Magazine article The Spectator

Theperils of Peace

Magazine article The Spectator

Theperils of Peace

Article excerpt

POSTWAR by Tony Judt Heinemann, £25, pp. 878, ISBN 0434007498 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

In 1945, Europe lay prostrate after the greatest and most terrible war in history. More than 35 million people had been killed, Tony Judt says (other estimates are even higher), with combatant deaths easily outnumbered by civilian; whole countries were starving, scores of cities were razed. That was not what optimistic souls -- or maybe anyone -- had foreseen in the first decade of the century, when Europe seemed to be living through an age of peace, rising prosperity and increasing freedom which promised to last for ever.

That happy century from Waterloo to the Marne had ended literally with a bang in August 1914. Three decades thereafter saw a terrifying regression, two wars on a scale surpassing anything ever known, totalitarian regimes called Communist and Fascist of a kind also never known before, economic collapse and mass-murder: in the title of Mark Mazower's book about 20th-century Europe, this was a Dark Continent. Even at the moment Hitler killed himself, there was no necessary reason to suppose that it was the previous appalling 30 years which had been aberrant rather than the century before them. How that question was answered -- how Europe recovered and came to enjoy for the past 60 years what has been, for all of many woes and setbacks, by any standards another golden age -- is the subject of Judt's masterly and exhilarating Postwar.

Immediately after VE-Day the prospects were by no means all promising. The Wehrmacht had been defeated but the Red Army (which had done most of the defeating) stood on the Elbe, and for several years, in Denis Healey's phrase, needed only boots to reach the Atlantic. Half of Europe had exchanged one tyranny for another; for a time it looked as though Stalin could increase his reach by democratic means -- in 1946, the Communists won 28.6 per cent of the vote in France, 38 per cent in Czecholslovakia -- and it also looked very much as though the Americans might withdraw from Europe as they had after 1918. Instead the Marshall Plan began the economic reconstruction of shattered Europe at enormous cost, maybe $200 billion in today's prices (although that may yet be small change beside the present enterprise in Iraq). The rapid reduction of American forces in Europe was halted by the Berlin crisis in 1948 which led to the formation of Nato the following year, an Atlantic alliance consolidated almost fortuitously by the outbreak of the Korean war.

At the same time, after the vengeful settling of scores, and what Judt calls 'the rehabilitation of Europe', the first halting steps towards European co-operation were underway. For many Europeans, and not only the French, the real threat in the postwar years was a possible German revival rather than Russia, and it was farsighted and courageous to build Germany into a new Europe. Three great men who created the first framework for European unity were to a remarkable degree similar. The Frenchman Robert Schumann had grown up in Lorraine when it was part of the German empire between Franco-Prussian and Great wars, the Italian Alcide de Gaspari was born in Trentino a subject of Franz-Josef and had studied in Vienna, the German Konrad Adenauer was a Rhinelander who detested Protestant Prussia. When they met they spoke German, their common language; they were all guided by a Catholic political vision and an older cosmopolitan tradition;

their 'Europe' was well-nigh the Holy Roman Empire reborn.

If the light sometimes flickered unevenly in western Europe during the postwar decade, eastern Europe was plunged into dark night as the absorption of one country after another into the Soviet empire was marked by a horrible litany of show trials echoing the prewar Moscow Trials.

Almost the worst of it was the continuing enthusaism for Communism among the alleged intelligentsia in the West, especially in France. …

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