Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Bevin, Ernest (1881–1951)

Title: Ernest Bevin
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British trade union leader, Labour Party politician, minister of labor, and foreign secretary from 1945 to 1950. Born in Winsford, Somerset, on 9 March 1881, and orphaned at the age of eight, Ernest Bevin left school at age eleven and worked a series of odd jobs to support himself. He eventually worked his way up from dockworker to secretary of the dockworkers' union by age twenty. Bevin continued to rise through union ranks and became general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union in 1931. Influential in Labour Party politics throughout the 1930s, he became minister of labor in Winston Churchill's wartime coalition government in 1940 and was responsible for mobilizing manpower for the war effort. After Labour's 1945 electoral victory, Bevin became foreign secretary to Prime Minister Clement Attlee, accompanying him to the last Allied conference at Potsdam in the summer of 1945.

Bevin's years as a trade unionist ingrained in him a deep distrust of Soviet-style communism. After 1945, he was convinced that the Soviet Union was bent on expanding its influence over the whole of Europe and the Middle East. But a Britain badly weakened by six years of war had to look elsewhere for help in reestablishing world order and stanching Soviet expansionism. Bevin therefore turned over British commitments in the Mediterranean, particularly in Greece and Turkey, to the United States on 21 February 1947. This decision ultimately led in March 1947 to the Truman Doctrine, which pledged American responsibility for anticommunist and anti-Soviet policies in the region.

Having cast Britain's lot with the United States, Bevin worked tirelessly to convince U.S. President Harry S. Truman of the need for financial and military support for European reconstruction and the unification of Western Europe as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism in what soon became known as the containment policy. A similar consensus was emerging within the Truman administration, and on 5 June 1947 U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall announced that the United States would establish an aid package for both Western and Eastern Europe, known as the Marshall Plan or the European Recovery Program. Bevin then turned to military concerns and negotiated the 1948 Brussels Treaty, which was ultimately expanded into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), founded on 4 April 1949.

Bevin preserved Britain's freedom of action in international affairs, however, by eschewing Anglo-European integration, and he angered the United States by officially recognizing the People's Republic of China (PRC) in January 1950. Health problems forced Bevin to resign on 10 March 1951, and he died in London on 14 April 1951.

Chris Tudda


Further Reading
Bullock, Alan. Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary, 1945–1951. New York: Norton, 1983.; Kent, John. British Imperial Strategy and the Origins of the Cold War, 1944–49. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press, 1993.; Stephens, Mark. Ernest Bevin: Unskilled Labourer and World Statesman. London: Stevenage, 1981.
 

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