Eager to change the story, the Biden team puts air travel in historical context
By comparison, the business in Kabul doesn’t look exactly like the Berlin Airlift, in which food was flown to West Berlin, rather than people being evacuated.
But as a model of humanitarian and political recovery, the rescue operation – which took place when Mr Biden was just a child – is not bad. The city of Berlin had been divided between West and East since the end of World War II and tensions were mounting. When the Soviet Union prevented food, electricity, and other resources from reaching West Berlin by land, the United States and Britain took to the skies to transport supplies by air.
The two countries managed to get just under 300,000 flights to Berlin in 11 months, from June 24, 1948 to May 11, 1949, and the State Department file notes that “at the height of the campaign, a plane landed every 45 seconds at Tempelhof airport”, until recently Berlin’s main air hub.
Harry S. Truman, the president who ran the now famous airlift, was re-elected from within, but not by many – something Mr Biden must have noticed. But the story has been sweet, describing the Cold War-era airlift as one of the world’s greatest emergency humanitarian efforts. It helps that the Soviet Union has finally collapsed, 40 years after the end of the airlift, and that Germany has become both unified and free.
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Mr Biden referred to the Berlin Airlift on Sunday to explain his decision to use the civilian reserve air fleet, which was created after the Berlin crisis to ensure that commercial jets can be used in an emergency. . It was only rarely summoned, mainly to move troops in the Persian Gulf. But this is a very different type of mission.
“The comparison is largely correct,” said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, who wrote about the 20th century effort in his book “The Conquerors.”
“Both in the Berlin Airlift and in the efforts to get refugees out of Afghanistan, American humanitarian values and impulses are widely exposed to the rest of the world,” Beschloss said. “The difference between the two is that in 1948 we were stealing food and other supplies from Berliners threatened by the Soviets to show that America would keep its promise to guarantee Berlin freedom.”