Chapter 31 Western Society and Eastern Europe in the Decades of the Cold War

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Western Society and Eastern Europe in the Decades of the Cold War

Chapter Outline Summary

I. After World War II: A New International Setting for the West

A. Europe and Its Colonies

Most colonies abandoned


force necessary

force eschewed


French forced out, 1954


independence, 1962


Attacked by Britain, France

U.S., Russia forced them to withdraw
B. The Cold War
Eastern bloc formed

Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany

Marshall Plan, 1947


Allies rebuilt, from 1946

Russian blockade, 1947

American airlift

split, 1948

NATO, 1949

Warsaw Pact

II. The Resurgence of Western Europe

A. The Spread of Liberal Democracy

Christian Democrats

social reform

Federal Republic of Germany


Fifth Republic, 1958

Portugal, Spain

democratic, parliamentary systems

B. The Welfare State

Western Europe

United States, Canada later

unemployment insurance



family assistance

C. New Challenges to Political Stability
Civil rights movement

Feminism, environmentalism

Green Movement
D. The Diplomatic Context
European Economic Community, 1958

Common Market

Single currency, 2001


European Community, 2002

E. Economic Expansion

Economic growth

High unemployment elsewhere

workers into Europe, U.S.

III. Cold War Allies: The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand

A. The Former Dominions


welfare policies

French/English division

1982, new constitution

Australia, New Zealand

defense pact with U.S., 1951

take part in Korean War
Australia supports U.S. in Vietnam

from 1970s, more independent

B. The “U.S. Century”?


policy of containment against Soviet Union

Vietnam, 1960s

U.S. withdraws, 1975

IV. Culture and Society in the West

A. Social Structure

White-collar sector expanded

Crime rates increased

Racism, anti-immigration conflict

B. The Women’s Revolution


more education

job opportunities

access to divorce

reproductive rights

Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex, 1949

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

C. Western Culture
“Brain drain” to U.S.

Genetics, nuclear, space research

Pop art

Pablo Picasso

D. A Lively Popular Culture

Vitality in popular culture

V. Eastern Europe After World War II: A Soviet Empire

A. The Soviet Union as Superpower

Expands in Pacific

Pacific Islands, North Korea

Influence via aid

Chinese, Vietnamese communism

Nationalists in Africa, Middle East, Asia


Alliance with Soviet Union

B. The New Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe

Dominance of all but Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia

East Germans protest, 1953


Berlin Wall, 1961

to stop flight to West

After 1956, death of Stalin

Hungary, Poland

moderate regimes

Hungary crushed


liberal regime

suppressed, 1968


Army took control, 1970s

C. Evolution of Domestic Policies
Cultural isolation

V. Soviet Culture: Promoting New Beliefs and Institutions
Orthodox Church

state control

Jews restricted

Party ideals dictate art

literature retains vitality

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A. Economy and Society
Industrialization by 1950s

state control

Khrushchev, 1956

attacks Stalinism

followed by stagnation

Space, arms race

Rift with China, 1950s

Invasion of Afghanistan

Chapter Summary

World Opinion. The United States testing of nuclear weapons in 1954 resulted in the death of a Japanese fisherman, and aroused outrage around the world. The protest came from national leaders and from ordinary citizens, including many women. The great powers reluctantly bowed to “world opinion” and a test ban treaty was signed in 1963. The Soviet Union, in spite of the devastation of World War II, emerged quickly after as a world power. The United States reversed its earlier isolationist stance, increasing its military budget and its world presence. While the cold war was a dominant issue after the Second World War, other developments also had long-lasting consequences. Democratic development in the West and economic development in eastern Europe continued at the same time.
Chapter Summary. Western and eastern Europe in 1945 had to face a damaged economy and social disorganization, and weakened empires. The United States and the Soviet Union became superpowers; western Europe did not recover its past dominance. The cold war shaped, but did not monopolize, developments during the postwar years. The West experienced significant economic, social, and political achievements. The Soviet Union moved from Stalinism to more closely resemble the West.
After World War II: A New International Setting for the West. Western European physical and economic structures were in ruins after the war. Millions of displaced peoples were refugees. Colonial societies took advantage of the weakness of their rulers.

Europe and Its Colonies. Europeans encountered a hostile reception when they attempted to restore colonial administrations. When it became clear that many colonies could only be held by force, the general opinion was that the cost was not worth it. There were a few exceptions. France tried to hold on in Vietnam until forced out in 1954. It also fought in settler-dominated Algeria until recognizing its independence in 1962. Most colonies had a more peaceful evolution. After independence, Western nations retained important cultural, military, and economic ties with their former subjects. The decolonization did have a brief internal effect in Europe as embittered settlers and officials returned home. When the United States and Russia forced an end to an attack by Britain and France on Egypt in 1956, it was apparent that Europe’s overt power in the world had been dramatically reduced.

The Cold War. By 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union were in worldwide competition. The Soviet Union regained lands lost in World War I and created an eastern bloc by installing Communist governments in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and East Germany. The United States responded by supporting regimes under Soviet pressure; in 1947 it proclaimed the Marshall Plan to rebuild western Europe. Germany emerged as the focal point of the cold war. The Allies cooperated to begin rebuilding a unified West Germany in 1946. The Soviets retaliated by blockading Berlin in 1947; a massive American airlift kept the city supplied. The crisis ended in 1948 with two Germanys divided by a fortified border. The cold war divisions led to two military alliances: NATO was formed in 1949 under American leadership; the Soviets responded by the Warsaw Pact. Western Europe became subject to United States pressures for German rearmament, higher military expenditures, and the presence of American forces. Europeans at times protested, but they recognized the need for American economic and military assistance. The Soviets helped their decision by supporting internal Communist movements. Britain and France eventually developed nuclear capabilities, but their resources did not allow them to match the might of the United States and the Soviets. The United States devoted increasing resources to military ends and influences while the protected Europeans boosted civilian goals. With Europe stabilized, cold war tensions turned to the global arena. After 1958, France sought more independence and left NATO, while Germany in the 1970s opened new negotiations with the Soviet bloc. The United States had become a major peacetime military power and devoted increasing resources to maintaining military capacity. The U.S. effort left Europeans able to stress civilian values.

The Resurgence of Western Europe. New leaders emerged who worked to avoid the mistakes of the past. After 1945, their nations moved forward on three fronts: extension of democratic political forms; modification of inter-European rivalries; and a commitment to economic growth.

The Spread of Liberal Democracy. Movements opposing parliamentary democracy were discredited during World War II. Communist and other leftist groups were committed to democratic politics. Important new movements emerged, especially a Christian Democratic approach for moderate social reform. New governments developed in Germany, Italy, and France. The American, British, and French occupiers of Germany merged their territories into the Federal Republic of Germany under a constitution outlawing extremist movements. Other nations opted for liberal constitutions. France, battling the problems caused by the Algerian War, created a democratic Fifth Republic in 1958 with a stronger presidency. During the 1970s Portugal and Spain also moved to democratic, parliamentary systems. Greece followed a similar pattern. By the 1980s, western Europe was more politically uniform than ever before.

The Welfare State. The movement to democratic forms of government was accompanied by the development of a welfare state. Resistance ideas, the importance of the political left, and wartime planning patterns all prepared the way for moves to end social and economic inequalities. By 1948 the basic nature of the welfare state had been established in western Europe; the United States and Canada later moved in the same direction. Welfare state measures included unemployment insurance, state-funded medicine and housing, and family assistance. The system won wide support since benefits went to all social classes. The private sector remained functioning and the welfare state did not bring about social revolution. The poor, although protected, were still there. Most individuals accepted the changes and debate centered on modifications within the system. Since the welfare state was expensive, it consumed large amounts of tax revenues and required larger bureaucracies. The state role increased greatly from the late 1940s and most governments played a larger economic and regulatory role, although they did not directly control economic activity.

New Challenges to Political Stability. The calm was jolted by student protests in many countries during the late 1960s. In the United States, a strong civil rights movement sought equal treatment for African Americans. Most of the agitation was contained by repression or reform by the 1970s, although new issues—feminism, environmentalism—became important. The appearance of the Green movement in several countries introduced a new theme of hostility to unchecked commercial expansion. As economic growth slowed, conservative politicians emerged to boost private enterprise and reduce the impact of the welfare state. Despite the change, the principal lines of postwar government endured.

The Diplomatic Context. European and American leaders worked to curtail the recurrent strident nationalistic rivalries within Europe. The Christian Democratic movement was an important force. The Marshall Plan for economic recovery and German participation in NATO established a new framework. French statesmen pushed Franco-German cooperation and other countries joined the movement. In 1958, six nations created the European Economic Community (the Common Market) as a first step in establishing one economic entity encompassing individual countries. Important national disputes slowed the organization’s growth, but by the 1980s, arrangements had been concluded to dismantle trade and currency barriers among states. Many members accepted a single currency, the euro, in 2001. By 2002, most western Europe nations were members of the renamed European Community; central and eastern nations were ready for inclusion. Europeans lived in a society with fewer nationalist tensions than ever before in modern history.

Economic Expansion. Striking economic growth typified the postwar period. Agricultural productivity increased, supplying European needs with ease. Industries flourished and provided consumer goods for a demanding population. Gross national product growth surpassed that of any period since the Industrial Revolution began. The progress depended upon rapid technological change. Both in agriculture and industry, worker numbers declined as productivity increased, with the decline being offset by growth in service industries and state bureaucracies. High employment rates caused workers from southern Europe, and then other parts of the world, to flow into western Europe. The same pattern occurred in the United States. Economic growth and low unemployment meant massive income improvement. The increases in purchases of durable consumer goods made Western civilization an affluent society. Some European countries equaled or surpassed American standards. There were problems within this prosperity, among them recurrent inflation and poor conditions for Asian and African immigrant workers. During the 1990s, slower growth brought increasing inequality, but the West’s economic vitality continued.

Thinking Historically: The United States and Western Europe: Convergence and Complexity. For two centuries, the relationship between western Europe and the United States has been important analytically and historically. Both sides emphasize special relationships while maintaining their separate identities. Although important differences persist, there has been much convergence since 1945 through mutual borrowing.

Cold War Allies: The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Although the overseas Western world had suffered less from the crises of the century, it developed similarly to western Europe. An important change occurred in foreign policy. The United States became an active world power. The dominions moved closer to the United States and made new contacts with other world areas.

The Former Dominions. Canada introduced important welfare policies and continued economic integration with the United States. Canadian nationalism at times led to friction, but in 1988 the two nations created a North American trading bloc. French Canadians continued agitation for autonomy or independence. A new constitution of 1982 quieted strife, although separatist tensions persist. Australia and New Zealand turned away from Britain to Pacific nations. They concluded a mutual defense pact with the United States in 1951 and participated in the Korean War; Australia supported the United States in Vietnam. From the 1970s, both developed more independent policies. Exports increasingly went to Pacific nations; investment capital came from Japan and the United States. Asian immigration altered the population mix.

The “U.S. Century”? The major change in U.S. history was its transformation into a superpower defending capitalistic and democratic values. The threat from the Soviet Union checked impulses of withdrawal. Worries over communist conspiracies increased internal tensions. The military complex increased its power and greatly expanded its spending. A massive airlift blocked Soviet pressure on West Berlin and led the United Nations into the Korean War. In the 1950s, a policy of containment was followed against the Soviet Union. Intervention occurred in Central America against suspected communist regimes. During the 1960s, the United States entered Vietnam, carrying on a major military involvement before admitting defeat and withdrawing by 1975. Despite doubts over the continuing U.S. world role, no real policy change followed. Under Ronald Reagan in 1980, pressure against U.S. opponents revived and influenced the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States remained the only superpower.

Culture and Society in the West. Economic and political changes altered the pattern of previous industrial development. Many of the differences between Western societies, including the United States, disappeared. By the 1950s, the West became the first example of an advanced industrial society.

Social Structure. Economic growth eased social conflicts, while social mobility blurred social lines throughout the West. Educational opportunities opened new paths as the size of the white-collar sector expanded. Unskilled labor was left to immigrants. Peasants improved their living standards through commercial agriculture. Social distinctions did not vanish. Middle-class individuals had better opportunities than workers. Social tensions persisted. Crime rates rose after the 1940s and several nations suffered from racial and anti-immigrant strife.

The Women’s Revolution. The realities of family changed in many ways as leisure activities expanded and contacts were made easier through improved communications systems. Lengthier education increased the importance of peer groups for children and contributed to a decline in parental authority. From the early 1950s, women, especially those with children, entered the work force in increasing numbers. Education gains improved their job opportunities, but pay still remained lower than for men, and they were concentrated in clerical jobs. Women gained political rights as Western nations extended voting rights. There were considerable gains in higher education. Family rights improved. Access to divorce, the easing of abortion laws, and birth control methods spread. Sex and procreation became separate issues. The changes were accompanied by a rapidly falling birth rate from the early 1960s. Children were cared for in day-care centers rather than at home. The pressures from the new family roles contributed to a rising divorce rate. A new feminism arose during this period of change. Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 book, The Second Sex, shaped the calls for women’s rights. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique influenced Americans. New waves of agitation began that called for equality and downplayed domestic roles.

Western Culture. Twentieth-century cultural life proceeded along established paths. A key development was a focus shift toward the United States. Many European intellectuals fled the instability of their homelands. The wealth of expanding U.S. universities created a scientific “brain drain.” Art patronage followed wealth and New York replaced Paris as an international style center. Europeans did provide some of the leading scientific advances in genetics (DNA), and nuclear and space research. Artists maintained earlier themes featuring unconventional self-expression and nonrepresentational techniques. Modern styles found growing public acceptance. Pop artists during the 1960s attempted to close the gap between commercial mass culture and art. Musical composers favored dissonance, new scales, and electronic instruments. Poetry and the novel followed similar trends. Europeans were in the forefront of creative filmmaking. The social sciences lacked an integrated approach as participants avoided sweeping theories. Economics became an American specialty and focused on study of economic cycles and money supplies. European intellectuals had more influence in new theoretical formulations in the humanities. French historians redefined historical study by focusing on social history.

A Lively Popular Culture. More vitality appeared in Western popular culture than in intellectual life. The U.S. military brought new currents to societies weakened by the war. Still, European culture remained resilient and managed to influence the United States. Sexual culture changed. Premarital sex became more common and the age of first intercourse declined. Critics opposed the cultural changes, but no Nazi-like reactions occurred. Although Western political dominance had declined, its popular culture set new global standards.

Eastern Europe After World War II: A Soviet Empire. Both eastern and western Europe experienced similar social changes after the war. Important differences were due to the region’s distinctive tradition, the effects of the cold war, communist rule, and less-developed industrialization.

The Soviet Union as Superpower. After World War II, a continuing concentration on heavy industry and weapon development, along with ties to other communist movements, made the Soviet Union a world power. By joining the war against Japan, Russia gained northern Pacific Islands and a protectorate over North Korea. Assistance given to the Chinese and Vietnamese communists, and to African, Middle Eastern, and Asian nationalists, widened Russian influence. An alliance with Cuba brought Russia to the Americas. The development of atomic and hydrogen bombs, plus missile and naval deployment, brought Russia to superpower status.

The New Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe. The clearest extension of the Soviet sphere occurred in eastern Europe. Among the small nations of the region after World War I, only Czechoslovakia had developed advanced strong economic and political systems. During World War II, it fell under Nazi control. Yugoslavia had the only strong resistance movement. The Russians achieved domination of all states except Greece, Albania, and Yugoslavia. The Soviet-backed regimes followed Russia’s model in politics, agriculture, and industry. After the formation of NATO, all were joined into the Warsaw Pact. Russian control stimulated internal protest. East German workers rose in 1953 and were repressed by Russian troops. Continuing flight from East Germany led to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The relaxation of Stalinism in Russia after 1956 created hopes of lessened controls; more liberal communists came to power in Hungary and Poland. The Russians accepted some reform in Poland, but crushed the regime in Hungary. Some loosening of control occurred later, but the suppression of a liberal regime in Czechoslovakia in 1968 demonstrated the limits of experimentation. In Poland in the 1970s the Polish army, under Soviet supervision, took control of the state as a response to Catholic and labor unrest. Despite the discontent, communist domination brought social change by abolishing the aristocracy, remaking the peasantry, reforming education, and stimulating industrial and urban growth.

Evolution of Domestic Policies. The Stalinist system survived into the postwar era. Cold war fears made state authority acceptable to many people. Restrictions on travel and the media kept the Soviet Union isolated from world currents; Stalin’s political structure emphasized central control by the Communist party over all walks of life. Bureaucratic caution increased as officials demonstrated their loyalty to the system and its leader.

Soviet Culture: Promoting New Beliefs and Institutions. The Soviet government had a vigorous cultural agenda. It declared war on religion and aimed at creating Marxist secularism. The Orthodox church remained, but it was under firm state control. Religious freedom for Jews was curtailed; Muslims fared better if they were loyal to the regime. Artistic and literary styles were kept within the party line. Modern Western ideas were regarded as decadent, but traditional classical music and ballet received state support. There was some interaction with Western styles; jazz and rock music bands emerged by the 1980s. Despite the imposed state limits, Russian literature remained diverse and creative; freedom of expression depended upon the changing mood of the leadership. Even critical writers, like the exiled Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, maintained distinctive Russian values. Soviet culture placed great emphasis on science and social science. Although they were monitored by the state, significant developments occurred. In all, Soviet culture, with its state control, was neither traditional nor Western.

Economy and Society. The Soviet Union and most eastern Europe nations were fully industrialized societies by the 1950s. Distinctive features included state control of virtually all sectors and an imbalance of heavy industrial goods over consumer items. Living standards improved, but complaints about quality and scarceness of consumer products plagued ordinary citizens. There were many similarities with Western experiences because of the shared reality of industrialization. Environmental degradation was widespread. Agricultural problems persisted. Both systems tried to increase the pace of work through better organization and incentives. Similar leisure habits prevailed. East European social structure grew closer to the West with the development of a division in urban society between workers and managers. The families of both societies faced many of the same pressures. Urbanization placed an emphasis on the nuclear family; the birth rate declined. Children were more strictly disciplined than in the West. Most married women worked, many performing heavy physical labor. They dominated some professions, such as medicine. All suffered from receiving little help from husbands for household tasks.

De-Stalinization. When Stalin died in 1953, he was succeeded by a committee balancing army, police, and party interest groups. The system encouraged conservative stability. When Khrushchev gained power in 1956, he attacked Stalinism for its treatment of opponents and narrow interpretation of Marxism. Some societal opening followed, but significant institutional reform did not occur. After Khrushchev fell from power, political and economic patterns remained constant and stagnant into the 1980s. Cold war tensions eased after Stalin’s death, and after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, there was a limited opening for cultural exchanges with the West. Competition shifted to a space and arms race. In foreign policy, a growing rift with China developed during the 1950s. The invasion of Afghanistan to help a puppet regime bogged down by guerrilla warfare until the late 1980s. In most cases the Soviets were cautious international players, avoiding direct military interventions. By the 1980s, workers and youths began to react to their strict control and lack of consumer goods. High alcoholism increased death rates and lowered production.

GLOBAL CONNECTIONS: The Cold War and the World. Between 1945 and 1992, cold war competition dominated many global themes. Some nations were able to play one side against the other. The two rivals had many similarities. Both were secular, emphasized science, and challenged major social traditions.

Cold war: struggle from 1945 to 1989 between the communist and democratic worlds; ended with the collapse of Russia.
Eastern bloc: the eastern European countries of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Eastern Germany dominated by the Soviet Union during the cold war.
Harry Truman: United States president who presided over the end of World War II and the beginnings of the cold war.
Iron curtain: term coined by Churchill to describe the division between the Western and communist nations.
Marshall Plan: 1947 United States program to rebuild Europe and defeat domestic communist movements.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): formed in 1949 under U.S. leadership to group Canada and western Europe against the Soviets.
Warsaw Pact: the Soviet response to NATO; made up of Soviets and their European satellites.
Welfare state: Great Depression-inspired system that increased government spending to provide social insurance and stimulate the economy.
Technocrat: a new type of bureaucrat trained in the sciences or economics and devoted to the power of national planning; rose to importance in governments after World War II.
Green movement: rise during the 1970s in Europe of groups hostile to uncontrolled economic growth.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan: conservative leaders of the 1970s; worked to cut welfare and to promote free enterprise.
European Union: began by six nations as the European Economic Community (Common Market); by the 21st century incorporated most western European states and was expanding eastward.
New feminism: a wave of agitation for women’s rights dating from about 1949; emphasized equality between sexes.
Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan: two important leaders in the new feminism movement; authors of The Second Sex and The Feminine Mystique, respectively.
Berlin Wall: built in 1961 to prevent the flight of East Germans to the West; dismantled in 1990.
Solidarity: Polish labor movement beginning in the 1970s, taking control of the country from the Soviet Union.
Socialist realism: Soviet effort to replace Western literature and arts with works glorifying state-approved achievements by the masses.
Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn: Russian author of works critical of the Soviet regime; included the trilogy on Siberian prison camps, the Gulag Archipelago.
Nikita Khrushchev: leader of the Soviet Union from 1956; attacked Stalinist methods of rule; lost power because of conservative opposition.
Sputnik: first manned spacecraft in 1957; initiated a space race with the United States.

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