we forget that many Americans had been confident
that U.S.-Soviet cooperation could continue in the postwar period
despite ideological differences. Even an establishment figure like
Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy noted in his diary on April 30,
1945, "It is little wonder that as [the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.] emerge in
their own and in the eyes of everyone else as the two greatest powers
that they should walk stiff-legged around the ring a bit." But McCloy
and Secretary of War Henry Stimson believed that with time and hard work
a "practical relationship" was possible and desirable. As for Germany,
the New Dealers who then prevailed in foreign policy deliberations-Henry
Morgenthau Jr., Harry Hopkins, Harry Dexter White, Henry Wallace, Harold
Ickes-fully intended to cooperate with the Soviets in administering a
"hard peace" in a unified German state. Roosevelt had agreed to a firm
program of denazification, deindustrialization and demilitarization. The
Soviets would share in the supervision of a jointly occupied German
state and be assured a share of reparations.

Then came Harry Truman, who was pretty much an empty vessel when it came
to foreign policy. His instincts were erratic-McCloy wrote in his diary
after observing him at Potsdam, "He always gives me the impression of
too quick judgment." Roosevelt's Soviet policies were soon shoved aside.
In the judgment of Truman's influential advisers-Dean Acheson, Averell
Harriman, John Foster Dulles, George Marshall and James
Forrestalpartition was preferable to the uncertainties of cooperating
with a difficult wartime ally in a joint occupation of the defeated enemy.

Acheson and his colleagues did not fear the Soviets-they understood that
the Soviet system was economically and militarily weak. And that was
precisely why Washington could act unilaterally with little risk of
provoking a war. "This judgment," says Eisenberg, "allowed them to make
careless calculations, to disregard the Soviet interests with a sense of
impunity, and to sacrifice potentially favorable bargains with the
expectation of a complete collapse down the road." And act they did. In
violation of Potsdam and Yalta, the Truman Administration fused the
British and U.S. occupation zones economically in December 1946,
incorporated western Germany into the Marshall Plan in July 1947,
implemented a currency reform in June 1948 and convened a parliamentary
body in September 1948 for the purpose of creating a formal West German
state. Washington also abruptly ended denazification (leaving
approximately 640,000 "highly incriminated persons" unprosecuted),
halted deindustrialization and canceled steps already taken to break up
the German economic cartels.

Truman's men feared not an invasion from the east but that the Soviets
in their weakened position would offer a deal that could not be easily
rejected in a public forum. As Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith wrote in
December 1947 to his old friend Dwight Eisenhower, "The difficulty under
which we labor is that in spite of our announced position, we really do
not want nor intend to accept German unification in any terms that the
Russians might agree to, even though they seemed to meet most of our

Soviet demands were remarkably consistent. They wanted what they
understood the Allies to have promised at Potsdam and Yalta: the $10
billion in reparations; four-power control of the Ruhr Valley; vigorous
denazification and permanent demilitarization. In return they'd permit a
freely elected German government, modeled along Weimar constitutional
lines-a program, Eisenberg observes, that "did not differ appreciably
from that previously advanced by liberals in the Roosevelt administration."

The Soviets began to clamp down on Eastern Europe only in response to
the U.S. decision to partition Germany. When they did so, Truman's men
were not at all surprised. When, for instance, Stalin imposed a ground
blockade around Berlin after a unilateral American announcement of
currency reform in western Germany, veteran diplomat Robert Murphy
cabled Washington, "The Berlin blockade, with all its consequences, has
had widespread repercussions, most of them favorable."

Not everyone agreed. The military governor of occupied Germany, Gen.
Lucius Clay, opposed partition. So did the author of the containment
theory, George Kennan. In 1948-49, Kennan vigorously contested both the
division and militarization of Europe. In an attempt to preserve access
to Eastern Europe he crafted what became known inside the bureaucracy as
"Plan A" or "A Program for Germany" to create a unified German state.
Both U.S. and Soviet troops would have been required to withdraw to the
borders of Germany. U.N.supervised elections would have created a new
all-German government. This reunified Germany would still have
participated in the Marshall Plan, which implied, of course, that the
German economy would be revived. Plan A was extraordinarily onesided.
The only thing the Soviets would get would be guaranteed access to
German exports-and the right to continued participation in the
supervision of the German state through a diminished Allied Control
Commission. Presumably, Germany would remain demilitarized.

Kennan very much doubted the Soviets would accept a plan requiring them
virtually to surrender exclusive powers in eastern Germany for a limited
role in supervising a unified German state. But he thought it imperative
that the proposal be put on the table; if the Soviets accepted, the
impending division of Europe could be avoided.

Astonishingly, the Soviets were not even given a chance to reject Plan
A. Instead, the Truman Administration went ahead with unilateral
partition. An appalled Kennan wrote Secretary of State Acheson,
condemning the "steady and progressive discarding of all possibilities
which might really have led to something like the unification of Germany
under allied blessing." He warned that "some day we may pay bitterly for
our present unconcern with the possibility of getting the Russians out
of the Eastern zone."

Thus began the cold war, a forty-year conflict for which we all paid,
but none more so than the millions in Eastern Europe who were forced to
live in police states.

Drawing the Line was largely researched prior to the opening of some
relevant archives in Moscow and Berlin. But none of the documents
released in the East to date contradict Eisenberg's view that the
Americans unilaterally opted for partition. Nor is she alone in her
assessment of the origins and nature of the cold war. Significantly, her
thesis has been endorsed by Melvyn Leffler, whose A Preponderance of
Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War
(1992) established him as the preeminent chronicler of the period.
Leffler flatly states that Eisenberg has "proven her case," that her
findings "will compel a rethinking of basic assumptions about the
origins of the Cold War"-this from a historian who has written with
great caution about politically charged questions of assigning

Even more startling, however, is an essay Leffler wrote in this past
summer's Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the foreign policy
establishment, titled "Inside Enemy Archives: The Cold War Reopened."
Leffler's survey of the "enemy archives" depicts a paranoid adversary
always on the defensive. The Soviets, says Leffler, "did not have
pre-conceived plans to make Eastern Europe communist, to support the
Chinese communists, or to wage war in Korea." Stalin had no "master
plan" for Germany, and wished to avoid military conflict with the United
States. Indeed, he hoped a policy of Realpolitik would somehow lead to a
grudging cooperation between the former wartime allies. Leffler quotes
David Holloway-a Stanford professor and author of Stalin and the Bomb
(1994)-who studied records of Stalin's military thinking in the postwar
period and concluded, "There is no evidence to show that Stalin intended
to invade Western Europe, except in the event of a major war."
Certainly, Stalin ran a cruel police state, but Leffler argues that
"U.S. words and deeds greatly heightened ambient anxieties and
subsequently contributed to the arms race and the expansion of the Cold
War into the Third World." The new archival findings suggest that U.S.
policy prolonged the cold war, making it "difficult for potential
reformers inside the Kremlin to gain the high ground." To compound
matters, Leffler suggests there were many missed opportunities in the
fifties, sixties and seventies when Stalin's successors might have
curtailed the conflict-but the "perceived threat emanating from the
United States held them back." Not surprisingly, Leffler's article has
disconcerted such conservative historians as Richard Pipes and John
Lewis Gaddis.

Eisenberg's book ends in 1949, when the cold war is about to open in
earnest. But Leffler's essay underscores the tragic costs of a conflict
that began with the U.S. decision to divide Germany. The most painful
consequences, as Eisenberg points out, were "mainly borne by others."
And yet, the tally sheet indirectly includes all those Americans who
died in Korea and Vietnam. "In the wreckage of the Cold War;" she
concludes, "America has yet to acknowledge responsibility for the
structures it has built."


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