Social, Economic, and Political Effects of World War II on Germany

Subject: History
Type: Cause and Effect Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1844
Topics: Democracy, Government, Macroeconomics, Nazism, World War 2
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Introduction

Germany’s post World War II social, economic, and political situation was fundamentally different from the socio-economic and political situation that preceded the war. Prior to the commencement of the war in 1939, Germany experienced distinct periods of socio-economic and political change. The period between 1919 and 1933, marked by mass democracy, resulted in significant changes to the country’s social policy, for instance, the institutionalisation of key social rights (Leisering, 2005). Nonetheless, unprecedented social, as well as economic challenges accompanied by political differences paved the way for the emergence of National Socialism in the 1930s. Propagated by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945, National Socialism called for the establishment of a predominantly welfare state. The novel ideologies undoubtedly affected the extant social policy since they advocated for the reorientation of social policies such as health policies towards eugenic objectives (Leisering, 2005). In 1945, soon after the war was over, Germany found itself in a state of disorganisation, defeat, as well as destruction. The country soon became two states occupied by two different powers with fundamentally distinct ideologies. World War II shaped Germany socially, politically, and economically.

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Social, Political, and Economic Effects of World War 11

The political and economic situation in Germany during World War II was fundamentally different from the situation right after the war. Consequently, the changed political and economic situation had a cascading effect on the social life in Germany before and after the war. During the first years of war, Germany’s economy flourished as a predominantly war economy. Key to the country’s economic strategy during the better part of the war was the notion of ‘total war.’ Kaldor (1945) asserts that ‘total war’ entailed resource, as well as effort concentration on the single most important goal of military triumph. Key resources marshalled by the Germans to support the war effort included steel, textiles and oil, all of which helped fuel the war machinery (Kaldor, 1945). Another aspect of Germany’s economy that was pivotal to the country’s war effort during the course of the war was that of corporatism. Under the corporatist system, interest group organisations had compulsory membership such that they acted as the official representative entities for all persons engaged in a particular economic activity (Prowe, 1985). Winkler (1976) notes that corporatism is a system whereby the state has controls and gives direction to privately-owned businesses based on four principles, namely, unity, success, order and nationalism. The typical corporate institution in Germany before and after World War II was known as the Industrie-und Handelskammer (IHK). The IHKs were essentially representative institutions that enjoyed complete autonomy from the German state and had wide-ranging public functions.

Under the fascist Nazi regime, that is, between 1933 and 1945, the corporatist system in Germany assumed the form of authoritarian corporatism (Winkler, 1976). Authoritarian corporatism during this period fuelled a system where big businesses including armament manufacturers dominated the German economy and had the capacity to control a regime obsessed with military conquest (Winkler, 1976). Soon after World War II ended in 1945, the German economy was in total shambles but the corporatist system survived and morphed into a more democratic form of corporatism. The advantages were especially apparent in the role played by the IHKs in post-war Germany. Soon after World War II was over, Germany’s state administration was practically non-existent and IHKs were the sole surviving agencies responsible for economic administration (Prowe, 1985). Unlike other state agencies, IHKs were not embedded into the wartime regime and were thus in a position to swiftly reconstitute themselves immediately after the occupation of Germany (Prowe, 1985). Since the technical personnel of the IHKs were particularly familiar with the workings of Germany’s regional economies, they were invaluable to the occupation governments (Prowe, 1985). As such, they played a key role in the reconstruction efforts instituted by the different occupation governments. Seliger (2010) asserts that the economic revolution in post-war Germany was brought about by economic reforms that advocated for the establishment of a social market economy. Ultimately, West Germany played a major role in changing the conduct of labour, as well as industrial organisations. Prowe (1985) posits that West Germany’s economic minister attempted to attain equal labour representation by establishing labour-management advisory councils.

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Germany’s economy played a pivotal role in transforming Germany political system into a predominantly democratic one soon after World War II was over. The years between 1945 and 1949 were characterised by economic uncertainty and as a result, expectations for a new social, economic, and political order were everywhere (Prowe, 1985). The expectations ushered in an era whereby the capitalist occupiers pushed for economic growth based on capitalist ideals, in addition to the development of a democratic political system (Prowe, 1985). Moreover, robust economic growth in the 1950s helped institute strong political institutions, a key hallmark of democracy (Prowe, 1985). In the 1950s, Germany underwent an economic rejuvenation that was quite impressive (Stolper & Roskamp, 1979). From 1950 to 1959, the gross domestic product of West Germany grew by an impressive 8% every year, faster than the economic growth rate registered post World War I (Eichengreen & Ritschl, 2009). A key boost to this phenomenal economic growth in West Germany was the economic growth registered in other countries particularly in Europe (Funk, 2012). Evidently, Germany’s economy played a crucial role in transforming Germany into a democratic country.

World War II had a profound effect on Germany’s political system. This is particularly manifest in the changes that took place on the country’s political scene soon after the war was over in 1945. At the height of Nazi rule, the regime took a big step towards changing their political system. Winkler (1976) notes that the political system between 1933 and 1945 was primarily authoritarian and followed a fascist ideology. With Adolf Hitler as Chancellor, the regime sought to conquer Europe and build a German Empire. It is worth noting that the political system during the war had secondary effects on the social life in Germany. During the course of World War II, the incumbent Nazi regime sought to have a massive influence on the family unit by adopting a two-pronged approach. One part of the strategy entailed making sure that the Nazi political establishment had the undivided support of the family unit (Vaizey, 2011). The regime strived to attain this objective by offering financial, as well as material incentives to German families (Vaizey, 2011). The second part of the strategy involved eroding and replacing family loyalty with Party loyalty. In order to realise this goal, the regime endeavoured to keep family members preoccupied with the activities of Nazi organisations and actively encouraged individuals to denounce relatives who opposed the political establishment (Vaizey, 2011). It is thus apparent that the political system had cascading effects on the social life of families in wartime Germany.

World War II also had a massive effect on political system soon after World War II.  In post-World War II Germany, the lingering question lay in whether West and East Germany should be joined or whether they should remain separated. At the time, West Germany was under the occupation of the Allied coalition of Western powers while the Soviets occupied East Germany (Maier, 1981). According to Bernhard (2001), the social configuration of uneven development between West and East Germany stymied the democratisation of the political process in the country. As post-war West Germany morphed into a developed and modern society, East Germany maintained the quasi-feudal nature associated with pre-World War II agriculture (Bernhard 2001). According to Bowie (n.d.), the realisation of democracy in Germany’s political scene is partially attributable to external imposition. The resultant political system soon after the war was over was thus contingent upon the occupying powers of West and East Germany.

During and soon after World War II, the changes on the economic and political scenes in Germany had a consequential effect on the social front. During the course of the war, events on the country’s political scene had a devastating effect on the mental and psychological health of children. Kesternich, Siflinger, Smith, and Winter (2014) assert that while children played a key role at the family level during the war, they underwent a great deal of psychological harm. This is primarily because children were separated from their fathers for prolonged time periods and most of them lost close family members. In addition, young children saw the horrors brought about by the bombing, as well as the ground battles reminiscent of World War II (Kesternich et al., 2014). Another notable disadvantage of World War II to Germany was the social and political upheaval it caused. On the social front, the separation of German families from their fathers resulted in an unprecedented social disruption. This is primarily because once the fathers enlisted for military duty, their physical presence in families became severely limited (Vaizey, 2011). Evidently, key changes on Germany’s political front had compounding effects on the social life in the country.

In conclusion, it is evident that World War II shaped Germany socially, politically, and economically. From a social perspective, the separation of German families from their fathers resulted in an unprecedented social disruption in wartime Germany. On the political front, Germany’s economy played a pivotal role in transforming Germany into a democratic country. Notably, corporatism in post-war Germany was both advantageous and disadvantageous to the country. Ultimately, World War II affected Germany positively more than it did negatively.

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  1. Bernhard, M., 2001. Democratisation in Germany: A reappraisal. Comparative Politics, pp.379-400.
  2. Bowie, L. (n.d.). The Impact of World War Two on the Individual and Collective Memory of Germany and its Citizens.
  3. Eichengreen, B. and Ritschl, A., 2009. Understanding West German economic growth in the 1950s. Cliometrica3(3), pp.191-219.
  4. Funk, L., 2012. The German Economy during the Financial and Economic Crisis since 2008/2009: An Unexpected Success Story Revisited. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.
  5. Kaldor, N. (1945). The German war economy. The Review of Economic Studies13(1), 33-52.
  6. Kesternich, I., Siflinger, B., Smith, J.P. and Winter, J.K., 2014. The effects of World War II on economic and health outcomes across Europe. Review of Economics and Statistics96(1), pp.103-118.
  7. Leisering, L., 2005. The welfare state in postwar Germany. In Welfare states and the future (pp. 113-130). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
  8. Maier, C.S., 1981. The two postwar eras and the conditions for stability in twentieth-century Western Europe. The American Historical Review, pp.327-352.
  9. Prowe, D., 1985. Economic Democracy in Post-World War II Germany: Corporatist Crisis Response, 1945-1948. The Journal of Modern History57(3), pp.451-482.
  10. Seliger, B., 2010. Theories of economic miracles (No. 2010-01). Ordnungspolitische Diskurse.
  11. Stolper, W.F. and Roskamp, K.W., 1979. Planning a Free Economy: Germany 1945-1960. Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft/Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, (H. 3), pp.374-404.
  12. Vaizey, H., 2011. Parents and Children in Second World War Germany: An Inter-generational Perspective on Wartime Separation. Journal of contemporary history46(2), pp.364-382.
  13. Winkler, J. T. (1976). Corporatism. European Journal of Sociology/Archives Européennes de Sociologie17(1), 100-136.
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