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The economic costs of the refugee crisis alone could have justified the construction of the Wall. Even as early as , poor economic situations were causing over , East Germans to flee. The economic burden was straining the viability of the GDR as a political unit to assert control over its own people. Despite many attempts at rectifying the situation, refugees were still leaving.
A Bone in the Throat: An Analysis on the Origins of the Berlin Wall
In particular, the massive loss of doctors and specialists made it hard for the sick to recover so that they could return to work, as well as the lack of engineers and skilled workers made it impossible to advance in the technological and specialized construction sectors. On December 11, , the East German passport law was introduced which reduced the overall number of refugees. Finally, the refugee crisis proved to be a security threat to the communist bloc. Even though reports from Ulbricht on the extent of subversive activity occurring have a tendency to exaggerate, there was some underlying truth to his claims.
Khrushchev faced challenges to his leadership and policies domestically, from Ulbricht, and from China, which are all critical components to understanding why he gave consent to Ulbricht to construct a wall. Sputnik was successfully launched as the first artificial satellite in space in , Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in , and later that year, Gherman Titov became the first human to orbit the Earth multiple times.
However, these challenges facing his leadership surrounding the issue of Berlin first had to be dealt with. The most vocal challenge for Khrushchev to act in response to the refugee crisis was from Ulbricht.
Historian Hope Harrison puts it best: Senator William Fulbright  suggested in a television interview on July 25, that the East Germans could close the border without conceivably violating any treaty. After two and a half years of negotiations, Khrushchev finally gave the green light to proceed.
In doing so, he was still firm about retaining his influence over Ulbricht. The Sino-Soviet split provided Ulbricht with greater leverage when advocating for the Wall, and also compelled Khrushchev to take decisive action in regards to Berlin. Firstly, the leaders both ruled by the same personality cult which Khrushchev denounced, and felt as if they were personally under attack. The crisis in Berlin had the potential to trigger another world war, so it was necessary that the superpowers at least try to resolve the issue diplomatically.
- Hank Butterfield.
In its place, the Wall became a more viable solution. Khrushchev had high hopes for success at the Paris meeting in May , but a number of circumstantial issues reduced solving the Berlin issue to a stalemate. A meeting of Western allies and ministers in late revealed that there were sharp divisions as to how to est approach the topic.
Khrushchev, still hoping that peaceful coexistence was possible, did not initially believe that Eisenhower personally authorize this incident. Even though Khrushchev faced harsh criticisms at home and received desperate pleas for help from Ulbricht, he remained hopeful that dialogue with Kennedy might retun better results.
When the two leaders met in Vienna in June , it became obvious however that the topic of Berlin was both foremost on their minds. The final event which empowered Khrushchev to act, alongside the Fulbright statement, was a speech Kennedy gave on July 25, Kennedy reaffirmed his commitment to West Berlin, but did not mention domestic East Berlin actions which would not affect the West as cause for retaliation.
The significance of the origins of the Wall is precisely a reflection of these circumstances. The Republikflucht, instability Khrushchev faced within the communist bloc, and failed attempts at peaceful solution all could have led to nuclear Armageddon. Any miscommunication conducted by both sides could have resulted in a situation similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later. Instead, the Wall represented an attempt between the West and East at co-operation over the heated German Question, and when that failed, an attempt to rectify the situation unilaterally. It was also an example of how the agendas of superpowers in maintaining their prestige or position often had harsh consequences for the ordinary citizens.
However, it is important to remember that it was not an inevitable outcome, but a rational conclusion to the crises in the circumstances. This response was the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Crisis and the Construction of the Wall. Berlin Story Verlag, Kennedy and Khrushchev, Edward Bulingame Books, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall Crisis: A Case Study in U.
Translated by Paul Maddrell. History of Germany The Divided Nation, Second Edition. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, University of North Carolina Press, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall: Soviet-East German Relations Princeton University Press, The Berlin Wall Story: Biography of a Monument. Berkley Pub Group, Klein, David, and James S.
From Symbol of Confrontation to Keystone of Stability. Behind the Berlin Wall: East Germany and the Frontiers of Power. Oxford University Press, Building authority after the wall. Cambridge University Press,
Related Macmillan, Khrushchev and the Berlin Crisis, 1958-1960 (Cold War History)
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