Can the Germans Be Reeducated?
To the Discussion Leader
This pamphlet raises one of the biggest questions facing the postwar world: Can the Germans be re-educated? No one can give a positive answer now. The Germans must answer it themselves by their actions, their motives, and the trend of their efforts. This question gives rise to two others: If the Germans can be re-educated, will this brighten the hope of peace in Europe? If they can’t, will the Four Powers face the problem of maintaining law and order permanently in Germany?
Germany has been our enemy in two wars in one generation. We have seen Germans ruthlessly inflict a propaganda of lies and mental poison on the rest of the world in an effort to camouflage Germany’s real motives. We have seen the Nazi regime pervert education, regiment science, and turn the industrial might of a great nation toward the destruction of other nations in an effort to dominate the world.
We have seen that effort smashed by the cooperative might of nations determined that no gangster nation shall dominate the world.
The war has ended in Europe. The German people remain. They are the people who tolerated the Nazi regime; they are the people whose minds were poisoned by the propaganda of their own making; they are the people who deified the totalitarian state above all else. They are also a people whose traditions were respected before the two world wars—traditions of great writers, musicians, scientists, educators, inventor, philosophers.
Can these people rebuild their culture along constructive lines? Can they again contribute to the betterment of civilization instead of plot its destruction? In short, can they be re-educated.
How do you get people interested?
Interest in exchanging ideas about important subjects is the spark that starts off discussion groups. It is also the stimulus that keeps them going. Interest grows out of the desire of individuals to obtain more information, to learn what the other fellow thinks, and to express personal views.
People throughout the United Nations are asking themselves today the question: Can the Germans be re-educated? Discussion leaders have a subject, therefore, in which nearly all people are interested. The problem is how to make maximum use of that interest in discussing this important subject.
When the time and place of the discussion meeting has been decided, discussion leaders should publicize the events that interested persons can make plans to attend. The editor of the local newspaper will probably consider the meeting worth a story. Announcements can be made on bulletin boards. Posters can be prepared and arranged in such appropriate places as libraries, service clubs, recreation rooms, and near mess halls. Perhaps the meeting can be announced over a public address system.
Discussion leaders will usually find it helpful to invite the cooperation of local librarians. Perhaps a reading table can be reserved for copies of this pamphlet and other pamphlets and was on the subject of re-educating the Germans. Copies of this pamphlet may be placed in other types of reading rooms and recreation centers. Persons will be more interested in attending a discussion meeting if they have an opportunity to read up on the subject before the meeting. They will also be better prepared to take an active part in the discussion. Their opinions will be more valuable and they will be better able to evaluate other opinions.
What type of discussion is best?
Lively discussion can be held between two people or before a group of several hundred. The size of the group is an important factor in deciding what type of discussion is best. Other factors are the kind of facilities offered in the meeting place and the nature of the subject itself.
Group discussions usually are forums, panels symposiums, or informal group discussions. Any one of these might be useful in discussing the re-education of the Germans. Here are some suggestions.
Forum: The value of a forum depends in large measure on the speaker. If you can obtain a speaker who is well informed on the nature of the Germans, their backgrounds, their basic ideas, and the educational practices under the Nazi regime, you will probably find the forum a successful type of discussion. Remember that one of the most valuable and interesting parts of the forum program is the question period following the speaker’s address. This enables members of your group to ask their own questions.
Panel: You could plan an interesting discussion on re-educating the Germans by carefully selecting a panel of four to eight qualified participants. Some might be American troops who fought the Germans in World War II. One might be a native of one of Germany’s neighbor nations. You could have all members of your panel read this pamphlet and other material on the subject before the meeting. A panel discussion can be of great value. It gives the impact of several personalities and enables members of the group to question any or all participants.
Symposium: The contents of this pamphlet suggests various major phases of the subject that could be covered by symposium speakers. Each would speak for five or ten minutes. Then you could invite members of your group to question the speakers, and the remainder of the meeting could continue as a general informal discussion.
Informal Discussion: Most Americans have followed events of the war closely and have read a great deal about the Germans. Nearly all individuals, therefore, have their own ideas about re-educating the Germans. You could probably have an interesting and successful meeting by devoting the entire time to informal discussion. This will require careful preparation on your part. An outline of your program and a list of key questions that will bring major issues up for discussion will help make the meeting lively and worth while. In this type of discussion it is important that you, the leader, maintain an open-minded attitude and encourage frank statements of various points of view. You should avoid trying to mold a group “conclusion.” One important value of discussing a subject like re-educating the Germans is to examine it from all possible points of view and then let each individual think the problem through for himself.
Can the discussion leader get other aids?
Numerous helpful suggestions for discussion leaders can be found in EM 1, GI Roundtable: Guide for Discussion Leaders. Every discussion leader will do well to read this Guide. It will explain in detail why it is important for leaders to plan and outline their programs carefully. It will give imany suggestions on organizing discussion groups, conducting discussions, and handling difficult personalities.
EM 90, GI Radio Roundtable, contains numerous suggestions and much sound advice for persons faced with the problem of preparing and conducting programs to be broadcast on radios or over loud-speaker systems of the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Questions for discussion
Intelligent discussion of any subject requires thought-evoking questions. Readers of this pamphlet will benefit if they raise their own questions as they read. Discussion leaders should jot down questions as they plan and prepare their programs. Leaders should encourage members of discussion groups to ask questions. Listed below are some questions which readers and discussion leaders alike may find helpful:
1. Will Germany’s past exert a major or minor influence on its future? Can a people develop if only one group, either alien or domestic, decides the needs and then the laws for the whole group? Do you think the German people might profit from town meetings, assemblies, and discussion meetings with occupation officials or representatives from the occupation troops?
2. Can the hard and ruthless qualities of the German character be changed? Are these qualities the result of heredity or environment? Do you think the personal conduct of American occupation soldiers will have much influence on the task of German re-education?
3. Can German schools exert a decisive influence in the future on the thinking and feeling of the people? Do you think that alien teachers should conduct German schools, or should all the teachers be Germans? Why? Would some kind of student self-government responsible to occupying authorities improve the German educational system?
4. Would you favor the invitation of German scholars to international scientific and cultural conferences? Why? Is there an antidote for the poisonous propaganda upon which Germans have been educated for more than a decade under the Nazis?
5. Do you think the Germans are capable of responsible representative self-government? Do you think the average German’s apparent lack of interest in domestic politics has been due to personal choice or lack of opportunity? Does Germany have political traditions upon which the people can build a stable, responsible government that is friendly and cooperative toward other nations?
Disclaimer: The American Historical Association prepared these pamphlets for the War Department between 1942 and 1946. These pamphlets are offered solely for their historical interest and in no way represent the advice or opinions of the Association. For more information on the origins and development of these pamphlets, see the introduction and analysis. Last updated June 27, 2003.