Reconstruction Europe: The Victor’s Burden

‘The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
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WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

In the public mind, the surrender of Japan and Germany seemed like the ultimate victory. To be sure, the forces of “good” had dealt the “evil” Axis powers a might blow; however, it paved the way for further conflict. The old world had officially died with the atomic bombing of Japan, and what took its place were empowered empires who sought to control the destinies of lesser nation-states. Through the influence of their strong economies, culture, and military might, these groups were the driving force behind the reconstruction of Europe and abroad, whose true purpose was the continuation of an imperial system. In the “New World” that was prefaced by organizations like the UN and later NATO and the Warsaw Pact, nations would need to either pick sides or create their own empires.

The history of Europe has often been one of change or, in the failure to adapt, the disintegration of one’s identity and political order. France stood from the ashes of battle in fear of the very nation they had now beaten twice: Germany. In Alexandre Kojeve’s “Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy” he acknowledges how like the old feudal system that was replaced by nation-states, the idea of a singular nation standing against the likes of the Anglo powers and the Slavic powers was Utopian at best (p. 6). Post-war France struggled to maintain the cultural independence and unity that had been disrupted by Nazi Occupation. Kojeve argued that the only way to survive being totally absorbed into the larger powers was to create alliances with Latin nations such as Spain and Italy and to form a “Latin Empire” (p. 15). This need was highlighted by the fact that nations can no longer obtain the resources they need to effectively resist the larger hegemonic powers of the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union. In the post-war, it was economic unity, not military might that was going to secure victory in wars to come. This prospect was ultimately never realized as, but Kojeve’s fear that Germany would once again eclipse is near the point of realization. Reconstruction of this age would require the consolidation and co-opting of power to meet the influence of imperial powers. This can be seen in the US occupation of Japan as well as other recipients of Allied aid.

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Japan’s situation was desperate since the beginning of World War II. Before they attacked the US, they were already deeply committed to invading China, one of the largest national landmasses in the world. Although Japan attempted to create a so-called “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” this effort was dismantled by Allied forces. Once they stood as a nation against the world, they were doomed to fail. Japan’s relatively small landmass proportion to its population ensured that food shortages were bound to occur. These problems were exacerbated by US bombings and a ruined state infrastructure.  Food, being what David Arnold called “power in a most basic, tangible and inescapable form,” was the chief interest of occupied Japan (Aldous, p. 230). Chronic hunger and and starvation were seen as goals that the US could overcome to promote the success of Democracy and their own imperial power. The Japanese recognized this, and continued to underestimate the daily caloric input of their people in order to secure more food imports from the US. In addition, the black market aggravated the issue by misconstruing the numbers  (Aldous, p. 237). While the Japanese were able to manipulate the US for a while, the Americans in charge eventually forced the nation to increase their own agricultural output dramatically to compensate the difference of the US’ exports. In the end, Japan was unable as a nation alone to take care of the base needs of its people, and the occupying American empire had the power through its economic and military strength to force the island nation to change its ways. 

The rise of the UN and its control by the Anglo powers and the USSR provided the final death cry to the effectiveness of the nation-state. France recognized this and has struggled to the present day to maintain economic relevancy against the powers of England, Russia, and Germany. While it may be too late for France to reach their imperial aspirations, as Spain and Italy no longer wield the political power they once did, their heads were in the right place. With the re-invigoration of China as a world power and the US’ continued rivalry to maintain superiority, many smaller nations are caught in the crossfire, as Kojeve believed they would. To remain relative in modern times requires that nations give up their individuality in favor of global alliances, such as the EU and NATO. A war between modern powers would mean war between numerous nations and their subordinate allies, and the US should recognize this as the calls for nationalism and “America First” temptingly drive our nation towards irrelevance.

Sources:

A Kojève, Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy, Policy Review, 126 (August 2004), 3-40.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

V De Grazia, Irresistible Empire- America’s Advance through Twentieth-century Europe (2005), ch 7.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

C Aldous, Contesting Famine – Hunger and Nutrition in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952 (J of American-East Asian Relations) 17.3 (2010).pdf

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