John F. Kennedy …208
Nikita Khrushchev …217
John F. Kennedy …224
B y 1947, the Cold War (1945–91) clearly was the most threatening issue dominating international affairs. The Cold War was not fought on battlefields with large armies. Instead, it evolved into a battle of ideologies, or social and political ideas, between the communist Soviet Union and the democratic, capitalistic Western nations led by the United States. Communism is a system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls almost all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. At the epicenter of the Cold War were Germany and its capital city, Berlin.
World War II (1939–45) had come to an end in Europe on May 7, 1945, when Germany surrendered to the Allies in Reims, France. The Big Four allies were the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Immediately, Germany was divided into four zones. Each zone was occupied by troops from one of the Big Four powers. The American, British, and French zones, under democratic influence, were soon collectively known as West Germany. The Soviet zone, under communist influence, was known as East Germany.
Berlin was located 110 miles (177 kilometers) deep within the Soviet zone. Nevertheless, Berlin was also divided into four sectors. The U.S., British, and French sectors became known as West Berlin. The Soviet sector was known as East Berlin. The three Western powers expected the Soviets to grant free access to West Berlin through road, rail, water, and air routes from West Germany across and over East Germany into West Berlin.
An actual peace treaty between the four powers concerning the future of Germany did not materialize despite extensive negotiations. The biggest dispute was reunification of Germany. Because of the damage Germany did to the Soviet Union in World War II, the Soviets were bitterly opposed to a reunified Germany, which they assumed would again pose a threat to the Soviet Union. The United States and Britain both agreed that a reunited, rebuilt Germany would hopefully stand in the way of further westward spread of communism. France detested the idea of a strong reunited Germany but nevertheless sided with the United States and Britain.
Relations between the Western powers and the Soviets continued to worsen, and no settlement could be reached. In response, the Soviets began to harass those using transportation routes into West Berlin. Democratic West Berlin, deep in Soviet-controlled East Germany, was a very sore thorn in the Soviets' side. The harassment soon escalated into a full blockade in June 1948 of all land and water routes into West Berlin, effectively blocking it from receiving supplies from West Germany. However, the United States, Britain, and to a lesser extent France organized an airlift of supplies into the stranded portion of the city. The airlift was an amazing success: By the spring of 1949, 8,000 tons (about 7,250 metric tons) of vital supplies arrived each day at West Berlin airports. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets halted the blockade and reopened highway, train, and water routes through East Germany into Berlin. Relations between the Western powers and the Soviets, however, remained frigid.
Through the 1950s, West Germany's economy regrouped and flourished. East Germany made progress but lagged far behind the West. More and more East Germans
finished their education in East Germany but then left for jobs in the free and capitalist West Germany. It is estimated that roughly three million East Germans left for the West during the 1950s. Those leaving were skilled industrial craftsmen, farmers, scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers. This was a brain and labor drain that struggling East Germany could not afford.
The refugees' escape route was through Berlin. Soon after taking power, East German leader Walter Ulbricht (1893–1973) had closed the entire 900-mile (1,448-kilometer) border between East and West Germany, making travel between the two impossible. But the four sectors in Berlin remained wide open, with many East Berliners making the daily commute to West Berlin for work and shopping. East Germans wishing to leave for the West simply made their way to East Berlin. Some, over a few weeks or months, discreetly took a few belongings at a time into West Berlin. When ready, East Germans then simply registered at a refugee assembly camp in the Western sector. Most were sent on into West Germany, where jobs were plentiful.
The migration from east to west was devastating to the East German economy. Ulbricht complained loud and long to the Soviets and demanded that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) do something to stop the population loss. Ulbricht demanded the Soviet army be used to invade West Berlin, rid it of Western influence, and unite Berlin under his control. This would close the last route out and stop the population drain. However, Khrushchev knew the Western powers had drawn a "line in the sand" at Berlin as evidenced by the Berlin airlift of 1948 and 1949. Nevertheless, he reinitiated a crisis state in Berlin in November 1958 by demanding that the United States proceed with work on a German peace treaty. If they did not, Khrushchev would deal directly with East Germany and turn over to the East Germans control over all transportation routes into West Berlin. The United States rejected Khrushchev's demands.
The first excerpt is the "Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, July 25, 1961," from U.S. president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63). Kennedy had just returned from his first and only meeting with Khrushchev and reported on the grave Berlin situation. The second excerpt, "Khrushchev's Secret Speech on the Berlin Crisis, August 1961," is the Soviet leader's reaction to Kennedy's speech on July 25 (the first excerpt). Khrushchev spoke to a small group of top leaders of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and to leaders of the Socialist (Communist) parties in Eastern European countries, including Walter Ulbricht of East Germany.
By August 13, 1961, the infamous Berlin Wall would be in place dividing East Berlin from West Berlin. The wall remained until November 1989. In June 1963, President Kennedy traveled to a divided Berlin and delivered his stirring speech, commonly known as the "I am a Berliner" speech. The third excerpt is from this speech. He addressed this speech to thousands of West Berliners gathered at Rudolph Wild Platz, West Berlin, on June 26, 1963.