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11-08-2015, 19:33

Europe

Europe was especially weakened by the war. Several frontrank powers of 1939 had slipped to second rank by 1945, not only countries which had lost the war but also some that had won. Italy, which had changed camps early enough to avoid disaster, emerged in generally passable form, with the loss of a few small parts of Istria and some French Alps, which did not seriously damage her territorial integrity. But the war revealed serious flaws in her economic structure. Democracy was restored too quickly and some fascist elements survived. It was only the common opposition to fascism which had united the various factions of the resistance movement. Initially the Italians relied on aid from the British and Americans to set their economy going and to distribute food to the populations. In Germany, catastrophe was absolute. By 1945, there was nothing left. Rarely had such exuberant expansion been succeeded so rapidly by such overwhelming defeat. Industrial equipment, railways and roads were wrecked. The Russians set the seal on the destruction by carrying off what functional machines remained. The state had been wiped out; Germany had ceased to exist. Only the Germans remained, demoralized by their losses, by the absence of 3 million prisoners of war, by the infamy of the Nazi crimes, by their implacable conquerers who were eager for revenge. The exodus from the east overcrowded the west. In the British zone population density rose to 246 per square kilometer. Moral standards lapsed. There was threat of famine. Unemployment was nearly universal. On the other hand, the disappearance of the class of great landowners and Prussian officers transformed society. The mines were intact and some sectors of industry were not as severely disabled as others. But bankruptcy could not end and recovery could not begin without the Allies' consent. Only the Americans showed concern. In the meanwhile, a great vacuum had formed in central Europe. France could not fill it, although she was one of the conquerors. She had reorientated herself with impressive speed. The resistance fostered a new spirit which united popular opinion briefly behind the noble figure of General de Gaulle. With moderate state control, France turned over a new economic leal. but she had to struggle with some serious shortages and she was harassed by inflation. General de Gaulle's foreign policy was ambitious. He wanted to turn the Rhineland into a French dependency. He tried to form an alliance with Soviet Russia in order to counterbalance British and American domination, but the Three Great Powers did not regard France as an equal. Her reconstruction was financed by American aid. Great Britain's position was similar. History teaches disappointing lessons. Britain, which had held out against Germany without losing heart in the most discouraging days of the war and to which the free world owed a huge debt, was reduced to a state of near-servitude. The Royal Navy had been surpassed by the American Navy, Britain had lost 6 million tons of merchant shipping between 1939 and 1945, and her merchant fleet was now barely a third the size of America's. London's financial markets were no longer the most important in the world. Huge investments had been lost in South America, and large sums were owed to the Dominions. The bills incurred under Lend- Lease were cancelled, but Britain wras still forced to negotiate a loan from the United States repayable over fifty years. Workers clamoured for social reforms. They had contributed to the war effort without complaining and the Labour Government could no longer put them off. The effort to maintain full employment, to nationalize key industries and to carry out the Beveridge Plan could not be reconciled writh a prestigious role in world affairs. The Empire began to dissolve, and the Labour Party were not reluctant to be rid of it.

 

 

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