On This Day in 1949, the Soviet Union lifted it’s blockade of Berlin, a minor act of conciliation in the increasingly tense Cold War environment.
Quickly after the fall of the Third Reich and the defeat of Imperial Japan, the Cold War developed between the Western Allies of Britain and America, who’s capitalist economic systems and individualistic philosophies put them at odds with the Soviet Union, who posed a threat to the political and economic interests of the West with their expansionist Communist ideology. The result of this was that as soon as their common enemy was defeated, the two sides focused their energies against one another in order to establish a global hegemony in their image.
The United States led the rest of the West in a policy of ‘containment’, based on the principle that if Communism could not be defeated, it would be contained within the Soviet’s borders. This inspired the division of Germany into separate sections, with the Western Allies – originally composed of Britain and the US but integrating France from 1946 – taking up West Germany and the East going under Soviet control, with German territories being ceded to the Soviet’s and their puppet Polish government.
Stalin is alleged to have encouraged the undermining of the Western sectors to encourage a unified Germany under Communist control, but given his stripping of the Eastern provinces of much of their wealth and resources, he clearly had only a limited level of expectation of success for this plan, if it even existed at all.
The Western Allies were trying to entrench their system of government and economy on the Germans, giving massive loans through the Marshall Plan to try and stabilise the nation and prevent it from being the site of a Communist revolution. Moreover, a new currency – the Deutschmark – is introduced on June 18th by the interim West German government and Erhard the finance minister. Stalin is less than impressed with what he views as American neo-economic imperialism spreading it’s tentacles into Europe and responds to the American expansionism by blocking off the capital city of Germany, Berlin, which is in the East, firmly inside of Soviet territory, within a day.
Historians have questioned how interested America was in staying in Germany beyond getting it fundamentally working again, however this act of Soviet aggression was met with a renewed impetus for America to ‘protect’ it’s German ally among leading American politicians. As such, an airlift was organised on June 24th to undermine the road and naval blockade that Stalin had put in place to deliver the food and medical supplies much needed amongst the Berlin population.
Stalin was more than aware that to fire upon a Western plane would be the spark for the Third World War and was therefore powerless to stop the Allies from dropping aid to the Berlin people.
Not only did this process undermine Stalin’s leadership and power, it helped to contain Communism and was the death knell in any potential reunification process for almost 50 years. The division of Germany along polarised lines would have a massive influence on world politics for decades to come and was unequivocally entrenched by the Berlin Blockade and Airlift.
One minute after midnight on 12 May 1949, the blockade was lifted, but the damage was done. East/West relations were permanently damaged and the division of Germany was guaranteed.