Chapter 26 Postwar Europe and North America, 1945-1968

 Section 1 From World War to Cold War

 After the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II, most people hoped that victory would bring an era of lasting peace. Disagreements among the Allies over what to do about defeated Germany and how to govern Eastern Europe, however, soon shattered these hopes. Within five years of the war's end, Europe and much of the world had divided into opposing camps behind one of the two superpowers-the United States and the Soviet Union.








Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill at Yalta

The Occupation of Germany

As in World War I, so in World War II the problem of how to handle a defeated Germany divided the victorious Allies. When World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, the three leading members of the Grand Alliance had not decided what to do about Germany. The problem of what to do with Germany had troubled U.S., British, and Soviet leaders for many months; it would remain a problem over which they disagreed for many years.

The Yalta Conference. In February 1945 Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill considered Germany's fate at a meeting at Yalta, a Soviet resort on the Black Sea. At Yalta the three leaders agreed to divide Germany temporarily, for the purpose of supervising the German surrender. British, French, U.S., and Soviet forces would each control one zone. A postwar peace conference would determine the long-term future of Germany.

Germany under Allied control. Following the German surrender in May 1945, the four Allied armies completed the occupation of their respective zones. The U.S., British, and French zones were in the western part of Germany; the Soviet zone was in the east. The German capital of Berlin, though lying entirely in the Soviet zone, was similarly divided into four sectors. At the same time, the Soviet Red Army rolled across Eastern Europe, occupying many nations.

In June 1945 the Allied governments established the Allied Control Council to oversee a temporary government for Germany. All council decisions had to be reached by consensus - any member could exercise a veto. Consequently, the council soon deadlocked over issues of governing the country. Britain and the United States wanted to rebuild the German economy, while the Soviet Union and France hoped to keep Germany weak. Increasingly, the Allies ignored the council and simply imposed their own decisions on their own zones.  















The Nuremberg trials. Despite disagreements over how to handle Germany as a whole, the Allies had no trouble agreeing on what to do with the worst Nazi war criminals. From November 1945 through September 1946, an international panel met in the German city of Nuremberg, where the Nazi Party had held its annual Nuremburg rallies. At the Nuremberg trials, twenty-two top Nazis were tried for "crimes against humanity" and other criminal acts. Nineteen were eventually convicted, twelve of whom were sentenced to death. One of the judges at Nuremberg described the Nazis' crimes: 

" These crimes are unprecedented ones because of the shocking numbers of victims. They are even more shocking and unprece­dented because of the large number of per­sons who united to perpetrate them .... [The Nazis] developed a contest in cruelty and a competition in crime." 

The United Nations

Germany's fate was part of the larger issue of how to prevent another world war. On this issue, as they had before, the Allies disagreed sharply. Stalin and Churchill called for dividing the world into spheres of influence among the victors. President Roosevelt, however, preferred the internationalist approach that had formed the basis for the League of Nations. Internationalists called for a successor to the League that would keep the peace and punish aggressors. This clash of views eventually produced a compromise. At a conference held in San Francisco from April to June 1945, 51 countries, including Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, agreed to establish the United Nations Organization (later simply called the United Nations, or UN).

To satisfy those calling for a continuation of the 'spheres of influence' approach, the five major powers-the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and China-became permanent members of the Security Council, which was charged with the task of dealing with large issues of war and peace. Each permanent member could veto any action proposed in the Security Council. The 'internationalist' approach was represented in the composition of the General Assembly. The Assembly was ultimately designed to include all nations that wished to join. All members of the General Assembly would have equal voices and equal votes.

                Many Americans looked skeptically on the United Nations, with some objecting to its incorporation of internationalist ideas. One person responsible for persuading many of the skeptics to support the new organization was Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt.  

BIO Born in New York City in 1884, Roosevelt had always been interested in social causes. After marrying Franklin and later becoming first lady, she continued to work for civil rights. Encouraging those who felt the sting of discrimination, for example, she repeatedly insisted, "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." To set an example, in 1939 Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution to protest that group's discrimination against African American opera singer Marian Anderson.

In 1945 President Harry Truman appointed Roosevelt as a delegate to the United Nations. In 1946 she was named chairwoman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, where she played a central role in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

The Grand Alliance Dissolves

As demonstrated by the deadlock over Germany, the Great Powers had increasingly contradictory views of what the world after the war should look like. The most striking difference was that the Western nations believed in democracy, while the Soviets supported communism. The Western Allies believed in the principles of a market economy-in which private businesses and individuals determined what goods and services should be produced, how they should be produced, and for whom they should be produced. The Soviets, on the other hand, remained devoted to the princi­ples of a command economy, in which the government made all economic decisions. During the period from 1946 to 1948 these disagreements dissolved the Alliance. 

Growing suspicions. The Yalta Conference had revealed a basic difference between the United States and the Soviet Union regarding the future of Poland. Stalin insisted that the postwar government of Poland must be friendly to the Soviets. Roosevelt wanted Poland to be democratic. Soon after the war, the Soviet army snuffed out any remaining democratic tendencies in Poland and installed a government that the Soviets could easily control. Many Americans came to believe that Stalin could not be trusted.

Suspicions deepened when Stalin publicly announced in February 1946 that the communist struggle for world domination would resume and began to increasingly interfere with democratic elections in Eastern Europe. The following month, in a speech before a gathering in Fulton, Missouri, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill voiced what many people feared: 

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. ... All these famous cities and the populations around them lie in the Soviet sphere and are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence, but to a very high degree and increasing measure of control from Moscow." 

Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech seemed to announce the division of Europe between the liberal democratic West and the totalitarian communist East.

The Truman Doctrine. Events in the Balkans further deepened the division between East and West. In March 1947 President Truman asked Congress for $400 million in military and economic aid for Greece and Turkey. Turkey had been under pressure from the Soviet Union for some time. In Greece, Communists were waging a bitter civil war against the conservative Greek government. The situation came to a head in February 1947, when the British government informed the United States that it would soon be reducing its contributions to Greece because of economic pressures at home.

Anxious to prevent a communist victory in Greece, President Truman decided to take up where Britain had left off. He warned Congress that the situation in Greece was a turning point for democracy in the nation's struggle against communism and outlined what came to be called the Truman Doctrine: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." This policy soon became known as "containment"- the United States would contain, or prevent the spread of communism wherever it arose in the world.

Congress approved Truman's request, and the Truman Doctrine became a basic part of U.S. foreign policy. The growing struggle for global power between the United States and the Soviet Union became known as the Cold War.  

The Berlin blockade. Cold War tensions increased when the Soviets tried to force a decision over the future of Germany. In June 1948 Stalin blockaded Soviet-controlled ground access to the western zones of Berlin. Stalin hoped that by creating a crisis over Berlin he could convince the Western Allies either to place Germany under Soviet control or leave it demilitarized and neutral.

Instead, President Truman ordered that supplies be airlifted to the western zones of Berlin. From June 1948 to September 1949, a steady stream of planes kept the city fed and clothed. Stalin eventually decided that the Berlin blockade was a failure and in May 1949 he ordered it lifted. 

Europe Divides

As the Grand Alliance dissolved, Europe once again divided in two. In the West were Britain, France and the constitutional democracies friendly to the United States. In the East were the Soviet Union and the new communist regimes, most of which had been installed by Stalin and were kept in power by occupation forces of the Red Army.

The Marshall plan. In June 1947 U.S. secretary of state George Marshall unveiled an American plan for sending reconstruction assis­tance to Europe. The goals of the Marshall Plan were to ease economic distress in Europe and to help stabilize democratic governments by raising people's standards of living. Western European leaders eagerly sketched a framework for putting the proposed U.S. aid to good use. The Marshall Plan sent more than $13 billion to Western Europe between 1948 and 1952. Originally, the United States had offered Marshall Plan aid to the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe, but the Soviets and the puppet governments it controlled rejected it.

The two Germanys. One of the most obvious signs of the divided continent was Germany. The Berlin blockade convinced most people in the West that agreement with the Soviet Union on the future of Germany would be impossible. Accordingly, the Americans, British, and French supported the creation of a new Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in May 1949. The new state had its capital at Bonn. Its first chancellor was Konrad Adenauer, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party, who was elected in September 1949.

Meanwhile, the Soviets created a separate government for East Germany. In October 1949 the German Democratic Republic was formally proclaimed. Its capital was East Berlin, and its leaders were German Communists selected and controlled by the Soviet Union.

New Alliances: NATO and the Warsaw Pact

As Stalin tightened his grip over the countries of Eastern Europe, the Western Allies began to fear what they saw as growing Soviet aggression. In 1949 the Truman administration invited representatives of Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Canada to join the United States in a military alliance. The North Atlantic Treaty of April 1949 established NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This treaty committed the member nations to defend one another in case of attack.

American efforts to fight communism were not restricted to the countries of Europe, however. When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, the United States and the United Nations responded by sending troops to Korea to stop the Communists. (See Chapter 27 for a full discussion.)

Meanwhile, the Soviets were also pursuing efforts to ensure their security. Since October 1947, the countries in the Soviet sphere, often called the Communist bloc, had been members of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform). One of the main goals of the Cominform was to spread communism to Western Europe. The Cominform gave rise in 1949 to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).

                The creation of NATO and particularly the 1955 admission of West Germany into the alliance caused the Soviet Union to form its own military alliance, the Warsaw Pact. Established in May 1955, the Warsaw Pact was an agreement of mutual military cooperation among the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. The establishment of the two alliance systems marked a division of Europe that would last for decades.


IDENTIFY and explain the significance of the following:

United Nations

Eleanor Roosevelt

market economy

command economy

Iron Curtain

Cold War

Konrad Adenauer


Warsaw Pact

LOCATE and explain the importance of the following:

Federal Republic of Germany


German Democratic Republic

East Berlin

1.        Main Idea What issues divided the Allies after World War II?

2.        Main Idea What was the consequence of the alliance system that arose after the war's end?

3.        War and Diplomacy What factors led to the establishment of the two German states after the war?

4.        Writing to Explain Imagine that you are a member of the Allied Control Council. Write an article for a newspa­per in your home country explaining how the Allies are dealing with the defeated Germany.

5.        Analyzing Why do you think the Allies could not agree

on what to do with Germany after the war?