Research Proposal: Berlin Wall

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¶ … Berlin Wall - a Historical Retrospective

Postwar Geopolitical Conflict in Europe:

Even before the formal surrender of the Nazis in May of 1945, the former Allies had already settled into an uncomfortable peace that was more evident in Berlin, the German capital, than anywhere else. In the closing months of the war in Europe, the "Big Three" meeting among Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin in Potsdam had produced a specific agreement for the shared control of former Nazi Germany, according to which the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, and France each retained control and authority in one of four sectors. The Allied Control Council would be located in Berlin, which was actually situated approximately 100 miles inside the Soviet sector within the eastern portion of Germany. Berlin itself would also be divided into four sectors corresponding to the overall scheme of subdividing the country among the four wartime Allied partners (Feis, 1967).

During the next two years, a continuing series of diplomatic crises involved in connection with systematic incursions into several eastern European nations as the Soviet Union installed proxy leaders and assumed control over the military and police forces before eventually ousting all local political authorities who opposed a Communist expansion into their country. In this fashion, the Soviet Union gradually enveloped most of the sovereign Eastern European nations that had existed since the cessation of wartime hostilities.

In 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman announced what would be called the "Truman Doctrine," mainly in response to soviet pressure on Greece and Turkey. On May 12, 1947, Truman spoke to Congress requesting assistance, saying:

believe that must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedom.

If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world, and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation" (Sorensen, 1965).

Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization along with the United States, which pledged to protect any member nation against (Soviet) aggression. The month after Truman had announced the Truman Doctrine, U.S. Secretary of State General George C. Marshall announced what would become the "Marshall Plan," according to which U.S. international efforts would not be directed against any particular nation or foreign powers, but only "... against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos... [with the goal of]... reviving of a working economy" (Sorensen, 1965).

Throughout much of 1948, Stalin challenged U.S. And NATO authority and interests by a series of actions that were meant more as antagonistic nuisances and probing the limits of western tolerance with respect to Berlin. In some respects, the situation foretold the events that would culminate in the erection of the Berlin Wall more than a decade later.

The Evolution of the Berlin Wall:

After having periodically shut of gas, heat, and electricity and established numerous complications to free travel, all under thinly-veiled excuses about "technical problems," Stalin finally cut off all Western access to West Berlin on June 24, 1947.

Plans to break the quarantine through direct military intervention were actually in the process of being developed by General Lucius Clay was on the verge of hostile military action in the form of military protection of an armed convoy to supply the city's 2.5 million inhabitants stranded by Soviet forces (Buckley, 2004).

Those plans were abandoned when British Commander Sir Brian Robertson suggested a different approach altogether. Under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945, the Allies retained three unrestricted air corridors into and out of Berlin, totaling approximately a 60-mile-wide area where Allied aircraft could conduct supply operations without interference from the Soviet Union (Paul & Spirit, 2002).

To the extent Stalin had placed NATO leaders in position of having to fold their cards or call his bluff, the Robertson plan essentially reversed the respective positions, forcing Stalin to allow non-military Western intervention or initiate an unprovoked military attack to repel those efforts (Vance, 1974). Under the command of General William Tunner, American aircraft flew over 125 million miles in 100, 000 missions, delivering 1,500 tons of food and supplies daily, during the entire 13-month period of the Soviet blockade of Berlin until they withdrew from the city in July of 1949 (USAF, 1998).

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union would continue its efforts to expand Communism wherever it could do so without the threat of direct military intervention by the West, eventually seizing proxy control of Hungary and Czechoslovakia before once again turning its attention to Berlin in 1961 in a way that would dictate much of geopolitics and the course of what would come to be known as the Cold War for nearly the next three decades.

Erection of the Berlin Wall:

Beginning in 1952, Stalin instructed the Soviet proxy government in what had become East Germany to reinforce, strengthen, and begin guarding the border with West Germany. Presumably, the Soviet excuse of the new restrictions was that they were in response to Western "agents" infiltrating East Germany (Buckley, 2004; Vance, 1974).

For the time, being, Stalin avoided imposing similar restrictions on the border within the capital city, which turned Berlin into the focal escape point for East German citizens seeking to escape the privations that characterized life under Soviet Communism (Sorensen, 1965). By then, East Germany had been named the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and West Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

After specific public denials of any intention of building a wall to partition Berlin on the part of Soviet leaders in June of 1961, GDR military police sealed off the border completely on August 13, 1961, initially installing barbed wire and posts manned 24- hours a day by armed guards. Those inside East Berlin were unable to leave and in many cases, extended families living on different sides of the border were stranded from each other completely.

During the initial period of physical separation and division of the city, hundreds of East Germans managed to escape through the porous fences, wires, and obstacles, because the nearly 125 miles of obstructions were difficult for GDR forces to monitor and control effectively. Approximately four-fifths of that length constituted the border separating East Berlin from the three Western-controlled sectors, with the remainder accounting for the actual border between East and West Berlin (Buckley, 2004; Vance, 1974). In very short order, GDR authorities bolstered the first version of the mostly-wire barrier with fences, metal, and concrete barriers.

By then, President John F. Kennedy led the American administration and Mr. Kennedy seized the opportunity to rally the world community against Soviet hostility to the West and defacto Communist expansion (Buckley, 2004) in one of his most memorable and historic speeches, delivered on June 26, 1963, in which the U.S. President proclaimed American solidarity with the plight of East Berliners and with all of those throughout the world who are subjected to forced Communist domination. "... There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass'sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin" (Sorensen, 1965).

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the wall was systematically improved, evolving from what started out as a few strands of barbed wire into a fortified, state-of-the-art nearly completely impervious barrier that eventually incorporated 12-foot-high high, 4-foot-wide cement walls, sophisticated electronic controls, flood lights, minefields, guard dogs, listening devices intended to detect digging, and automatically triggered machine guns. As the wall grew, escape attempts became more and more sophisticated, ranging from jumping from windows of buildings on the Eastern side, tunneling underneath, and even the video-taped flight of East German citizens by light aircraft (Buckley, 2004).

East German authorities eventually removed all the inhabitants of all buildings bordering the wall in East Berlin, sealing them up an incorporating parts of their structure as portions of the wall itself or simply blowing them up and dismantling them. Multiple layers were added to the East German side to provide a wide "no man's land" in between the inner and outer walls and approximately 200 German civilians lost their lives attempting to cross illegally into West Berlin in-between the erection of the wall in 1961 and its dismantling in 1989.

During the nearly three decades in the interim, approximately 5,000 civilians successfully escaped from East Berlin, including numerous East German border Guards, starting on August 15, 1961 only two days after it initial construction.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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