June 13, 2008


Cold War myths (Paul Steege, June 13, 2008, IHT)

On June 24, 1948, the Soviets halted rail and road traffic from the three Western zones to Berlin. Because each occupying power was obligated to provide the food and fuel for the inhabitants of its sector, most historical accounts assume that this step completely cut West Berliners' supply lines, leaving them dependent on airlifted supplies.

But West Berliners did not just tighten their belts and wait for a delivery of dried potatoes or stand at the end of the runways at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in an effort to catch the chocolate bars imaginative airlift pilots dropped by handkerchief parachute.

They embarked on foraging trips into the surrounding Soviet zone, made under-the-table arrangements with shopkeepers and bartered and traded on the streets and squares of Berlin. Berliners had practiced these black market strategies since war's end and were used to depending on them for their survival.

These ordinary if technically illicit practices continued in 1948-1949 and made for a steady if occasionally hazardous flow of goods through the Soviet blockade. More than a month into the blockade, one German Communist begged Soviet officials to do something about the vegetables streaming into the Western sectors, which were available in greater quantity and at lower prices than in the Soviet half of Berlin.

Even after the blockade had been tightened in October 1948, it remained rather porous. In mid-November U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall received an intelligence report entitled, "Is Berlin blockaded?" The answer provided by the report and supported by evidence from East German archives: Only partially.

...is that our craven failure to seize upon this handy pretext for regime-changing Moscow was a moral victory for the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2008 12:00 PM
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