Analysis of Tony Judt’s Postwar
1. “Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War offered a prospect of utter misery and desolation”
In his book, Postwar, Tony Judt argues that immediately after the war. Europe offered bleak prospects for the future. Images coming out of the continent showed battered and helpless civilians crossing cities and fields that the war had destroyed in its course. Almost everyone was worn out and exhausted. The war had lasted six years and during its course, it affected all of Europe including civilians. One of the main reasons for the despair that swept across Europe was the fact that the war had affected the civilians more than anybody else. For the length of the war, foreign forces occupied different states in Europe and within those occupied nations, the troops ruled through a cycle of oppression and repression. Occupying armies subjected various countries to this treatment including France, Poland, Ukraine and Norway.
Another reason behind Europe’s desolation after the way was the amount of destruction that the war had caused. Most of the damage done to the continent came through indiscriminate bombing by both the Allies and the Axis Powers. Bombings targeted urban areas, industrial complexes and in some cases, the civilian population. Judt notes that only a few European cities survived this bombing and luckily, some of them were ancient centers with celebrated cultures and architectures. Cities such as Rome, Venice, Prague and Paris were left untouched by the bombing campaigns carried out by both sides. While the Nazis caused significant damage, most of the destruction from the aerial bombardment is attributed to the Allied campaign. An accelerated advance in the last two years of the war saw the Allied troops lay waste to many towns and centers in France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
Perhaps, the biggest cause for Europe’s desolation, however, was the lack of any prospects for a recovery in the future. The end of the Second World War was immediately followed by a series of disease epidemics, famines and sub-conflicts all over the continent. Damage done to the land, the farms and the industries made it impossible for the war torn nations to feed the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians seeking help. In Netherlands, flooding by the Germans had destroyed more than 200,000 hectares of land. A similarly destructive policy was applied in Yugoslavia where half of the country’s livestock was killed along with a sizable portion of its infrastructure. Overall, the peace brought with it almost as much suffering as the war, as Europe struggled to get back on its feet.
2. “This image will have to be nuanced if we are to understand how that same shattered continent was able to recover so rapidly in the years to come”
In his qualification, Judt argues that to understand how Europe was able to make the recovery from the war, it is necessary to lighten the image of the destruction that it had caused. Considering the damage of the war to Europe’s industry, infrastructure and civilian population, it is difficult to comprehend how the same continent was well on its way to recovery just two decades later. In 1945, the continent may have been in shambles but there was still some hope for recovery. There were systems in place to aid the recovery of the people and help reconstruct the continent.
One beacon of hope for Europe was the formation of the United Nations (UN) by the allied forces. After the war, the League of Nations came under a lot of criticism for being ineffective. The body had been unable to deal with Hitler’s aggression in the years leading up to the war and instead reacted passively by applying a policy of appeasement. This policy is attributed as one of the reasons why the war broke out. In reaction to this, the UN was formed to carry on the work of the League, but with much more power at its disposal. The fact that the United States helped to form the body and became an active participant in its proceedings showed that Europe was already making amends to the errors that it had committed earlier. The UN was used to carry out most of the rehabilitation of the continent and one of its first tasks was to deal with the repatriation and resettlement of refugees.
Efforts to bring the perpetrators of the war’s atrocities to justice were also indicative of a bright future for Europe. After the First World War, Germany and her allies were given punishments that only served to humiliate them and not to deter them from provoking other nations into acts of war. This later came to become a rallying call for Hitler to send his forces into France. The justice ensued after the Second World War mainly sought to seek retribution for the acts committed during the war. In some cases, there were revenge attacks carried out in brutal fashion and this only served to enhance Europe’s image as a desolate continent. However, the famous Nuremberg Trials presented some hope that there would be some real justice served following the end of the war.
3. The Marshall Plan
Right after the end of the war, the United States became actively involved in the rehabilitation of Europe. By 1947, the US government had issued loans and grants ranging between hundreds of millions and billions of dollars to the European nations. The largest recipients were England and France both receiving millions of dollars, while other nations received amounts ranging between 160 million dollars and half a million dollars. In June of 1947, the US Secretary of State George Marshall announced a plan to restructure the system used to issue the funds to the European countries and break with practices of the past. With his new system, the countries themselves would decide whether they needed the loans or not. However, American advisors would still play key roles in determining the usage of the funds. The second part of the plan help that the funds would be spread out over a decade meaning that it was not just a disaster relief fund but a program for the recovery and development of the European continent. Thirdly, the Marshall Plan was going to issue very large sums of money to the nations. The entire project ended up being the largest amount of overseas aid that the US had ever released as it totaled thirteen billion dollars.
Cold war politics
dogged the Marshall Plan right from the start. The Russian foreign minister
walked out on the second day of talks held to discuss the plan. There was
initial interest from several nations in Eastern Europe but by the end of the plan,
none of the communist countries had received any aid from the United States. The fact that the
plan was restricted to Western Europe alone
made it easier for the American government to pass it through congress. This
decision resulted in the economic divide between the West and the East that is
only beginning to be shortened. The Western European nations flourished under
the care of the American government while the East was plunged into an economic
Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York: Penguin Press, 2005. Print.