Rotten to the Core?
How America’s Political Decay Accelerated During the Trump Era
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.
At the time the meeting was held, the United States and the Soviet Union were watching each other warily across the ruins of Europe but had not yet descended into what would become known as the Cold War. Germany was still one country, although divided into four occupation zones. George Kennan's "Long Telegram" and Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech were still months off, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO still years in the future. Washington was trying to put Germany back on its feet while simultaneously demobilizing and turning to domestic matters. Few Americans had any inkling of just what their country's commitment to postwar Europe would eventually involve; most simply wanted the troops to come home.
According to the Council's archival policies, all substantive council records more than 25 years old are open for use, subject to permission being obtained from any living person for remarks attributed to them. Since the notes of that Dulles meeting are no longer protected, we are publishing them here for the first time, with only slight editing, as a contribution to public debate.
THE PRESENT SITUATION IN GERMANY
Digest of a meeting with Allen W. Dulles at the Council on Foreign Relations, December 3, 1945
Germany today is a problem of extraordinary complexity. For two and one-half years the country has been a political and economic void in which discipline was well-maintained. There is no dangerous underground operating there now although some newspapers in the United States played up such a story. The German leaders, of course, could not admit defeat and today the attitude of the people is not so much a feeling of shame and guilt as one of having been let down by their leaders.
Economically and industrially, Germany has scraped the bottom of the barrel, and there are few shops with anything to sell. As soon as you attempt to get Germany to tick and to make arrangements for a government, the lack of men becomes apparent at once. Most men of the caliber required suffer a political taint. When we discover someone whose ability and politics are alike acceptable, we usually find as we did in one case that the man has been living abroad for the past ten years and is hopelessly out of touch with the local situation. We have already found out that you can't run railroads without taking in some Party members.
Labels are always arbitrary and sometimes they effectively mask what lies underneath. For example, citizens A, B, C, and D who didn't care about politics one way or the other were told they had to join the Nazi Party in order to make up the proper quota in the factory in which they worked. The consequences of refusal being what they were, they joined the Party. I know of one instance where two brothers tossed a coin to see which one would join the SS. I mention these things not because I think any substantial number of Germans were opposed to the Party but rather to point out how misleading and decisive a label can be. Furthermore we had altogether too many rules and regulations dealing with the Germans to make an adequate supply of men available to us. There were 126 categories of Germans excluded from any activity or from posts in German administration. Take, for example, the case of a man who owned zinc and coal mines in Upper Silesia. He was a bitter and proven anti-Nazi and a man of undoubted courage and integrity. I was not permitted to use him because he came under category 106, being classified as a war economy supervisor.
We tried hard to find financial advisers, but most of the bankers who had been in Germany in the Twenties and Thirties had by this time been liquidated. I found a banker in the prisoner's cage who had been arrested on an automatic charge because in the early part of the war he had been appointed custodian for the property of an alien, a post he later resigned. I am told that during the period of his responsibility he discharged his trust with scrupulous honesty. I had to bring his case before the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington before I was permitted to use him. Then there was Doctor Sauerbruch, one of the leading surgeons in Berlin. Him, also, I found in a cage. It took a cable to London from Washington to get his case straightened out and get him released for useful service, and this had no sooner been done when a few days later the British rearrested him because he came under some other category.
In our zone we arrested 70,000 people. There was no such thing as a habeas corpus and there was no forum to which one could apply for a hearing, although later on we did set up a tribunal of sorts. I do not blame our people too much for this state of affairs. After all, we could not examine each case individually in the early days when the chief task was to occupy Germany in the most effective manner.
The present political set-up in Germany is based on the agreements reached at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam. Tehran was made when Churchill felt somewhat shaky. The arrangement did not include the French zone, which was added later. But regardless of its genesis, by and large the scheme is almost entirely unworkable. We have chopped up Baden, Württemburg, and Hesse into artificial zones. In the case of Saxony, the Russian zone cuts off the American and British zones from their counterparts there. It is difficult to see how the Allies could have done otherwise inasmuch as the Russians would not consent to British and American domination of Germany and the Americans and British likewise refused to consider letting Russia get an advantage. Even so, very little progress is being made toward the centralization of the various services. To complicate matters, the French have been saying that they could not set up an administration in the zone assigned to them until they knew what disposition was going to be made of the Rhine and the Ruhr.
In the zone under Russian control the application of Soviet doctrines is thus far confined largely to paper. The Russians are finding it a little difficult to mix collectivist doctrines, including the nationalization of banks, a new system of land tenure, and the creation of a small farmer class, with the set up as it existed under the Nazis and more broadly under a capitalist economy.
We, ourselves, have excellent men on the job. I have the highest regard for Clay, and Eisenhower is a genius as a diplomat and administrator.* Yet I am inclined to think that the problems inherent in the situation are almost too much for us. Our people in Germany are unduly fearful of criticism in the United States. For example, the road between Frankfurt and Wiesbaden is so full of holes that it is almost impossible to drive over it, and one cannot cross the Main between those two places because all the bridges are down. But no repairs are made since the Army feels certain it would be criticized for "restoring the German war potential."
Industry in Germany is at its lowest ebb except for some coal mining in the Ruhr. The minute one considers what industries should be allowed to function and how best to prime the pump in order to set them going, some very real and serious difficulties appear.
So far as the treatment of industry in various zones is concerned, the Russian policy is particularly hard to fathom. It is hard to say whether the Russians really intend to tear down the zone for the purpose of building up Russia, but there is some evidence pointing that way. The Russians have torn up all the double tracks, they are keeping all able-bodied German prisoners, and they have taken East a great many industrialists, bankers, scientists, and the like.
Russian standing in their zone is low. Russian troops are living off the land, and have looted far more than anyone else. They have gone about Berlin looting workers' houses in very much the same way they did in Hungary. This seems to indicate that in both localities the Communist party is not very strong. At any rate, the Russians have seen the West and vice versa.
In the zone being turned over to Poland there is a good deal of buck passing. It is difficult to say what is going on, but in general the Russians are acting little better than thugs. They have wiped out all the liquid assets. No food cards are issued to Germans, who are forced to travel on foot into the Russian zone, often more dead than alive. An iron curtain has descended over the fate of these people and very likely conditions are truly terrible. The promises at Yalta to the contrary, probably 8 to 10 million people are being enslaved. Unquestionably Germany should be punished. In this instance, however, I think there will remain a legacy of bitterness which will not bode well for the future.
I have already said that the problem of Germany very nearly defies a successful solution. The question is: What can we do? The first step is to get together in dealing with what is at bottom a common problem. Next, we must find people we can use. We might use the churches which did not knuckle under to Hitler, although it is questionable in the minds of some people whether churches should get into politics. We might also consider the survivors of the affair of July 20* and see what material the trade unions can furnish. Finally, we can screen the prisoners of war.
The women will not be much help to us, although in theory they could be. A saying now current in Germany is that today most of the able-bodied men are women. Hitler had an enormous hold over them and Eva Braun's existence appeared to be unknown to most of them. They are extremely bitter. Altogether the problem deserves very careful study.
I think it may well become necessary for us to change the form of our occupation. Thus far there has been very little disturbance or misbehavior on the part of our troops. I think we ought to use small, highly mechanized units and put our reliance on planes. These forces I would quarter outside of the cities, lest their presence create a talking point for German propaganda against the occupation.
Trying to arrive at figures in order to set up a standard of living in Germany is a difficult and almost hopeless problem, and one perhaps beyond the ingenuity of man. And yet we must somehow find a solution.
Germany ought to be put to work for the benefit of Europe and particularly for the benefit of those countries plundered by the Nazis. If we do not find some work for the Germans and if we do not solve the refugee problem,* the Germans will have their revenge in one form or another though it takes a hundred years.
Q: Would you tell us something about the food situation?
A: In the American zone the standard is 1,500 calories daily; but this figure has not been realized. Both we and the British will have to import food if the Germans are to stay alive. Sixty percent of the population of Germany is in the French, British, and American zones which produce only about forty percent of the food. In the Russian zone some of the food there is being diverted by the Russians to their own uses. ...
Q: There is a groundswell in the United States in favor of letting American voluntary agencies help in the feeding and rehabilitation of Germany. What do you think of the idea?
A: This poses a great problem because of the multiplicity of agencies. I discussed this matter with Eisenhower and I think perhaps it can be worked out. I don't know how soon it will be possible to make individual remittances to Germany. ...
Q: What are the prospects for setting up a central administration in Germany?
A: Until the Russians get out -- and there is no indication that they intend to -- there can be no central administration. Hence I think it will be necessary to attempt to build up local government, not in the sense of trying to divide Germany but to provide some means of administration. ...
Q: When will there be civilian administration in the American zone?
A: The Army doesn't like the job and I don't blame them in the least. When we get civilian administration depends on what plans are being made in Washington. Thus far I have heard nothing to indicate that such plans exist.
*Editors' note. An unsuccessful 1944 coup attempt by anti-Hitler elements in the German army and military intelligence.
*Editors' note. At the time, Generals Lucius Clay and Dwight Eisenhower were the deputy military governor and military governor of Germany, respectively.
*Editors' note. The country was then flooded with millions of ethnic Germans displaced from territories to the east.