Rebuilding Europe: Western Europe, America, and Postwar Reconstruction

By David W. Ellwood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
The Lessons of Last Time

LOOKING THE DISASTER IN THE FACE

'If men will not learn until their lessons are written in blood, why, blood they must have, their own for preference', wrote Bernard Shaw in 1918 introducing Heartbreak House, his great play on the decadent Europe from which had sprung the Great War. In contrast to those who learned from the First World War simply how much better to prepare for a Second, there stood in Western Europe and America in 1945 a new class of politicians, high civil servants and experts determined not just that this time 'never again' would mean what it said, but that the survival of liberal civilisation itself demanded a positive, constructive response equal in scale to the disasters of the previous three decades.

'During the catastrophe, beneath the burden of defeat, a great change had occurred in men's minds. To many, the disaster of 1940 seemed like the failure of the ruling class and system in every realm': 1 General de Gaulle, the towering leader of the Free French, was only one of those, conservative and leftist alike, who understood the revolutionary character of the challenge and who feared a repeat of the Europe-wide chaos of 1918-26 should it not be met. A sense of shame and guilt pervaded those in Britain and America who had seen war coming as the outcome of the great depression of the 1930s, but had felt powerless to prevent it. 2

But in the defeated and occupied countries nothing less than a topto-bottom change of regime could be contemplated by the new men. 'The issue of progress versus reaction has characterised every example of genuine resistance in Europe', a Manchester Guardian writer proclaimed in August 1945; ' Europe is in a revolutionary mood, a mood

-3-

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