Published Date

July 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 10: What Shall Be Done about Germany after the War? (1944)

Nearly all Americans would agree that it is immensely to be desired that Germany should become a free and democratic country. There are, as has been said above, some who think that it will come about of itself—that the Germans, after ten years’ experience of what despotism is like and what it leads to, will have learned to detest that system and will themselves set up free and democratic political institutions. It is to be hoped that this prediction will prove true. But it must be remembered that the Germans had a republican form of government for thirteen years after the last war, that it did not work at all well, and that in the end they rejected it, or at least permitted it to be overthrown practically without resistance. There were large democratic groups, especially among the workers, but they lacked able and vigorous leadership, and the antidemocratic forces proved to be the stronger. It may turn out so again.

The question is, what, if anything, the United Nations can do to help those Germans who want to establish and maintain freedom and democracy. Something could be done during theperiod of Allied military control by placing local government—of towns, cities, and finally of larger regions—in the hands of the former opponents of Nazism (most of whom will be found in jails and concentration camps), if there are enough of these who are capable of performing administrative duties. During the same period, also, the United Nations can forbid Nazi propaganda, remove Nazi teachers from the schools, and put in their places teachers loyal to democratic principles and ideals.

There are some people who think that the only way to make Germany democratic is for the United Nations to take control of German education until a whole new generation has been taught to understand and believe in the ideas of democracy. But there are at least two difficulties about this proposal. The first is that education imposed or directed by foreigners—and by former enemies is almost certain to arouse intense mental resistance; it would probably produce just the opposite effect to the one that it seeks to produce. The other difficulty is that Allied military government of Germany cannot be continued indefinitely. Sooner or later, control of their own affairs, their own politics and education, must be turned back to the Germans. After that is done, the choice will be up to them, and no one can be absolutely sure what their choice will be. If there is a strong and determined majority who want individual liberty and a government of the people by the people and for the people, it will be in their power to get it. If they don’t want it, or if they get it (as they did in 1920) but are not sufficiently determined to keep it, no one else can give it to them. You can’t force freedom on a people; they must win it and guard it for themselves. In the long run, therefore, the democratic nations must simply wait and see what road the Germans take. The United Nations can avoid doing things which will weaken or hamper the democratic forces in Germany itself; they cannot ensure that those forces will prevail.

Next section: Can Germany Become Peaceful and Law-Abiding?