The Price of Occupation, the Cost of Terror

Now that I've convinced you (I hope) not to waste your time reading Justice Clarence Thomas's autohagiography, I want to take this Friday to highlight two new books that are worth adding to the reading list.

The first, After the Reich: The Brutal History of Allied Occupation by Giles MacDonough, is a trenchant look at the German experience in the aftermath of World War II. The second, Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror by David Cole and Jules Lobel, is a timely argument about the less-than-satisfying trade-off our government has made on our behalf in the name of fighting terrorism. I daresay that the mere book jackets of these two works tell us more about the state of the world than the entirety of the Thomas tome. And, had they received half the publicity of My Grandfather's Son, we'd all be better off.

Amidst a market heavily saturated with books on World War II, After the Reich focuses on a lesser-known period of that conflict and suggests lessons that are particularly relevant to our time. For example, did you know that American soldiers after the war used brutal interrogation methods against German "officials suspected of war crimes"? As Patricia Meehan describes in a fantastic review in the current edition of the New York Review of Books, the Americans carried out "mock executions, where the men were led off in hoods, while their guards told them they were approaching the gallows. Prisoners were actually lifted bodily off the ground to convince them they were about to swing. More conventional methods of torture included kicks to the groin, deprivation of sleep and food, and savage beatings."

Did you know that tens of thousands of German prisoners died in Allied hands in the last few months of the European war? Did you know that thousands of men were swept up into "civilian internment camps" because they were considered "persons dangerous to the Occupation or its objectives"? Did you know that the British ordered German soldiers to engage in forced labor while living in atrocious conditions? These facts do not negate the Nazi regime and its horrors. But they shed a harsh light on the gleam of Allied success.

You can't help but read about this period and see parallels to the current American experience in Iraq. Poor leadership. An appalling lack of planning. Bad tactics. Cruelty on the ground and from high command. It turns out that what's happening in Baghdad is not a new story, but an old tale that occurred generations ago in Berlin. After great suffering, the German people eventually realized better lives. What happens to the Iraqi people from here is clearly an open question.

Cole and Lobel's Less Safe, Less Free speaks more directly to how we should fight contemporary wars. From another good review, this one by Jeremy Waldron:

'Less Safe, Less Free' argues that the trade-off (between freedom and safety) is not just unprincipled and unequal, but a fraud. We sell our freedom (or someone's freedom) to make ourselves safe, but it turns out that we are worse off in regard to safety than we would have been without the trade. It is as though we gave up the meat (or someone's meat) without getting any more potatoes in return.

In other, less-edible words, Cole and Lobel argue that the government's draconian policies toward terror suspects are over-hyped and self-defeating because they send a terrible signal to the very constituents-- the nation's Islamic community, the world's Muslim people-- we need help from if we are to "win" the war on terrorism and protect ourselves from future terror attacks. It's a worthwhile argument-- more worthy, anyway, than discovering anew how and why Justice Thomas feels the world has been cruel to him.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 12, 2007; 7:35 AM ET
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"It turns out what's happening in Baghdad is not a new story" , and possibly consciously modelled. Very interesting, thanks much.

Posted by: Marty | October 12, 2007 11:17 AM

Didn't know about this side to the German WW2 experience, haven't heard Germans who lived through it say it before. Still, unquestionably what they REALLY were afraid of once their fortunes turned south were the barbaric Russians who were seen as killing first, asking questions later.

Posted by: Thor | October 12, 2007 11:36 AM

autohagiography, I missed that, that's actually funny.

Posted by: | October 12, 2007 11:40 AM

A little while ago these people were trying to kill me, enslave my family, and destroy my country forever. Now I'm supposed to be nice to them? The first duty of Allied leaders was to make sure that Nazi Germany was truly finished and would not rise again. They owed that to tens of millions of dead and mountains of destruction. Harsh measures must be weighed in the balance with the Marshall plan, the Berlin airlift, and half a century of unwavering defense from the Soviets. Every German that could walk fled West to the Allies. And most today can still hardly believe we were so openhanded in those times.

Posted by: okbyme | October 12, 2007 01:51 PM

I personnaly believe that the entire Nazi leadership should have been eliminated and the same goes for Japanese Fascists of WWII. Why? Not only would Justice have been served but the citizens of those countries would have started off with a clean slate. The citizens of those countries suffered also.

Posted by: ghostcommander | October 12, 2007 02:01 PM

As it happens I did know that allied forces treated the Axis forces sordidly after WWII. But only because I know man who had been a German soldier during the war.

He eventually became an American soldier. He told me once that he liked Black Americans better than the Whites because they treated him as a person. I honestly didn't believe his sories of mistreatment at first. But his life story is both fascinating and horrifying.

But I should have known that Americans are capable such inhuman acts. From the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of my ancestors, Americans have shown that we are no better than any other nation.

Posted by: DemoChristian | October 12, 2007 02:44 PM

Dear Mr. Sullivan:

First, you tell us nothing of this author's background or expertise, to let us evaluate whether the claims are accurate.

Second, is it just remotely possible that the conduct, if it occurred, was due to the fact that the Allied troops had so recently come across the death camps of the Third Reich? That might impel anyone to treat German soldiers in a less than civil manner.

Third, the Germans overall received kid-glo ve treatment from the Western Allies. Despite the massive war crimes of the Germans, there were not very many executions at all, and most of the prison sentences from the Nuremberg and other trials were rather quickly commuted to five years and less, for horrific crimes.

And even at that, the Germans still felt they were being treated wrongly, and hadn't done anything wrong to start with. "We didn't know" was the universal lie. The book "Hitler's Willing Executioners" laid that myth to rest several years ago.

So, please, let's shed fewer tears for the poor Germans. It's not well deserved.

Posted by: Ross Taylor | October 12, 2007 02:44 PM

Ross Taylor, who is "Mr. Sullivan"?

Posted by: Mark in Austin | October 12, 2007 03:17 PM

Another perspective. Were the Germans after World War II really treated any worse than Southerners after the Civil War? There are many comparisons at all levels and in particular the beliefs and motives of the victors.

Posted by: okbyme | October 12, 2007 03:20 PM

Except for the gratuitous trashing of Justice Thomas, I really don't see what this has to do with the "bench," the judiciary or the law.

This has become an extremists political blog, which the Post if free to publish as is the trend in newspapers today. But perhaps his editor would like to change the name to something less confusing. Something like ALL HEAT AND NO LIGHT.

Posted by: Constitutionalist | October 12, 2007 05:15 PM

um Constitutionalist, did you miss somehow the second book mentioned, and actually both deal with contemporary events, directly or not, and Andrew was saying that both are more illuminating to events taht directly affect the law than Judge Thomas' book.

as far as okbyme and Ross taylor, so German citizens were just by their existence during the Nazi time (and many thought to support Nazism because they didn't want to be Communists or the sort of decadents who were influential through the 30's) "willing executioners" and were all "trying to kill your family (hm somehow I suspect you weren't there first hand)etc.. So now every American is directly culpable to the point of legal trial or indeed abuse of any kind for any act committed by its government or its military, or, why not, by any of its police forces (SS). Is that the position either (more okbyme) wants to hold? (and Ross Taylor's 2nd point is complete ex post facto psychological supposition, and worse because it justifies that as understandable then; haven't read the book but don't see how it could possibly "lay to rest" convictions that not all, or even most Germans were willing accomplices just by virtue of having been in the same place.

Posted by: Ennui | October 12, 2007 05:40 PM

He may have confused Mr. Cohen with Andrew Sullivan

Posted by: | October 12, 2007 05:43 PM

Ennui - Hermann Goering testified at Nuremburg that the German people were blameless and only trusted in their Fuehrer. Given the influence of the Gestapo I don't categorically blame them either. But if you want to make the comparison to Americans I would also quote Goering when his interogator pointed out that "in a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States, only Congress can declare war."

Fatso replied "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to do the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lacking patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

So, you can accept responsibility for the actions of your government or trust in the Fuehrer and go blameless.

Posted by: okbyme | October 12, 2007 07:47 PM

Ha ha ha, Nazi Germany was just so one of a kind, exceptional in its heinousness; can we just lay that , to name only one, to rest once and for all

Posted by: | October 12, 2007 07:50 PM

"Fatso'"s answer is rather borne out out by this administration (or even the previous thread in this site) seems to me.

I also don't see how individual people, even without a terrorist police, have responsibility for their government's action esp. if they weren't aware of all of it (even Hitler's secretary claimed to be totally unaware until after; and what if US deportation and detention camps, Manzanar and so on, were actually extermination camps and no one knew, only to be found after the war or very late in the process, and wasn't the rounding up very late in the war?). I also don't see masses of Americans emigrating the country whenever heinous acts are committed in the US's name (I'll bet the ones most talking about patriotism are the same ones claiming collective responsibility for all Germans or that they should have left- and through 42 the Nazis had a prospect of winning, and any and all Germans should have just ditched all their belongings, livelihood and family to start homeless from scratch elsewhere, including those not concerned with politics; many virtually celebrate doing the same thing now--read about torture while sipping a latte or on the beach)

There were of course attempts on Hitler's life; of course the conspirators were caught and hanged. Is that the course you expect of all? And not least, Goering gets to speak to all future generations for every individual citizen in a way that (basic illogical fallacy just to begin with) every citizen by staying is just assumed by existence to agree with him?


And what the current administration has pushed for makes laughable/alarming the interrogator's quote (and so in a democratic republic, while the election is going on there is no responsibility for any acts, since their say is through the representatives?)

Posted by: Ennui | October 12, 2007 09:13 PM

to Ross Taylor and ghostcommander:

Indeed, we (Germans) have to see the connection between the atrocities of us (the Germans) and them (Russians, Americans). And in that light we (the West-Germans) were lucky in 45 to get only some American revenge and meanness, and not the Russian version, or a German dimension of mistreatment.

But meanness is meanness. And it is sane to address it.

And when we speak of "The Germans" (or The Americans etc.) we should keep in mind that the group we address consists of individuals who might be quite different in their mindset and in their actions:

NOT ALL Americans appreciate torture, or indulge in warmongering, or deny global warming, or are end-timers who look forward to "Armaggedon" and "rapture", i.e. a massacre for billions of people, for example ...

Let us hope that these crazy end-timers will never seize power in the USA - kind of US "1933". We can learn from German history what might be the conditions that will push such extremists to power one day.

Posted by: MunichLion | October 13, 2007 08:04 AM

Safety & Liberity should never be compromised or traded one for the other.It is not a zero sum theory.
Liberity is Liberity on sunny and on cloudy days and should be a stable commodity and under all circumstances:it is on cloudt days and under trying circumstances such as 911-that we should protect our freedoms.

Posted by: Asim MA, San Antonio | October 14, 2007 07:13 AM

Are you kidding? My kid's notes on their schoolwork on the computer are more compelling and honest than anything Thomas comes up with. I have zero respect for that crazy. I would much rather read about WW2 and even about Hitler himself. If nothing else, the Naziis were much less concealing of their desire of a NEW WORLD ORDER .

Posted by: Suzanne | October 15, 2007 09:49 AM

Hey Ross-I think you meant Kevin SULLIVAN-one of the Post's foreign correspondents (and not a very accurate one at that, I might add-which I have no problem in telling him from time to time)

Posted by: Wahrheit | October 15, 2007 01:14 PM

In a perfect world no bad things would have happened. I see some of the posters above believe that the Utopian ideal is what should have been expected of men who had fought tooth and nail from the Salerno and Normandy beachheads through Europe to Berlin, while Allied bombers were mass bombing civilians.

Sorry friends, war is war. Just because some ink is put on a piece of paper written by diplomats who never get near the front lines doesn't mean that the mentality of the soldier gets automatically switched over to the mentality of "Billy, that nice young boy from Des Moines who's going to marry Mary Sue when he gets home."

It's like what Col. Jessep said about us wanting to have somebody do the dirty work: "...(We) have the luxury of not knowing what (the G.I.'s) know....(we) rise and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then question the manner in which I provide it."

You want your cake, and then sound appalled when you find out what it takes to make it.

And worse, some make analogy to times and events (The Indian Wars/Slavery) that have no relationship whatsoever to American's conduct in Post-War Germany.

Dream on, you hands are clean. Or, are they? If you benefit from the fruits of the acts of those you condemn, then...

Posted by: DC | October 15, 2007 02:13 PM

I could tell before from other DC posts that they had some sort of thought like this.

One, those "doing the dirty work" aren't "providing" freedom, it exists independent of them, and if the manner of such providing is at all tainted, then such freedom is useless as far as I am concerned, and not on stable ground (which also refers to your final parting implication). You also assume several times that grounds of such fruits that one benfits from is necessarily "what it takes to make it". That's a false dichotomy, and just an excuse for weakness of character and principle.

And what is the use of laws written by "diplomats who never get near the front lines" if some just advocate ignoring them?


I like what San Antonio is trying to say that some principles are supposed to hold whatever the conditions, not everything being relativied to contigency and whim.

Posted by: Black | October 15, 2007 07:54 PM

Bottom line, this administration has no real basis of repeatedly invoking WW2 as some precedent (while ignoring the context and the rest) for what it finds opportune.

Posted by: | October 15, 2007 08:01 PM

Black: Unless you are the Solitary Man who lives in a cave and is totally self-suffficient, "freedom" is not the pure strain which you apprear to think exists.

Once you get into any type of organized group (society), freedom becomes dependent on the general consent of the members.

You can stay in your Ivory Tower and pontificate, while benefitting from those who do the heavy lifting. You can quibble about "providing," but all that is is semtantics. In WW II (which was the germane thread topic) a very good case can indeed be made for those who did the dirty work as "protecting" freedom, if not "providing" it.

"You also assume several times that grounds of such fruits that one benfits from is necessarily "what it takes to make it." No, Black, I didn't assume anything. You did in trying to stereotype me. My point was that war is dirty. Anybody who expects anything less is naïve.

Get off your high horse with this bit that it's "just an excuse for weakness of character and principle." Very few G.I.s have ever had courses in Ethics. They wouldn't know a General Ethics situation from a Special Ethics situation if you laid those in front of them on a plastic platter.

Try to make academically ethical judgments after you've been fighting enemies for years which your country's propagandists have demonized for you, try to make those judgments when you've seen your buddies killed or injured one after the other, try making those judgments when you're so mentally, if no longer physically, tired that another day in Germany means another day that you're not at home, when you should be.

Black, in Utopia it must be beautiful with all those admirable cotton candy and ice cream notions. But, in WW II there was a real world in which the people who fought on the front lines had to live. I'm not about to judge them according to MTV, I-Pod and plasma TV standards. It's easy to slander the actions of those people as "just an excuse for weakness of character and principle" if you've never been there.

That's one reason why you find former soldiers from the lowest to the highest ranks are inevitably among the leaders in advocating non-beligerent solutions in international affairs. They know what Sherman meant. His quote that "War is Hell" is not all that he said. That is simply the end of the quote. Preceding that is, "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation."

Unless you were in Post-War Germany and decried actions which you found unethical, you may want to refrain so easily making judgments about and condemning those who were.

Lastly, "And what is the use of laws written by "diplomats who never get near the front lines" if some just advocate ignoring them?"

That's a heck of a good point, because history is replete with wars started by diplomats and politicians quibbling about what was written in a treaty. Look at the debate which continues on what the Congress authorized the President to do, or not to do, back in 2002 - five years and 3,000+ lives ago. He invaded, G.I.'s died and continue to die, and the diplomats and politicians continue to debate the "merits" of the authorizing language.

But, debate is good philosophically, isn't it. Tell that to the 3,000+ families.

Posted by: DC | October 16, 2007 12:56 PM

No.

Posted by: | October 16, 2007 06:43 PM

What now needs to be done is to review (for the mass reader) the German atrocities as well even though this has been going on, in spite of thousands of attempts to block it, since the time of Rassinier's first writings.

Posted by: Hosehead | October 26, 2007 02:30 PM

For the idiot Ross Taylor who refers the bloggers to Goldhagen's "Hitler's willing Executioners" surely he can do better than that. In his screed Goldhagen exposes himself as a racist by claiming that Germans have a genetic predisposition which makes them all anti-semites.

As for the other idiot on the blog that claims the Germans fled West to be "liberated" by the sanctimonious Allies get your history straight. The Germans from the East, that is, from East Prussia, Silesia, Pommerania, and the Sudeten were ethnically cleansed by the Russians, Poles, and Czechs with the blessing of the Western Allies. The cleansing took place well into the early 1950s.

Anyone wanting to know how the US Military Government of Occupation in Germany treated the locals need only read JCS 1067. Google it. It's a rehash of the Morgenthau Plan. It was dreamt up by his underling Harry Dexter White, a Soviet agent. Winston Churchill and FDR agreed to it at the Quebec Conference in 1943.

As for the Marshall Plan it was initiated to prevent a communist takeover of Western Europe. It was strictly done in the economic interests of the US not due to kind heartedness on the part of the Truman Administration.

Posted by: Mannstein | November 16, 2007 10:27 PM

Torture works either to find out the truth or to extract confessions.It is long overdue to find out which affect is the basis of the German world war two war crimes story. I would believe a SS torturer before I would an American military torturer. American soldiers are prone to go psychotic under war stress but are less automaton than German soldiers. The German civilian claim they did not know what was going on has since this exposure a new resonance. I think it is time to heed the call of a certain head of state for a full international re -investigation of the German war crimes story.

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