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The Advent of Neo-Revisionism

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The Advent of Neo Revisionism G nter Bischof At a signal moment in the process of European unification when ten new countries most of them from Central and Eastern Europe have joined the European Union EU it is a propitious moment to look back and ask when and how the unfortunate division of the European continent came about As Poles Czechs Slovaks Slovenes Hungarians and the peoples of the Baltic states are entering EU Europe their decades of suffering under the iron boot of Communism and painful loss of sovereignty under Soviet Communism seem remote yet full of traumatic memories In such moments it behooves historians to take a look back and revisit the tragic months and years of the early Cold War when the Iron Curtain came down and divided Europe between East and West Michael Cox and Caroline Kennedy Pipe reassess the origins and impact of the Marshall Plan in JuneJuly 1947 and conclude that the United States and to a lesser degree Great Britain and France were responsible for the division of the continent They posit as their key thesis that it was American policies as much as and perhaps more than Soviet actions that finally led to the division of Europe In their view U S officials conceived of the European Recovery Program ERP as a tool to exclude the Soviet Union from European reconstruction and to push Moscow toward a breakdown in Cold War relations thus forsaking all chances for continued cooperation The momentous decisions of late June and early July 1947 according to Cox and Kennedy Pipe led to the exclusion of the East European states under Soviet tutelage from European reconstruction and thus drove them into the Soviet camp for good They maintain that Josif Stalin did not want a division of Europe because he knew that in economic terms the Soviet Union could not win an extended and costly standoff with the West Cox and Kennedy Pipe claim that the antagonistic bloc system as it developed in 1948 and beyond was theresult of Western not Soviet intransigence during the initial rounds ofnegotiations concerning the Marshall Plan The USSR s turn toward the Cold War they argue followed rather than preceded the breakdown of negotiations in July 1947 emphasis in original When the United States and its principal European allies made an effort to pull the East Europeans away End Page 141 from the USSR with the U S aid offer they should have understood that this would aggravate Soviet security concerns and thus make the situation worse When Stalin recognized that Washington was seeking to roll back Communism he would have nothing of it A more flexible and accommodating Western approach during the crucial Paris conference according to Cox and Kennedy Pipe might have forestalled the division of Europe into two hostile blocs 1 What are we to make of this new revisionist attempt to place the blame for the post World War II division of Europe squarely on the Americans and their chief allies Great Britain and France From my perspective as a historian of the Cold War in Central Europe Cox s and Kennedy Pipe s arguments are less than persuasive First they entirely ignore the German question Second they do not present any new evidence from Soviet archives indicating that Stalin was willing to cooperate with the West Third they ignore disagreements among U S policy elites over European reconstruction and the German question and the complex framework of decision making in Washington Fourth from the perspective of Cold War historiography their article does not advance our understanding of the genesis of the Cold War division of Europe Instead it seems like a throwback to the arch revisionism of the 1960s and early 1970s Let me deal with each of these issues in turn The German Question The struggle over the future of Germany and its role in European reconstruction was the key issue fueling and defining the East West antagonism on the continent as Marc Trachtenberg has recently reminded us 2 A German settlement held the key to a lasting security regime in Europe In July 1945 the Allied agreement at Potsdam was designed to deliver German economic unity But economic unity was undermined by a system of reparations swaps between the zones as the British reparations expert David Waley warned at Potsdam I f a line is drawn across the middle of Europe so that there is a frontier with Russia on one side and the Western Powers on the other this hasimportance far transcending reparations 3 In other words long before End Page 142 the Marshall Plan was conceived the reparations line drawn at Potsdam was already a first step toward the future partition of Germany with vast implications for Europe By 1947 the Potsdam agreement had outlived its usefulness for the Western occupation powers in Germany As early as May 1946 General Lucius D Clay the American deputy military governor for Germany had stopped reparations deliveries to the Soviet zone The acrimonious negotiations in the Council of Foreign Ministers CFM deliberations in Paris frustrated Western representatives In September 1946 amid growing East West tensions and a lack of progress under the strict zonal regime in Germany U S Secretary of State James F Byrnes announced the merging of the American and British zones in his famous Stuttgart speech Most historians now agree that this decision perhaps more than any other precipitated the future partition of Germany 4 The goal was to ease the burden of making the Western zones economically viable In January 1947 the American and British zones began to operate as Bizonia which turned out to be a further step toward partition The Anglo American Bizone was supposed to assist materially in reviving industry and foreign trade in both zones 5 A Joint Export Import Agency was set up to help overcome obstacles of foreign trade Over the next two years more andmore responsibility was turned over to the West Germans During the interminable seven week CFM talks in Moscow in March and April 1947 noagreement was reached on German reparations levels of industry and the future of the Ruhr area Germany s industrial heartland Deadlock at the Moscow CFM meeting combined with President Harry S Truman s enunciation of his containment doctrine was the crucial turning point for American policy toward Germany and Europe The new U S secretary of state George C Marshall returned from Moscow highly frustrated with Soviet obstructionism on the German and Austrian questions just as Byrnes had been at the Paris meetings a few months


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