Front Page Titles (by Subject) 13: No War, But No Peace - America's Second Crusade
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13: No War, But No Peace - William Henry Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade 
America’s Second Crusade (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Amagi, 2008).
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No War, But No Peace
In the fifth year after the end of the war, there still was no peace with the two principal belligerents, Germany and Japan. The Congress of Vienna made, by and large, a good peace, with amazingly little in the way of vengeful reprisals against France for Napoleon’s wars of aggression. With all its faults, it was a settlement that saved Europe for a century from the catastrophe of another war involving all the great powers. The Congress of Versailles made a bad peace, but it at least created some kind of settlement. Potsdam (the nearest approach to a peace conference that occurred after World War II) and other meetings of representatives of the Big Three powers resulted in nothing more than a continuation of the war on a different basis. They did not lead to peace.
If, however, one compares the provisional terms sketched at Potsdam with the treaties which have been concluded after other great wars, the judgment “world’s worst peace” is not exaggerated. From the first line to the last Potsdam was a conspicuous, cynical, and flagrant violation of the professed war aims of the United Nations, as set forth in the Atlantic Charter.
The first three clauses of the Charter assert in the most positive and sweeping terms the right of all peoples to self-determination. The Potsdam Agreement handed over to Soviet-Polish control a large territory east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, inhabited by about nine and a half million people, an area which included one fourth of Germany’s arable land. Almost all these people were of German stock. It is safe to say that a plebiscite would not have yielded even an appreciable minority of votes for transfer to Polish rule.
The Potsdam Conference was in session from July 17 until August 2, 1945. It was the last meeting of the chief executives of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain. America was represented by President Truman and Secretary of State Byrnes, the Soviet Union by Stalin and Molotov, Great Britain at first by Churchill and Eden, later by the new Labor Premier and the new Foreign Minister, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin.
The conference accepted the transfer of the city of Königsberg and an adjacent area of East Prussia to Soviet sovereignty. America and Great Britain pledged their support of this claim “at the forthcoming peace conference,” which, in 1950, had still not been held.
The agreement about the allocation of East German territory to Poland was less specific. It was stated that “the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should await the peace conference.” However, prejudgment in Poland’s favor was indicated by an agreement that the area in question should be under the administration of the Polish state and should not be considered part of the Soviet zone of occupation. The Potsdam declaration includes the following paragraph:
The three governments, having considered the question in all its aspects, recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken. They agree that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner.
Behind the deceptive benevolence of the last sentence was concealed the sanction by the western powers of one of the most barbarous actions in European history. This was the expulsion from their homes, with the confiscation of virtually all their property, of some fourteen million Germans or people of German origin. This figure includes 9,500,000 inhabitants of the East German provinces, about 1,100,000 from Danzig and Poland, 3,000,000 Sudeten Germans, who had lived for centuries in the border areas of Czechoslovakia, and some 450,000 Hungarians of German origin.
There was a strong flavor of hypocrisy in the suggestion that the transfer should be orderly and humane. Even under the most favorable and normal conditions, the driving of such a multitude of people from their homes and their resettlement elsewhere would have involved immense hardship and suffering. And conditions in Germany after the war were most unfavorable and abnormal. It was physically impossible for a thickly populated, devastated, and bomb-wrecked country, split into four zones of occupation, to absorb economically and provide for this vast horde of penniless, uprooted people.
Most of the expulsions were carried out with indiscriminate brutality. When I was in Munich in 1946 I received in semiconspirative fashion from the German Red Cross1 a thick dossier of affidavits from Sudeten refugees who had been dumped across the border into Bavaria. These affidavits told a sickening story, as bad as most of the atrocities charged to the Nazis during the war, of torture, rape, confinement in concentration camps at heavy labor with starvation rations. Many succumbed to this treatment; the more fortunate found themselves beggared refugees in Germany, without homes, property, or means of earning a living.
The circumstances of expulsion from Poland were no better. Of course the Nazi cruelties in Poland and Czechoslovakia were notorious and outrageous. But the expulsions were without any discrimination. They were not restricted to active Nazis or to individuals guilty of acts of cruelty and oppression. They applied even to those Sudeten Germans who had risked life and liberty by opposing the Nazis.
If one examines the records of previous settlements after great European conflicts, one nowhere finds a parallel for the ruthless cruelty of these mass expulsions. The Peace of Westphalia was concluded in 1648 after all the horrors and bitter memories of the Thirty Years War, but it established the right of free migration, with property, of Catholics who wished to leave Protestant states and of Protestants who wished to depart from Catholic states.
Some of the arrangements decreed by the Congress of Vienna were not in line with modern ideas of ethnic self-determination. But one finds no case of mass spoliation, or the driving of millions of people from their homes. The Treaty of Versailles is open to criticism on many grounds, but it did not authorize mass deportations. A number of Germans were forced out of Alsace-Lorraine and out of the territory allotted to Poland, but the means of pressure were milder, and the number of persons affected was much smaller.
A census of German deportees in 1946 revealed a figure of about ten million. There were a little more than three million in the British zone, a little fewer than three million in the American zone, about four million in the Soviet zone, and a mere handful, about fifty thousand, in the French zone. There is a suggestive and ominous gap between the fourteen million who were subject to deportation and the ten million who were identified.
Perhaps half of the missing four million could be accounted for. The expulsion, although very sweeping, was not one hundred per cent complete. There were a number of individuals of mixed blood in the German-Polish border area. Some of these, by passing as Poles, succeeded in remaining. A number of German skilled workers were kept in the Sudetenland. There were also war prisoners and some civilians who were held for forced labor.
However, when every allowance has been made for persons in these categories, it seems probable that some two million people perished in this vast uprooting. Some were massacred outright; more died of hunger, cold, and disease.2
The Potsdam Declaration proclaimed: “It is not the intention of the Allies to destroy or enslave the German people.” But this declaration of intent was not borne out by events during the first years of the occupation.
It had been the practice of civilized states in the past to release war prisoners within a reasonable time after the end of hostilities. The crusaders for righteousness in World War II set other precedents. For several years after the surrender between six and seven hundred thousand German war prisoners were kept as slave laborers in France, about four hundred thousand in Great Britain, and a larger number, perhaps two or three million, in Russia.
The United States did not exploit its war prisoners in this manner. But it turned over to the British and French some of the German prisoners who had been in camps in the United States and a good many who were captured in Europe.
The treatment of these prisoners varied. Reasonably humane conditions were maintained in Britain, where there were voices of protest and some uneasy scruples about the ethics of the whole procedure. There were ugly reports of near starvation of German prisoners in France in 1945, supported by the testimony of such a responsible French newspaper as Figaro. Subsequently, conditions improved.
Except for a minority selected for Communist indoctrination and for technicians whose services were desired, the treatment of war prisoners in Russia, which never accepted Red Cross conventions on this subject, was atrociously bad. Most of the Italian prisoners died of cold and hunger. Many of the Germans were released only when they had become physical wrecks, incapable of further work.
Forced labor is forced labor, regardless of whether it is performed under good, bad, or indifferent conditions. The German prisoners who were separated from their families and forced to work in foreign lands for years after the end of the war were not serving sentences as war criminals. There was no discrimination among those who were and those who were not Nazis.
The survivors of Napoleon’s legions were not pressed into slave labor after France was defeated in 1814 and 1815. To find a precedent for this large-scale exploitation of military prisoners as slave labor after the conclusion of hostilities, one would have to go back to the wars of antiquity, when slavery was the customary fate of the vanquished. This is not a precedent that is in harmony with the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter.
Potsdam set another very undesirable precedent, the mutilation and distortion of the economy of a defeated nation. By taking away a fourth of Germany’s arable land and forcing at least ten million refugees into the shrunken frontiers of Germany, the victorious powers created a staggering problem of population pressure. The only solution for this problem, the only means by which Germany could hope to support its population, even on a low standard of living, was large-scale development of industry and foreign trade.
The problem was aggravated because the Soviet zone, which is more agricultural than highly industrialized West Germany, was cut off from normal economic contact with the rest of the country and milked dry of surplus food for the needs of the large Soviet army of occupation. So the western powers had to reckon with the needs of an area which was about as thickly populated as Great Britain and just as incapable of feeding its people with home-grown food.
But the Potsdam Declaration contained many provisions calculated to block German industrial recovery. One of its most important economic decisions is worded as follows:
In order to eliminate Germany’s war potential, the production of arms, ammunition and implements of war, as well as all types of aircraft and seagoing ships, shall be prohibited and prevented. Production of metals, chemicals, machinery and other items that are directly necessary to a war economy shall be rigidly controlled and restricted to Germany’s approved postwar peacetime needs to meet the objectives stated in Paragraph 15. Productive capacity not needed for permitted production shall be removed in accordance with the reparations plans recommended by the Allied commission on reparations and approved by the governments concerned, or, if not removed, shall be destroyed. [Italics supplied.]
This last sentence reeks with the destructionist spirit of the Morgenthau Plan. It furnished the authorization for the dismantling of many nonmilitary German factories.
Paragraph 15 provides that Allied controls shall be imposed upon the German economy but “only” for the following purposes: to carry out programs of industrial disarmament and demilitarization, of reparations, and of approved exports and imports; to assure sufficient output to maintain the occupying forces and DP’s3 in Germany and to maintain in Germany average living standards not exceeding those of European countries, excluding Great Britain and the Soviet Union; to insure the equitable distribution of essential commodities between the several zones; to control German industry and all (italics supplied) economic and financial international transactions, including exports and imports; to control all German public or private scientific bodies, research and experimental institutions, laboratories, etc., connected with economic activities.
All this added up to a crippling strait jacket in which no national economy could hope to function with efficiency. It is not surprising that Western Germany remained a helpless derelict, dependent on outside aid for a subnormal standard of living, until these Potsdam decisions were scrapped or greatly relaxed.
The destructive restrictions on German industry foreshadowed at Potsdam were spelled out in more detail in an agreement about the level of German industry which was concluded between the occupation powers in March 1946. This called for the prohibition of aircraft and shipbuilding and for the complete elimination from Germany of fourteen other industries, including heavy tractors, heavy machine tools of various types, and primary aluminum. It limited German steel output to 5,800,000 tons a year, little more than the capacity of Belgium, which has about one-sixth of West Germany’s population. Only the older and less efficient steel plants were to be left in Germany.
The machine-tool industry was limited to 11.4 per cent of 1938 capacity, heavy engineering to 38 per cent, other mechanical engineering to 50 per cent. No new locomotives were to be built until 1949. Output in a number of other branches was drastically limited. The industries which were left free from restriction were of minor importance: furniture and woodwork, glass, ceramics, bicycles, potash. The “level of industry plan” was designed to reduce German output to 50 or 55 per cent of the 1938 figure.
This would have been equivalent to keeping Germany permanently on the level of 1932, a year of deep economic depression and mass unemployment. It was the widespread distress of 1932 that contributed much to Hitler’s rise to power.
A third basic document, besides the Potsdam Declaration and the Level of Industry Agreement, in shaping American policy during the first years after the end of the war was Occupation Directive 1067, issued on April 26, 1945. The spirit of this order is illustrated by the following excerpts:
Germany will not be occupied for the purpose of liberation but as a defeated enemy nation. . . . You will strongly discourage fraternization with the German officials and population.
No action will be taken, in execution of the reparations program or otherwise, which would tend to support basic living conditions in Germany or in your zone on a higher level than that existing in any of the neighboring United Nations. . . .4
You will take no steps (a) looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany or (b) designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy.
You will take all practicable economic and police measures to assure that German resources are fully utilized and consumption held to a minimum in order that imports may be strictly limited and that surpluses may be made available for the occupying forces and displaced persons and United Nations prisoners of war and for reparations.5 [Italics supplied.]
The purposes set forth in the Potsdam Declaration are highly confused and contradictory. Along with unprecedentedly harsh and brutal punitive provisions, calculated, if not designed, to destroy any possibility of a decent standard of living in Germany even in the distant future, one finds the statement:
It is the intention of the Allies that the German people be given the opportunity to prepare for the eventual reconstruction of their life on a democratic and peaceful basis.
The provisions for the destruction and drastic limitation of German industries certainly excluded any possibility that Germany could develop a surplus of exports over imports which might be used for reparations. Yet Potsdam set forth a reparations plan. Soviet claims were to be met by removals of plants and equipment from the Soviet zone and from “appropriate German external assets.” Moreover the Soviet Union was to get 15 per cent of the plants and equipment scheduled for removal from the western zones in exchange for products of the Soviet zone, and an additional 10 per cent without payment. At the same time Paragraph 194 of the Potsdam Declaration, one of the few passages in that document which shows a canny sense of economic realities, reads as follows:
Payment of reparations should leave enough resources to enable the German people to subsist without external assistance. In working out the economic balance of Germany the necessary means must be provided to pay for imports approved by the Control Council in Germany.6 The proceeds of exports from current production and stocks shall be available in the first place for payment for such imports.
This clause was not applicable to the 25 per cent share of equipment from the western zones which was assured to the Soviet Union.
In its outline of reparations procedure, as in its boundary and limitation of industry provisions, Potsdam deserves the characterization: Europe’s worst peace. The wrong lessons were drawn from the experience of the past.
The Napoleonic armies had committed considerable ravages and were responsible for a good deal of looting during the first years of the nineteenth century, but no heavy burden of indemnity was laid on France by the Congress of Vienna.
The indemnity of one billion dollars which Germany imposed upon France after the Franco-Prussian War was considered a severe exaction, but there was no tearing up of French factories, no suggestion of limiting France’s ability to produce and trade. And the indemnity was paid off more quickly than Bismarck had thought possible.
Indeed there is little evidence that the indemnities which were sometimes collected from defeated states in European conflicts before World War I had any adverse effects on the economy of the Continent. The figures were kept within moderate bounds, and the charges could be and were paid like ordinary commercial obligations.
It was after World War I that reparations and the closely related subject of war debts began to bedevil international economic and financial relations. This was because the sums involved were so huge that impossible transfer problems arose. Under the bleak winds of economic crisis during the period 1929-33 the whole house-of-cards structure of agreed reparations and war-debts payments collapsed. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin apparently realized from this experience that the collection of huge sums in money from a defeated enemy country with limited natural resources is not feasible.
But from this sound premise they drew the wrong conclusion. They decided to exact their pound of flesh from a Germany which had been thoroughly shattered in the very process of defeat in the most wasteful fashion imaginable. This was by impressing Germans for slave labor and by transferring the equipment of German factories to other countries. It is probably a moderate estimate that 80 per cent of the productive value of a plant is lost when it is plucked up by the roots and transferred elsewhere.7
Reparations could have been obtained by requiring certain German factories to work for reparations accounts and supplying these factories with necessary raw materials. No one seems to have suggested such a sensible arrangement at the wartime conferences, although the Russians began to practice it on a huge scale in their own zone after they learned from experience that the removal of German machinery brought little positive benefit to their own economy.
No doubt some of the inconsistencies and contradictions in the Potsdam Declaration were due to uncertainty in the minds of the victors as to whether they wished to ruin Germany forever as an industrial power or whether they wished to collect reparations. These two objectives were, of course, incompatible. Other discrepancies may be ascribed to differences of opinion and objective among the victors. These differences became more evident at Potsdam than they had been at Yalta.
James F. Byrnes, then Secretary of State, in his account of the Potsdam Conference,8 says the American delegation wished to reach agreement on four major issues. These were the machinery and procedures for the earliest possible drafting of the peace treaties; the political and economic principles which should govern the occupation of Germany; plans for carrying out the Yalta Declaration in liberated Europe; a new approach to the reparations issue.
No success was achieved on any of these points. All that was gained as regards the implementation of the Yalta promises was a meaningless repetition of assurances which were being disregarded in practice every day. The machinery for turning the countries of Eastern Europe into Soviet vassal states ground on relentlessly.
Five years after Potsdam the world was still waiting for peace treaties with Germany and Japan. In view of the subsequent continual bickering between the Soviet Union and the western powers and the frequent divergences of opinion between the United States and France, with Great Britain occupying a middle position, no basis for a generally acceptable policy toward Germany was found.
Nor was there any satisfactory agreement on reparations. The Soviet Union seized what it liked in its own zone and refused to give any account of the value of what it carried off as official and unofficial loot and what it exacted in reparations from current production. It acquired an economic stranglehold on other East European countries by claiming extensive industrial properties as German assets. It completely ignored in practice two provisions of the Potsdam Agreement: that Germany should be treated as an economic unit and that payment of reparations should leave enough to enable the Germans to exist without external assistance.
According to Byrnes, the American delegation took a strong stand for the proposition that the question of Poland’s western frontier was still open. Bevin, the new British Foreign Minister, strongly criticized these new frontiers. Stalin stated: “The western frontier question is still open and the Soviet Union is not bound.”9 But subsequent Soviet declarations have been to the effect that the frontier must be considered finally settled. And the American and British representatives certainly weakened their case by assenting to the mass deportation of Germans from the area in dispute. The distinguished journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick calls this “the most inhuman decision ever made by governments dedicated to the defense of human rights.”
Molotov persisted in returning to the Yalta proposal for a reparations figure of twenty billion dollars, of which half should go to the Soviet Union. No definite figure, however, was included in the text of the Potsdam Agreement. New evidence of human capacity for self-deception is to be found in Byrnes’s comment on Potsdam:
“We considered the conference a success. We firmly believed that the agreements reached would provide a basis for the early restoration of stability to Europe.”10
A much sounder and more far-sighted judgment was expressed in an editorial which appeared at this time in the Economist, of London:
The Potsdam Declaration will not last ten years, and when it breaks down there will be nothing but the razor-edge balance of international anarchy between civilization and the atomic bomb. . . . It has in it not a single constructive idea, not a single hopeful perspective for the postwar world. At the end of a mighty war fought to defeat Hitlerism the Allies are making a Hitlerian peace. This is the real measure of their failure.
Pope Pius XII expressed a similar thought when he declared, in his Christmas message to the College of Cardinals in 1946:
One thing is beyond all doubt. The fruits and the repercussions of victory have been, up to the present, not only of indescribable bitterness for the defeated; but for the victors, too, they have proved to be a source of untold anxiety and danger.
One may quote still another judgment on the spirit and fruits of Potsdam. This was pronounced by Lord (formerly Sir William) Beveridge after a visit to Germany in 1946:
In a black moment of anger and confusion at Potsdam in July, 1945, we abandoned the Atlantic Charter of 1941, which had named as our goals: For all nations improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security; for all states, victor and vanquished, access to the trade and to the raw materials of the world, which are needed for their economic prosperity. From Potsdam instead we set out on a program of lowering the standard of life in Germany, of destroying industry, of depriving her of trade. The actions of the Allies for the last fifteen months make the Atlantic Charter an hypocrisy.
How suitable is this word hypocrisy for all the lofty moral professions of the Second Crusade! How suitable is evident from the fact that, with one exception, every war crime committed by the Nazis was matched in some way by one or more of the United Nations. The exception is the savage, maniacal extermination of several million European Jews.
But if one calls the roll of the other crimes which are often represented as peculiar to the Nazis, or to the Germans and Japanese as peoples, one soon finds, after impartial investigation, that there are other guilty parties. Victors as well as vanquished must answer for grave offenses against international law and common humanity.
Forcible annexation of alien territory? But what of the arbitrary allotment of 104,000 square miles of historic Polish territory, with the Polish cities of Lwów and Wilno, to the Soviet Union? What is the justification, apart from naked force, for giving to the Soviet Union and Poland cities that have been German for centuries: Königsberg, Danzig, Stettin, Breslau; for assigning 61,000 square miles of ethnically German land to Poland? What of Soviet annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, to an accompaniment of mass arrests, deportations, and flight of a considerable part of the population of these unfortunate Baltic states? What of the seizure of one-tenth of Finland, with the inhabitants, almost to the last man, leaving their homes and property rather than live under Soviet rule?
Deportation and uprooting of people to make room for German settlement? It is an old and true saying that two wrongs do not make a right. The fate of the fourteen million human beings driven from their homes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other East European countries was no happier than that of Poles who were expelled from their homes to make way for Germans.
Conscription for forced labor? This was considered such a serious crime when committed by the Nazis that its chief organizer, Fritz Sauckel, was hanged. Many other Germans were sentenced to prison for alleged criminal complicity. But was anyone punished in Russia, or in France, or in Britain, for the exploitation of German war prisoners as slave labor long after the end of hostilities?
Rape and looting? The scenes that took place in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and other cities captured by the Red Army were probably never equalled in European warfare as orgies of lust and pillage. A vivid account of the sack of Berlin, written by an anti-Nazi German who was an eyewitness, estimates that about half the women in the city were violated. An ecclesiastical authority in Vienna told me that about sixty thousand women were raped by Soviet soldiers; a Social Democratic editor put the figure at one hundred thousand.
As for pillage, the clumsy, barbaric monuments which the Russians have put up all over eastern Europe to “the unknown Russian soldier” have been privately rededicated to “the unknown Russian looter.” Every capital occupied by the Red Army has its special crop of jokes about the Russian soldier’s habit of holding up individuals and taking their watches and other valuables, with or without rape and assault and battery thrown in.
The Soviet armies left behind them a trail of murder, rape, and looting that has not been surpassed since the Mongol invasion of Europe in the thirteenth century. The behavior of the western troops was more civilized, as the east-west flight of millions of Germans proves, although there was a good deal of pillaging by the French, and the discipline of American troops left something to be desired.11 The British troops, according to the general testimony of the Germans, were the best behaved.
There was nothing in the western zones to equal the carrying off of an enormous variety of items, from feather-bed mattresses to turbines, in the Soviet zone. But there was a good deal of indirect looting. The French, for instance, lived off the land in the area of southwestern Germany which they occupied. This region, which was never self-sufficient in food, had to support not only an army of occupation but a horde of officials, with their families and relatives. Small wonder that the food situation in the French zone (until the general economic revival in 1948) was desperately bad, with the ration sometimes falling below the starvation level of 1,000 calories.
The extreme hunger which prevailed in Germany in the first years of the occupation made it easy for military and civilian members of the military governments to buy up porcelain, silver, and other valuables for nominal prices in cigarettes and imported food. There was also sweeping requisitioning of houses for the needs of officers and officials of the military government. They were given accommodations which were luxurious by American or British standards, still more so against the background of terrific destruction and inhuman overcrowding in the German cities.
Undernourishment of the populations in occupied countries was held to be one of the Nazi war crimes. This condition certainly prevailed for a large part of the city population in all Germany until 1948, when there was a substantial change for the better in the western zones as a result of the currency reform and the inflow of Marshall Plan aid. Even then much distress could still be found among groups unable to earn their living and among the Germans who had been driven from the East.
The following manifesto, issued by the municipal government of Hamburg in the summer of 1946, describes accurately a situation which could be found not only in Hamburg, but in many of the large industrial towns of West Germany in the first years of the occupation:12
Tuberculosis, hunger swelling, incapacity for work because of undernourishment, increase from day to day. The supply of gas and electricity is endangered because the workers, in spite of heavy rations for extra labor, collapse in front of the furnaces for lack of strength. In the factories and in the offices the falling out of workers because of complete exhaustion increases every day. For months expert observers have pointed to the coming famine with all its signs and consequences. Now it is here.
The British official in charge of food supply gave me detailed information about the Hamburg rations at this time. The main items were a little over half a pound of bread and a little less than a pound of potatoes a day. Beyond this, allotments were so small as to be negligible. The weekly ration included four ounces of meat, seven ounces of fish, three ounces of sugar, four ounces of jam, half an ounce of cheese, and a little over a pint of skimmed milk. This was far below a subsistence diet. Equally bad conditions sometimes provoked hunger strikes and demonstrations in the Ruhr.
Genocide is usually thought of as a crime peculiar to the Nazis. However, the death rate in the United States sector of Berlin in the first quarter of 1947 was almost three times the birth rate, 28.5 per thousand per annum as against 10.7 per thousand. Infant mortality was 116.2 per thousand. Comparative figures for New York in 1946 were as follows: death rate, 10.1 per thousand; birth rate, 19.6 per thousand; infant mortality, 27.8 per thousand.13 And the American sector of Berlin was by no means the worst area under occupation.
Of course it is difficult to draw a clear line of distinction between the consequences of the lost war and vindictive, destructionist occupation policies. Even if the Potsdam decisions had been wiser and more humane, the whole German people, Nazis and non-Nazis, guilty and innocent, would have been required to pay a heavy price for Hitler’s crimes. They would have been forced to wrestle with the social problems involved in wrecked factories, devastated cities, disrupted families, and hopelessly inflated currency.
Had Germany, under a government of its own choice, been left free to struggle out of the debris of defeat by its own efforts, no special moral responsibility would have attached to the victorious powers. But when these powers decided to occupy every square foot of German territory, to abolish German sovereignty, to regulate every detail of German life, they incurred a share of responsibility for the appalling physical misery and social demoralization which are only slowly being alleviated years after the end of the war.
The ghastly hunger of Hamburg, for instance, cannot be dissociated from the prohibition of all German ocean-going shipping, since it was shipping and shipbuilding that gave this large port much of its livelihood. The high mortality rates in Berlin were certainly due, at least in part, to the attempt to administer this city under a system of perpetual squabbling among the four controlling powers. The frustrating and often contradictory economic regulations imposed by the various occupation authorities certainly increased the misery by denying the Germans a reasonable opportunity to earn their own living.
There were two other characteristics of the occupation regime in Germany for which there is no parallel in other European peace settlements. These were denazification and the trials of so-called war criminals.
Denazification was an inquisitional purge, directed against all Germans who had been members of the National Socialist party or its affiliated organizations. This party was a very large mass organization which individuals joined for all sorts of reasons. Along with a hard core of fanatical believers in Hitler’s teachings there was a much larger number who joined for reasons of expediency, or even of personal safety. It was almost compulsory for public officials and individuals who held high positions in industry, trade, and the professions to be party members. It was extremely difficult to study in universities or to practice any profession without joining a Nazi-dominated organization.
Newspapermen, for instance, were automatically registered in the Reichspressekammer. There were similar organizations for writers, musicians, teachers, doctors, radio commentators, and others.
A reasonable approach to the denazification problem would have been to exclude from public office those Nazis who were high enough in party rank to be fairly regarded as responsible policy makers, to prosecute those against whom there was evidence of specific criminal acts, and to leave the great mass who had merely gone along with the tide undisturbed.
If, as Burke said, it is impossible to indict a nation, it is surely inadvisable and impolitic to punish such a high proportion of individuals as to create a large class of embittered pariahs. Yet this is what American denazification set out to do. Every adult German in the American zone was required under criminal penalties to fill out an incredibly complex questionnaire with 131 questions. These pried into every detail of personal life, from religion to income.
In conscious or unconscious imitation of the Nazis, with their inquiries about ethnic origin, the questionnaire called for a list of titles of nobility which the individual, his wife, or any of his four grandparents might have held. There was a still more sinister imitation of Nazi methods. Persons who filled out the questionnaire were required to denounce any relatives who had held rank or office in any of over fifty organizations.
On the basis of this inquisition penalties ranging from imprisonment to fines and exclusion from the right of holding office or practicing a profession were imposed on large numbers of people. At first this was done by arbitrary action of the Military Government. Later it was turned over to the Germans; but they were required to act on the basis of a law approved by the Military Government.
The sheer physical impossibility of judging millions of people in this way forced a retreat from the more extreme methods. But the wholesale indiscriminating and arbitrary conduct of denazification led to much injustice and completely defeated its purpose. When the net was cast so wide and caught so many individuals who were personally guilty of no crime except a lack of the high moral courage required to defy a dictatorship, the inevitable result was to create sympathy, not aversion, for the people who suffered.
The same consideration holds good for the so-called war-crimes trials.14 The largest and most spectacular of these was held at Nürnberg, where the surviving leaders of the Nazi regime were arraigned before a tribunal composed of representatives of America, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. There were twelve other war-crimes trials in the American zone, held before American courts. Over 1,500 persons were found guilty in these trials, and 444 were sentenced to death.
The number of trials and convictions in the British zone was smaller. There is little official information about what happened in the Soviet zone. On the basis of reliable reports, it seems certain that more people were put to death and sent to concentration camps there than in the other zones. But there has also been more rehabilitation and utilization of ex-Nazis who were regarded as useful for the Communist cause.
Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, American prosecutor in the Nürnberg trial, ex-Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and others hailed the war crimes trials as a new and higher development in international law. It seems improbable that this will be the verdict of impartial history. For both the underlying conception of the trials (that victors are qualified to be impartial judges of vanquished) and many of the methods employed in conducting prosecutions and extracting confessions run counter to all established principles of western justice and international law.
No reasonable person will deny that some of the defendants in these trials were guilty of horrible crimes and that comparatively few are entitled to sympathy on the basis of their personalities and records. The real case against “victors’ justice” is not the punishment that was meted out to over fifteen hundred Germans, but the serious injury which the trials inflicted upon civilized standards of impartial judicial procedure and moral consistency. This injury may be found in the following points.
1. There was no pretense of enforcing equal responsibility before the law. Only Germans were punished, in many cases for actions which were also committed by soldiers and citizens of one or all of the victorious powers. But one of the clearest distinctions between a true court of law and a lynching mob is that the court judges all without discrimination.
2. The very important principle that judges and juries should have no personal interest or prejudice in the cases with which they are concerned was not and could not be upheld in trials of defeated enemies by their conquerors.
3. This defect of the trials was aggravated because a considerable number of American citizens of recent origin, political or racial refugees from Nazi Germany, took part in the investigations and police actions which accompanied the prosecutions. The desire of some of these individuals for vengeance was human and understandable. But this desire should not have been satisfied through American courts.
4. The evidence on which some of the verdicts were based was tainted by the use of brutality and chicanery in extorting confessions.
5. The trials set a dangerous precedent in violation of the well-known principles of national and international law. One of these is that there should be no ex post facto punishment. The other is that military officers and civilian officials should not be held responsible for carrying out orders received from high authorities. Under this last precedent, every military and naval officer who takes part in working out war plans could be indicted and executed as a “promoter of aggressive war,” if his country should be defeated.
6. The proscription of the vanquished by the victors is unpleasantly reminiscent of the practices of twenty centuries ago, when captured rulers were strangled after being led in Roman triumphs. The war-crimes trials were hailed and justified as war deterrents. But it seems far more probable that the only effect will be to turn future wars into bitter-end struggles of mutual extermination. There has never been a war in history in which the victors did not consider the vanquished “guilty.”
One of the counts in the Nürnberg indictment was the planning and waging of wars of aggression. It is now a matter of public historical record, and it was a fact well known to the Nürnberg prosecutors and judges, that the Soviet Union was an active partner in Hitler’s scheme for attacking and partitioning Poland, to say nothing of its acts of aggression against the Baltic states and Finland. So, if the punishment of aggressive war was the purpose of the trials, the place of the Soviet representatives was in the dock with the accused, not on the bench with the judges. In view of the different treatment meted out to Nazi aggression and to Soviet aggression, the assumption seems justified that the Germans were punished not because they waged aggressive war, but because they waged it unsuccessfully.
Other blemishes on the Nürnberg record, from the standpoint of pure justice, were the hasty insertion and shamefaced withdrawal of charges about German responsibility for the Katyn massacre15 and the curious reasoning employed in the indictment of Admiral Dönitz. The tribunal ruled that Dönitz was not sentenced on the ground of his breaches of international law in the conduct of submarine warfare, because American and British naval leaders had committed similar breaches. He was, however, held liable to prosecution for other offenses.
This principle was questionable in itself. But it was not consistently observed, for, as has already been shown, the Germans were by no means alone in committing such crimes against humanity and international law as launching of aggressive war, forcible annexation of foreign territory, carrying out mass deportations, exploiting the slave labor of war prisoners, committing rape, looting, and other outrages against civilians.
Any moral value the war trials might have possessed was seriously undermined by the methods often used to extort confessions. Most notorious and unsavory was the third-degree treatment inflicted upon the defendants in the Malmédy trial, a large group of German soldiers accused of killing American prisoners during the Battle of the Bulge.
An Army commission, headed by Justice Gordon Simpson, of the Texas Supreme Court, investigated this matter. Its conclusion was that “highly questionable methods which cannot be condoned” were used in obtaining the “evidence” and “confessions” upon which the many death sentences inflicted in this case were based. Judge Edward L. van Roden, a member of the commission, was more specific in his description. He listed among these “highly questionable methods”: beatings and brutal kickings, knocking out teeth and breaking jaws; mock trials with impersonation of priests by investigators; solitary confinement on limited rations. Colonel W. M. Everett, an American officer in two world wars, was appointed counsel for the defendants. He submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States a long affidavit, containing the following statement, among many other allegations of torture and undue pressure:
“The American prosecutors would make many threats of violence and torture, directed toward the mothers, fathers, sisters, wives, and children of various accused unless they signed complete dictated confessions of acts and deeds never committed by them, and acts and deeds of other accused, never witnessed by them.”
This suggested the methods of the Gestapo, rather than a “reeducation” in the ways of civilized justice. Indeed, it seems doubtful whether the Germans could have been expected to learn any lesson from the war trials except one the Nazis could have taught them: Woe to the vanquished.
In the retrospect of five years it is difficult to recognize even one constructive or hopeful feature of the preliminary peace settlement sketched at Potsdam. The Economist uttered an understatement in predicting that the Potsdam settlement would not last ten years. Within two years it had been disregarded by the Soviet Union and modified beyond recognition by America and Great Britain.
Had the Potsdam Declaration, the Level of Industry Agreement of 1946, and Directive No. 1067 been applied in full rigor without compensating outside aid, millions of Germans would have perished of malnutrition and slow starvation. As it was, the first years of the occupation witnessed an abnormally high death rate among the very old and the very young.
Mass starvation was averted only because the more destructive features of these schemes were gradually relaxed or scrapped and because the United States poured a large sum of money into Germany—about three billion dollars by the beginning of 1950. But it would surely have been wiser, more humane, and more economical never to have composed these destructionist plans than to announce them and then go over to slow, painful, piecemeal revision. It is doubtful whether history records any more wasteful process than the American action in assenting to and sometimes initiating destructionist measures in Germany and simultaneously paying out money to avert the consequences of these measures. The cost of satisfying the emotion of blind, undiscriminating vengeance has been absurdly high.
The kind of peace settlement indicated by the Potsdam decisions was brutally unjust and profoundly unwise from the economic standpoint. It also gives the impression of being extremely unstable. Had Europe escaped the politically unsettling effects of the economic crisis of 1929-33, there might have been an adjustment on the basis of existing political frontiers.
It is hard to foresee stability for the grotesque frontiers in eastern Europe that were foreshadowed at Teheran, accepted at Yalta, and given clearer form at Potsdam. The Germans will never be reconciled to the loss of such old authentically German cities as Danzig and Königsberg, Breslau and Stettin. The presence of millions of miserable, unabsorbed refugees will always remind them of what has been lost in the East.
Some of the defects of the German peace settlement were repeated in Austria, although the treatment of that country was less deliberately vindictive. Little Austria was split up into four zones of occupation. Its chances of becoming self-supporting were gravely injured by the Soviet seizure and exploitation of the Zistersdorf oil wells, the Danubian shipping, and many factories, claimed as “German assets.”
Not only the Russians, but the western powers kept out of commercial use many hotels which normally housed tourists and added to the Austrian national income. Only the Americans paid the expenses of their own occupation. In Austria, as in Germany, large American subsidies eased the economic difficulties. But much better economic results could have been achieved at a considerable saving to the American taxpayer if the occupation could have been quickly ended and if the elastic Soviet claim to confiscate German assets had never been accepted. It had been decided at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in 1943 that Austria should be regarded as a “liberated” country. But several years after the end of the war, there was still no formal peace for Austria. The Soviet Union was still blocking the conclusion of a peace treaty that would have required a general evacuation of occupation forces.
Peacemaking in the Orient brought its special disappointments. This was because China, the country on whose behalf the United States went crusading in that part of the world, turned Communist and proceeded to heap insults upon American diplomatic representatives unprecedented since the days of the Boxer uprising. This was very much as if Great Britain and France had set up Soviet governments, sent delegations to pay homage to Stalin, and lost no opportunity to express their contempt and detestation for the United States. Seldom has retribution for a short-sighted, sentimental, mistaken policy been so swift and so merciless.
To be sure, the occupation of Japan was smoother and more efficient than the occupation of Germany. General Douglas MacArthur’s authority was, for all practical purposes, unquestioned.
Molotov, following the usual Soviet method of losing nothing for want of asking for it, had tried to put a Soviet foot inside the door of the Japanese occupation. On August 11, 1945, when Japan was about to surrender, Molotov suggested to American Ambassador Harriman that there should be two supreme commanders in Japan, MacArthur and the Soviet Marshal Vasilievsky. By this time Harriman had learned how to say No, and nothing came of this suggestion.16
Apart from a small British force which was ultimately withdrawn, the occupation troops in Japan were exclusively American. The United States was the source of the funds and supplies which were required to ward off starvation and save the Japanese economy from complete collapse. MacArthur enjoyed a freer hand than General Clay possessed in Germany, for Clay was obliged to reckon not only with the persistent hostility of the Russians, but with frequent divergences of French opinion and occasional disagreements with the British.
Unfortunately American policy in Japan in the first years of the occupation repeated, sometimes in milder form, the blunders which have already been noted in Germany. Economically there was much in common between these two defeated countries. Both were thickly settled lands, incapable of supporting more than a minority of their population by agriculture.
Japan had given food and work to its growing population and balanced its international accounts in the past by processing raw materials—American cotton, for instance, Australian wool, rubber from southeastern Asia—and making a profit on the export of cheap manufactured goods. Japan also benefited from intensive development of its colonial regions, Korea, Formosa, and Manchuria. Japanese passenger ships and freighters plied a lively trade. The Japanese merchant marine was the third largest in the world.
The war shattered these bases of the Japanese economy. Japan lost its overseas possessions and assets. The overcrowded Japanese islands, where over eighty million people live in an area smaller and poorer than California, were forced to receive millions of new inhabitants, Japanese who had formerly lived on the Asiatic mainland and in the adjacent islands. Most of Japan’s shipping was at the bottom of the ocean. Its industrial plant was heavily damaged by bombing.
Two salient points about the Japanese situation should have been clear to every competent economist. First, there was no surplus in the Japanese economy that could be devoted to the payment of reparations. Second, if Japan was to get off the American dole and become self-supporting, the Japanese needed for this purpose all the industry, shipping, and foreign trade they could rebuild and regain.
However, the revengeful psychology which found its extreme expression in the Morgenthau Plan prevailed for a time in regard to Japan. Countries which had taken part in the war against Japan were invited to present indemnity bills. Edwin W. Pauley, who as United States Reparations Commissioner had done much to ruin the economy of Central Europe, drew up a plan admirably calculated to wreck the Japanese economy.
This “Little Morgenthau Plan,” as it might well have been called, proposed to limit the Japanese merchant marine to 1,500,000 tons, to set a limit of 5,000 tons for Japanese vessels, and to prohibit Japanese ships from calling at any but Oriental ports. The Pauley scheme also called for the reduction of Japanese steelmaking capacity from 8,000,000 to 2,750,000 tons. There were to be drastic cuts in such essential industries as chemicals, railway equipment and rolling-stock, shipbuilding, communications, and electrical power.
Mr. Pauley knew nothing of Japan’s economic problems at first hand. There is reason to believe that he was influenced in his decisions by the views of some left-wing “experts” on Japan who saw in an economically ruined Japan the necessary and desirable prelude to a Communist Japan. This same consideration explains the enthusiasm of Communists and fellow travelers for the Morgenthau scheme in Germany.
Fortunately the Pauley blueprint for economic destruction was never realized in practice. The recipients of the prospective loot from Japan squabbled so long and bitterly over their shares that there was time for wiser counsels to get the upper hand in Washington.
The United States Government in May 1949 announced the end of reparations from Japan in a note characterized by economic insight and realism. The communication stressed a point that had apparently escaped the attention of Mr. Pauley: that the Japanese economy could be made to bear additional burdens “only by prolonging or increasing the staggering costs borne by the American taxpayer.” American resources “to meet demands from all parts of the world,” the note continued, are limited.
Japan, therefore, should be permitted to develop its peaceful industries without limitation. In the words of the note: “The problem facing us is not one of limitation of Japan’s peaceful industries, but of reviving those industries to provide for the people’s barest wants.”
So there was a belated return to sanity on the question of industrial dismantling in Japan. Meanwhile, however, the political picture in the Far East had changed very much for the worse. China passed almost completely under Communist control. This left South Korea, under a precariously weak government, as the only toehold of American influence on the mainland of East Asia. Japan itself threatened to turn into a permanent sub-WPA project.
Nine years after Pearl Harbor, five years after atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and introduced the world to a new age of fear, there was no true pacification, no sense of security for American interests in Asia. The aftermath of the crusade was, if possible, even more disillusioning in that continent than it was in Europe.
For the basic assumption on which the crusade had been based, the assumption that the Big Three could and would rule and police the world with unity of purpose, had proved to be one of the most disastrous miscalculations in history. The world organization that was supposed to assure peace and the reign of law and justice had been shown impotent to assure either. By innumerable brawls, on issues large and small, the United Nations had proved themselves the Divided Nations.
[1. ] At that time Germans were forbidden, under severe penalties, to criticize any action of any of the United Nations, no matter how outrageous or how notorious the outrage might have been. These restrictions disappeared, at least so far as the Soviet Union and its satellites were concerned, in later years of the occupation.
[2. ] One of the best factual accounts of the position of the German refugees, supplied with many official figures, is to be found in Deutschland-Jahrbuch—1949, published by Dr. Klaus Mehnert and Dr. Heinrich Schulte, West-Verlag, Essen. The subject has been almost completely ignored in American publications.
[3. ] The DP’s (displaced persons) were citizens of various East European countries—many of whom had been brought to Germany under various degrees of compulsion during the war as slave laborers—who were stranded in Germany after the end of the war.
[4. ] Some of the neighboring United Nations, notably Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, had always possessed a much lower standard of living than Germany. Strictly interpreted, this passage in the directive would have authorized the tearing out of bathtubs and telephones, the destruction of good roads and communication facilities, so as to level down the German standard.
[5. ] The idea that there would be food “surpluses” in a wrecked and extremely overcrowded country seems fantastic, yet this is the authentic language of the directive.
[6. ] This body, which never functioned effectively and ceased to function at all after the quarrel over Berlin became acute in 1948, was composed of representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France.
[7. ] During a visit to Germany in 1949 I saw the following example of the conspicuous economic waste involved in dismantling. The Krupp Borbeck steel works, in the Ruhr, was assigned to the Soviet Union. Original value of this plant was 125 million marks. The cost of dismantling was 25 million marks. The assessed value of what was finally turned over to the Russians (a curious expression, incidentally, of the policy of containing communism) was—10 million marks.
[8. ] Byrnes, Speaking Frankly, 67-87.
[9. ] Ibid., 80.
[10. ] Ibid., 87.
[11. ] A spectacular piece of American banditry was the effort of a WAC captain, one Kathleen B. Nash Durant, and a few accomplices to make off with the jewels of the state of Hesse, which were located in a castle where she was stationed. There were other Americans besides the too enterprising WAC captain who must have given the Germans a rather dubious “re-education” in the virtue supposedly associated with democracy.
[12. ] I was in Hamburg at the time when this manifesto was issued. I can confirm from personal observation that it did not exaggerate the conditions of near starvation that prevailed.
[13. ] See Stolper, German Realities, 33. This is far and away the most thorough analysis of postwar German social and economic conditions available in the English language.
[14. ] I talked with the wife of one of the men convicted in one of the most dubious of the “war crimes” trials, the prosecution of officials in the Nazi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She told me that she gained in popularity and esteem with her neighbors when it became known that she was the wife of a “war criminal.” In this trial some of the defendants, notably the former Undersecretary von Weizsäcker, were convicted for not stopping atrocities which they had no means of checking. There was no proof that they incited or approved these atrocities.
[15. ] See pp. 275-77 for the strong circumstantial evidence that the Soviet authorities were responsible for this massacre.
[16. ] Deane, The Strange Alliance, 278-79.