THE troubles of the war-shattered world are like a tangled skein. The threads have to be straightened out; but this cannot be done by pulling at the end of one thread after another. The skein is full of knots, and the main knot is Germany.

The fact cannot be dismissed as a French obsession. Only yesterday the breeding place of war, today a fathomless gulf, Germany is in truth the world's Number One problem. For the French to point this out does not mean that they are just taking an emotional stand against "the hereditary enemy." The French thesis is based neither on thirst for conquest nor desire for reprisals. Evidence of this can be seen in the rejection of the policy of annexation by the Provisional Government of the Republic. Perhaps it will be permissible here for the President of the National Council of Resistance to recall that during the battle for the liberation of Paris he went to the city hospital to salute the wounded Germans, because they too were among the fallen and because France cares deeply for justice and does not confuse it with vengeance.

From the French point of view, the German question is first of all a problem of security. In this connection, no one in the world will deny that geographically and politically France constitutes a nerve center, and that when it is struck the most serious and far-reaching repercussions invariably follow. Even before two world conflagrations had demonstrated the truth of this dictum, a great American statesman, Theodore Roosevelt, said in 1905, apropos of the Morocco crisis: "If the German armies had overrun France, we in America would not have kept quiet."

Within the arc of indivisible security there admittedly are lines which must be watched with particular care. It must also be admitted that the countries situated along such lines have had the opportunity to develop definite ideas about the necessary guarantees of security. Therefore, when France declares that her security and by implication world security call for certain measures, her suggestions would seem at least to be worthy of sympathetic examination. These recommendations -- which are now common knowledge -- are the result of much thought. It should be added that they are permanent. And it may further be said that, despite the interpretation of those who are always quick to discover conflicting tendencies in every conceivable political position, these conclusions are neither an expression of the personal opinion of one man, nor the tactics of a partisan political group; they are, on the contrary, the rational objectives of a nation and state. In this supremely important issue, that nation can properly ask to be accepted by the world not as a special pleader but as an expert.

On January 17, 1946, I made the following statement in the National Constituent Assembly:

The security of Europe and the world requires that Germany be deprived definitely of the war potential represented by the resources and raw materials of the Rhine-Westphalian region, and that the Rhine districts shall never again be able to serve as a zone of passage, arsenal and base for invasion.

The mines of the Sarre, transferred to French ownership by the Versailles Treaty, must again become French property, with as corollary the inclusion of that territory in the French customs and monetary systems, the two economies being complementary.

As for the Ruhr, Europe's immense treasure-house, consisting of coal mines and the factories associated with them, employing in normal times five million workers, the French Government considers that, in conformity with the general interests of humanity, it must be treated as a political entity independent of Germany and placed under a régime of internationalization both political and economic.

To complete the statement of the French plan with regard to the Rhineland, it should be added that sufficient military forces must be stationed permanently in the German territories situated on the left bank of the Rhine, besides, perhaps, in some bridgeheads on the right bank. Politically, the Rhineland ought to be a part neither of Germany nor of France. It should be free to manage its own affairs, with the reservation that it be permanently demilitarized and under inter-Allied military control.

The governmental declarations of January 17 were approved by a unanimous vote of confidence of the Assembly.

On May 27, 1945, the President of the Government replied as follows to an interpellation of M. Capitant in the Constituent Assembly: "The French thesis forms a complete, coherent and organic whole which has many times been the subject of notes between our allies and ourselves. . . . The general lines of this policy have not been changed and continue the same."

Naturally, the expression of the French view has not been limited to speeches in the Assembly. The American, Soviet, British, Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourg and Czechoslovak Governments have been advised of them officially. As early as August 1945 I had occasion to discuss them in Washington with Secretary of State Byrnes. On September 14 the French Delegation submitted a comprehensive memorandum to the Conference of Foreign Ministers in London. On February 18, 1946, a complementary note on the Sarre was delivered in Washington, London and Moscow.

II

It is not within the scope of these present reflections to review the respective positions of the Powers with regard to the French thesis. Moreover, those positions have not thus far been clearly defined -- which makes it all the more desirable that they be defined around the conference table. However, it is interesting to examine the hesitancies which have become apparent, the objections which have been expressed. As we shall see, they often extend beyond the specifically German question to touch upon the general situation, proving once again that the German affair is at once a test and a key.

First there is what might be called the humanitarian argument: should a "hard" peace be imposed on Germany? The French answer is that a "soft" peace for Germany would be a surprising or at all events novel idea which could only have germinated since Yalta, for at that time it was decided (France not being represented) that the oldest cities of Prussia -- Koenigsberg, Stettin, Frankfort and Breslau -- should be amputated from Germany.

Furthermore, just what do we mean in this case by hard or soft? Is it harsh to deprive an inveterate transgressor of the means of repeating his offense? Is there softness in the mass transfers of population which have resulted from the truncation of eastern Germany, and which would in no way be necessitated in the west by the political detachment of the Ruhr, where the proposed international régime would have every incentive to maintain a high standard of living?

It is not proper, as I have said, to apply the lex talionis -- "an eye for an eye" -- to the Germans. On the other hand, is it really necessary that we should treat them tenderly? I do not believe that a people may be forever accursed. Despite the evil they have done to us, we French know that the German people are endowed with many good qualities: they are hard working, disciplined and inventive. Unhappily, they also are endowed with a tendency to use those qualities in a dangerous way. Let us not forget that there were very few people in Hitler's Reich who would risk their lives for the simple honor of protesting against the perversities of the régime; that there was hardly one German soldier who refused, at peril of his life, to execute those atrocity orders to which so many martyrs -- shot, burned, tortured and lashed to death -- bear huge and bloody witness.

And today, after the defeat and annihilation of Nazism, what spirit broods over the ruins of Germany? What do we see in that sullen occupied country?

"First," writes an observer, "one notes such a keen preoccupation with the means of subsistence that very often it conditions the whole attitude of the vanquished toward the victors living among them. Then, there is a general indifference with regard to the Nuremberg trials. Moreover, one is told solemnly -- if not heatedly -- that those territories in the east between the Memel and Neisse Rivers have produced not only rye and potatoes but also a Kant, a Boehme, an Angelus Silesius, an Eichendorff, authentic representatives of the noblest German thought. Among the survivors of the Wehrmacht are many whose disillusionment is so spurious that they wait the proclamation of a new great adventure, expecting a miracle. Almost everywhere there persists what a German himself recently called the 'pattern of obedience' in order not to call it the Führerprinzip."

The recent impressions of Christer Jäderlund, a Swedish specialist on Germany, regarding the present frame of mind of the German youth confirm this report. "How do the Hitler Youth behave when they return home?" he asks. "First, they stare desperately at the ruins. Then, hands in pockets and a quite unmistakable expression on their lips, they watch the passing vehicles of the occupation troops. What interests them? They like to recall incidents in their war campaigns and in the occupied countries, and they make the strangest sort of jokes about their new democracy. No wonder foreigners who have lived in Berlin both before and after the capitulation believe that today there are many more Nazis than there were before." He comments: "It is natural enough for simple folk in their despair to draw a parallel between today and the past, and to say: 'Under Hitler we had work and bread. Today we have only democracy.'" And he continues: "Even among the older people you can hear it said: 'What we need is not democracy but a better Hitler.'"

What does all this prove, one may ask, if not the ravages of Hitlerism? Is it not one more reason to help Germany emerge from her misfortunes, which are indeed the worst possible teacher of democracy? Well and good. But it is also a reason for not lulling ourselves with illusions. If some aspects of the German mentality tempted one to follow that course, an antidote would be found in a remark which Friederich Wilhelm Foerster reports as having been made in 1918 by a German to a Swiss who had reproached him for German brutalities. "After all this savagery," asked the Swiss, "what will you do if you lose the war?" The German replied: "Oh, in that case we'll organize sympathy." Shall we once again allow ourselves to be lulled by this kind of "organization"? If so, we shall soon see Joppchen, late Goebbels, popping his head out of a hole and crying: "Und wir haben doch gesiegt!" -- "Just the same, we did win!"

III

After all, the problem is not how purposely to keep Germany in a state of misery, but on the contrary how to pull her out of it without in the process producing a new catastrophe for the world and for peace.

The French plan has been criticized for not favoring the reestablishment of the German central administration as quickly as possible. Two arguments have been adduced in support of such centralization: a disorganized Germany in the center of Europe is a focal point of danger; and the administration and occupation of Germany constitute such an insupportable burden for the Allies that it must be eased with all dispatch.

No misunderstandings should exist on this subject. The French thesis has never favored the maintenance of an inorganic Germany. This huge black hole obviously cannot be allowed to remain in the middle of Europe forever. But we must decide how we are going to fill it -- that is to say, agree upon some plan for the political reconstruction of Germany, and know with what group of men such a plan could be achieved.

In addition, it is impossible for France to concede that a central German power should come into being, and should function at her very gates, when in the east a substantial additional margin of safety was arranged by pushing back Germany's borders a prudent distance. For this reason the French Government maintains that the western frontiers of Germany must be determined at the time that a central German administration is reëstablished. Otherwise, the paradoxical consequence would ensue that the amputation of Germany's eastern provinces would have pushed her center of gravity westward, thus increasing German pressure on France.

The argument is also made that in this epoch of the atomic bomb it is an obsolete conception to suppose that France would gain additional security by occupying the Rhineland and thus pushing her military cover some 30 miles beyond her own border. The obvious response to this contention is that precautions of the same kind have been taken along other frontiers, despite the existence of rocket planes and other lightning weapons.

A calculation made in the headquarters of General Clay in Berlin is said to indicate that if the Ruhr were cut off from the rest of Germany the cost to the American taxpayers would be $200,000,000 annually. Plainly, there is no reason why American taxpayers should pay $200,000,000 each year for the sake of detaching the Ruhr from Germany. Nor is there any reason why some years hence they should have to pay $400,000,000,000 for a new war, as they have done for this one. In any event, the economic consequences of segregating the Ruhr seem at least to be a subject worth discussing.

What France in fact proposes to do is to deprive Germany of the arsenal of the Ruhr but to establish there an economic régime which will permit the freest possible exchange of goods with both the west and the east, including, naturally, the rest of Germany.

If, in accordance with the French proposals, a part of the resources of the Ruhr is used at least during an initial period to supply a fraction of German requirements, it is enough, in order to be sure that Germany will not become a burden on the United Nations, to know that eventually the Ruhr and Germany together will achieve economic equilibrium with the outside world. This is forecast by the estimates of Germany's commercial balance for 1949, submitted to the Control Council at Berlin on January 21 by the representatives of the occupying Powers with a view to establishing the future level of German industry. Although the British foresaw a balance only approximately in equilibrium, the American, French and Soviet studies foresaw an export surplus for the whole of Germany.

To maintain the equilibrium, according to the French plan, the internationalized Ruhr could make a double contribution to Germany, one commercial and the other budgetary:

(1) The Ruhr could sell to Germany coal, steel, metallurgical products and textiles, while buying foodstuffs, iron ore, wooden pit props and artificial fibres. It is anticipated that the resulting balance of payments would be considerably in favor of the Ruhr. The Ruhr could then put at Germany's disposal part of the balances acquired by sales to third parties. Should Germany have a deficit balance with the Ruhr, the Ruhr need only supply her gratis with enough exports to equalize payments between them.

(2) The re-sale by the German state to German consumers of the merchandise delivered free by the Ruhr, and paid for to the Ruhr exporters out of the Ruhr budget, would increase the resources of the German budget. Furthermore, the Ruhr could be charged with the service of the German external debt, particularly the Dawes and Young loans.

The French proposals thus do not overlook economic aspects of the problem. We French are only too conscious of their importance at a time when so much concern is being shown for the economic future of defeated Germany -- this in spite of the fact that the coal which formerly sustained the Hitlerite aggression now comes in such meager amounts to warm our homes and run our factories.

One can argue forever about abstract economic questions. If nothing mattered but the welfare of the German economy, the proper conclusion would undoubtedly be that we should restore Hitler's Greater Reich, including the absorption of Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and the rest. Yet the Allies did break that economic bloc. Today we have to decide how to hold on to a result won by such immense efforts and at the cost of such enormous sacrifices. We can do it only by measures that take into account political imperatives. I have the gravest doubt that an international economic control over the Ruhr would be effective if it had to deal with a German political power which possessed authority over the officials in the Ruhr and exercised sovereignty there. History demonstrates that a foreign economic control exercised under a national government is a fragile thing. German rearmament began in 1919 under the eyes of the Allied Control Commissions. The resistance forces of the recently liberated European countries know, through their experience under the German occupation, how national administrations, even though officially docile, can thwart, when they wish, the most stringent foreign control.

In the present condition of the Reich some are inclined to doubt that the German danger still persists. Why, they ask, do we maintain such a stubborn attitude toward what is now only a phantom? The German peril, they assert, has certainly lost its reality for a long time to come. Aren't there other dangers to think about? We French are not haunted by werewolves. The realities we have suffered are so bitter that we distinguish them quite easily from shadows. However, we are aware that if the phantom is given the opportunity, it will once again put on flesh. Nor is this by any means an exclusively French conviction. All the pacts of mutual assistance signed in Europe during the past year have been directed against the German peril, showing that it does not seem in the least theoretical to Germany's near neighbors. The instinct of nations is to feel that the firmest union in peace is based on the realities that drew them together in war.

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  • GEORGES BIDAULT, Minister of Foreign Affairs of France; former President of the National Council of Resistance
  • More By Georges Bidault