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Berlin in the Balance: The Blockade, the Airlift, the First Major Battle of the Cold War

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In June 1948, Soviet authorities in Germany announced a land blockade of the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin. Isolated more than one hundred miles within Soviet-occupied territory, western Berlin was in danger of running out of coal, food, and the courage to stand up to Joseph Stalin.As Berlin in the Balance recounts, this crisis was a turning-point for U.S. policy. Just three years earlier, the Soviet Union had been an ally and Berlin the target of American bombers. In 1946 Winston Churchill had ...

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Overview

In June 1948, Soviet authorities in Germany announced a land blockade of the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin. Isolated more than one hundred miles within Soviet-occupied territory, western Berlin was in danger of running out of coal, food, and the courage to stand up to Joseph Stalin.As Berlin in the Balance recounts, this crisis was a turning-point for U.S. policy. Just three years earlier, the Soviet Union had been an ally and Berlin the target of American bombers. In 1946 Winston Churchill had ignited protests by calling for an Anglo-American alliance against the USSR. The Berlin blockade made Churchill’s ”iron curtain” through Europe an inescapable reality.Led by Harry S. Truman, the Western Allies refused to back away from Berlin. Instead, they took to the air, packing passenger planes with coal, potatoes, flour, and other necessities. Not even the commanders of the year-old U.S. Air Force believed this fleet could supply western Berlin for long. Its main airport was squeezed among apartment buildings. Autumn would bring blinding fogs. And nobody had ever tried to supply a city of millions by air.Berlin in the Balance tells the full, gripping story of this critical conflict—how it developed and how it played out. Noted historian Thomas Parrish shows us the crisis through the eyes of Truman, Stalin, and other leaders. We hear Berliners cheer the arrival of each ”raisin bomber”; the planes’ roar was assurance that the democratic powers had not abandoned them. Through sources made available only after the fall of the USSR, we learn how Soviet leaders planned their strategy to drive out the West, what they feared, and what they hoped to achieve.Berlin in the Balance spotlights a different kind of air force heroism—flying heavy transport planes in weather so bad ”the birds walked,” harassed by Soviet fighters but never firing a shot. Under the decisive leadership of General William H. Tunner, crews took off every three minutes around the clock. Soldiers rushed to maintain the airplanes and runways, master a new radar system, even build a new airport. The operation depended on support from Frankfurt to London to Montana, on the sacrifices of German civilians and the boldness of French saboteurs. Using archives and fresh interviews, Parrish details the full scope and success of ”Operation Vittles.”The Berlin airlift stopped Stalin’s expansion in Europe. It helped Truman win his upset election in 1948. And it set the course of East-West conflict for the next forty years. More than sixty U.S. and allied fliers died in this great operation, keeping a besieged city fueled, fed, and free. Berlin in the Balance is a masterful chronicle of this crucial, stirring saga.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In March 1948, Soviet authorities in Germany imposed restrictions on freight and personnel moving through the Soviet zone into the Western sector of Berlin. It was the beginning of the 14-month Berlin blockade and the enormous answering effort of the Berlin airlift. It was also the end of any naive hope American leaders had that wartime allies would be friends in peace. Parrish, a Cold War scholar and author of The Cold War Encyclopedia and Roosevelt and Marshall, focuses on the blockade as the opening salvo of the 50- year conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. He covers a great deal about the early components of Cold War doctrine, such as Kennan's Long Telegram, the domino theory, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. The emphasis on these and the currency crisis that was the immediate cause of the blockade puts the whole of subsequent Soviet-American relations into a welcome perspective. As a narrative, however, it lacks the urgency of the usual tales of American innovation and German resolve, a problem exacerbated by the interpolation of unrelated tidbits (like a reporter's observation of greasy water discarded from a house abutting the Airlift Task Force hq). Parrish also concentrates on the American side of things, so while General William Tunner, who took over organization of the airlift in August, gets his full share of credit, there is little attention to the unshakable Ernst Reuter, the first mayor of West Berlin. With relatively few interviews with the lowly, this is a view from the air, with all the attendant benefits and drawbacks. (June)
Library Journal
If Europe was the most important region during the Cold War, then Berlin was its center. Divided into four Allied occupation zones and located in Soviet-controlled eastern Germany, this devastated city was a constant source of confrontation in the immediate post-World War II era. Parrish (The Cold War Encyclopedia, LJ 12/94) offers a history of the failed programs and Western frustration that eventually led to the Soviet blockade of the Western Zones and the inspiring airlift mounted by Western Allies to keep their portions of Berlin supplied with food and fuel. Throughout, he focuses on high-level government and military actions. Parrish has mined the primary sources and conducted interviews, and the inclusion of material from newly opened resources in Russia and Germany is an added plus. One interesting point is the Americans' continuing misperception that they could deal with Stalin, who was supposedly in conflict with his own Politburo. Librarians may also be interested in Michael D. Haydock's recently published City Under Siege: The Berlin Blockade and Airlift, 1948-1949 (LJ 5/15/98). Recommended for all academic and public libraries.Daniel K. Blewett, Loyola Univ. Lib.,Chicago
Booknews
American writer Parrish has written extensively about World War II and the Cold War. For this account, he draws on new interviews with US servicemen and Berlin civilians, oral histories, military documents, diaries and memoirs, and Soviet documents including previously untranslated diaries kept for Stalin's Foreign Minister Molotov. He includes quite a few photographs. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Soviet army's blockade of West Berlin, Parrish, the author of encyclopedias on WWII and the cold war as well as of Roosevelt and Marshall: Their Partnership in Politics and War (1989), ably recounts the story with an eye to dramatic detail, as well as clearly defined villains and heroes. Of particular value are the first several chapters, which outline in brief Berlin's history and its role in WWII. American readers will perhaps not be surprised to learn of internal conflicts between presidents Roosevelt and Truman, their closest advisers, and Congress. Few people in power in America had any expertise regarding the postwar situation in Europe, although most were convinced that they had the right answers. Professional historians will no doubt find fault with this work because it makes no use of German or Russian documents, only the translated manuscript of Soviet foreign minister Molotov. Still there is an abundance of material to work with, even if Parrish fails to use or even address a work that appeared in 1996 to numerous awards and accolades while fundamentally challenging our conception of the division of Germany, Caroline Eisenberg's Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany. Parrish, instead, is clearly within the traditional Cold War historiography, careful to point out the atrocities committed by the Soviet troops (including several gruesome pages on systematic rape), while failing to mention concomitant atrocities committed by German troops in eastern Europe. This could be done without in any way exonerating the Soviets for their brutish behavior while imparting necessary historical and culturalcontext to the end of the war. One of the precious few clear victories of the Cold War, told with a triumphalist tone. (b&w photos, maps, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738201498
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 5/6/1999
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.09 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.06 (d)

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