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Another Glance Back to 1947

Posted by on February 1, 2014

On April 16th, 1947 American financier and presidential adviser Mr. Bernard Baruch describes the then increasingly evident post- Second World War tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States as a “Cold War”.  The terms sticks and on May 22nd , 1947 when President Truman signs the Act of Congress which implements his Truman Doctrine, the Cold War is officially considered to have begun;  it would continue for the remainder of the 20th century.

In May, 1947 another European country, this time Hungary, is seized as the Communists grab power.  The tug of war between West and East was unrelenting.

The second half of 1947 and the pegs which had started to fill up the holes of the post- Second World War canvas of the world were changing the very fabric of that canvas.  The eventual consequences of those decisions would be ones few people expected and even less understood.  In hindsight, one wonders what would have happened if some of this “tit for tat” manner of ideological enforcement had waned on either side at the time.  Would the world have experienced just a minor post-war “realignment” rather than what essentially became the watershed era of the 20th century?

The United Nations General Assembly, New York 1947

The United Nations General Assembly, New York 1947

As it turned out, neither side conceded and, on June 5th, 1947, another plan is outlined when Secretary of State George C Marshall delivers his “Marshall Plan” in a speech at Harvard University.  The American initiative to aid Europe is intended to rebuild war-devastated regions, modernise industry and remove trade barriers.  Interestingly, it was offered to the Soviet Union and its allies but in July they refuse the plan for fear it would allow the US control over Communist economies.  During the four years over which the plan was operational, US$15 billion (US $148 billion in today’s terms) was poured into economic and technical assistance for those countries which joined in the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation.  The result was economies which surpassed their pre-war levels, unprecedented growth and prosperity.  The indirect effects of this plan in the West were the first elements of European integration while in the East they were the beginning of “five-year plans” and centralised economic systems under the Communist regimes as they desperately tried to keep up with Western industrialisation and development.

The summer of 1947 in the United States continued in its Cold War mode.  On July 26th President Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947 into law.  It comes into effect on September 18th and in its wake organizations, groups and a strategy aimed at winning the Cold War are created.  The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US Department of Defense (an amalgamation of the US Air Force, Navy & War Dept), the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council all become important apparatus of the US Government, growing from strength to strength and yielding influence and power to this day.  At the end of July that year the ENIAC computer, the world’s first electronic digital computer, is turned back on after being shut down for refurbishment in November 1946.  It remains in continuous operation until October 1955.  The mechanics of the Cold War already surpass the achievements of both world wars.

Autumn 1947 is a remarkable time for the still nascent digital and technological age.  On September 9th a moth lodged in a relay is found to be the cause of a malfunction in the Harvard Mark II electromechanical computer and is logged as “First actual case of bug being found”.  October sees the first recorded use of the word “computer” in its modern sense, referring to an electronic digital machine.  This new technology would, unknowingly at the time, become the new mechanism with which the Cold War, and all future wars, would be fought.  Tying politics to technology, President Truman delivers the first televised White House address from the White House on October 5th and speaks of the world food crisis.  On October 9th, technology is given another boost when the first telephone conversation takes place between a moving car and a plane.  By the end of the month the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the foundation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is established.

The end of 1947 witnesses a new threat of Communism spreading to the West rather than being contained to the East.  On November 10th the arrest of four steel workers in Marseille begins a French communist riot that spreads to Paris.  Two weeks later on November 24th, the spirit is felt in America as McCarthyism takes effect and the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly votes to approve citations of Contempt of Congress against the “Hollywood Ten”.  This group of ten screenwriters and directors refuse to co-operate with the House Un-American Activities Committee concerning allegations of communist influences in the movie business.  The very next day all ten are blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios.  A zero toleration campaign against Communism in America had clearly taken root.  Even the very final days of the year see continued transformations in the fabric of a changing world.   On December 10th, the USSR and Czechoslovakia sign their own trade agreement while on December 30th, 1947, just before another New Year rolled around, King Michael of Romania is forced by communists to abdicate his throne and the Republic of Romania is proclaimed.

There were still many holes left in the canvas, but having created a new type of fabric altogether, 1947 ensured that the remaining holes would be filled with similar decision pegs for many more New Years to come, unremitting for another half century forward.

© Kristina Tzaneff

2 Responses to Another Glance Back to 1947

  1. Nicola Stevens

    What a fascinating summary of 1947 and the consequences of actions rippling thro’ the rest if the 20th century. In the UK Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were married at Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947, in front of 2,000 invited guests. The ceremony was broadcast on radio, to 200 million listeners worldwide. I am sure the the Brits thought of little else but hope for the future of the young royal couple while the politians were thrilled to have the nation concentrating on something other than the continuing (and more stringent after WWII) rationing of food and goods. Thank you for this great post.

  2. Diana Devlin

    Another fascinating bit of history. It would be good to know your sources.

    I was interested that you consider the Cold War went on to the end of the 20th century, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, break-up of Soviet Union etc.

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