Fixing Germany Wasn't Easy Either

News Abroad

Leslie S. Lebl, a recently retired Foreign Service officer, was political adviser to the commander of the Stabilization Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1999 to 2000.

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A GERMAN FRIEND born in 1941 once recounted that he had been so hungry as a small child that, left unsupervised in the pantry, he ate an entire jar of mustard. The conversation made a strong impression on me, in part because of his bitterness toward the occupying powers that had presided over such conditions. Certainly, it did not match my view of German reconstruction as fast, easy, and successful from the start. Yet that view seems to be the model against which our performance in Iraq is being measured.

But was German reconstruction easy? The historical record shows it was anything but.

German policy was fiercely contested during and after the end of World War II in Washington, with tremendous rifts at the cabinet level between Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and Secretary of War Henry Stimson, as recounted most recently in The Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss. The fundamental question that split policymakers was the degree to which Germany should be punished for the war. Morgenthau argued that Germany should be dismembered, turned back into an agricultural country, its industry and thus its potential to wage war largely dismantled. Stimson opposed this, arguing that 30 million people would starve. Nor did he see virtue in splitting Germany into pieces. He believed that a disabled and chaotic Germany, which he felt would surely result from such a policy, would keep all of Europe from recovering from the war. This dispute was not fully resolved when the war ended.

If U.S. policy was unclear in Washington, things were no better on the ground in Germany. A fascinating look at this process comes from Decision in Germany, the memoir of Gen. Lucius Clay, the head of the U.S. military government in Germany. Clay argues that Washington did not understand how chaotic the situation in Germany really was in 1945. Clay was indeed in a difficult spot; far from having a clear policy to communicate to both Germans and Americans, he was charged with implementing the relatively punitive directive (JCS-1067) that defined U.S. policy toward Germany. That top-secret directive, by the way, was not made public until October 1945--six months after the German surrender--a situation that would constitute a major public relations disaster were it to happen today.

Security and law-and-order problems were an immediate priority. As Clay describes it, the crime rate was high at the war's end, but all German police had to be vetted. They were disarmed until September 1945, when they were provided with light arms. And, because the Nazis had so corrupted the German justice system, U.S. military-government courts carried out various legal functions for several years in the American sector. Clay recounts a series of steps he took to improve this justice system over time, noting the difficulties of crafting a hybrid for a unique situation.

De-Nazification was highly controversial, both among the occupying forces and in the United States. In the American sector, where it was implemented the most rigorously, German tribunals worked under American supervision. Some 25 percent of the population was judged; some individuals were detained for almost three years before being brought to trial. At one point, Clay defended this process against pressure from a congressional committee calling for its quick termination. Finding the right balance that would allow true political reform, yet not punish unduly those who were only nominally Nazi or create large groups of disenfranchised, excluded, and potentially dangerous opponents of the occupying power was no easier then than it is likely to be now in Iraq.

Nor did the United States have a consistent military plan for Germany. Our first concern, after the German surrender, was to send as many troops as possible to the Far East to fight Japan, or to send them home. Certainly the rapid drawdown weakened our hand in dealing with the Soviet Union on the future of Germany.

During the first three years after the war, U.S. officials expended a great deal of effort trying to work together with the other occupying powers (Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). In retrospect, it is easy to say that the Soviets were never going to cooperate constructively with us in Germany. At the time, however, we were committed to working with them. As a result, senior American officials spent long hours in endless quadripartite meetings that produced little of value. To give just one example, in May 1946, Clay's experts presented him with a plan for currency reform that they considered urgent, given the damage done by raging inflation in Germany. We proceeded with currency reform only in June 1948, more than two years later, when we had decided to do so despite Soviet opposition.

But perhaps the clearest indication that the peace was far from "won" in the first two years was how Secretary of State George C. Marshall described the situation in Germany in a radio talk to Americans in April 1947: "The patient is sinking while the doctors deliberate." Only then did we fund the Marshall Plan.

The record in Germany suggests not that we knew what to do and did it efficiently, but that we succeeded only after struggling for some time over the right policy and then how to implement it. Success in Iraq will likely require the same process.

This article was first published by the Weekly Standard and is reprinted with permission.

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jan montgomery bartholomew - 3/6/2007

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John - 7/19/2004

Where did you get this info?

Ann - 9/6/2003

This is fiction. Follow this link:

Dave Thomas - 9/1/2003

Other authors on this site should take note.

J. Swift - 8/29/2003

More recently discovered articles for these history-challenged times:

April 15, 1931: "FDR says we must attack Bruning now. Secret hoards of mustard gas and attempts to build more Zepplins major threats to American security"

December 8, 1941: "FDR's warnings about Bruning justified after all"

December 12, 1944: "Aboard USS Turkey, FDR declares 'major hostilities over'"

December 16,1944: "German counteroffensive in Ardennes "Bulge" "

July 14, 1945: " 'Who needs a United Nations ?' Truman asks"

April 22, 1946: "Nazi sabotage suspected in Ruhr coal field fires"

May 23, 1947: "Es Lebe Hitler" claims responsibility for blowing up Brandenburg gate"

June 29, 1948: "Guerrillas destroy six American transport planes bringing supplies to Berlin"

August 12, 1948: "Red Cross to quit Germany. No longer safe"

Gus Moner - 8/29/2003

completely bogus, but occasionally clever.

Gus Moner - 8/29/2003

Mr Longeur has brought up a good point regarding the Soviet menace and German people seeing the US as the lesser evil.

Faye Auchenpaugh - 8/29/2003

Emails are now circulating with the following article titled "Administration in Crisis Over Burgeoning Quagmire" supposedly printed August 12, 1945. Do any of you know anything about its authenticity?

WASHINGTON DC (Reuters) President Truman, just a few months into his
young presidency, is coming under increasing fire from some
Congressional Republicans for what appears to be a deteriorating
security situation in occupied Germany, with some calling for his
removal from office.

Over three months after a formal declaration of an end to
hostilities, the occupation is bogged down. Fanatical elements of
the former Nazi regime who, in their zeal to liberate their nation
from the foreign occupiers, call themselves members of the Werwolf
(werewolves) continue to commit almost-daily acts of sabotage
against Germany's already-ravaged infrastructure, and attack
American troops. They have been laying road mines, poisoning food
and water supplies, and setting various traps, often lethal, for the
occupying forces.

It's not difficult to find antagonism and anti-Americanism among the
population--many complain of the deprivation and lack of security.
There are thousands of homeless refugees, and humanitarian efforts
seem confused and inadequate. In the wake of the budding disaster,
some have called for more international participation in

A Red Cross official said that, "...the German people will be more
comfortable if their conquerors weren't now their overlords. It
makes it difficult to argue that this wasn't an imperialistic war
when the occupying troops in the western sector are exclusively
American, British and French."

The administration, of course, claims that, given the chaos of the
recent war, such a situation is to be expected, and that things will
improve with time. As to the suggestion to internationalize the
occupying forces, the administration had no official comment, but an
unofficial one was a repetition of the quote from General McAuliffe,
when asked to surrender in last winter's Battle of the Bulge--"Nuts."

In an attempt to minimize the situation, a White House spokesman
pointed out that the casualties were extremely light, and militarily
inconsequential, particularly when compared to the loss rates prior
to VE Day. Also, the attacks seem to be dying down with each passing
month. But this statement was leaped upon by some as heartless,
trivializing the deaths and injuries of young American men.

Many critics back in Washington seem now to be prescient, with their
previous warnings of just such an outcome a little over a year ago.
One congressman said that "...it's time to ask whether the German
people are better off now than they were a few months ago. Yes, a
brutal dictator has been deposed, but at least the electricity and
water supply were mostly working, and the trains running on time.
After years of killing them and destroying their infrastructure with
American bombs, it seems to me that the German people have suffered
enough without the chaos that our occupation, with its inadequate
policing, is bringing."

It's not clear how much support the Werwolf has among the populace,
who may be afraid to speak their true minds, given the fearfully
overwhelming "Allied" presence in the country. But it is possible
that, like the guerilla forces themselves, the people have been
inspired by Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels' pre-victory
broadcasts, and those of Radio Werwolf.

"God has given up the protection of the people . . . Satan has taken
command." Goebbels broadcast last spring. "We Werewolves consider it
our supreme duty to kill, to kill and to kill, employing every
cunning and wile in the darkness of the night, crawling, groping
through towns and villages, like wolves, noiselessly, mysteriously."

While no new broadcasts of Goebbels' voice have been heard since
early May, no one can be certain as to whether he is alive or dead,
and continuing to help orchestrate the attacks and boost morale
among the forces for German liberation. As long as his fate, and
more importantly, that of the former leader Adolf Hitler himself,
remains unresolved, the prospects for pacifying the brutally
conquered country may be dim.

Although Grand-Admiral Donitz made a radio announcement of Hitler's
brave death in battle to the beleaguered German people on the
evening of May 1, some doubt the veracity of that statement, and
there has been no evidence to support it, or any body identified as
the former Fuehrer's. Rumors of his whereabouts continue to abound,
including reported sightings as far away as South America, and many
still believe that he is hiding with the "Edelweiss" organization,
with thousands of Wehrmacht troops, in a mountain stronghold near
the Swiss border.

Many have criticized flawed intelligence for our failure to find
him, causing some, in the runup to next year's congressional
elections, to call for an investigation.

A staffer of one prominent Senator said, "For months, starting last
fall, we were told by this administration that Hitler would make a
last stand in a 'National Redoubt' in Bavaria. General Bradley
diverted troops to the south and let the Russians take Berlin on the
basis of this knowledge. But now we find out that there was no such
place, and that Hitler was in Berlin all along. And now we're told
that we can't even be sure of where he is, or whether he's alive or

For many, marching in the streets with signs of "No Blood For Soviet
Socialism," and "It's All About The Coal," this merely confirmed
that the administration had other agendas than its stated one, and
that the war was unjustified and unjustifiable.

General Bradley's staff has protested that this is an unfair
criticism-that the strategic decision made by General Eisenhower was
driven by many factors, of which Hitler's whereabouts was a minor
one, but this hasn't silenced the critics, some of whom have bravely
called for President Truman's impeachment, despite the fact that
most of these decisions were made even before he became president in

But some have taken the criticism further, and say that failure to
get Hitler means a failed war itself.

"Sure, it's nice to have released all those people from the
concentration camps, but we were told we were going to war against
Hitler, even though he'd done nothing to us," argued one concerned
anti-war Senator. "Now they say that we have 'Victory in Europe,'
but it seems to me that if they can't produce the man we supposedly
went to war against, it's a pretty hollow victory. Without this man
that they told us was such a great threat to America, how can even
they claim that this war was justified?"


Jesse Lamovsky - 8/28/2003

That's a very good point. The Germans couldn't have been too crazy about our army conquering their country, but we probably looked pretty good compared to the Soviets, who would have swallowed up the whole country, all the way to the Rhine, had the U.S. forces not been in the way.

The point of the original article- that we can rebuild Iraq simply because we rebuilt Germany- doesn't hold up to close analysis. Kudos to everyone and their insightful posts!

Lester Longeur - 8/28/2003

Millions of German civilians were raped and killed, in the final stages and immediate aftermath of World War II, and tens of millions forced to flee their homes, due to the onslaught of the Soviet Army. America not only liberated Western Europe from Nazi Germany, in occupying Germany it also protected Western Europe, including post-Nazi Germany, from Stalin's tyranny. And that protection was greatly welcomed by most Germans.

Iraq today is a totally different situation. Most Iraqis are very glad America overthrew Saddam, but that is it. They are not happy with how the Bush Administration went about this regime change, and they now basically want America to clean up its mess, get the power and water flowing and get out. Unfortunately, for them, the Bush Administration is fairly adept at media spin, but not proving very competent at nation-building, state-building, or economy-building, or cooperating with the United Nations to secure its assistance in such efforts.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/28/2003

Mr. Kipper,

Actually, racism was a factor in the success of the occupation, frankly. Dower documents the fascinating reversal of US images of Japan in "War Without Mercy": portrayals go from a vicious hulking gorilla to a cute monkey almost literally overnight.

And, for that matter, US disregard for the opinions and integrity of Japanese institutions, with the notable exception of the Emperor, allowed them to suggest and impose massive structural reforms well beyond those imposed on Germany.

John Kipper - 8/28/2003

You are right. That is exactly the reason that racism slowed, stalled or defeated the American efforts to reconstitute the civil and economic structure of Japan. I have it on good authority that, to this day, the citizens of Japan are grateful that MacArhur had to leave in order to kill innocent North Koreans.

Or were the traditional Shinto and Bushido codes less foreign to Americans than Islam? I think not.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/27/2003

Mr. Birkenstock,

ZNet is an on-line outgrowth (and substantial enhancement to) Z Magazine, a monthly journal of opinion and analysis from a radical progressive (leftist but not Marxist, particularly) activist position. It is a powerful alternative perspective to contemporary affairs, both within the USA and in the world. Yes, I'm a long-time reader of the magazine (though not much a user of the website).

Mr. Safranski is accusing you of being a leftist radical, or at least a sympathizer.

Ed Jarn - 8/27/2003

You're probably right about there being closer affinities towards Germans (something like a third of Americans have some German ancestry) than Iraqis but there were also close affinities in 1945 with French, English, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians, and all the other peoples brutally occupied by the Nazis and liberated by Americans. How many US soldiers today were even old enough to appreciate what Saddam did to the Kuwaitis 13 years ago ?
If we had invaded Germany in 1958 because we didn't like Franz-Josef Strauss and his nuclear fantasies, then there might be a viable historical comparison.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/27/2003

Another difference- an intangible difference, admittedly- rests in our attitudes toward World War II-era Germany and contemporary Iraq. Despite our horrors at the Nazis and their crimes, our soldiers and politicians maintained a relatively high level of respect toward the German people and their culture. The Germans were a Western country which, aside from the United States, was probably the most technologically advanced society in the world. For the most part, we recognized our affinity with the Germans. Stephen Ambrose's book "Band of Brothers" is full of stories about how impressed the GI's were with Germany and the German people- their culture, their modern highways, even their toilet paper.

I think that, underneath all the talk about liberating the Iraqis, and bringing them democracy and all that, there is a deep well of contempt for the Iraqi people and their culture. I may be misreading the popular temper, but I'm afraid that a great deal of people- and this attitude may extend into the soldiery- simply see the Iraqis as "terrorists" or "ragheads", or "sand-n---s" (prefer not to use that word). We don't identify with them the way we identitified with the German people, and this basic difference may affect the legitimacy and the effectiveness of our rebuilding enterprise.

Armin Mruck - 8/27/2003

Analogies of Iraq with Germany in and after 1945 are . Its people were exhausted after almost six years of war. The Nazi Party was discredited in the eyes of most German people. It did not have to be dissolved. It just disappeared. Many people in Germany wwere ready for a new beginning. Germany did have democratic traditions which reach back into the 19th century. Importantly so, German were Christians and belonged to the Western civilization. So thre was a code of basic ethics that connected at least the Western occupying powers with Germany. On the local level there still existed an infrastructure. In spite of the Morgenthau Plan which never did become offic ial policy at least the Western Allies had enough common sense to realize that an intact Germany was necessary to restore Europe and even more so when the Cold War made cooperation with the Soviet Union impossible.In spite of JCS 1067, fraternisaton of Germans with members of the occupying powers began almost as soon as the war ended. One striking example is that universities wwere reopened very shortly after the war ended. In Marburg/Hesse the Phillips University was closed for only one semester. International Summer Schools soon brought foreign students together with German students and foreign faculty with German faculty. Much of German youth was hungry to learn from the occupying powers. Hundreds of German students were invited to study in the United States to learn about the Americ an way of life.
Many more examples could be give to show that the analogy Germany in 1945 and Iraq in 2003 does not apply.

Dan - 8/27/2003

The war was long and hard, and personally affected every German. Virtually no German city was left intact from indiscriminate allied bombing raids. The German ecaonomy was essentially nonexistent. The "victors" had to bring Germany up by the bootstraps.

THe problem in Iraq is that the public didn't greet the invaders with flowers and champagne, as happened in France, a much more apt comparison, if one needs to be made.

Gus Moner - 8/27/2003

My apologies Mr Gallatin, and all the others who may have suffered my brutal annihilation of the language. Embarrasingly, I did not write it on a word processor as I usually do and should have, so it went off inexcusably and embarrasingly error-filled.

Here is the corrected and easier to read version.

The analogy may be better between Afghanistan circa 1980's than Germany after WWII, as we all seem to agree. However, it is inexcusable for the Pentagon to not have learnt those lessons drawn the necessary conclusions from them and to not have developed a plan to maintain the police, technicians and administrators to help rule the conquered land whilst the army went about searching for the remnants of the Ba'ath loyalists and the new Jihad arrivals.

The fact that only a plan to save the oil infrastructure was developed shows where their minds were at much more than their lying words. It is criminal and prosecutable under international law covering the responsibilities of occupying powers to have abdicated this responsibility by utterly failing to prepare for it.

Of course, we only accept international law when it benefits us. Just look at our shameful treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and our parading of captured Iraqis until they did it to us.

I wonder if someday they'll be tried with the same determination as the Germans who controlled their prison camps in WWII were.

My reason for pointing this up was to understand where the errors of today lie, In Pentagon lack of planning, foresight, historical perspective and a sense of realism.

Believing their own fairy tales as they told them to the US public, they have led us all from the garden of Eden to the Gates of Hell in three months. In my opinion, the entire cast of characters who have got us into this mess ought to be prosecuted for failure to do their jobs properly, not to mention lying and tergiversating reality to suit their invasion "PipesDream". Pun intended.

Thomas Gallatin - 8/26/2003

And too many typos. Fix your spell check, Gus.

Gus Moner - 8/26/2003

The analogy may be better between Afghanistan circa 1980's than Germany after WWII, as we all seem to agree. However, it is inexcusable for the Pentagon to not have learnt those lessons drawn the necessary conclusions from them and to not have developed a plan to maintain the police, technicians and administrators to help riule the conquered land whilst the army went about searching for the remnants of the ba'ath loyalists and the new Jihad arrivals.

The fact that only a plan to save the poil infrastructure was developed shows where there minds were at much more tan their lying words. It is criminal and prosecutable under international law covering the responsibilities of occupying powers to have abdicated this responsibility by utterñly failing to prepare for it.

Of course, we only accept international law when it benefits us. Just look at our shameful treatment of prisioners in Guantanamo and our parading of captured Iraqis until they did it to us.

I wonder if someday they'll be tried with the same determination as the Germans who controlled their prision camps in WWII were.

My reason for pointing this up was to understand where the errors of today lie, In Pentagon lack of planning, foresight, historical perspective and a sense of realism.

Believing their own fairy tales as they told them to the US public, they have led us all from the garden of Eden to the Gates of Hell in three months. In my opoinion, the entire cast of characters who have got us into this mess ought to be prosecuted for failuere to do their jobs properly, not to mention lying and tergiversating reality to suit their invasion "PipesDream". Pun initented.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/26/2003

Rest at ease, Mr. Moner. My "Weekly Standard" comment was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the original article.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/26/2003

Thanks to Mr. Moner and yourself for your kind remarks.

Actually, I think the draft is the last thing the Bush Administration wants. I don't think it's politically feasible to build an empire on the backs of draftees- it wasn't for the British in the 19th century, who used an exclusively professional army, and didn't institute a draft until WWI- and Bush and his neo-con handlers understand that. The kind of dirty work our forces are doing overseas is not a job for citizen-soldiers, but for mercenaries. Bush and his handlers don't want a repeat of the '60s, with campuses in an uproar and young men fleeing for Canada, Sweden, wherever.

Interestingly, the only calls I've seen for the re-institution of the draft have come from the left. Chuck Rangel introduced a bill in Congress earlier this year calling for a draft, and the radical black e-publication the "Black Commentator" issued the same call as well. I've heard no similar proposals from the Republicans, probably because (among other things), such an idea might fracture the party for good (and Bush is already taking some heat from the anti-war, anti-draft right as it is).

Josh Greenland - 8/25/2003

If the Bush administration is claiming that it doesn't want to start the draft, I'm sure it's only because they know how unpopular that would be. I very strongly suspect that the Bushies would love to get the draft going. There have been enough statements from "people in authority" lately suggesting that more troops are needed in Iraq that I'm very sure they are thinking about a draft, and perhaps are trying to subtly plant the idea in our minds without openly arguing for it right now.

Your analogy between the US in Iraq now and the USSR in Afghanistan makes much more sense than the Weakly Standard author's analogy to our occupation of Germany after WWII.

Gus Moner - 8/25/2003

I am pleased you enjoyed the comment. I never said it appeared in the Weekly Standard!
Your post points up a good fact regarding the duration of the German and Iraqi regimes. It is a point I ought to have covered.

Nevertheless, whilst not actually advocating the using of old Baath members, it seems anyway inevitable to me. Look at the “former” Communist regimes, which have without fail all rely on ‘reformed’ ex-secret service men, (Putin was a KGB operative in Dresden) administrators and politicians to operate now. It’s ‘real politick’. What are the options? A generation of training a new one in chaos?

Operationally, if you extrapolate the forces used in the Balkans in the 90’s through now, and accounting for size and population we’d have to operate an Iraqi occupation army of 400,000 soldiers.

I wouldn’t be so sure about the draft. It’ll take some time, perhaps over a year, to retrain the administrators and vet and train the civilians to take their jobs to free up 300,000 soldiers for combat.

There are similarities to Afghanistan, conquering the capital, occupying other areas but controlling none. I agree with your comment that "this is not a good situation, and the longer we're there, the worse it is going to get.”

I believe we ought to re-establish services, retrain their police and army and go home. And fast. Enough please, pipe dreams from the Weekly Standard crowd.

Gus Moner - 8/25/2003

Thanks for mentioning it. I was aware of the US bravado on comparing Japan and Germany. Thus, partly my resonn for the research and comments which made it 'longer'.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/25/2003

It's gratifying to know that there's at least one other poster on this site who knows the difference between a neo-conservative and a real conservative.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/24/2003

Gee, this article first appeared in the "Weekly Standard"? Get out of here!

Not surprisingly, the piece glosses over a couple of the more glaring differences between our occupation of Germany following WWII, and our present situation in Iraq. To wit:

- The Nazi Party held power in Germany for a little over a decade. Plenty of Social Democratic and other oppositionists not stained with Nazism were still around to occupy positions in the Bonn government, and the civil service of Germany was never completely Nazified in the first place. Whereas, the Ba'ath Party held unquestioned power in Iraq for thirty-five years- three times longer than the National Socialists. Creating a new civil service and governmental structure in Iraq will be all but impossible without bringing in old Ba'athists. Leavening the West German bureaucracies with former Nazis could be justified in the political climate of the time (the Cold War was starting, and if old Nazis were taking posts in our sector of Germany, most people were willing to accept that, as long as it strengthened our hand vis-a-vis the Soviets). But in 2003, there is no Soviet enemy, there are a lot of people wondering aloud (with reason) why we're in Iraq in the first place, and they are not likely to be placated if we start stocking the new government and civil service with Saddam's old flunkies.

- Also, we have, what- 150,000 troops in Iraq right now? We had over a million in West Germany, not counting the substantial contributions from our British and French allies. Hitler was not in the wind, like Saddam is. Our physical control over Germany was far more complete than it is now in Iraq. I don't see how we can re-build that country the way the "Weekly Standard" crowd believes we should, unless the number of troops on the ground is increased, and substantially. Given that the U.S. military is overextended as is, given the wary domestic support for the occupation, I don't see how this is feasible, militarily or politically. Unless, of course, the Administration wants to revive the draft, which of course it does not (thank heaven for that).

This situation doesn't remind me of Germany, circa 1945. It reminds me more of Afghanistan, circa 1980, with us in the role of the Soviets. This is not a good situation, and the longer we're there, the worse it is going to get.

Edmund Birkenstock - 8/24/2003

I think your "comment" is longer, but it is definitely much better, than the original article. If there were more genuine historians like you and fewer hate-mongerers like Daniel Pipes on this website, I might start to believe that HNN is not just a front for neo-cons. I've been following this site for well over a year and seen well over a dozen columns by Pipes. If we had had a dozen columns by David Duke, Lewis Farakhan, and Al-Jezerah over the same interval that have might "balanced" things out, but then HNN would be just irrelevant and weird, rather than irrelevant, weird and BIASED. Speaking of weird, I've no idea what the heck "Z-net" is supposed to be, even after going there for the first time ever, after reading Safranski's comment.

As to the substance of your generally excellent analysis of post war Germany, I will only remark that, if you check the archives, I think you will find quite a number of HNN articles before last April to the effect that the great glorious Bush Administration non-nation-builders-turned-nation-builders were going to studiously apply the lessons of Germany and Japan, and really "do it right" in Iraq. Like so much else from the Bush Administration and HNN, this was 10% true, 30% wishful thinking, and 60% pure BS. And the reason, as Niall Ferguson has pointed out (to the audience of real historians of modern Europe), is that, among other self-delusions, the self-styled neo-cons think (or pretend) that they can have empire on the cheap. And the reason for THAT is that they don't really give a flying leap at the moon about anything except winning the next election: it doesn't matter how soon two-bit imperialism in general or the Iraq occupation in particular is shown to be an unworkable folly, as long as it doesn't look too outrageously stupid or dangerous in early November, 2004.

Gus Moner - 8/24/2003

Well now that Messrs. Birkenstock and Safranski have got done slamming both writers and mediums, shall we have a brief look at the issue raised by the heretical writer?

The issue seems to be about rebuilding a state and whether Germany was ‘properly rebuilt’ and can Iraq be thus rebuilt. Well, the comparison is awkward at best. The parallels are few. However, we’d be wise to remember the reality of ‘German rebuilding’. Here are some comments to ponder, taken largely from an article by Alexander Casella, who is Assistant Director and Geneva Representative of the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development. He was previously Director for Asia at UNHCR.

The US and the other allies, keen to cleanse Germany from the evils of Nazism attempted to rid German institutions of Nazis. Soon, they found everything from railways to other basic services that are now in the limelight in Iraq, electricity, water, etc. impossible to run without the former employees, most of who, by choice or for convenience, were Nazi Party members.

Granted, there were two major differences between Germany and Japan on one hand and Iraq on the other. That’s the underlying argument. Unlike Iraq, Germany and Japan had both formally surrendered and had populations that by tradition were respectful, if not submissive, to authority. But beyond these two important differences, the basic issue remained the same: how does an army, which does not wish to resort to unrestricted slaughter, manage the everyday running of a conquered country? The answer is that it cannot.

When Germans began to conquer Europe, they knew their responsibilities and how to maintain control whilst keeping a state or burg functioning. When the Germans defeated France in 1940 and occupied Paris, they left untouched the whole management structure of the French capital, indeed the rump state left and the part occupied. Waterworks, electricity, sewage, road maintenance, postal service, public transportation and the like continued to operate as they did before the occupation.

Likewise the Paris police force, by and large, continued to function under the Germans as it had under a French government. Indeed, when in July 1942 the Germans decided on the mass roundup of the Jews in Paris, it was the French police who made the arrests and the Parisian public buses that transported them to the holding centre from which they were sent to the death camps.

This same pattern was repeated in all the Western countries occupied by the Germans. The local administrations were left in place with the Nazis restricting themselves to exercising military control through their army and political control through their secret police, the Gestapo.

While in moral terms the Allied occupation of Germany can in no way be compared to the German occupation of the Western European democracies that it had defeated in 1940, the purely practical issue of how to manage a defeated state remained the same. It must also be said without trying to glorify the invaders, that the German army was more professional and realistic in its approach than the US has been so far in Iraq.

There was no Allied policy towards conquered Germany. All that stood for a policy were two paragraphs in a handbook prepared in 1944 by the Allied command and then withdrawn. The first paragraph provided that "under no circumstances" should active Nazis or their sympathizers be retained in office. The second paragraph stated that the "administrative machinery of certain dissolved Nazi organizations may be used when necessary". Very soon, "necessary" became the rule rather than the exception.

On paper, the Allies had made the "de-Nazification" of Germany a priority. This provided that before being integrated in a new governing structure, Germans had to prove that they had not been active Nazis. De-Nazification required the completing of a highly complex questionnaire, which would then be submitted to a de-Nazification board. Confronted by the likelihood of some 13 million questionnaires on one hand, which would have taken years to process, and the pressing requirement of normalizing everyday life, the system soon collapsed under its own weight and it was quietly shelved.

With Germany literarily in rubble, feeding the population was one of the Allies' pressing priorities. This required that the railways system, by which practically all food supplies were transported, be reactivated at the earliest. To undertake this demanding task the US occupation authorities could find no better candidate than Theodor Ganzenmuller.

As state secretary in the Ministry of Transportation, Ganzenmuller was the man credited with keeping the German railway system operating throughout the war years. Even at the height of the Allied bombing campaign, Ganzenmuller always made sure that the trains kept moving. He even received a personal commendation from Himmler, the chief of the SS and the German police for having ensured, confronted with the greatest odds, that the trains kept on running between the Jewish ghettos in Poland and the extermination camps. "I thank you for your efforts," commented Hitler's adjutant, Wolf, noting "with satisfaction" that "for two weeks now a train has been carrying every day 5,000 members of the chosen people to Treblinka".

Treblinka was one of the main extermination centres where over 600,000 were gassed. Seeking someone with the expertise to rebuild the railways in their zones, the Americans proposed Ganzenmuller for the job. The choice however proved too much for Washington, which cancelled the appointment and chose instead to give the job to Ganzenmuller's superior, Dr Dorpmuller, Hitler's minister for transportation. How on earth that was any better is beyond my ability to analyse.

Keeping law and order was another challenge for the Allies. While the Reich's main security service, which included the secret police, the Gestapo, as well as the Nazi party security service, was disbanded, the Order Police, which included the criminal police, were left structurally intact. Thus the cop on the beat was for all practical purposes kept in his job. Given that the SS had infiltrated the Order Police, it became a haven for former Nazis. Thus when in May 1946 Kurt Schumacher, the leader of the new Social Democratic Party went to Hanover to give a talk and was assigned five bodyguards from the local police, he discovered that 4 were former SS members, including one captain and one major. The local police chief, who was also a former SS man, had recruited them all. It was a process that repeated itself thousands of times all over Germany.

By the time the German Federal Republic was born in 1949, not only was having been a Nazi no source of shame, but it was former Nazis who were rebuilding Germany. By the mid-1950s about 60 West German ambassadors were former high-ranking Nazis. Practically all the former Nazi teachers, lawyers, judges and civil servants had been reinstated and the drafter of the 1934 Nazi racial laws that paved the way for the Holocaust had been appointed chancellor Konrad Adenauer's state secretary. Ultimately it could hardly have been otherwise. Given the legacy of history, the choice was either to rebuild Germany using former - and perhaps unrepentant - Nazis or not rebuilding it at all. De-Nazification had to run the natural course and await the passing away of a genocidal generation.

Even with the wisdom of hindsight, it is difficult to see how the Allies could have chartered a different course for the new Germany. Granted, reinstating former Nazis was not a deliberate policy, but complacency, the requirements of the Cold War, expediency and the wish to turn the page. Turning a blind eye to murder became a matter of convenience.

Half a century after the fall of Nazi Germany, the American occupation of Iraq raises many of the same questions. What will work in Baghdad will not work in Basra and might not be required in Mosul, but the basic issue remains the same: how do you run a conquered country? Three months after an occupation that is becoming increasingly contentious, Washington is slowly rediscovering that if you want to rule a foreign country you must empower the local police, pay the salaries of the former military, keep the local administration functioning, use local contractors to maintain and repair utilities. Armies are made to wage war and not to keep law and order. And as for the much-vaunted "regime change", there are enough past examples to show that it comes from the top down and not vice versa.

With time running short and for want of a comprehensive occupation policy, the US authorities in Iraq are now rediscovering the wheel, namely reactivating the local police and paying the salaries of former soldiers. It is possible, just possible, that had these measures been advertised and taken three months ago, the US would be in a far better position than it is today in confronting a situation of increased insecurity.

The lessons were there to be learned. To its chagrin, the US is now slowly discovering that they were either forgotten or ignored.

mark safranski - 8/24/2003

Ed Birkenstock wrote:

"This piece by Lebl is a typical example of HNN's penchant for bogus historical parallels suitable for the Bush 2004 campaign spin. Most of the stuff on this website is not "from the left" or "from the right" it is out of the "neo-conservative" (= fake conservative) handbook. The supposedly "liberal" items are mostly slipshod and second-rate."

Really ? The foreign service is a hotbed of neoconservatism ? Stanley Kutler, Juan Cole, Tom Spencer, Chalmers Johnson and others critical of the Bush administration are neocons and second-raters ? Have you ever actually read HNN or did you just wander over here from Znet ?

HNN publishes a wide range of viewpoints -if you think you can do a " first-rate " job representing the Left then submit an article for consideration.


Edmund Birkenstock - 8/23/2003

We did not preemptively attack Germany in the 1920s or '30s when it defaulted on its obligations to us. Comparing Iraq today to Germany in the late 1940s is utterly ridiculous. On the whole, the Germans accepted our occupation after 1945 because, deep down, most of them realized that their country had been morally wrong in launching World War II. No thinking person in the world, outside of those bribed or bamboozled by the New Arrogant Incompetents currently in charge of U.S. foreign policy, claims that it was morally right for America to invade Iraq without giving the new inspection regime half a chance first.

This piece by Lebl is a typical example of HNN's penchant for bogus historical parallels suitable for the Bush 2004 campaign spin. Most of the stuff on this website is not "from the left" or "from the right" it is out of the "neo-conservative" (= fake conservative) handbook. The supposedly "liberal" items are mostly slipshod and second-rate.