by ProfDave, ©2022

(Jun. 30, 2022) — Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!  In this unit we are approaching things that are not history to us, but current events.  That can be a little dangerous!  The things that grip us today – emblazoned on every channel of our TV – may not even be mentioned in the next edition of your textbook, let alone by historians a hundred years from now.  The movements and causes that we give our lives to may look quite different to another generation.  Wait a minute!  Most of you are another generation, so far as I’m concerned! How many of you were watching the news in 1968? 

In this blog we will look at the new post-war Europe, from the “European Miracle” to the European Union.  Secondly, we will make a few observations on the new America and on the Cold War in Latin America (if we can call it that).  Partisans may disagree with adjectives here and there, of course. 

I.  The New Europe

Last week we discussed the rebuilding of Europe in the wake of World War II and in the context of the Cold War.  Harry Truman may not have been a very presidential speech maker, but he assembled a cabinet of geniuses.  We saw how the Marshall Plan provided seed money for European recovery, with no strings attached (though the East bloc refused it out of paranoia).  Under the shadow of growing Soviet hostility, the United States was anxious for European recovery, stability, and unity. 

The real “miracle” in the “European Miracle,” however, was the rise of a generation of titans with a common vision of a new Europe, simultaneous with the Marshall Plan to pay for it and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to protect it – German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, French Foreign Minister Robert Schumann, and Italian statesman Alcide de Gasperi.  All three shared a common Roman Catholic understanding of the Cold War, a Carolingian vision of Europe (remembering the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne of the 9th century, that encompassed France, Italy and Germany), and a mother tongue of German.

Konrad Adenauer was a Roman Catholic Rhinelander, once a separatist, but part of the Centre Party before the war.  The Centre Party had arisen in opposition to Bismarck’s attacks on Roman Catholic social and political influence back in the 1870’s (called the kulturkampf, or culture war – the first one).  The Centre was re-founded as the Christian Democratic Party (CDU).   Adenauer had been mayor of Köln (or Cologne).  He was too old for the Nazis to execute.  The British fired him as incompetent.  But he attended local Christian Democratic Party meetings and worked his way up because he was always the oldest (in his 70’s) in the room!  When the CDU won the national elections, Der Alte (the old one) found himself in the chair – and won the Chancellorship by one vote (his).  He was still brilliant!   As a German, Adenauer had experienced two wars, two revolutions, and four regimes.  Germany desperately needed three things: something to be proud of, an end to European fear and hostility, and reunification.  He clearly saw that these could only be achieved through unification with Europe [Kieft 5/20/71, see Duiker & Spielvogel 838]!

The French Foreign Minister, Robert Schumann, was also a Roman Catholic Progressive, a member of a French party similar to the CDU.  He had been born in Bismarck’s Alsace, restored to France in 1918, and spoke German as his native tongue.

Meanwhile, de Gasperi had re-founded the Italian Christian Democratic Party and served sometimes as Prime Minister and sometimes Foreign Minister during most of the post-war period.  He had been born in Austrian South Tyrol, annexed by Italy in 1918, and was educated in German schools [“Alcide De Gasperi”].

The process began with the Benelux treaty of economic cooperation between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  It was followed by the Schumann Plan in May 1950 between France and Germany.  It seemed that the iron ore was on one side of the border and the coal was on the other.  It only made sense for the French and German steel industries to share.  Other nations joined to form the European Coal & Steel Community, including cooperation in customs and monetary policy, for a five-year period.  A certain psychology took over.  Germany was no longer a threat, nor the European balance of power a concern.  The ECSC was dealing with European problems, not national ones, on a European scale.

The Treaty of Rome, 1957, established the European Economic Community, consisting of Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and West Germany.  It dropped all economic barriers, cooperated in trade and economic policy, and constituted an internal market equal to that of the United States or the Soviet Union.  Central institutions were formed: a Council of Ministers, a Commission of international bureaucrats at Brussels, and a Euro-parliament elected by members.  In 1958, a competing European Free Trade Association was established, consisting of Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland.

Another focus for Unity was NATO, America’s Atlantic Europe.  Would there be a partnership between the USA and the United States of Europe?  Since 1945 the de facto President of Europe lived in Washington.  Ultimately such a partnership proved too diverse for consensus.  To Americans, France was about the size of Texas, so why can’t they cooperate like Texas?  For another thing, the United States had a history of going home into isolation at critical times.  The position of Great Britain was also problematic due to its Commonwealth relationship with certain former colonies.  The British Commonwealth, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and at one time India and South Africa and more, consisted of fully independent nations who acknowledged the British Queen as their honorary head of state and maintained certain economic relationships.  Once the British Empire had constituted an active economic union, but now Commonwealth industries and products competed with the homeland as much as contributed to it.  Nevertheless, Britain was loath to give up its preferential ties in order to merge with Europe.

When Charles de Gaulle was brought out of retirement to become the founding President of the Fifth Republic, he brought a different vision to the table – a Continental union independent of the Anglo-Saxon aliens.  A true federal union would make a new nationality consisting of autonomous regions, expressing the variety of their own provincial distinctives.  Europe must become a moral entity, a new nation, that millions would be willing to die for.  The Fouchet plan of 1961 called for a European referendum to lead to a constitutional assembly and a real parliament of Europe.  But Holland blocked the idea: no European union would be complete without Britain [see Duiker & Spielvogel 831-32].

Great Britain did not accede to the union until 1992 when the EEC and the EFTA were finally merged in the European Union (EU), a free trade area of 450 million people.  According to the Maastrict Treaty, member states would work gradually towards a common currency, a common constitution, and a common military force.   Centuries of national sovereignty were not an easy thing to give up, however, even though the benefits of common action were obvious.  National pride and distinctive social attitudes remained.  Perhaps the utmost difficulty has been to make the Union administrative and legislative machinery clearly responsible to the people while maintaining federal structures [Kieft 5/25/71].

The collapse of the Iron Curtain, the East Bloc and the Soviet Union have changed the game in Europe.  Once again, Germany was a microcosm of the whole, as the Federal Republic absorbed, or attempted to absorb the DDR.  The euphoria of reunification was tempered by the difficulty of rebuilding an impoverished and relatively backward region.  The formerly state-run businesses, industries, and other institutions of the East collapsed on contact with Western competition.  Social services were overwhelmed by unemployment and dislocation.  Former Soviet satellites and even member republics sought admission to the EU and even NATO, while struggling with overwhelming difficulties in their transition to free economies.  Poland, both halves of Czechoslovakia, Slovenia (from the former Yugoslavia), Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2004 and 2008.  The former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (independent 1919-39 and now again independent) also joined [see Duiker & Spielvogel 835-39]. 

Other issues have been the large numbers of “guest workers” from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Islamic world seeking work in the more advanced parts of Europe.  This problem has been greatly expanded as vast swaths of the Islamic world have fallen into unlivable chaos.  Europe, already a multicultural place has been flooded by refugees.  Race is beginning to replace class as the social divide of Europe.  In addition, the ecological carelessness of coal fired Eastern industry under Communism has become a European problem [see Duiker & Spielvogel 838].

II. The New America

The central fact of the Western Hemisphere in the twentieth century has been the emergence of the United States as an absent-minded superpower.  By 1900 the US had exceeded Britain and Germany in industrial production.  During World War I it not only became the foremost naval and military power but usurped British markets world-wide.  Yet it abdicated world leadership, spurned the League of Nations, and retreated into isolationism until 1941.  Following World War II, its leadership was unchallenged in virtually every economic category.  In the 1960’s it was home to 2/3 of the world’s largest corporations (General Motors alone was larger than the top 40 non-American concerns), its production was twice that of Europe and 2 ½ times that of the Soviet Union.  The United States owned 90% of the world’s computers and was a whole generation ahead in 1970.  Per capita income was 40% higher than Sweden (in second place) and 80% higher than Britain.  American industry in Europe was soon to be the third great power.  American management technique was followed everywhere.  It looked like economic imperialism, but it was completely inadvertent.   The United States had no economic policy: American businessmen were just doing what their hands found to do – out of control [Kieft 6/1/71].  Canadians liken it to sleeping with an elephant.  No matter how benign he is, every grunt is thunder and every twitch an earthquake.

The Great Depression of the 1930’s did not bring regime change to the United States, as it did to so many countries, but it did significantly change the relationship between the citizen and the federal government.  “The business of America is business” attitude of government and the free-wheeling, free enterprise, self-reliance of the common man broke down in the face of hard times.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to do something about the depression.  Although the New Deal never approached the totalitarian measures of Fascism – and stopped well short of the European-style welfare state – it seriously stretched the constitution to accept responsibility for things like jobs, social security, and counteracting economic cycles with government spending.  “Big government” and “deficit spending” continue to be issues in American politics, but the responsibility of the government – particularly the federal government – for social and economic welfare has become a permanent assumption of American society [see Duiker & Spielvogel 838-39].

Arguably, it was the war and not the New Deal that brought America out of the depression.  American industry expanded without limit to meet world demand for war supplies.  After the war, while many women returned to the home, industry continued to expand to meet pent-up consumer demand for the “American Dream.”  Returning servicemen, supported by the GI bill, fuelled an enormous boom in higher education – not to mention the “baby-boom.”  The GI (“government issue”) generation sought to return to prosperity, security and child rearing.  These were times of religious revival and also of super-market materialism. Everyone, it seemed, aspired to a middle class life-style: a white picket fence, indoor plumbing, refrigerators, electrical appliances, a car in every garage and a TV antenna on every roof.  Only academics talked of class at all.  Or so it seemed [see Duiker & Spielvogel 838-39].

Some portray the upheavals of the sixties as overdue – conflicts papered over by the civic will of the post-war elites.  So it may be.  It may also represent a shift away from the “melting pot” and “majoritarian” self-image of the nation.  We will discuss this in a separate essay.  The assassination of John F. Kennedy 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Watts riots 1965, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy in 1968, Woodstock 1969, Kent State 1970, and Watergate 1974 represent, each in its own way, a loss of innocence in American politics and society.  In some sense the USA was no longer “one nation under God” disdaining the violence and corruption of the rest of the world.  American diversity, hitherto ignored, was exposed, but not resolved.  A new polarization emerged, between ethical systems and worldviews, capable of cutting across ethnic and political lines, but it remains to be seen whether equilibrium can be achieved [see Duiker & Spielvogel 839-41].

“The Reagan Revolution” represented a conservative reaction to the Johnson-Carter “Great Society” and to foreign policy retreats. “Revolution” is much too strong a term except in the Democratic-Republican party context, but since 1980 conservatives have regained the confidence they had lost in the 60’s and 70’s, both in domestic and foreign policy issues [see Duiker & Spielvogel 842].

The development of Canada has been parallel to that of the United States in some respects, but different in others.  Prosperity followed the war, as in the United States, but the impact and influence of American investment and products has been viewed as a threat.  Encouraging Canadian businesses, Canadian media, Canadian art and literature, and even Canadian employees as opposed to American imports has been a continual public policy struggle.  The Liberal Party, 1945-84, gave Canada a national Pension Plan, a national health insurance program, and in 1968 the Official Languages Act, making the nation officially bilingual.   Since then Progressive Conservatives and Liberals have alternated, pursuing free trade agreements with the United States and relatively conservative policies.  Canada is a huge country.  While racial tensions (with native and mixed blood peoples) are relatively less important than in the US, Canada still struggles with serious regional differences, not only with French Quebec, but also with the Maritime provinces in the east and the oil-rich prairie provinces of the west.  Between 1976 and 1995, the Parti Quebecois made a serious parliamentary bid for Quebec independence (encouraged by Charles de Gaulle (!)) [see Duiker & Spielvogel 842-43].  The one thing all Canadians seem to have in common is that they are not USA – although a lot of them live “south of the border.”

Latin America was also sleeping with the friendly elephant, to some extent.  At the time of the Great Depression, American dollars and American corporations were deeply invested in extractive industries throughout Central and South America.  Exports were halved and manufactured goods could no longer be bought from the US and from Europe.  This was an indirect benefit to Latin industries – often built by military governments with confiscated capital.  A form of state-capitalism spread.  Steel was state owned in Chile and Brazil, oil in Argentina and Mexico.  Other regimes turned to multi-national corporations, but with relatively weak domestic markets (not enough consumer wealth), reliance of military governments on foreign loans led to debt crises in the 80’s.  Constitutional regimes have become more common since then, but Marxist movements have also grown [see Duiker & Spielvogel 843-44].

The Castro revolution of 1959 represented a crisis point on so many levels.  Nationally, it was the overthrow of the long-running Battista dictatorship by leftist guerilla leader, Fidel Castro – the usual peasant vs landholder elite and extractive foreign investor conflict so common to Latin America.  The twist was the Cold War context.   Although Battista had little sympathy, America was heavily invested in the Cuban sugar industry and deeply suspicious of Castro’s ideology.  As the USA cut its trade with Cuba, Castro moved to open Communist identification and received heavy East block support.  The bungled “Bay of Pigs” invasion by CIA trained Cuban exiles (too little, too late) solidified hostility.  President Kennedy was confronted with the prospect of a Soviet satellite just 90 miles away – invoking not only the Truman doctrine but also the Monroe doctrine, if you will.  The stationing of nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 was arguably the closest the world ever came to nuclear war.  “We were eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other guy just blinked.”  The missiles were removed, Cuba was guaranteed against American invasion, and a hot line was set up between Washington and Moscow [see Duiker & Spielvogel 786-87].

The influence of Cuba complicated relationships between the USA and Latin American nations.  Cuba offered inspiration and, to some extent, assistance to peasant and leftist insurgencies throughout the region, especially during the 60’s.  However, no wholesale international revolution followed, and Cuba’s revolution had mixed results.  Citizens continued to risk their lives to flee Cuba [see Duiker & Spielvogel 844-46].  Two other Marxist experiments are worthy of mention.  Marxist Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970 and proceeded to nationalize the copper industry (much of it American owned) without compensation.  The USA worked with opposition, legal and not-so-legal, to accomplish his downfall in 1973.  Nicaragua was much more of a Cuban-Soviet client.  Sandanista rebels overthrew the American supported status quo (another dictatorship) in 1979.  Reagan and Bush gave support to anti-Sandanista rebels until more or less free elections were held in 1990.  The Sandanistas won control back in 2006 elections, but the Cold War was over then [see Duiker & Spielvogel 846].

Between the war and as far as I can go Argentina, Brazil and Mexico each have their own distinctive story, a variation of the Latin American pattern.  Unfortunately we have only time for a glance.  In Argentina, the military seized power in 1943.  Juan Peron rose within the administration to be popular with labor and urban middle classes.  In 1946 he was elected president.  His government emphasized industrialization and government control of major industry.  As the regime became more authoritarian and corrupt, the military intervened to send him into exile in 1955.  He was allowed to return and was reelected 1973-74.  Again the military intervened in ’76 and fought an unsuccessful war with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands in ’82.   Civilian democracy returned in 1983[Duiker & Spielvogel 837].

In Brazil the military ended the dictatorship of Getùlio Vargas in 1945 and set up a republic.  Inflation and economic problems brought long-term military government in 1964 – 85.  An “economic miracle” began in 1968, including vigorous exploitation of the Amazon basin.  These are great nations with great resources and dramatic political histories.  [Duiker & Spielvogel 837-38].

Mexico was dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) through a time of prosperity in the 50’s and 60’s and on to 1988.  In the fall of 1968 conflict between university students and the government led to a national strike and a massive massacre by authorities just before the Mexico City Olympics.  In the 70’s, however, political reforms were instituted, and oil was discovered, but economic troubles continued.  In 1988 the PRI finally lost to Vincente Fox, but police corruption and drug cartels continued to be problems through the rest of the century [Duiker & Spielvogel 838-39].

Think About It:

  1. What was the importance of the European “Miracle?”  How have the expectations of European unity been fulfilled?  Disappointed?
  2. Your professor is very taken with the image of “sleeping with the elephant.”  How has the development of the United States in the 20th century impacted other nations positively?  Negatively?


“Alcide De Gasperi,” Alcide De Gasperi University of Euroregional Economy in             Józefów, Poland (2011), retrieved 8/12/11 from

Duiker, William L. and Spielvogel, Jackson J.  World History, 6th edn., Boston:

Wadsworth, 2010.

Kieft, David.  “Diplomatic History of Modern Europe,” lectures at the University of             Minnesota, 1971.

Munholland, J. K.  “Twentieth Century Europe,” lectures at the University of Minnesota,         1970.

David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.