The Lord High Executioners

We thought we were coming to Germany as liberators to free the German people from dictatorship, to teach them the errors of their ways, and to give them the benefits of our form of democracy and free enterprise. Actually we accepted at Potsdam a program which negated all of our principles, which could sell our form of democracy only in reverse. The Potsdam plan was made to order for Soviet Russia, but not for free enterprise or free democratic processes. Its very execution requires totalitarianism of the kind the Soviets are accustomed to, of the kind which, when the Nazis were practicing it, so outraged us that we fought a half trillion dollar war to eradicate it from the earth.

We first eliminated the German government, the only instrumentality through which the German people might take collective self-preservative action and then substituted a system of military absolutism, born not of free American institutions or ideals, but of the absolutisms dominant at Potsdam. Military absolutism was set up under the following edict:
“In the period when Germany is carrying out the basic requirements of unconditional surrender, supreme authority in Germany will be exercised, on instruction from their Governments, by the Soviet, British, United States, and French Commanders-in-Chief, each in his own zone of occupation, and in matters affecting Germany as a whole. The four Commanders-in-Chief will together constitute the Control Council.”

Set up to function under the heads of this alien military dictatorship is a complicated bureaucracy headed by a hierarchy of descending Caesars, forming a neat replica of the authoritarian apparatus employed by both the Soviets and Nazis.

This dictatorship, as we have seen, has as its purpose not the resuscitation and rehabilitation of the fallen Reich, but rather its repression and the erection of barriers to recovery. With hundreds of thousands of heavily armed occupation troops behind it, the alien dictatorship was also prepared to prevent resistance by the Germans as they saw the ground prepared for their extermination by their being thrown on their own, and forbidden outside assistance while the necessary means for their survival were destroyed. It has dropped a soundproof iron curtain down around its victims, virtually cutting off intercourse with the outside world, ostensibly to prevent contamination of other nations by Nazi ideas, but also to prevent the anguished cries of the German women and children from reaching and disturbing others while the gruesome program was carried into effect. As the death noose tightened about them, the Germans were to be made to believe they are entirely to blame for their dilemma. Even the inevitable economic collapse must be laid at the door of German administrators. They must be made to spring their own trap door. Potsdam says:
“In the imposition and maintenance of economic controls . . ., German administrative machinery shall be created and the German authorities shall be required to the fullest extent practicable to proclaim and assume administration of such controls. Thus it should be brought home to the German people that the responsibility for the administration of such controls and any breakdown in these controls will rest with themselves.” (emphasis added)

This was the craven way we were to bring self government to the Germans. We no doubt hoped, for example, that by turning denazification over to so-called “German” prosecutors and courts set up and operating under our mandate we could make the Germans blame themselves for the deleterious effects. We have said it is democratic to make the Germans conduct their own purge, which is tantamount to accepting the Russian purges as democratic. But those purges were at least Russian affairs.

The German purge machinery is operated by Communists and radical Marxist Socialists placed in office by an alien dictatorship and no more representative of the Germans than Quisling’s Nazi government was of the Norwegians. The Germans know full well that whatever our puppets do reflects our will and dicta. If we should by any chance convince them that this is what we mean by the democracy we came to force upon them, we could hardly blame them if they rejected it at the first opportunity.

Our military government is anything but democratic, except in the Russian sense. It is headed by well-trained military men, competent to carry out military tasks and orders received from Washington prepared by politicians and behind-thescenes operators. Instead of a democratic body representative of free Americans, they are order takers, willing to carry out without question whatever directive they receive from above. They are identical in this respect with Hitler’s loyal hierarchy of lord high executioners.

Our troops of occupation have been splendid young American boys, but for the most part raw, inexperienced, teenage draftees who could be expected neither to relish their job nor to comprehend its exacting nature. The whole experience has tended to corrupt and brutalize them. As mentioned before, our use of a disproportionate number of negro troops has helped alienate the Germans and disgust our own personnel.

In conjunction with the military forces we have sent over a corps of high salaried civilian employees, consisting in large measure of people who had failed the social and economic competition at home, including in some cases broken down, discharged officers who could not stand the rough going of actual combat in France and Italy, or the chagrin of having to return home as failures before the war was over, but who now draw higher pay than ever in their lives during peacetime before, and who enjoy swelling arrogantly with self-assumed importance before defeated but often more refined, cultured, and substantial people caught under their delegated authority.

This motley crew for the most part has no intimate knowledge of European and especially German conditions, mores, problems, or history, but was hastily recruited and superficially trained for its extremely demanding mission. Although circumstances do not permit our body of civilian employees as a whole to be representative of the best there is in America, there are, fortunately, some notable exceptions. Often at great personal sacrifice, some very able, wellinformed, conscientious experts and specialists have gone over and by their influence and efforts helped to mitigate the difficult situation. To these splendid products of our free institutions must go the lion’s share of credit for whatever success AMG has achieved. For army men, if they are competent as such, cannot be expected to manage and perform major operations on a crippled foreign economy and social system without creating chaos. If the Army has proved unequal to the task of running such relatively simple things as railroads and mail order houses in America, it surely must be unequal to the stupendous job given it in Germany.

Potsdam has imposed upon us a program which runs counter to our fundamental convictions and philosophy. The military men who head AMG generally believe that the less government interferes with business the better it is for everybody, except in Germany. And they oppose collectivism philosophically, except in Germany. Although they fought a war to destroy dictatorship, they are willing to serve as one themselves and to impose almost complete control over the lives of individual Germans. Nothing runs without their permission. Zonal rule over the economic, political, and cultural life of the German people, as commanded at Potsdam, could be handled with a modicum of success only by
men with long experience in totalitarian philosophy and methodology. And in this respect the Russian zonal authorities enjoy a great advantage. Whereas the rule which Potsdam orders is alien to our background, training, and philosophy, it conforms perfectly to Russian practice at home. Such rule cannot bring free enterprise to Germany; only some form of collectivist society could grow up under it.

These are points of cardinal importance in the rivalry between Soviet Russia and the western powers over ultimate control of the German Reich.


Many ardent supporters of Potsdam have become greatly upset about Communist plans for taking over the Reich. They have no right to be, because the very first signature affixed to the document is that of Joseph Stalin. The Russians, therefore, have just as much right as we to lay down the meaning of its loose provisions and undefined terms. When Potsdam calls for democratization of the Reich without specifying exactly what is meant by “democracy,” the Soviets have a perfect right to insist that the order calls for German communization. And this is but one of the pernicious features of its “re-education” program.

Potsdam, in connection with denazification, decrees that ousted Nazis “shall be replaced by persons who by their political and moral qualities, are deemed capable of assisting in developing genuine democratic institutions in Germany.” But no hint is given as to what “genuine democratic institutions” might be. It prohibits propagation of national socialist ideas, without stating what they are, and then provides that “German education shall be so controlled as completely to eliminate Nazi and militarist doctrines and to make possible the successful development of democratic ideas,” again without definition.

But forbidding propagation and discussion of one political philosophy and forcing the public to accept a different one held by those in the seats of power is Nazi doctrine. It is also Communist doctrine. And the Communists claim theirs is the one and only genuine democracy.

Political democracy, say the Bolsheviks, is impossible over the long run without “economic democracy,” by which they mean abolition of private ownership of property, the foundation of free enterprise. But they call free enterprise fascism, and defenders of the American system fascists. And Nazism is a form of fascism. Denazification, in Russian eyes, therefore, is tantamount to rooting out our own system, along with all other private property systems.

The Bolsheviks call any country or party fascist or Nazi if it takes or advocates measures to curb the activities of Communist parties; those which permit the Communists to go freely about their business of destroying them and building a world soviet union are denominated “democratic.” Thus, Potsdam qualifies as a “democratic” document.

These facts were known, or should have been known, by all the principals at Potsdam. When Russia was permitted to sign the agreements without a clear definition of what was meant by “democracy,” we were falling into a dangerous trap from which we cannot escape, unless we simply repudiate the agreements we signed. The whole thing makes us look very stupid.

If by democracy we meant our way of life – free enterprise, private property, individual liberties, the protections guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and government of, by, and for the people – it should have been obvious to us from the beginning that the program to establish democracy by force was foredoomed to failure. We might logically have hoped to wipe out Hitlerism by Hitlerite methods, but we certainly could never hope to establish our way of life that way. Our intolerance of Nazi political opinion, however justified it may seem, is nevertheless the opposite of democratic in the American sense. Our determination to wipe out ideas by force is a repudiation of democracy’s most sacred tenets. People who really believe in freedom of thought and opinion do not use clubs on the debating platform. We despised Hitler for burning books proscribed by the Nazis, not because we were necessarily partial toward the particular books involved, but as a matter of principle. Yet we have ourselves violated the principle, and adopted Hitlers, by burning the Nazi books. In words we denounce Hitlerism; in deeds we exonerate it!

The impression has been given by prolonged propaganda that national socialist tenets were obviously evil and criminal, that they openly called for aggressive war, for example, and conquest of the world. This is not true. Like the platform of any political party seeking support at the polls, its planks appeared to be quite innocuous. In fact, Nazism and its works were praised by many foreign notables such as Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. When polled, 51 per cent of our own GI’s, stationed in Germany, said they believed Hitler “did the Reich a lot of good before 1939,” and 19 per cent of those questioned believed “the Germans had some or a good deal of justification for starting the war.” – “It showed large percentages of the soldiers ready to accept German explanations and willing to absolve the mass of Germans from responsibility for concentration camp atrocities.” – “29 per cent conceded they had grown ‘more favorable’ toward their former enemies since they had been in the country.”[1]

It was perfectly possible for honest, intelligent, conscientious German citizens to be party members and even enthusiasts. For us to assume differently is merely to exhibit our ignorance and gullibility for propaganda. Nazism was wrong in many fundamental respects, and these features should be exposed. The Germans should be shown in principle where these ideas were wrong and dangerous. They should be stated as general principles to be opposed no matter who advances them, even if they are communists. And the operation should be discussion by free, uncensored debate. Certainly, nothing can be gained by treating the subjects as undiscussable.

The Nazis were wrong in their invasion of the schools and forcing elimination of certain ideas and texts and acceptance of certain others. They were wrong in principle. So are we, when we impose our ideas and textbooks on the Germans. We are even more so for being outsiders, whereas the Nazis were at least German. The Nazis were wrong in their strict censorship of the German press. And so are we. We cannot create a free press in Germany through rigid censorship and we look very foolish when we try it.

Persecution of people on account of their blood is deplorable – whether practiced by the Germans or against them. Persecution arises from hate and is stirred by hatemongers. Walter Winchell has said we must hate the Germans. “Let future German generations see them [German monuments] and find out what kind of blood they were born with,” he wrote a year after Germany surrendered. “If they can grow up among reminders of what it costs to be a monster, maybe they’ll work a little harder to get back into the human race.”[2] Likewise, while Secretary of State Byrnes was appealing to the Germans at Stuttgart, the information and education department of the U.S. Army in the European theatre was still calling for hatred toward the German people. In a pamphlet it said: “The feeling of pity for the Germans is very similar to the psychological reaction we get toward a pretty girl who murdered her father in cold blood, owing to the reluctance to condemn one who looks so nice and kind, as a murderess.” The Germans in their hate mongering were no more unheedful of the Christian, “Love thine enemy.” The German leaders applied the hideous and indefensible doctrine of collective guilt against a whole people whom they looked upon as deadly enemies. This was one of their greatest crimes. We have committed the same crime by applying the same doctrine against all the people of Germany, including unborn babies.

Perhaps the reason we forbid discussion of Nazism, fail to list its features, and try to destroy it by force, goes back to our having unconsciously accepted most of its worst features since 1932, without knowing their identity.[3] And so we go blithely on our way trying to stamp out Nazism while practicing it ourselves. The very stamping is Nazi like. We came as liberators to teach the Germans how to enjoy self-government and political freedom. Yet we have imposed our denazification decrees which so frighten them that they refuse to take part in politics for fear of the possible consequences under our “democratic” control. We are trying to teach them democracy, and yet we have so circumscribed what they may teach that their teachers, unless they are Communists, are afraid to say anything. Politically, German leaders are not permitted to speak freely, and even those in our military government are afraid to say what they think, for fear of the consequences. Because of our undemocratic policies regarding freedom of the press, which we preach while violating in practice, the German press is operating in a vacuum. Intellectual hunger in Germany is almost as acute as physical hunger. On top of everything else, our system of justice has become brutalized and highly discriminatory. We have three separate bodies of laws, one for our forces, one for displaced persons, and one for the German population, and in none is there a serious effort to make the punishment fit the crime. For example, a frail, widowed, German mother of two small children was sent to jail for five months for having in her possession a parachute knife given her as a trophy and remembrance by her husband just before he was shot down over Britain.[4] This is typical, not exceptional. It makes the Germans shudder at “democratic justice.” While we preach law and order, we coddle and grant special privileges to “displaced persons,” who according to AMG officers, have been responsible for 50 per cent of the crimes in the American zone.[5] While preaching democracy we have installed ourselves as an alien plutocracy, many of whose members have found blackmarket operations and other shady deals not beneath them. While the Germans around them starve, wear rags, and live in hovels, the American aristocrats live in often unaccustomed ease and luxury. Their wives must be specially marked to protect them from licentious advances; they live in the finest homes from which they drove the Germans; they swagger about in fine liveries and gorge themselves on diets three times as great as they allow the Germans, and allow “displaced persons” diets twice as great. When we tell the Germans their low rations are necessary because food is so short, they naturally either think we are lying to them or regard us as inhuman for taking the lion’s share of the short supplies while they and their children starve.

We have in many ways shown ourselves quite callous to the sufferings of the conquered. The war left in its wake countless numbers of war victims with disabled bodies, some without arms, legs, eyes, or otherwise disfigured. They and the millions killed in battle or held as war prisoners have millions of dependents, aged parents, wives and children. In addition there are the hordes of impoverished, suffering expellees from the east. But the towering needs of all these millions of helpless Germans have been a minor consideration to the feeding and housing of displaced persons. Only a little news comes from their loved ones held as war prisoners in England, France, and other western countries, none from Russia. Nor has the Allied Control Council yet issued a full and detailed list of either war casualties or war prisoners. Thousands are still held in unnecessary, agonizing suspense wondering whether fathers and brothers who were in the war are still alive or dead. As one German mother said, “Even a little sympathy would help. I haven’t heard from my son for more than a year now. If I knew he were dead, I could get over it.”

This is the way to teach democracy in reverse. If the Germans are ever to become adherents, they must do so voluntarily, through conviction, not compulsion. By our behavior we are making it impossible for them to gain the conviction. In the light of what they are having to endure under our control and because of our policies and weaknesses, they will not easily conclude, as we wish them to, that Hitlerism is uniquely brutal, oppressive, or dishonest.

One of the main difficulties is the fact that our democracy is confronted by a paradox which almost defies solution. Far from facing or solving it, we have failed to notice it. And those whom we wish to win to democratic principles see our blindness and lose their respect for their would-be teachers. We must sooner or later make up our minds whether democracy can tolerate the spread of democracy-destroying doctrines, and if not, how it can stop them and still remain democracy.

If what we are doing in Germany against Nazism is right, then what we are doing here at home about Communism is wrong. If we must stamp out Nazism there, we must stamp out Communism here; if in the name of democracy and freedom of opinion we can tolerate dissemination of Communist doctrine and treasonable Communist fifth column activities here, we should treat Nazism with equal kindness over there. For the one is just as bad as the other.

Reference Notes:

[1] Associated Press, Wiesbaden, Germany, Jan. 24, 1946, The Chicago Sun and Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 25, 1946.
[2] Walter Winchell [daily column], San Francisco, May 4, 1946.
[3] Prof. Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (University of Chicago Press, 1944), p. 184.
[4] Larry Rue, Munich, Germany, July 10, 1946, Chicago Tribune Press Service.
[5] Larry Rue, Munich, Germany, July 6, 1946, Chicago Tribune Press Service.

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