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)

This result, which everybody desires, would be achieved if either one of two things happened: (1) that Germany was made incapable of starting another, war, (2) that the minds of Germans were so changed that they would not wish to start another and would not permit their government to lead them into one. Neither of these things, as we have seen, happened after the last war. If our aim is to prevent what did happen the last time from happening again, upon which of these preventives shall we rely?

Some people think that we must rely chiefly upon what has been called “moral disarmament”—a change in the state of mind of a sufficient number of Germans so that no future ruler or government will be able to lead the country into another war of aggression. It is pointed out that, in the last free election in Germany, the Nazis and the parties with a similar program had a bare majority; and it is argued that, after the Nazis have brought Germany to a ruinous defeat, most of those who had been infected with Nazi ideas will revolt violently against them (as some have already begun to do) and will realize that militarism and aggression are the road to disaster.

There will thus, it is said, be a great majority, of Germans who will want only peace and a quiet life and a fair opportunity to rebuild their industry and trade. But this will happen only if the victors do not impose upon the Germans requirements that will keep them in poverty or deeply humiliate their national pride. If such requirements are avoided, it is said by those who take this hopeful view, Germany after this war will not be a menace to the peace of the world.

But there are many students of German history and politics who do not believe that the United Nations can afford to bank on such a change in the feelings and ideas of Germans. Some think that Germany will almost certainly “try it again” if she is able to do so. Millions of young Germans, they point out, have from childhood been indoctrinated in the spirit and the ideas of Nazism and have never known any others. Defeat will not convince them that these ideas were wrong, but will make them more bitter than ever against the enemies of their creed. Few Germans will be willing to admit to themselves that their soldiers have fought and died in an evil cause; but if they do not, they will inevitably feel intense resentment against the victors. And this resentment will be increased by measures which the United Nations will be bound to take in simple justice to Germany’s victims in the war—the restoration of territories claimed and conquered by Germany, payment for at least a part of the immense amount of private property destroyed or looted in occupied countries, punishment of war criminals. And the conditions of life for Germans for some years after the war—apart from anything the United Nations may then do—will certainly be desperately hard, with the principal industrial plants ruined by bombings, their production brought to a minimum, their foreign trade lost, many of their great cities largely destroyed. The Germans will not blame themselves for all this. They will not blame the war which they started. They will blame their enemies. For these reasons German hostility against the Allied nations will—it is believed by some—be greater than after the last war, and it is therefore to be expected that the Germans will again attempt a war of revenge—if or when they see any chance of success in such a war.

Some other students of the subject take a middle view. The truth is, they say, that nobody can be certain what the state of mind of the majority of Germans will be after the war. It is possible that they will be completely fed up with Nazism and militarism and eager to return to the ways of peace and to regain the good will of their neighbors. But though this is a possibility, it is not a safe bet. The United States and other countries cannot afford to risk their own future peace and security on the chance, which is probably a slim chance, that a defeated Germany will be a peaceably disposed and friendly Germany. The only prudent course for the United Nations is to assume that she will not be, and therefore to do whatever is necessary to make it impossible for her to disturb the peace of the world again.

Three ways of making this impossible have been proposed.

  1. The first has already been mentioned: the complete disarmament of Germany. That this cannot be brought about merely by getting the Germans to promise to remain disarmed is shown by what happened between 1919 and 1939. If there is to be disarmament, it must be enforced. To enforce it, it would be necessary to prohibit the manufacture or purchase by Germany of any military aircraft, tanks, heavy artillery, warships, and the training of land forces, except a small militia for keeping order at home. To prevent secret violations of these prohibitions, it would be necessary to keep control commissions in Germany with power to visit and search all German plants, storehouses, and militia headquarters. To back up the control commissions, it would be necessary to keep contingents of Allied troops on German soil, though these contingents need not be very large. If these things were done, disarmament could probably be effectively enforced, so long as the Allied governments were determined to enforce it.
    But it is certain that these measures would arouse intensely bitter feeling among the Germans against the United Nations. So long as there is enforced military disarmament, “moral disarmament” cannot be expected. And it is improbable that enforcement could be continued indefinitely. An industrial nation of seventy million people can hardly be kept permanently under this sort of foreign control and occupation. There would sooner or later be opposition to it among the United Nations themselves, as there was before; some of them would want to bring their occupying troops back home, or to be able to sell to Germany goods that could be used for military purposes. Disarmament would therefore probably have to be for a limited period, say twenty or thirty years.
  2. But before the end of this period a different way might be adopted for making it impossible for Germany to attempt future aggressions with any hope of success—namely, by making it impossible for any country to do so. This would mean the establishment of a system of “collective security,” or collective enforcement of the peace, with prompt suppression of acts of aggression. Under such a system, it is argued, the special danger of future aggression by Germany would disappear, and the bad effects of prolonged enforced disarmament upon the German mind would be avoided; for, so far as the ability to make war upon other nations is concerned, Germany would be in the same position as every other country.
  3. A third way proposed for making Germany impotent to start a war is dismemberment, that is, breaking up the Reich into a number of small, independent countries. Before the German Empire was formed in 1871, the word “Germany” was simply a name for a collection of separate states, each with its own government and army (except that one group of them had already formed a partial federation). If Germany were again divided up in this way, it is argued, she would cease to be a menace to other nations, for she could not act as a unit, and little countries are never dangerous to other and larger countries.

Those who oppose this plan do so mainly for two reasons. They point out, first, that the idea of national unity is as dear to most Germans as it is to Americans, and there is nothing that would embitter them more than to be forcibly kept divided when they intensely desired to unite—to be “Germans” and not merely citizens of one or another separate province. It would be dangerous to have a people of seventy millions in the center of Europe who would be in a state of permanent smoldering rage over what they would regard as an intolerable interference with their freedom to choose their own system of government. And it is pointed out, secondly, that it is in the long run very difficult, if not impossible, to keep people divided who want to unite. The separate states could hardly be prevented from making secret or open agreements to act together—and to go to war together to achieve the political union for which they were eager. In 1870–71 the then separate German states did act as a unit in the war against France and they won the war and formed themselves into a single united empire.

Next section: Eliminating the Promoters of War