1939: The Balance Sheet: Paradoxes and Imponderables -- Part 6
The initial passions of the Cold War waned over the course of four and a half decades, as the attachment of Europeans to competing ideologies gradually diversified and weakened.
The end of the Soviet empire was more of a whimper than a bang.
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The healing process in Communist-dominated eastern Europe was slower and less complete than in western, free-market Europe, which was a factor in the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Eastern Europe evolved into a region of material comfort and physical security compared to other parts of the world.
In western Europe, there were disagreements about how far the welfare state should expand in trying to mitigate the destructive aspects of the free market and how much that market needed to be preserved to encourage economic dynamism.
There were major differences about how best to manage the economy in Communist-ruled states.
The economies of nearly all European nations were rebuilt.
Bombed-out cities were gradually restored.
Millions of acres were replanted.
It was the most improved period in European history.
The Europeans' power and sense of self changed over time.
Europe's world position before 1914 was taken over by the United States and the Soviet Union, but those two non- European or semi- European powers could themselves be considered remnants of European civilization.
Growing numbers of Europeans, especially those born after 1945, came to view their past in fundamentally different ways, as the shadow of the previous period of European history was dark and chilling.
The appearance of the phrase "mastering the past," as distinguished from the more familiar "learning the lessons of history," suggested the difference.
There was a tendency among some historians to see European history as uniquely tainting, building toward genocide and self-destruction.
The result of this painful self-examination was that Europe became one of the most tolerant areas of the world, as well as one of the most prosperous.
The openness of the intellectual climate in Europe's liberal-democratic states was impressive in comparison to previous periods, even though the tolerance and self-criticism of Europeans had definite limits.
Europe's nations became places of refuge for millions of nonEuropeans, fleeing dictatorships, ethnic or religious persecution, and, perhaps most of all, poverty.
The movement toward European unity touched on a range of issues, from rela tively concrete economic ones to more elusive ones of nationalist attachment, ethical values, and legal norms.
Europeans cultivated a loose sense of common identity in "Christendom" and then as part of the European concert of nations, with various kinds of economic and cultural ties.
The move toward greater unity, as well as the ensuing Cold War, was a result of the revulsion over the tragedies of 1914 to 1945 and the threat of Communism.
The expansion of the Soviet empire put a lid on eastern- European hypernationalism.
The effort to achieve economic integration was mostly a success, if hard-earned and tenuous at times.
A single dominant European identity, one that subordinated existing national identities to a larger European one, remained an ever-receding prospect, despite the fact that Nationalist antipathies in Europe did decline significantly.
The closest parallels have to do with unrealistic hopes dashed.
The oil embargo instituted by Arab nations following the war with Israel in 1973 caused the worst economic slump since the war, but also reflected other economic trends.
The nature of the Cold War changed in these years, as the soviets were allowed to step away from strict supervision by their leaders, and western- European democracies distanced themselves from the kind of leadership exercised by the United States.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw renewed tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, as both presidents Carter and Reagan pushed a more aggressive foreign policy, with a stress on the issue of human rights in the Soviet Union and on competing military budgets.
It is clear that the cracks in the structure of Communist rule in eastern Europe were getting worse.
The Communist rule of the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse when Gorbachev took over.
Gorbachev's toleration was extended to the point of no longer insisting on the role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as long as the leading role was recognized.
The collapse of European Communism and the beginning of a new era of history happened in the late 1980s.
The European New Order was barely established before it started to unraveling, and the Thousand Year Reich only lasted twelve years.
The American giant began to flex its muscles, supplying Britain and Russia with vital materials, while the Red Army continued its relentless drive.
The first landing of American troops was in north Africa in November 1942, followed by Sicily in July 1943, and then the major landing at Normandy in June 1944.
The final victory in Europe took place in May 1945.
At this point in time, anyone's guess was the future shape of Europe.
How to deal with the Nazis and those allied with them was uncertain.
The full extent of the atrocities committed during the war was still unknown, and the deeper meaning of those atrocities as yet not searchingly explored, and the efforts of the postwar tribunals at Nuremberg to achieve some sort of justice left.
After the end of the war, the shape of the postwar European world remained up in the air.
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The issue of the postwar settlement was problematic because the historical records of the Americans and British were inconsistent with the principles of the Atlantic Charter.
The Soviet Union's long standing and explicit rejection of those principles was a bigger problem.
There is less reliable evidence in regard to the affection and mutual admiration of the Big Three (as they were called) for one another, but more surprising was the fact that they were both anti-Communists.
Many in the Allied camp still believed in the guilt of the Germans.
That belief implied that collective punishment was justified.
Not all of the ardent Nazis in the German population were guilty of criminal actions.
Millions of others claimed to have silently rejected Nazi actions, but they had done little or nothing to oppose them.