Chapter 26 Postwar Europe and North America, 1945-1968

The decades after World War II transformed the lives of Euro­peans and North Americans. The world avoided another major war, and most people in Europe and North America grew wealthier than they had ever been. The postwar years were marked, however, by anx­ieties over the arms race between the East and the West. By 1950 Europe had once again divided into two opposing camps – one led by the United States, representing the Western tradition of liberal democracy and constitutionalism; and the other led by the Soviet Union, which continued the tradition of totalitarianism and absolutism under the new guise of Socialist collectivism.

For month after month the planes never stopped flying. They came night and day, in fair weather and foul. The roar of the big American transports never ceased. But the Berliners did not mind. In fact, the sound was reassuring – for it meant that they would have food to eat, clothes to wear, and coal to heat their homes. In June 1948 the Soviet government had blockaded the Western occupation zones of Berlin. At that point the only alternatives facing West Berliners seemed to be war or starvation. But the governments of the Western powers had ordered an airlift to supply the city, surprising the Soviets and the Berliners as well.

Supported by the Western democracies, throughout the crisis the people of Berlin never gave in. The mayor of the city encouraged its citizens: "With all the means at our disposal, we shall fight those who want to turn us into slaves.... We have lived under such a slavery in the days of Adolf Hitler. We want no return to such times."

American, British, and French pilots landed and took off from West Berlin's airstrips with split-second timing, each day ferrying in thousands of tons of needed provisions. They kept the city of more than 2 million people alive. And at a moment of great danger, the pilots kept the peace. The Berlin blockade, however, was only the first of many crises that would threaten the peace of the world in the years following World War II.