That Was Then: Allen W. Dulles on the Occupation of Germany

A Note from the Editors:

In thinking about the reconstruction of Iraq, many have looked for insight to the American experiences in rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II. Optimists point to similarities across the cases and argue that they bode well for the Bush administration's efforts today. Pessimists point to differences and draw the opposite conclusion. In truth, some aspects of the occupations look familiar and some do not. As the saying goes, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. What is most striking about the comparison is that in all three cases, several months into the postwar era the future of the country was still hanging in the balance.

Picking their way through the rubble, officials early in the Truman administration had as little clue about the eventual outcome of their experiments as their counterparts in Washington and Baghdad do today. They saw little choice but to grope forward as best they could, responding to immediate problems and fast-moving events while trying to keep their eyes steady on a grand long-term vision. Knowing how the story ended, it is difficult for us to escape the tyranny of hindsight and see those earlier cases as they appeared to contemporary observers -- in their full uncertainty, as history in the making rather than data to be mined for present-day polemics. Foreign Affairs is pleased, therefore, to be able to open a window directly onto occupied Germany seven months after V-E Day, taking readers back in media res.

During World War II, Allen W. Dulles served as the Bern station chief for the Office of Strategic Services. (He would later serve as the head of a successor organization, the Central Intelligence Agency, from 1953 to 1961.) Dulles was the main American liaison with the German resistance and a close observer of the early stages of the postwar occupation. After the OSS was disbanded in late September 1945, he decided to return to private life. On December 3, less than a week before leaving government service, he gave a frank and unvarnished update on the situation in Germany to an off-the-record meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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