Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lessons From Past Wars Applied To Iraq

German surrender in 1945

As a child, the images I was shown of Germany at the end of the war were of a grateful populace that welcomed the liberation from Nazism. By the time I was old enough to read in the mid sixties, West Germany was a vibrant democracy and a magnet for those fleeing communist East Germany.
What was not taught in the elementary schools of the sixties was that the war did not end with Germany's surrender. According to "Endkampf", by Stephen G. Fritz, there was a decentralised but organised resistance to the Allied occupation that lasted years after the German surrender, well into the late 1940's. Sabotage, sniping and attacks on soldiers were frequent not only as an expression of anger at defeat. In some cases it was an expression of persistent loyalty to Nazi ideology In other cases it fed off of resentment of well fed American soldiers and U.S. occupation directive directive 1067, which until its repeal in 1947 forbade any aid in German economic reconstruction outside the agricultural sector.
The occupying powers used a combination of sensible economic development and brutal, sometimes collective punishment . Towns in or near which acts of murder and sabotage had occurred were sometimes razed to the ground. By the late 1940's , Werwolf and other bands of individuals had been completely neutralised, their demographic base of support cowed or bought into submission.
It is difficult to imagine what the history of postwar occupied Europe would have been had the press corps of our time been scrutinising their every move. Live coverage of an ongoing conflict was not a possibility in the 1940's. The Allied occupation were not shy about restricting press coverage. Whenever America has taken up arms, it has been against enemies that recognise the logistical value of propaganda. It is a certainty that the "Wirtschaftswunder" or economic miracle of Germany's economic surge and labour shortage could not have occurred had order not been restored with a strong hand after the German surrender.
The implications for America in the study of Germany's surrender are obvious. In the aftermath of America's victory in Iraq were acts of resistance and sabotage. Germany faced denazification, which evolved into reeducating rather than replacing the governing class. Iraq faces the purge of the top and intermediate levels of the Ba'ath party leadership. Part of America's difficulties in Iraq have been the failure to reeducate and redirect those Ba'athists who are capable of functioning in a somewhat democratic country. Though an occupying army must be strictly disciplined, the scrutiny of the press has been an inhibiting factor in subduing insurgencies. In watching the behavior of the press, it is hard to see them as supporting the goals of Allied forces in Iraq. The left wing of the Democratic Party in the U.S. seems to have viewed the surge of patriotic fervour in the aftermath of 9/11 as a political inconvenience. The solemnity with which they intone the death toll of the Iraqi conflict and question its usefulness are reminiscent of broadcasts from Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally, Americans who broadcasted enemy propaganda to U.S. troops during World War Two.
A study of Germany in the aftermath of the Nazi defeat would shed much light on the current situation in Iraq. It is normal for there to be resistance in an occupied country. It is normal to establish order in the aftermath of victory with harsh measures.
Just as the American government of 2008 should look back to 1945, so too should the press engage in some soul searching as well. How does the press today compare to the press of 1945? Are they neutral? Or are they partisan?
During the McCarthy era, accusations of disloyalty destroyed the careers of many innocent people. Accusing someone of being a communist or otherwise in the pay of a national enemy has since the late 1950's been rightly frowned upon. Without concrete evidence, it is wrong to accuse a journalist of being in the service of an enemy power.
What is, however totally acceptable is to study the effect of advocacy journalism on the attainment of America's goals. If one can bring further information into discussion, it is legitimate to ask if evidence is being lost or suppressed in the court of public opinion.
The press is quick to compare Iraq to Vietnam. During the Vietnam war, communist groups financed and organised the anti-war movement. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong published weekly newspapers in English in which antiwar demonstrations across America and around the world were shown. They regarded the antiwar movement as a part of their strategy. I was in some of the demonstrations that were shown in the pages of the Vietnam Courier. I knew communists in America who were proud of the aid they were giving to the Vietnamese communists. I am not proud of my participation in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam war. I feel some sense of collective responsibility for the enslavement and murder of Chinese boat people forced out of Vietnam in the aftermath of the communist victory. The victory of the Cambodian Communists who murdered and starved over a million Cambodians was made possible in part by the antiwar movement making resolute action politically unfeasible.
There are lessons to be learned from Germany after 1945. There are lessons to be learned from Vietnam after 1975. We should study America's past to guide America's future
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe on (a subsidiary of Sphere: Related Content

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