Rebuilding Europe: Western Europe, America, and Postwar Reconstruction

By David W. Ellwood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The Reinvention of American
Power

HOW THE AMERICAN VIEW EVOLVED

American observers in Europe had complained widely at the end of the war that a gulf was evident by that time 'between visible American power and the purposes for which it was being used'. 1 When liberation came, Henry Stimson, the veteran American Secretary of War, suggested that the way to bridge this gap was simple: put two million tons of wheat per month into Western Europe throughout the summer. 'This would be good psychology', urged Stimson; 'We could turn the tide of Communism in all those countries. Hoover stamped out Communism in this way in Central Europe [after the First World War].' 2 The United States did of course provide relief supplies on a large if chaotic scale after the liberation as well as during it. But there was no question of tackling the threatened breakdown of countries such as Italy, France or Greece in a similar fashion. A holding operation was all that could be tried, while local politicians tried to assert some sort of control over the situation until new constitutions had emerged and the peace treaties were signed.

So it was again left to the American press to point to the next step forward for America in the old world. In an article which appeared in the New York Herald Tribune at the beginning of July 1945, the feature writer John Chabot Smith began with the Italian case. He declared: 'Everyone said win the war first. Now no one knows what to do.' Smith's article was one of many signalling the start of an important shift in American thinking on economic problems in liberated Europe. As the scale of need began to appear in its true dimensions, planners and policy-makers faced the task of transforming the abstract designs of wartime into credible proposals to deal with it.

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