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United States’ reactions after the raising of the Berlin Wall

Seminararbeit 2006 17 Seiten



1. Introduction

2. Research Questions

3. A Military Response as an Option?

4. The Image of the Enemy

5. The Call for Propaganda

6. Travel Restrictions as Reprisals

7. Negotiations

8. Unification or Status Quo?

9. Groupthink?

10. Other Views

11. Conclusion

12. Bibliography

1. Introduction

On August 13 1961, the regime of East Germany closed all streets and railroads between East and West Berlin and started to build the Berlin Wall. The inner German border between the eastern zone of occupation, controlled by the Soviet Union, and the western zone of occupation, controlled by the United Stated, Great Britain and France, was secured by fences and Eastern German police forces since 1952. But the border between West and East Berlin was always a loophole for refugees from East Germany and also from other east European states. Especially well educated young people left the East towards the West. East Germany, fearing the loss of their economic power, reacted by building the Berlin Wall and closing the boarder between the two Germany Countries for the next 30 years.

The western allies did not react immediately. It needed 72 hours before diplomatic protests reached Moscow. There was no sign that military forces would try to avoid the lock up of the East German people. After one week, reinforcements arrived which seemed to have more a symbolic function to let the people of West Berlin feel save.

2. Research Questions

The United States of America under President John F. Kennedy showed almost no military reaction after the raising of the Berlin Wall. They sent more troops together with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to West Berlin, but there was no intention to reopen the border. Instead the US Government tried to get into negotiations with the Soviet Union about the status of West Berlin. This decision avoided transforming the Cold War into a Hot War, but it also manifested the separation of East and West Germany and made the unification in the near future less likely. The decision helped to establish another socialist state in Europe and locked up 17 million Germans within the borders of East Germany.

This paper will focus on the question why President Kennedy and his main advisers decided the way they did. Did they fear the military strength and the use of the Soviet nuclear arsenal? Or did they think they could reach better results by negotiating? Or did they just trade the eastern part of Germany against a secure status quo for West Berlin? Maybe the situation was seen more as a chance for stability than as a threat?

The basic information for this research will come from the Digital National Security Archive. The original documents should show who gave information to President Kennedy and his advisers. Who were the talking heads during the decision-making process? Who had the most influence? Was it only an inner-American process or were other allies involved, too?

An interesting question is, if there is a change between the evaluation of the situation before and after the raising of the Berlin Wall. So this research will compare some documents before and after the crisis.

To limit the number of documents which will be reviewed the time-frame of the study will be set from August 13 1961 until the end of the same month. During that time period the decision was made not to provoke an armed conflict and to try to get into negotiations with the Soviet Union. To compare the situations before and after the crisis there will also be a review of documents which describe the situation in Berlin and which where written within a month before the start of the crisis.

Finally the question will be, who really made the decision and for what reason. Did President Kennedy had an own opinion from the beginning on and kept it during the whole time. Or did he change his mind and adopted the opinion of one of his adviser? What strategies and argument did the advisers use to persuade the President? Was it an individual or a group decision? Answering these questions will lead to of the evaluation of the way Kennedy’s decision-making unit worked. COTTAM (2004) talks about the influence of groupthink. She describes six features that provide evidence for the existence of groupthink:

- A strong pressure on group members to conform to the group
- Self-censorship: disagreement is not expressed openly
- Mindguards prevent group members from learning of new information
- An apparent unanimity of opinion
- An illusion of invulnerability
- An illusion of morality that prevented from questioning the morality of the decision

Kennedy and his administration had already been victims of this kind of groupthink when the decision for the Bay of Pigs invasion was made (Cottam, 2004:80-81; Post, 2004:113-114). This paper will review the original documents of the Digital National Security Archive if this is again an example of groupthink. Can this case be seen psychological at all or was that just a political decision?

A problem will be that the personal communication between the President and his advisers cannot be reviewed. A lot of information could have been given to the President in a personal conversation, which is very likely. GREENSTEIN (2004) describes the Kennedy administration as very informal and with close debates joined by the President (Greenstein, 2004:71). This paper can only rely on the information of the written documents.

Despite the review of the Digital National Security Archive, this research will explore how other scholars evaluate the reaction of President Kennedy and the United States. What kind of reason do they think of were important? Who, in their view, was responsible for the final decision, not to go to war?

3. A Military Response as an Option?

The United States were not ready to fight a war against the Soviet Union about the East German territory. The documents of the two weeks before the closing of the border show that Kennedy’s adviser were just thinking about the strategy for negotiations about the status of Berlin and East Germany (DNSA - Breakfast with the Secretary of State, August 2, 1961; Berlin Negotiations and Your Meeting with Mr. Rusk at 4 p.m., August 3, 1961; Berlin Negotiating Papers for Hyannis Port, August 11, 1961).

When border was closed and the Berlin Wall was built, it was the President who thought most about the use of military. Only one day after the incident, he wrote a memo to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to inform him about his view that the military capacity of the United States must be increased: “With this weekend’s occurrences in Berlin there will be more and more pressure for us to adopt a harder military posture. […] I do not think we can leave unused any of the men or money that was offered by the Congress with the exception perhaps of the bomber money. […] I am concerned that we move ahead as quickly as possible on Civil Defense,” (DNSA - Berlin Situation Will Increase Pressure to Take a Harder Military Posture, August 14, 1961). He was not even sure if the military strength of the United States alone would be enough to deal with the situation. To McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk he wrote on the same day: “In relation to the Berlin situation, I should appreciate a report on how we are progressing in obtaining commitments from our NATO allies to increase their military forces,” (DNSA - Allied Commitments for Berlin, August 14, 1961). What he feared were further threats from the Soviet Union. He wanted to have all options for adequate response. In a later memorandum to McNamara Kennedy asks: “We have to assume that some time in the fall there may be a blockade of a formal or informal kind. Have we decided with the British and the French and the Germans what our response will be?” (DNSA - Berlin, National Security Action Memorandum, August 21, 1961).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
514 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Wyoming – Political Science
Krieg Berliner Mauer Kalter Krieg Digital National Security Archive DNSA USA Deutschland DDR



Titel: United States’ reactions after the raising of the Berlin Wall