The United States and the Soviet Union are two systems with opposing ideologies-CAPITALISM VS.COMMUNISM which generated major conflict in the past. This conflict, popularized by American journalist Lippman in 1947 as the ‘Cold War’, has been characterized by tension and the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the US and the Soviet Union, remaining in a constant non-violent state of hostility. While the US trusts in individual competition& private ownership, the Communist Soviet Union supports a non-competitive system of fair share.
The erection of the Berlin Wall has been stimulated by the ‘Cold War’. Isaacs interprets that ‘The Wall came to symbolize Europe’s division, at the heart of the Cold War’.1Nevertheless, to elucidate why the Berlin Wall was ‘erected’ on the 13th August,1961, one must consider the split-up of Post-World-War-II Germany into zones of the American, the British and French forces, occupying West Germany& West Berlin as well as of the Soviet Union, occupying East Germany& East Berlin. While West Germany& West Berlin become under the sphere of Western influence, the Soviet Union exerts its Communist influence in East Germany & East Berlin- with pronounced effects.
The exodus of 2.8 Million East Germans to West Germany from 1949-1961 raised major concerns for the GDR (German Democratic Republic) as ‘…it was depriving the GDR of precisely the people it needed to compete with the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany)’2. Among many refugees were young industrial workers, doctors, intellectuals and other professionals who according to Major abandoned the East particularly ‘…for economic reasons, seeking a higher standard of living in the West’.3 This exodus of young and skilled caused panic in the East as Downing describes it was not only ‘…a humiliating sign of the failure of the socialist utopia’4but ‘…created a serious labor shortage5’ in the first place. It is thought that ‘The presence in Berlin of an open, uncontrolled border between the socialist and capitalist worlds prompts the population to make a comparison between both parts of the city6’ which does not turn out in favor to Soviet-occupied East Germany& East Berlin. As First Secretary of the Communist Party, Khrushchev who supported the GDR, felt committed to establishing an East German Communist state and hence was determined to put an end to this exodus of East Germans. He implied this determination in a public speech on the 10th November, 1958, to present the specific demands that (1) Western Powers& the Soviet Union should sign a four-power peace treaty, acknowledging East German sovereignty and that (2) Berlin should become a ‘free city’ therein. Historian Gaddis argues that ‘…Khrushchev had resisted this option because he hoped by means of his ‘free city’ proposal- to detach West Berlin from West Germany- not to isolate it from East Germany’.7 At the heart of thisproposal was to free Berlin from the Western occupation powers but to place it under complete Soviet control. Two weeks later, he radicalized his demands in expounding to the West a six-month ultimatum in which he put forward that he’d sign a separate peace treaty with the GDR under the leader Ulbricht, placing all of Berlin under East German sovereignty and even threatened with war if there would be no agreement in relation to these demands. US-President Eisenhower remained reluctant to this, as it was crucial to him that ‘…the American people would never allow anyone to grab the city unilaterally. Two million people lived there; Washington was obliged to protect their security’.8 His failure to convince the US of these demands demonstrated to him that his was no more a viable policy. Even at the Vienna summit in June 1960, held between John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev the Berlin question could not be resolved since Kennedy stressed to Khrushchev the US’ unwillingness to compromise on a withdrawal from Berlin. Khrushchev conclusively considered another alternative-the erection of a wall on the 13th August, 1961 whereby the border between East and West Berlin was sealed off with a barrier of barbed wire, light fencing to become a series of walls, fortified fences and gun positions. The Berlin Wall allowed the Soviets to end the exodus of East Germans to the West. Khrushchev’s determination to get rid of Western influence in Berlin, also acted as a catalyst in the erection of the Berlin Wall. Without a doubt, he was absorbed by the vision ‘…that communism would prevail over capitalism’9 and to implement this, he considered the radical solution of a wall, separating his sphere of Communist influence East Berlin from Capitalist West Berlin if he couldn’t seize the whole of Berlin without risking military confrontation with the US. Although, the Berlin Wall might have been viewed as a radical solution internationally, there’s no denying the fact that it marked a significant moment in the ‘Cold War’, creating a stalemate to avoid the possibility of a confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union, escalating in a potential nuclear war. Thus, Kennedy acknowledged that ‘It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war’10, likewise,Khrushchev who insisted that they ‘…didn’t want a military conflict…only wanted to conduct a surgical operation.’11 To both, the Berlin Wall consequently prevented the outbreak of a military confrontation over Berlin.
1 Jeremy Isaacs& Taylor Downing, Cold War, Transworld Publishers Ltd., UK, 1998, p.164