When most of us remember the Cold War, certain images come to mind. There's the terrifying sight of a mushroom cloud appearing over an American city or Soviet troops marching into Eastern Europe.
Cold War Enemies
Yet, the opening salvo of the Cold War was fought through the skies over a city. This was the same place where World War II began and now would be the place where the Cold War would take over.
Despite this, the United States would come up with the most ingenious air campaign in modern history. Instead of dropping high explosives or nuclear weapons, we air-lifted bread and chocolate.
Nation Building with Food
Berlin in 1948 was just three years removed from being devoured by Allied forces. The entire city had been laid to waste from constant bombing and vicious street skirmishes during the final stages of World War II.
Now, the Americans and Soviets were on the brink of fighting. The newly formed Soviet Union had closed land routes going into the city and began choking off supplies. Berliners were faced with a desperate situation of not having enough food and supplies to survive.
Enter A Hero with a Plan
Retirement wasn't kind to George Marshall. When World War II ended he resigned his commission and looked forward to years of relaxation. Certainly, he'd earned it. Marshall served with distinction in France during World War I. He then became one of the key architects behind building the U.S. military and the Normandy Invasion.
That hot war transitioned into an icy, cold one. Europe was in ruins. England, France, Italy, and Germany were shells of their former industrial glory. What the entire European continent needed was an economic makeover. In January 1947 George Marshall was called out of retirement.
President Truman appointed Marshall Secretary of State and tabbed him as the man to rebuild Europe. But, the world had changed dramatically in the years shortly after World War II ended.
Entire cities could be wiped out by dropping one bomb. Former Allies, like Russia, were not only an enemy but looking to expand their influence and territory. One false move could ensure "mutually assured destruction."
It turns out the new Soviet Union would make the first bold move in the Cold War. They would force the Allies to partition Germany with the Soviets holding the eastern half of the country and the Allies holding the west.
The Marshall Plan
Marshall first revealed his strategy, later known as the "Marshall Plan," in a speech given at Harvard University on June 5, 1947. His vision was to help heal the wounds of World War II by creating a $13 billion recovery package for European nations affected by the war. This package would include food, fuel, medicine, and machinery from the United States.
Europe finally had a helping hand to pull them back out of the misery of war. Life was moving back-to-normal, except the Soviets were nervous. They feared losing their sphere of influence over the Eastern Bloc of countries they took over.
So in 1948, they acted and provoked the west by blocking off land routes to Berlin. This effectively choked off supply shipments into the city and left its residents without access to food, medicine and supplies. Berliners were looking straight into the face of starvation.
Americans were left in utter shock by the aggressive moves the Soviets made. Many in President Truman's cabinet were screaming for war. Some believed General George Patton was right - we should have invaded the Soviet Union.
However, another plan was submitted that would become one of the most stunning logistical and humanitarian achievements of all time. It would be a tribute to American ingenuity, devotion to freedom and liberty.
An American Plane Over Berlin
Americans Would "Bomb" Berlin with Food
On June 26th, 1948, residents of Berlin could see the ominous silhouettes of planes appear over the skies. Similar to a few years earlier, it looked like Americans were ready to unload their payloads again onto the city streets. Except, this time, what floated down from the sky were planes that landed with crates full of everything from food and chocolates to medicinal supplies and blankets.
Virtually an entire supermarket was being loaded onto planes at airbases in Western Germany and deposited into Berlin.
For eleven straight months, the United States Air Force kept the residents of Berlin from starvation. It's estimated that over two million tons of food, fuel, supplies and machinery were air-lifted via 270,000 flights to residents of the city. The total cost of the operation was $24,000,000 but the real return on the investment went far deeper.
Food Independence Led to Freedom
What was originally meant to be a show of strength by the Soviets was turned into a farce. Berlin became a symbol of the West's determination to not be bullied by Soviet aggression. In May 1949, the Soviets lifted the blockade. However, the damage to their international reputation was done.
Stockpiles of Food Supplies
First, the airlift showed the dominance of the United States in terms of its manufacturing capability and technology. Consider the logistical capabilities needed to drop over two million tons of food and equipment into a small area by plane.
All the warring technology developed by the Americans during World War II was now used for further good to feed an entire city. The man who deserved much of the credit for this campaign was General George Marshall. It was his planning that ultimately saved and liberated the city of Berlin.
The story didn't end once the blockade was lifted and the planes stopped flying their missions. George Marshall's plan led to the liberation of West Germans. Shortly after the Soviets ended their land route blockade, West Germany declared its independence.
Marshall had saved millions and then freed them just by keeping them well-fed. Fellow patriots, when we talk about how you can achieve liberty through food independence, this is what we mean. A person who can provide for themselves with the food they eat is a person who is free.
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