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Cold War Ecology

Cold War Ecology: Forests, Farms, and People in the East German Landscape, 1945-1989

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Cold War Ecology
    Book Description:

    East Germany, its economy, and its society were in decline long before the country's political collapse in the late 1980s. The clues were there in the natural landscape, Arvid Nelson argues in this groundbreaking book, but policy analysts were blind to them. Had they noted the record of the leadership's values and goals manifest in the landscape, they wouldn't have hailed East Germany as a Marxist-Leninist success story. Nelson sets East German history within the context of the landscape history of two centuries to underscore how forest and ecosystem change offered a reliable barometer to the health and stability of the political system that governed them.Cold War Ecology records how East German leaders' indifference to human rights and their disregard for the landscape affected the rural economy, forests, and population. This lesson from history suggests new ways of thinking about the health of ecosystems and landscapes, Nelson shows, and he proposes assessing the stability of modern political systems based on the environment's system qualities rather than on political leaders' goals and beliefs.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13030-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Conversions
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. A Note on Terminology
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  8. 1 Prologue
    (pp. 1-9)

    In March, Berlin can be cold, open as it is to northeastern winds that blow in unchecked from the Urals across the lowlands of the North European Plain. Overcoats and shoes comfortable in Hamburg or Frankfurt did not keep out the freezing wind sluicing across the deserted train platform despite the morning’s brilliant sunshine and dryness. But at least travelers shivered above the street, clear of its pall of furnace gases and greasy exhaust fumes. And the street noises dulled as they drifted up against the constant wind, which almost drowned out the coughing of car and truck engines, the...

  9. 2 Landscape and Culture
    (pp. 10-28)

    So I came to East Germany in the early days after the Wall fell, drawn to the Neiße River marshes and Tacitus’ “bristling forests” of remote Thuringia in the south and the broad wetlands of the Oder River valley, theOderbruch,and the old Prussian “sand and pine” landscape east of the Elbe River.¹ I was drawn by reports of crisis in the eastern forest—the end result of Marxism-Leninism’s forty-year collision with the natural landscape. This struggle offered a natural experiment, how a long-lived ecosystem with a 1945 provenance weighted toward theKaiserzeitbefore 1918 changed under rule of...

  10. 3 Initial Conditions and Reparations
    (pp. 29-52)

    In the closing months of the Second World War, the broad northern plains between the Oder and Elbe rivers settled the flood of more than eight million refugees from Germany’s eastern provinces. The refugees found there, in the core of the future East German state, a fragile calm.¹ They had raced westward blindly at first, put to flight like wildlife driven by beaters from thicket and earth, slowing only as they flowed into Brandenburg’s sandy lowlands. The European landscape had never seen such a shift of population—the liquidation and replacement of an entire people in a few weeks’ time...

  11. Plates
    (pp. None)
  12. 4 “A Law Would Be Good”: Land Reform
    (pp. 53-76)

    Germans could see the forest disintegrate under the burden of Soviet reparations almost before their eyes, as they walked in the woods or watched the thousands of trucks, railcars, and barges move logs and lumber to the east. Forest destruction raised existential fear, but most Germans realized that reparations were justified. Propagandists pressed home that cooperation with the Soviets—proving that the German people were “peace-loving” by “working through the conditions created by the fascists”—was the quickest path to ending reparations, to bringing the millions of POWs home, and to recovering the Oder-Neiße territories. So Stalin turned to land...

  13. 5 The Landscape’s “Socialist Transformation” and Flight from the Countryside (1949–1961)
    (pp. 77-98)

    Land reform and Soviet reparations fomented an ecological and economic revolution in the rural landscape into the late 1940s. Near famine, economic waste, and punishing reduction of diversity and structure knocked East Germany behind the western part of the country, reversing their 1936 positions. The cost to the forest was staggering—fourteen years of growth taken from the forest in only four years and the near destruction of the East German farm and forest economies.

    German foresters were helpless during the years of direct Soviet occupation to protect the forest from reparations and land reform. The Soviets first purged experienced...

  14. 6 The Landscape Transformed (1960–1961)
    (pp. 99-117)

    The East German landscape evolved into more than an arena for class warfare in the 1950s; it became the frontline of the cold war. As the sharp shocks of reparations, land reform, and forced collectivization passed, the industrial forest slowly recovered and the fractured farm structure reknit either under the shelter of traditional cooperatives or, through “hard class warfare,” within socialist collectives. The guiding principles of the 1950s command economy—for central control, Plan discipline, and maximum production—remained intact. Despite rhetoric of reform and ecology, neither the biological nor the economic structures emerging from Ulbricht’s chaotic decade of experiments...

  15. 7 Cybermarxism and Innovation (1961–1971)
    (pp. 118-140)

    Soviet bloc leaders faced promising economic and political environments in 1961, the midpoint of the “Great Golden Age of Economic Growth” (1950–73). It was an age of productivity unmatched in history despite economists’ predictions of a long Malthusian depression after the Second World War.¹ The Information Technology Revolution (the IT Revolution), together with advances in agriculture, transportation, and finance, emerged as the engine of this extraordinary growth. Soviet bloc planners also held powerful advantages after Stalin’s death in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev’s reforms: central planning, superb scientific and technical schools, demonstrated prowess in space, formidable nuclear and conventional forces,...

  16. Plates
    (pp. None)
  17. 8 The Grüneberg Era and the Triumph of Industrial Production Methods (1971–1989)
    (pp. 141-170)

    The 1970s were particularly hard on the resource-poor East Germany. Raw material prices started rising slowly in 1965 and then surged 14.5 percent following the Yom Kippur War and the first oil shock in 1973, then a further 30 percent in the wake of the Iranian Revolution in 1978–79. Not an economy in the world was untouched by global inflation and recession by the end of 1979. As energy prices rose, the Soviets cut their subsidized oil shipments to East Germany and reoriented their exports to hard currency markets in the West. The East Germans were forced to tap...

  18. 9 Reunification
    (pp. 171-188)

    The sudden collapse of East Germany in the weeks following the regime’s fortieth anniversary on 9 October 1989 halted the Party’s war on the countryside. After reunification one year later western German lawyers and foresters spread out into the five new eastern states to remake forest policy, furloughing almost the entire upper strata of the forestry bureaucracy. Most senior officials were close to retirement and had grown up professionally within the Party to reach positions of influence during the Ära Grüneberg. In the last months of his life, Professor Richard Plochmann came from Munich to bring forest policy and history...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 189-258)
  20. Glossary
    (pp. 259-264)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-298)
  22. Index
    (pp. 299-315)