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Prof. Dr. Stephan Bierling

Prof. Dr. Stephan Bierling

To person

Stephan Bierling, born in 1962, has been Professor of International Politics and Transatlantic Relations at the University of Regensburg since May 2000. His work focuses on German and American foreign policy and the transatlantic relationship. As a visiting professor, he has taught at universities in the USA (Austin College, University of California / San Diego), South Africa (Fort Hare University) and Israel (Hebrew University). Since 2002 he has been a fellow at the Center for Applied Political Research in Munich; In 2001 Bierling was German Marshall Fund Fellow of the Pacific Council on International Policy at the University of Southern California / Los Angeles. In 2003 the political scientist received the Free State of Bavaria's Prize for Good Teaching and in 1996 the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic Journalism. Most recently he published "History of American Foreign Policy from 1917 to the Present", "The Piggyback Strategy. Europe Must Harness the USA. A Point of View by Stephan Bierling" and "A Little History of California".

From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima

The Japanese surprise attack on the US fleet off Pearl Harbor in Hawaii resulted in the USA entering the war in December 1941. After Germany and Italy declared war, American troops also fought in Europe. After winning the war, the United States emerged as a superpower.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was the reason for the United States to enter the war. (& copy AP)

On December 7, 1941, Japan sank large parts of the US Pacific fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a surprise attack. 2,403 Americans were killed. On December 8th, the United States Congress declared war on Tokyo. Three days later, Hitler and Mussolini followed up with declarations of war on the United States in order to involve their armed forces in a battle on the two great oceans before they were fully mobilized. The American government had hesitated to the last to counter the two European aggressors with its own troops. Now she was at war with the most powerful military nations in history.

The rise to superpower

The US faced enormous challenges: Japan controlled the western Pacific and overran East and Southeast Asia. Germany ruled continental Europe. His troops stood in front of Moscow and his submarines caused severe damage to the Allied formations. The main allies, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, fought with their backs to the wall. Its economy had not yet fully recovered from the Great Depression.

The military was not prepared for a conflict of this magnitude. Forty-five months later, the United States had defeated Italy, Germany, and Japan to become the world's dominant military and economic power. Their political interests and influence reached into every corner of the world. With the exception of the Soviet Union, the pre-war great powers were only a shadow of themselves.

Committed to freedom

The United States owed its unique position to an economic, political and military effort. Their efficient economy soon produced more armaments than the economies of all other combatants combined. In response to a report by Albert Einstein on German atomic bomb plans, President Roosevelt initiated his own secret nuclear program, the so-called Manhattan Project, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. As with fighting the economic crisis inside, he proved himself to be a strong-willed and inspiring leader during the war. In the tradition of his predecessor Woodrow Wilson, US President from 1913 to 1921, he also knew how to give American participation in the war a special moral dimension. Again and again he publicly declared that America was committed to four inalienable human freedoms all over the world: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom from fear). The "United Nations Declaration" initiated by Washington, the founding document of the war alliance against the Axis powers Germany, Italy and Japan, breathed this spirit.

Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin (from left to right) discuss the political shaping of Europe after the end of the Second World War at the Yalta Conference. (& copy AP)

From 1944 negotiations on Germany's post-war status

Roosevelt made a fundamental decision about the post-war order in Europe at the conference in Casablanca with Churchill in January 1943, when he made the "unconditional surrender" of Germany a war objective. How, however, Germany as a whole was to be treated remained controversial between the alliance partners. Even the first summit conference of the Big Three - Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin - in Tehran at the end of 1943 did not produce any result on this question. In the spring of 1944, the United States began its post-war planning for Germany. The plan submitted by the then US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau for a severe punishment for Germany received only "tactical, temporary support" from Roosevelt, as the historian Michael Beschloss explains. The secret directive JCS 1067 for the future administration of Germany, the final version of which was available in April 1945, stipulated that Germany would occupy "not for the purpose of liberation, but as a defeated enemy state", that heavy industry was dismantled, cartels unbundled, the military abolished and extensive denazification measures should be carried out. But JCS 1067 also had numerous loopholes that a US military governor could later use to enforce a less harsh occupation policy.

Victory in Europe - without Roosevelt

Militarily, the defeat of the German Reich after the successful invasion of Allied troops in Operation "Overlord" on June 6, 1944, the so-called D-Day, was foreseeable in Normandy, even if the Wehrmacht continued to fight doggedly. In the eight weeks after the landing alone, 16,000 American soldiers were killed; 78,000 were wounded. When Roosevelt met with Churchill and Stalin for the second war conference in Yalta in the Crimea at the beginning of February 1945, the military ring around the enemy was already tight. With victory in mind, the Big Three agreed to divide Germany into four occupation zones after the surrender, with France also being given a zone. The Allies also agreed that the Curzon Line established after World War I would form Poland's new eastern border with the Soviet Union. On April 25, 1945, American troops met Soviet forces for the first time near Torgau on the Elbe. On April 30, Hitler committed suicide. On May 7th and 9th the German Wehrmacht surrendered unconditionally. America celebrated "VE Day", the "Victory in Europe" day. However, Roosevelt would not live to see this triumph again. A few weeks earlier, on April 12, 1945, the US president had died of a stroke.