Out of the ashes: Europe's rebirth after the Second World War, 1945-1949

by Ian Kershaw

14 Apr 2016
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Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 3, pp. 167-183.

Abstract: This lecture seeks to explain why the Second World War, the most destructive conflict in history, produced such a contrasting outcome to the First. It suggests that the Second World War’s maelstrom of destruction replaced a catastrophic matrix left by the First – of heightened ethnic, border and class conflict underpinned by a deep and prolonged crisis of capitalism – by a completely different matrix: the end of Germany’s great-power ambitions, the purging of the radical Right and widescale ethnic cleansing, the crystallisation of Europe’s division, unprecedented rates of economic growth and the threat of nuclear war. Together, these self-reinforcing components, all rooted in what soon emerged as the Cold War, conditioned what in 1945 had seemed highly improbable: Europe’s rise out of the ashes of the ruined continent to lasting stability, peace and prosperity.

Keywords: Cold War, Germany, ethnic cleansing, economic growth, matrix, Europe’s division, radical Right, nuclear war.

Raleigh Lecture on History, read 2 July 2015 (video recording)

Text printed 2016 in British Academy Lectures 2014-15

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