Front Page Titles (by Subject) 12: Germany Must Be Destroyed - America's Second Crusade
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12: Germany Must Be Destroyed - William Henry Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade 
America’s Second Crusade (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Amagi, 2008).
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Germany Must Be Destroyed
Roosevelt’s policy toward Germany found its main expression in two decisions. One was negative, the other ferociously destructionist. The first was the “unconditional surrender” slogan, proclaimed at Casablanca in January 1943. The second was the Morgenthau Plan, sanctioned at Quebec in September 1944.
Both of these decisions were grist for the Nazi propaganda mill. Both were calculated to prolong the war and to make postwar reconstruction more difficult by impelling the Germans to fight as long as any physical means of resistance were left. Both were calculated to serve Stalin’s interest in making Communist political capital out of ruin and despair.
The President’s creative political thinking suffered an eclipse after the enunciation of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter in 1941. One is impressed by the paucity both in content and in originality of his utterances about the nature of the peace after America entered the war. This is most probably attributable in part to his absorption in the military side of the war, in part to his failing mental and physical powers.
A negative, destructionist attitude toward Germany was closely, if unconsciously, bound up with approval of, or acquiescence in, Soviet ambitions for domination of Europe. These attitudes were two sides of the same coin. If the expansion of the Soviet empire in Europe and in Asia far beyond Russia’s proper enthnographic frontiers was a cause for indifference, even for satisfaction, then and only then could a policy of pulverizing Germany and Japan, reducing these countries to complete economic and military impotence, be considered consistent with American national interest. But if unlimited Soviet expansion was not desirable, the maintenance of some counterweight in Central Europe and in East Asia was imperatively necessary.1
Roosevelt first publicly used the phrase “unconditional surrender” at a press conference in Casablanca on January 23, 1943. It was apparently a product of scrambled history and very questionable political strategy. General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War won national fame by demanding “immediate and unconditional surrender” from the Confederate commander who was defending Fort Donelson. This was a localized military operation.
Roosevelt mistakenly associated the phrase with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The President also recalled Grant’s willingness to allow the Confederate officers to keep their horses after the surrender. When he announced the decision at Casablanca, however, Lee and the horses were forgotten.
The authorship of “unconditional surrender” was unquestionably Roosevelt’s. According to Elliott Roosevelt,2 who was present at Casablanca, the President first pronounced the words at a luncheon on January 23. Harry Hopkins immediately expressed strong approval. Churchill, according to this version, frowned, thought, grinned, and said: “Perfect, and I can just see how Goebbels and the rest of ’em will squeal.” Roosevelt suggested that Stalin would be pleased:
“Of course it’s just the thing for the Russians. They couldn’t want anything better. Unconditional Surrender, Uncle Joe might have made it up himself.”3
The phrase was discussed during a debate in the House of Commons on July 21, 1949. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, who was a member of the British War Cabinet, blamed this slogan for the difficulties of occupation policy in Germany:
It began with the declaration of unconditional surrender at Casablanca, on which neither the British Cabinet nor any other Cabinet had a chance to say a word. It was just said, and in the middle of a war. But it left us with a Germany without law, without a constitution, without a single person with whom we could deal, without a single institution to grapple with the situation, and we have had to build absolutely from the bottom with nothing at all.4
Churchill then offered the following explanation of his position at Casablanca:
The statement was made by President Roosevelt without consultation with me. I was there on the spot, and I had very rapidly to consider whether the state of our position in the world was such as would justify me in not giving support to it. . . . I have not the slightest doubt that if the British Cabinet had considered that phrase it is possible that they would have advised against it, but, working with a great alliance and with great, loyal and powerful friends from across the ocean, we had to accommodate ourselves.
Later, on November 17, 1949, Churchill modified his earlier statement after consulting the records of the Casablanca Conference. The words “unconditional surrender,” he told the House of Commons in this second statement, had been mentioned “probably in informal talk, I think at meal times” on January 19, 1943. Mr. Churchill sent a cable to the British Cabinet informing them of the intention to issue an unconditional surrender demand which should not apply to Italy. The Cabinet’s response, according to Churchill, “was not against unconditional surrender.” “They only disapproved with it not being applied to Italy as well.” However, the phrase does not appear in the official communiqué of the Casablanca Conference. Its exclusive use by Roosevelt at a press conference suggests that its origin was his.
Roosevelt, according to Sherwood,5 represented the phrase as a sudden improvisation. There had been great difficulty in persuading the rival French leaders, De Gaulle and Giraud, to meet and strike an amicable pose at Casablanca. Roosevelt, according to his recollection, thought of the difficulty of bringing about a meeting between Grant and Lee, recalled that Grant was known as Old Unconditional Surrender, and the slogan was born.
It may be doubted whether it was as unrehearsed as this version would indicate. A foreign diplomat stationed in Washington during the war has informed me that Roosevelt tried out the phrase on him some weeks before the Casablanca conference took place. Apparently the President was enormously proud of his creation. He refused to qualify, moderate, or even explain it despite the repeated efforts of General Eisenhower to obtain authorization for some message which would make the Germans more willing to lay down their arms.6
Eisenhower, in May 1943 on the eve of the invasion of Sicily, reported to the Combined Chiefs of Staff that he did not have the right kind of ammunition for psychological warfare with Italy. As his aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher, reports,
There have been discussions with him [Roosevelt] as to the meaning of “unconditional surrender” as applied to Germany. Any military person knows that there are conditions to every surrender. There is a feeling that at Casablanca the President and the Prime Minister, more likely the former, seized on Grant’s famous term without realizing the full implications to the enemy. Goebbels has made great capital with it to strengthen the morale of the German army and people. Our psychological experts believe we would be wiser if we created a mood of acceptance of surrender in the German army which would make possible a collapse of resistance similar to that which took place in Tunisia. They think if a proper mood is created in the German General Staff there might even be a German Badoglio.7
There was a slight concession when Roosevelt and Churchill on July 16 used “honorable capitulation” in a message to the Italian people. But they soon returned to strict insistence on the Casablanca formula. Discussion of the meaning of “unconditional surrender” with Marshal Pietro Badoglio, head of the Italian Government after the displacement of Mussolini, went on from the end of July 1943 until the beginning of September. This made it easier for the Germans to take over most of Italy. General J. F. C. Fuller caustically sums up as follows the balance sheet of “unconditional surrender” in Italy:
“Unconditional Surrender transformed the ‘soft underbelly’ (Churchill’s phrase about Italy) into a crocodile’s back; prolonged the war; wrecked Italy; and wasted thousands of American and British lives.”8
Stalin did not fall in with the “unconditional surrender” slogan. The Soviet dictator pursued a much wilier and more intelligent political strategy. He made two public statements in 1943 which could easily be construed as invitations to the Germans to conclude a separate peace, with the understanding that their national integrity and military force would be spared. Stalin declared on February 23, 1943:
Occasionally the foreign press engages in prattle to the effect that the Red Army’s aim is to exterminate the German people and destroy the German state. This is, of course, a stupid lie and senseless slander against the Red Army. . . . It would be ridiculous to identify Hitler’s clique with the German people and the German state. History shows that the Hitlers come and go, but the German people and the German state remain.
This declaration was made after the great German defeat at Stalingrad. The German armies were still deep in Soviet territory, in occupation of most of the Ukraine and a large area in western Russia. But the German prospect of winning the war in the East had disappeared.
Stalin made another bid, on November 6, 1943, this time to elements in the German Army which might be willing to rebel against the Nazi party. By this time the Germans were in full retreat and had withdrawn beyond the line of the Dnieper River.
It is not our aim to destroy Germany, for it is impossible to destroy Germany, just as it is impossible to destroy Russia. But the Hitler state can and should be destroyed. It is not our aim to destroy all organized military force in Germany, for every literate person will understand that this is not only impossible in regard to Germany, as it is in regard to Russia, but it is also inadmissible from the viewpoint of the victor.
A National Committee of Free Germans was organized in Moscow in July 1943. Captured German officers of high rank were encouraged to broadcast messages to the German Army and to the German people. These messages were not filled with Communist propaganda. They were appeals to Germans, especially to those in the armed forces, to end a hopeless war in the interest of national self-preservation.
Stalin questioned the expediency of the “unconditional surrender” formula at the Teheran Conference. He felt that it merely served to unite the German people. The announcement of specific terms, however harsh, in Stalin’s opinion would hasten the German capitulation.9
But Roosevelt clung to his pet phrase with an obstinacy worthy of a better cause. His vanity and prestige were deeply involved. Churchill saw in “unconditional surrender” a means of liquidating the inconvenient restraints of the Atlantic Charter. He told the House of Commons on May 24, 1944:
The principle of Unconditional Surrender will be adhered to so far as Nazi Germany and Japan are concerned, and that principle itself wipes away the danger of anything like Mr. Wilson’s Fourteen Points being brought up by the Germans after their defeat, claiming that they surrendered in consideration of them. . . . There is no question of Germany enjoying any guaranty that she will not undergo territorial changes, if it should seem that the making of such changes renders more secure and more lasting the peace of Europe.
It apparently did not occur to Churchill that the real cause for criticism was not the Fourteen Points, but the failure to embody these points honestly in the peace settlements. It is certainly arguable that if the statesmen in Paris in 1919 had been as reasonable and cool-headed as their predecessors in Vienna a century earlier and worked out a peace of moderation, the Hitlerite madness would never have possessed the German people. In that event, of course, the history of Europe would have been very different and infinitely happier.
There were a number of efforts by generals, by psychological warfare experts, by the British, to obtain a definition of what “unconditional surrender” meant. All foundered on the rock of Roosevelt’s stubborn opposition. The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff set up a committee of intelligence officers to study the subject.
This committee on March 16, 1944, recommended the issue of an American-British-Soviet statement reaffirming the principle of “unconditional surrender,” but clarifying its meaning. The proposed statement would announce that, while the Allies proposed to prevent future German aggression, they would not wipe out Germany as a nation. There would be punishment for war criminals, but no indiscriminate penalization of the German masses. Germany’s co-operation would be needed in the future peace.
Roosevelt’s reply on April 1 was an uncompromising negative. He was unwilling to say that the Allies did not intend to destroy the German nation. “As long as the word Reich exists in Germany as expressing a nationhood,” he declared, “it will forever be associated with the present form of nationhood. If we admit that, we must seek to eliminate the word Reich and all that it stands for today.”10
Equally unavailing were attempts by Eisenhower to obtain some definition of “unconditional surrender” before the invasion of France. Churchill was inclined to relent on this point. But the only concrete explanation of what would follow unconditional surrender was the President’s public approval of the Morgenthau Plan. This was scarcely an inducement to surrender.
Goebbels made the most of “unconditional surrender” and the Morgenthau Plan in his propaganda for last-ditch resistance. Typical of his broadcasts and writings was a speech which he delivered in the Rhineland in October 1944:
It is a matter of complete indifference whether, in the course of executing their plans of destruction, the Americans wish to destroy our tools, machinery and factories, or whether the Bolsheviks want to take them, along with our workers, to Siberia. From neither enemy can we expect any mercy or protection whatsoever if we deliver ourselves up to them.11
The British General Fuller, a keen and caustic critic of the failures and inconsistencies of American and British war policies,12 pronounces the following verdict on Roosevelt’s favorite idea, almost the only idea he originated after America entered the war:
These two words [unconditional surrender] were to hang like a putrifying albatross around the necks of America and Britain. . . . Once victory had been won the balance of power within Europe and between European nations would be irrevocably smashed. Russia would be left the greatest military power in Europe and, therefore, would dominate Europe. Consequently the peace these words predicted was the replacement of Nazi tyranny by an even more barbaric despotism.13
The judgment of an experienced British statesman, Lord Hankey, on the “unconditional surrender” slogan and its corollary, the war-crimes trials, is summed up as follows:
It embittered the war, rendered inevitable a fight to the finish, banged the door to any possibility of either side offering terms or opening up negotiations, gave the Germans and the Japanese the courage of despair, strengthened Hitler’s position as Germany’s ‘only hope,’ aided Goebbels’s propaganda, and made inevitable the Normandy landing and the subsequent terribly exhausting and destructive advance through North France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Holland and Germany. The lengthening of the war enabled Stalin to occupy the whole of eastern Europe, to ring down the iron curtain and so to realize at one swoop a large instalment of his avowed aims against so-called capitalism, in which he includes social democracy. By disposing of all the more competent administrators in Germany and Japan this policy rendered treaty-making impossible after the war and retarded recovery and reconstruction, not only in Germany and Japan, but everywhere else. It may also prove to have poisoned our future relations with ex-enemy countries. Not only the enemy countries, but nearly all countries were bled white by this policy, which has left us all, except the United States of America, impoverished and in dire straits. Unfortunately also, these policies, so contrary to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, did nothing to strengthen the moral position of the Allies.14
It is difficult to recognize a single desirable war or peace objective that was advanced by the Casablanca slogan. And it is easy to discern several unfortunate by-products of this shoddy substitute for intelligent political warfare.
First, the diplomatic position of the western powers was seriously worsened vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Stalin did not associate himself with the phrase until the later phases of the war. He certainly did what he could in 1943 to induce the German military leaders to rebel and conclude a separate peace.
It was not due to any diplomatic skill or finesse on Roosevelt’s part that America and Britain were not faced with the political catastrophe of a separate peace between the Soviet Union and Germany. And Stalin would certainly have been more amenable to western diplomatic pressure on Poland and other disputed issues if he had been made to feel that a negotiated peace between the western powers and a non-Nazi Germany was not out of the question.
Second, by supplying the powerful motive of fear to Nazi propagandists, the slogan prolonged the war and made it more savage and costly. Tens of thousands of American and British lives were sacrificed on the altar of this vainglorious phrase. “Unconditional surrender” was also a fearful stumbling block in winding up the war with Japan. Had it been amplified by reasonable explanations, two most undesirable developments, the Soviet occupation of Manchuria and the dropping of the atomic bomb, would almost certainly have been avoided.
Third, the slogan was psychologically calculated to bind the Germans more closely to the Nazi regime. The official thesis in Washington during the war was that almost all Germans were tainted with nazism. There was a persistent refusal to act on the assumption that there was an anti-Nazi underground movement which represented a wide cross-section of German society and deserved, on political and moral grounds, encouragement which it did not receive in Washington and London.
The leading figures in the German underground were Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Chief of Staff of the Army until the summer of 1938, and Karl Friedrich Goerdeler, a former mayor of Leipzig. Closely associated with them were the former Ambassador to Italy, Ulrich von Hassell, the former Prussian Finance Minister, Johannes Popitz, a number of generals, officers, and officials, and some labor and socialist leaders, among whom Julius Leber and Wilhelm Leuschner were the most prominent.
A special opposition group was composed of the members of the so-called Kreisau circle, headed by Helmuth von Moltke, descendant of a famous aristocratic family, known for his radical social ideals, which inclined toward a kind of Christian socialism. Other members of this group were Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, a descendant of the General Yorck who led one of the first moves in the German war of liberation against Napoleon, and Adam von Trott zu Solz, a widely traveled and highly educated young German who had studied in England as a Rhodes scholar. It is interesting and significant that many of the leaders of the anti-Hitler movement had either family or cultural connections with the western countries.
The Kreisau circle favored nationalization of heavy industry, banks, and insurance companies, and labor representation in the management of industry. In the international field its program called for a federation of Europe, abolition of the German Army, and a trial of war criminals before an international tribunal to be composed of judges from the victorious, neutral, and defeated nations.
The underground was not a mass movement. There could be no such movement under a regime where spies were everywhere and individuals were forced by terror to act as informers on their neighbors. But the underground was more than a group of a few individuals of no political consequence. It had members and sympathizers in high military and political posts, notably in the Abwehr, or Counterintelligence.
Moreover, although the Nazi regime had crushed open political opposition, there were actual and potential sympathizers with any resistance movement among former members of the democratic political parties and the trade unions and among disillusioned conservatives. There was an abortive plot in the higher command of the Reichswehr on the eve of the Munich agreement in 1938. The ground was cut from beneath the feet of the conspirators because the western powers yielded to Hitler’s demands.
A young officer, a lawyer in civilian life, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, placed a bomb, disguised as a bottle of cognac, in Hitler’s plane on the eastern front in February 1943. This attempt failed because the percussion cap failed to go off.
Some members of the underground possessed sufficient influence to obtain passports for travel in foreign lands. They tried to establish contacts in official circles, to make known the existence and aims of an anti-Nazi movement. Von Trott talked with high officials in the State Department in the autumn of 1939. He suggested American moral support for the idea of a fair peace settlement with a regime which would succeed the Nazis, including an assurance of Germany’s 1933 frontiers.
At first Roosevelt was interested in this information about the existence of an anti-Nazi underground. Later, however, he discouraged further contacts. Von Trott was even denounced as a Nazi. He returned to Germany by way of Japan and continued to work for the overthrow of Hitler until he was arrested and executed after the July 20 plot.15
This attitude of not wishing even to know about the existence of an anti-Nazi movement in Germany, much less to have any dealings with it, is illustrated by another incident that occurred after America had entered the war.
Louis P. Lochner, head of the Berlin office of the Associated Press, was taken to a private movement of oppositionists in Berlin in November 1941. Among those present were representatives of the pre-Nazi trade unions, of the Confessional Church,16 of the political parties which existed under the Weimar Republic, and of the Army. There was a general feeling among those present that America would soon enter the war.
Lochner was asked to get in touch with President Roosevelt after his return to the United States, to inform him of the existence of an underground movement and to learn from him what kind of political regime in Germany would be acceptable after Hitler’s downfall. Lochner was given a code in which messages could be conveyed from America to Germany.
When Lochner reached the United States after a period of internment in Germany, he made several unsuccessful attempts to see the President. Finally he explained the purpose of his request in writing. This elicited a negative reply from the President’s office, suggesting that he desist because his request was “most embarrassing.”17
It is not easy to determine on the basis of available evidence which individuals were most responsible for this consistent attitude of overlooking opportunities to drive a wedge between the Nazi regime and the German people. That Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury, who liked to meddle with affairs outside his own department, exercised a most deleterious influence is obvious from the plan which bears his name and which he sponsored most vehemently.
German political emigrants in the United States fell into three main categories. There were men, ranging from conservatives to Social Democrats, who hated nazism but wished to see Germany exist as an independent country with reasonable frontiers and a viable economy after the war. There were bitter destructionists, individuals who wished to revenge indiscriminately on the entire German people what they or their friends and relatives had suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. And there were Communists and fellow travelers.
It was the emigrants in the last two categories who found the most sympathetic hearing in Washington during the war. Indeed, when one recalls the extreme laxity (to use no stronger term) of the OWI in resisting Communist infiltration,18 one suspects that Gerhard Eisler, later exposed as a leading Communist agent in this country, might have been put in charge of propaganda for Germany, if he had thought of applying for the job.
One of the several attempts of the anti-Nazi Germans to establish foreign contacts19 was the meeting between the Bishop of Chichester and two German pastors, Hans Schönfeld and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Stockholm in May 1942. Bonhoeffer was especially vehement in his antipathy to Hitler. At a secret church meeting in Geneva in 1941 he had said:
“I pray for the defeat of my nation. Only in defeat can we atone for the terrible crimes we have committed against Europe and the world.”
Bonhoeffer was murdered in a concentration camp shortly before the end of the war. When the two pastors met the Bishop in Stockholm they pressed for a reply to a question which was of vital interest to active and passive opponents of Hitler’s regime. Would the attitude of the Allies toward a Germany purged of Hitler differ from the attitude toward a Nazi Germany? They asked either for a public official declaration or for a private statement to an authorized representative of the underground.
The Bishop submitted a memorandum on his conversations to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. He was informed on July 17 that no action could be taken.20
It could be argued that there were two reasons for caution in dealing with the German opposition. First, so long as Hitler seemed to be winning the war, there was little if any prospect that his government could be overthrown. Second, the strength of the underground was doubtful and uncertain.
The first reason lost validity after the tide of the war turned with the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad,21 the rout of Rommel’s army in Egypt, and the successful landing in North Africa. After these developments every intelligent German who was not a Nazi fanatic realized that the war was lost, even though German armies were still far outside Germany’s frontiers. Pessimism and defeatism were especially prevalent in higher military circles. This is why so many prominent generals, both in Germany and on the western front, took part in the plot of July 20.
Certainly there were the strongest reasons, military and political, for encouraging the anti-Hitler forces by giving some kind of constructive peace assurance along the lines of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter. But the blank wall of negation set up by “unconditional surrender” blocked any kind of effective political warfare during 1943 and 1944, when it might well have yielded success.
The United States Government was aware of the existence and strength of the German underground at that time. The German vice-consul in Zürich, Hans Bernd Gisevius, a member of the underground, was in close touch with Allen W. Dulles, head of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in Switzerland. Dulles was informed in advance of the plot that was to break out on July 20. He urged that the United States Government should issue a statement urging the German people to overthrow Hitler’s regime.
But, as he says, “nothing of this nature was done.”22 And, as he observes in another connection: “It sometimes seemed that those who determine policy in America and England were making the military task as difficult as possible by uniting all Germans to resist to the bitter end.”23
Despite the complete lack of encouragement from the West, the German underground made its last desperate effort on July 20, 1944. The Gestapo was already closing in. Von Moltke and Leber had been arrested and Goerdeler was in hiding. A leader among the conspirators, Col. Klaus von Stauffenberg, who had access to Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia, proposed to assassinate the dictator with a time bomb.
As soon as Hitler was killed, the generals who were involved in the conspiracy were to arrest Nazi and SS24 leaders. The head of the Berlin police, Count Helldorff, was prepared to co-operate. In the plot, besides a number of officers and officials in Berlin, were Field Marshal von Kluge, Commander in Chief on the western front, Field Marshal Rommel, the famous tank commander of North Africa, and General Heinrich von Stülpnagel, military governor of France.
General Beck, coleader, with Goerdeler, of the underground, was to announce over the radio that he was chief of state, that General von Witzleben was in command of the armed forces, and that there would be a three-day state of emergency. During this time a cabinet would be formed and Nazi resistance would be liquidated.
Goerdeler was to become chancellor and had prepared a manifesto announcing a state based on the Christian traditions of western civilization. The Social Democrat Leuschner was designated as vice-chancellor. The Foreign Minister was to be either von Hassell or the former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, von Schulenburg, depending on whether peace contacts were first established with the West or with the East.
Stauffenberg placed the bomb, concealed in his briefcase, in close proximity to Hitler and made an excuse to leave the room. He heard a loud explosion and flew in a waiting plane to Berlin, convinced that the Führer was dead and that the conspiracy could go ahead at full speed. However, Hitler had changed his position after Stauffenberg left. Consequently he was only stunned, not seriously injured, by the explosion, which killed four other persons. According to General Heussinger, who was present when the explosion took place, two factors saved Hitler’s life. The bomb was designed for use in an air raid shelter, where the explosion would have been confined. At the last moment the staff meeting was moved to a light building or tent. Moreover, the briefcase containing the bomb was placed under a heavy oak table which deflected the force of the explosion.
As a result, the conspiracy, which implicated a large number of the finest spirits in Germany, failed. It proved impossible to persuade the majority of officers in strategic posts to rebel when they realized that Hitler was still alive. Very few of the participants escaped the savage vengeance of the Gestapo.
Beck shot himself; Goerdeler was captured and executed; Kluge took poison; Rommel committed suicide by order. Moltke and Yorck, Leuschner and Leber, the radical noblemen and the broadminded socialists, and Ulrich von Hassell, whose memoirs show him as a superb representative of old European culture and civilization, all perished, along with thousands of others who were rightly or wrongly suspected of complicity in the plot. Some of the last words of these martyrs of freedom were historic and heroic. Moltke wrote to his wife shortly before his execution:
And Yorck, in his final testimony, denounced “the totalitarian claim of the state on the individual which forces him to renounce his moral and religious obligations to God.”
This effort of a minority of idealistic Germans to rid themselves of Hitler’s tyranny received little understanding or sympathy in the United States. Typical was the comment of the New York Herald Tribune of August 9: “The American people as a whole will not feel sorry that the bomb spared Hitler for the liquidation of his generals.”
What was never widely understood in America is that Hitlerism developed from roots quite different from those of the “Prussian militarism,” which served as the propaganda scapegoat of World War I. The dangerous strength of nazism lay in its demagogic character, in its appeal to the masses. Hitlerism was really Henry Wallace’s “common man” run mad. It was plebeian democracy without checks and balances and frozen into totalitarian forms. Its methods and practices were very similar to those of Soviet communism.
Josef Goebbels, the mouthpiece of the Nazi regime, was just as scornful of monarchical and aristocratic tradition as Lenin or Trotsky would have been. This is very clear from his diaries. Hitler himself hated and despised the old-fashioned type of German officer or aristocrat who preserved ideals and standards of conduct which were quite alien to Nazi doctrine.
For a time, to be sure, there was a working alliance between the Nazis and the conservative German nationalists. But this was always an uneasy alliance. A high proportion of those who died in the effort to overthrow Hitler belonged to the civilian and military upper class of the Kaiser’s time.
Encouragement from the West in the form of public or private specific assurances that a non-Nazi Germany could expect a moderate peace might have influenced some of the waverers in high places and tipped the scales in favor of the success of the July 20 conspiracy. But from America and Britain the German underground, which wanted to expiate the blood-guilt of the Nazi regime in association with the civilized forces of the West, received nothing but the “unconditional surrender” slogan, the Morgenthau Plan, and the indiscriminate bombing of German cities.
Bombing of railway and road transport and of war industries was an indispensable and valuable aid to military victory. But this cannot be said as regards the wholesale destruction of residential areas. On the basis of detailed reports from inside Germany during the war, Allen W. Dulles came to the following conclusion:
The wholesale bombing of cities where civilian objectives were primarily affected, I believe, did little to shorten the war. In World War I a disillusioned but unbombed German population recognized the inevitability of defeat and helped to hasten the surrender. In World War II the bombed-out population turned to the state for shelter, food and transportation away from the devastated areas. If anything, these men and women were more inclined than before to work for and support the state, since they were dependent, homeless and destitute.27
The destructionist attitude toward Germany found its climactic expression in the detailed plan of economic annihilation sponsored and advocated by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
Roosevelt’s thinking about the postwar treatment of Germany had been of a very sketchy character. Before Hull went to Moscow in 1943 Roosevelt referred to the question during a discussion with Hull, Admiral Leahy, and some State Department experts.28 The President favored the partition of Germany into three or more states. All military activities should be forbidden, and East Prussia should be detached from Germany. Reparations should be exacted in manpower and equipment.
Hull was opposed to partition. At first Roosevelt overbore objections, remarking that he had studied and traveled in Germany and thought he knew more about Germany than any of the others present. Later he revised his self-estimate downward. In an unusual mood of diffidence, he observed that it was, after all, many years since he had become acquainted with Germany, and perhaps he didn’t know as much about the subject as he thought.
The division of territorial studies in the State Department had worked out a plan for the postwar treatment of Germany. This provided that East Prussia and Upper Silesia be ceded to Poland. These changes were without ethnic justification, but were considerably more moderate than the amputation which was actually performed. The State Department plan provided for denazification on a reasonable scale and for payment of reparations out of current production. The Army had worked out a standard plan for military occupation.
Hull outlined the State Department scheme at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers and found the Russians in substantial agreement. Roosevelt proposed much more drastic procedure at Teheran. He proposed a scheme for the complete dissolution of Germany. There were to be five autonomous states as follows: a reduced Prussia; Hanover and the Northwest; Saxony and “the Leipzig area”;29 Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Kassel, and the area “south of the Rhine”; Bavaria, Baden, and Württemberg. Hamburg, the Kiel Canal, and the Ruhr and Saar areas were to be placed under the control of the United Nations.
Churchill talked of “separating Prussia from the rest” and uniting the southern states of Germany with a Danubian confederation. Stalin was lukewarm toward both suggestions, but indicated a preference for Roosevelt’s. There was no positive decision and the matter was referred to the European Advisory Commission. Dismemberment was proposed at Yalta, but was again referred to the EAC and died a natural death there. The final decision was to administer Germany as a political and economic unit, divided into four zones of occupation.
Morgenthau began to play a decisive part in shaping American policy toward Germany in 1944. An old friend of Roosevelt, he had always been inclined to take a very broad view of his proper functions as Secretary of the Treasury. This is evident from his description of the situation in 1940 in Collier’s for October 11, 1947:
“With the State Department wedded to the methods of old-fashioned diplomacy, with the War Department demoralized by dissension, Roosevelt was forced to turn a good deal to the Treasury to implement his antiaggressor program.”
Hull often found Morgenthau a thorn in his side, as is evident from the following passage in his Memoirs:
Emotionally upset by Hitler’s rise and his persecution of the Jews, he [Morgenthau] often sought to induce the President to anticipate the State Department or act contrary to our better judgment. We sometimes found him conducting negotiations with foreign governments which were the function of the State Department. . . . Morgenthau’s interference at times misled some portions of the public and seriously impeded the orderly conduct of our foreign policy.30
As examples of Morgenthau’s extracurricular activities Hull mentions his effort to get control over exports and imports vested in the Treasury, not in the State Department; his draft of a proposed settlement with Japan in November 1941; his proposal, blocked with difficulty by Hull, to freeze Argentine funds in the United States; and his desire to have a Treasury representative at the Dumbarton Oaks conference on the United Nations. According to Hull, Morgenthau and Ickes tried to defame a State Department official by calling the latter a fascist without offering specific supporting proof.31
Morgenthau went to England in 1944, doing his best to win recruits for a policy of ruthless vengeance against Germany. He found some British statesmen skeptical when he suggested that, in his own words, “we could divide Germany up into a number of small agricultural provinces, stop all major industrial production and convert them into small agricultural landholders.” However, he seems to have found a sympathizer in Anthony Eden, who “stressed the fact over a pleasant luncheon at his country estate that a soft peace would only arouse Russian suspicions.”
Morgenthau told part of the story of his European odyssey in a series of articles in the New York Post in the winter of 1947-48. He quotes General Eisenhower as characterizing “the whole German population” as “a synthetic paranoid.”32 Eisenhower also, according to Morgenthau, made the far from prescient remark that, while Russia’s present strength was fantastic, “Russia now had all she could digest and her present problems would keep her busy until long after we were dead.”
Eisenhower confirms the fact of Morgenthau’s visit33 and recalls a general discussion on the future of Germany. The Supreme Commander favored the trial and punishment of prominent Nazis, certain industrialists, and members of the General Staff. He opposed as “silly and criminal,” according to his own account, the flooding of the Ruhr mines—a pet idea of Morgenthau’s.
During this trip, according to credible reports, Morgenthau or one of his aides became incensed over an Army handbook which prescribed normal civilized occupation methods. Morgenthau brought this to the attention of Roosevelt and apparently induced him to share the indignation.
After returning to America Morgenthau, by whose authorization is not clear, set up a Treasury committee, composed of Harry Dexter White, John Pehle, and Ansel Luxford, to draft an economic plan for Germany. This was the origin of the notorious Morgenthau Plan. White was its main architect. But Morgenthau, because of his access to the President, was able to push it through to acceptance.
It is sometimes suggested that the Morgenthau Plan has been exaggerated or misrepresented. There is no excuse for misunderstanding, however, because Morgenthau himself has published the full text of the plan in a book which contains elaborate suggestions about why and how it should be put into effect.34 The main features are as follows:
Territorially Germany was to lose East Prussia and Silesia as far west as Liegnitz. France was to get the Saar and a considerable area on the left bank of the Rhine, including the cities of Mainz and Treves. The rest of Germany was to be partitioned into North and South German states and an International Zone. The last, with its southern extremity at Frankfurt, was to include the Ruhr and the Lower Rhine Valley, together with stretches of coast on the North and Baltic seas and the cities of Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, and Kiel.
The section dealing with the International Zone contains the following key paragraphs:
(a) within a short period, if possible not longer than six months after the conclusion of hostilities, all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action shall be completely dismantled and transported to allied nations as restitution. All equipment shall be removed from the mines and the mines closed. [Italics supplied.]
Forms of restitution and reparation proposed under the Morgenthau Plan include transfer of plant and equipment, “forced German labor outside Germany,” and “confiscation of all German assets of any character whatsoever outside of Germany.”
The Allied Military Government was not to
take any measures designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy, except those which are essential to military operations. The responsibility for sustaining the German economy and peoples rests with the German people with such facilities as may be available under the circumstances. [Italics supplied.]
There were to be controls over foreign trade and tight restrictions on capital imports. These were designed to prevent the establishment of key industries in the new German states.
There is a very interesting last provision of the plan. Had it been put into effect, it would have excluded America and Great Britain from any share in the occupation of Germany. This would obviously have meant Soviet domination of that country. The precise wording of this provision is as follows:
The primary responsibility for the policing of Germany and for civil administration in Germany should be assumed by the military forces of Germany’s continental neighbors. Specifically these should include Russian, French, Polish, Czech, Greek, Yugoslav, Norwegian, Dutch and Belgian soldiers.
Under this program United States troops could be withdrawn within a relatively short time.
What inspired this proposal, which would have condemned the United States to defeat in the cold war? Was there some ulterior purpose of Harry Dexter White, mentioned by Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley as a source of information to Soviet Communist spy rings? Or was it merely a case of a scheme prepared by men so blinded by desire for vengeance that they failed to recognize either the looming Soviet peril or the terrific blow to American national interest which would be represented by Soviet control of Germany?
Morgenthau apparently felt that American soldiers would not be ruthless enough for the kind of policing job he wished to see in Germany. As he wrote:
It is no aspersion on the American soldier to adjudge him too inexperienced in the ways of international banditry to serve as a guard in the German reformatory. The misfortunes of Europe have put its soldiers through the cruel and bitter course of training which fits them to serve most efficiently in the surveillance of Germany.35
When the Secretary of the Treasury realized that his proposal to destroy the Ruhr mines was too extreme to be accepted, he produced a substitute. He suggested that all Germans should be evicted from the Ruhr, their places being taken by “French, Belgian, Dutch and other workers.”36 Where the Germans would or could go was not suggested.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Morgenthau Plan, if applied in its full rigor, would have been an undiscriminating sentence of death for millions of Germans. The area in which it was proposed to forbid all heavy industries and mining is one of the most urbanized and thickly settled in Europe. It would have been impossible to turn millions of city dwellers, accustomed to earning their living in factories, offices, and shops, into self-supporting farmers, even if land had been available.
And here was the fatal weakness of the scheme, if it was to be discussed as a serious proposal of economic reorganization, not as a device for inflicting concentration-camp conditions on the entire German people. The avowed purpose of the Morgenthau Plan was to turn Germany into a predominantly agricultural and pastoral country. But there were no unused reserves of land for this purpose in thickly settled, industrial Germany. Indeed some of the more agricultural sections of the country were being transferred to Poland, and all Germans were being driven out of this area.
The Morgenthau Plan was a propaganda godsend to the Nazis, giving them the strongest of arguments to persuade the Germans to go on fighting. After the fall of Hitler it was a boon to the Communists, and would have been of still greater value if it had not been overmatched by the mass atrocities which accompanied the Soviet invasion of eastern Germany.
How did this fantastic scheme originate? A Cabinet committee, composed of Hull, Stimson, and Morgenthau, was set up to consider the postwar treatment of Germany. Of the three, Morgenthau took the most extreme position, Stimson was the most moderate, and Hull, in the beginning, occupied a middle position, although later inclining more to agreement with Stimson.
Roosevelt himself favored strongly punitive measures. In a communication to Stimson on August 26, 1944, he echoed Morgenthau’s complaint about the handbook which had been prepared for the guidance of Military Government officials:
It is of the utmost importance that every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation. I do not want them to starve to death, but, as an example, if they need food to keep body and soul together, beyond what they have, they should be fed three times a day with soup from Army soup kitchens.
During the first days of September the three Secretaries argued their cases before the President, whose physical and mental condition was giving increasing cause for concern. Stimson, as he tells us, “was not happy about the President’s state of body and mind.” He noted in his diary for September 11 after Roosevelt left for Quebec for a conference with Churchill:
I have been much troubled by the President’s physical condition. He was distinctly not himself Saturday [September 9]. He had a cold and seemed tired out. I rather fear for the effects of this hard conference upon him. I am particularly troubled . . . that he is going up there without any real preparation for the solution of the underlying and fundamental problem of how to treat Germany.37
Stimson’s concern was well founded. Roosevelt had departed for Quebec without committing himself to any decision. But Morgenthau stole a march on his opponents. He went to Quebec while they remained in Washington. And Hull and Stimson received one of the severest shocks of their official careers when they received the following memorandum, initialed by Roosevelt and Churchill on September 15:
At a conference between the President and the Prime Minister upon the best measures to prevent renewed rearmament by Germany it was felt that an essential feature was the future disposition of the Ruhr and the Saar.
The ease with which the metallurgical, chemical and electrical industries in Germany can be converted from peace to war has already been impressed upon us by bitter experience. It must also be remembered that the Germans have devastated a large portion of the industries of Russia and of other neighboring Allies, and it is only in accordance with justice that these injured countries should be entitled to remove the machinery they require in order to repair the losses they have suffered. The industries referred to in the Ruhr and in the Saar would therefore necessarily be put out of action and closed down. It was felt that the two districts should be put under some body under the world organization which would supervise the dismantling of these industries and make sure that they were not started up again by some subterfuge.
This program for eliminating the warmaking industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar is looking forward to converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character.
The Prime Minister and the President were in agreement on this program.
Why Churchill signed this document, sanctioning the essence of the Morgenthau Plan, is not altogether clear, for both at Teheran and at Yalta his attitude on the German question was more moderate than Roosevelt’s or Stalin’s. One explanation may be that he was attracted by the argument, put forward by the Treasury, that the destruction of the Ruhr industries would wipe out a dangerous competitor for Britain.
But there was a more obvious inducement. Simultaneously with the communiqué which endorsed the destructionist spirit of the Morgenthau Plan there was significant agreement on the status of lend-lease after the defeat of Germany and before the surrender of Japan. It was agreed that during this interim period Britain should receive lend-lease munitions to a value of three and a half billion dollars and civilian supplies to the amount of three billion dollars.
Churchill was becoming increasingly alarmed over the bleak British economic prospect after the end of the war. Morgenthau held the purse strings. The British Prime Minister may well have felt that, as Paris was worth a Mass to Henri IV, a subsidy of 6.5 billion dollars was worth his signature to a scheme so extravagant that it might never be realized.
Hull and Stimson rallied from their defeat. The latter lunched with Roosevelt and pressed home the issue as few men would have dared to do with a President who did not bear contradiction gladly. Roosevelt in typical fashion began to twist and dodge, protested that he had no intention of turning Germany into an agrarian state, that all he wanted was to save a portion of the proceeds of the Ruhr for Great Britain, which was “broke.”
Stimson brought him to the point by reading the precise words of the communiqué which had been issued in his name and Churchill’s. When the Secretary read the words about “converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral” Roosevelt seemed dumb-founded.
“He was frankly staggered by this and said he had no idea how he could have initialed this: that he had evidently done it without much thought.”38 [Italics supplied.]
There have been few more damaging confessions of mental incompetence or complete irresponsibility. Here was a decision of first importance, affecting the lives and livelihood of millions of people, calculated to shape the course of European history, and the President could not recall how or why he had made it, or even that it had been made at all.
One of Stimson’s assistants, John J. McCloy (now American High Commissioner in Germany), composed a searching and strongly reasoned criticism of the Morgenthau Plan:
It would be just such a crime as the Germans themselves hoped to perpetrate upon their victims—it would be a crime against civilization itself. . . . Such an operation would naturally and necessarily involve a chaotic upheaval in the people’s lives which would inevitably be productive of the deepest resentment and bitterness towards the authorities which had inflicted such revolutionary changes upon them. Physically, considering the fact that their present enlarged population has been developed and supported under an entirely different geography and economy, it would doubtless cause tremendous suffering, involving virtual starvation and death for many, and migration and changes for others.
Referring to the Treasury suggestion that Britain would benefit from the elimination of German competition, McCloy drily commented: “The total elimination of a competitor (who is also a potential purchaser) is rarely a satisfactory solution of a commercial problem.”
However, the pressure from the White House for a vindictive treatment of Germany was so strong that McCloy, with Stimson’s approval, composed the extremely harsh JCS 1067.39 This instructed the American Military Governor “to take no steps (a) looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany or (b) designed to maintain or strengthen the Germany economy.” These expressions are taken almost literally from the original text of the Morgenthau Plan.
Treasury agents, determined to exact the last pound of flesh, flooded Germany in the first years of the occupation and badgered and harassed those Military Government officials who were trying to carry out a constructive policy. Some adherents of the Morgenthau school of thought, referred to as the “Chaos Boys,” infiltrated the Military Government.
A fanatical left-wing newspaper in New York screamed abuse of the mildest measures for restoring normal economic conditions in Germany. Caught between rigid ruthless orders and fear of being pilloried as “soft peace advocates” in this newspaper and similar organs, American administrators in Germany were inclined to see safety in being as negative as possible.
The full political ferocity and economic insanity of the Morgenthau Plan were never visited on Germany or on Europe. But the evil spirit of this scheme lived on after it had been formally discarded and wrought vast harm to American political and economic interests in Germany. As an American senior statesman of wide experience predicted on one occasion:
“The difference between governing Germany according to the Old Testament and according to the New Testament will be about a billion dollars a year for the American taxpayer.”
[1. ] A shrewd Swiss observer once remarked to me: “You Americans are a strange people. You want to check the Soviet Union after you have systematically destroyed the two powers, Germany and Japan, which might have done this successfully.”
[2. ] E. Roosevelt, As He Saw It, 117ff.
[3. ] “Uncle Joe,” as later events would indicate, was happy to have “unconditional surrender” sponsored by the western powers, not by himself.
[4. ]The (London) Times for July 22 contains a full account of this debate.
[5. ] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 696.
[6. ] A good account of the President’s unyielding resistance on this point may be found in Carroll, Persuade or Perish, 307-37. Mr. Carroll served in the OWI and was therefore intimately concerned with the problems of psychological warfare.
[7. ] Butcher, My Three Years with Eisenhower, 443.
[8. ] Fuller, The Second World War, 265.
[9. ] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 782-83.
[10. ] Carroll, Persuade or Perish, 320.
[11. ] Ibid., 324.
[12. ] General Fuller was a pioneer in recognizing the possibilities of the tank in World War I.
[13. ] Fuller, The Second World War, 258-59.
[14. ] Hankey, Politics, Trials and Errors, 125-26.
[15. ] For a detailed account of von Trott’s activity see the article by Alexander B. Maley in Human Events for February 27, 1946.
[16. ] In the Confessional Church were those pastors of the Evangelical Church who opposed racism and other Nazi teachings as un-Christian.
[17. ] Rothfels, The German Opposition to Hitler, 140.
[18. ] See Chapter 10, pp. 257-59.
[19. ] Ulrich von Hassell, an ex-diplomat who was closely associated with the underground, had several meetings with an unnamed representative of Lord Halifax, British Foreign Secretary, in Switzerland in 1940. See Hassell, The Von Hassell Diaries, 115ff, 132-34.
[20. ] See “The Background of the Hitler Plot,” by the Bishop of Chichester, The Contemporary Review for September, 1945, pp. 203-8.
[21. ] Some German military experts believe the war was lost in 1941, when the Wehrmacht was driven back from Moscow.
[22. ] Dulles, Germany’s Underground, 141.
[23. ] Ibid., 173.
[24. ] The SS represented a kind of terrorist elite within the Nazi party.
[25. ] Freisler was the chief judge of the People’s Court which dealt with political cases.
[26. ] Rothfels, German Opposition to Hitler, 127.
[27. ] Dulles, Germany’s Underground, 168-69.
[28. ] Hull, Memoirs, 2:1265-66.
[29. ] Leipzig for many generations has been located in Saxony, a fact with which Roosevelt was apparently unfamiliar. There is no area in Germany which could be accurately described as “south of the Rhine,” as that river rises in Switzerland.
[30. ] Hull, Memoirs, 1:207-8.
[31. ] This was a favorite indoor sport of left-wingers in and out of the government service during the war years.
[32. ] If Morgenthau’s recollection is correct, Eisenhower seems to have been believing too readily everything he read in wartime magazines. Pseudoscientific indictments of the whole German people as sufferers from collective paranoia were a popular editorial fad for a time.
[33. ] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 287.
[34. ] Morgenthau, Germany Is Our Problem. The complete text of the Morgenthau Plan is published in the first four pages of this book.
[35. ] Ibid., 200.
[36. ] Ibid., 23.
[37. ] Stimson and Bundy, On Active Service, 575.
[38. ] Ibid., 581.
[39. ] On rereading JCS 1067 two years later, Stimson found it “a painfully negative document” (ibid., 582).