Pleven Plan.

You can think of the early Cold War as having had layers.[1] Between 1945 and 1947 the Soviets had it pretty much the way they wanted. The Red Army occupied Eastern and much of Central Europe. Chase away or kill the supporters of democracy in Eastern Europe. Stage a bunch of elections. (Run by guys waving pistols saying “Who is against? Raise your hands.”) The Western European countries were in ruins and bankrupt. The Americans cut off Lend-Lease aid as soon as Japan surrendered and they wanted to bring their troops home as soon as possible. The Communist Parties of France, Belgium, and Italy were under Soviet control, so most of the labor unions were under Soviet control as well.[2] Wait for the Americans to leave, use the unions to wreck the economy and the Communist parties to paralyze government, and march in.

From 1947 to 1950, the Americans changed their minds. You can imagine Henry Fonda going “Hey, wait a minute.” With a combination of money, technology, know-how, a basic decency that we used to possess, and that casual ruthlessness Americans adopt when they belatedly decide that they don’t like you, the US slapped the Russkies silly.[3] The Marshall Plan, the CIA, NATO, the Berlin Air Lift all followed.

Then, in June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Apparently, the Cold War wasn’t just about politics and economics in Western Europe. It also was about being willing to die at a freezing dawn on some ridge in a wide spot in Asia. If it happened in a divided country in Asia, then it might happen in some divided country in Europe—like Germany. The Americans demanded that the Western Europeans prepare to fight the Russkies. If you wanted people who knew about killing Russkies, the natural place to look was Germany.[4] So, re-arm the Germans.

The French (and Italians and British and everyone else) went buggy over this idea. After the Blitz, after Oradour, after the Ardeatine Caves, the last thing any European wanted was the same Germans with new guns.

So, cut to another feature of post-war Western European history: “integration.” By 1947, uniting the nations of Europe “at the peak” hadn’t worked out, so an engaging schemer named Jean Monnet had proposed uniting “at the base.” In 1948 he got the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, to pitch the idea of a European Coal and Steel Community. Every member country would pool its resources and an international authority would apportion them.

How about trying the same thing with the scary prospect of German soldiers? The Germans put in the soldiers, while the British, French, and whoever put in the officers. Jean Monnet got the French defense minister Rene Pleven to pitch this idea in late 1950. They called it the “European Defense Community.” No one liked it except the Americans. However, they were the ones with the money, so…

Years of negotiations followed. French resistance proved most important.[5] In August 1954 the French rejected the EDC. People said “It’s the end of the ‘European’ project.” Right.

[1] Rather like yon Shrek beastie.

[2] Sorry if this offends any progressive-thinking people. It’s just another “inconvenient truth.” Like androgenic climate change for Republicans. See: Franz Borkenau, The Communist International (1938); Stephane Courtois, ed., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (1999). Just for a hoot, see Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims (1981). While you’re at it, see Ronald Radosh, with Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File (1983).

[3] There were probably old guys up at Standing Rock wondering what a Russian reservation was going to look like. Maggots in the flour, watering the cattle before weighing them, ministers with Bibles and “boarding schools.”

[4] Of course, Germans also knew a lot about being killed by Russkies, so they weren’t enthusiastic about this idea.

[5] In 1954, the CIA thought about bribing a majority of French parliamentarians to win passage of this EDC, but concluded that French politicians are like beer: you don’t buy it, you just rent it.

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