[June 24, 2017] U.S. President Harry S Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The great Cold War that began shortly after World War II between the Soviet Union on one side and Western powers1 on the other and produced plenty of political “heat” dealing with it. The opposing views of how to deal with Germany after its defeat was center stage in the international community and expressed clear but separate expectations by both sides.
The Soviets wanted Germany to pay large reparations for its part in the death and destruction it caused the world and to the Soviet Union. Reparations were being extracted from East Germany2 and some have argued this was a factor in that East Germany’s retarded economic recovery. Western powers were setting expectations that Germany should be united as a single country and aid given so that it could become economically independent.
“Remember all frustration is based on unmet expectations. If we did not expect anything we would not be frustrated.” – John Lund, How to Hug a Porcupine
Negotiations between the Western powers and the Soviets broke down in June 1948 and two days later on this date June 24, 1948, the Soviet military forces blocked roads and railroad lines into West Berlin (located in East Germany). Senior leadership on both sides were at loggerheads on how to deal with the two Germanys. There was the risk that the two largest world militaries would come to blows over this disagreement.
American officials were furious and President Truman argued that the time for diplomacy was over. The West began a massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin in what was to become the greatest logistical efforts in history. For the Soviets, the escapade quickly became a diplomatic embarrassment.3 Russia looked like an international bully that was trying to starve men, women, and children into submission.
When leaders fail to set reasonable expectations, they find the results to be less than successful. When they do it over and over expecting different results, it can be like hugging a porcupine; an unforgettable regrettable experience.
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- The Western powers included France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
- Germany was split into East and West Germany after WWII.