Postwar Germany: The Profits of Peace
Keith Lowe on the dilemmas faced by a victorious but financially ruined Britain in its dealings with postwar Germany.
Ian Locke’s essay on the exploitation of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, published in History Today in 1997, describes a unique moment in British history. It depicts a time when the country was still (just) a superpower, albeit one hovering on the edge of bankruptcy, having emerged victorious from the most destructive conflict the world has seen. Plundering its defeated enemy offered Britain an opportunity to dig its way out of a financial hole and secure its future as a global economic power.
As Locke shows, however, it could not embark on such a course without first considering a whole host of economic and political concerns. If it were to strip Germany bare there was every possibility that she would find herself carrying its former enemy like a millstone for years to come. If Germans were to be left destitute, as some American planners suggested, there was a danger of re-igniting the same resentment and political extremism that had led to war in the first place.