DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN — reader Kathy Nelson has typed in a second Saturday Evening Post article from 1946 on how the occupation was going in Germany. Not terribly well, is the answer, and once again there are quite a few familiar bits.

In response to the previous post along these lines, a reader pointed out that the Marshall Plan was introduced later, and perhaps in response to critiques like these. [LATER: Another reader emails: “I wonder how many who point that out are actually FOR the $87 billion reconstruction package for Iraq?” Me, too.] I think that’s probably right and that criticism did lead to the Marshall Plan, but I think that his implied point — that therefore I shouldn’t be criticizing the kind of sloppy-and-snarky coverage of Iraq that we’re seeing from places like Newsweek — is wrong. I’d love to see thoughtful coverage of what’s going well and badly in Iraq. I’m complaining because I’m not seeing much of it.

Some excerpts follow — just click “MORE” to read them. I wish that I could reproduce the whole thing, but I’ve tried to be representative here.

How Long Will We Stay in Germany?

By Demaree Bess
Saturday Evening Post
February 2, 1946


“Just what I expected!” angrily exclaimed the official from Washington. “I told President Truman that the Army doesn’t understand coal mining. I told him he would have to send civilian specialists to manage this coal business in Germany.”

The official was exasperated. Here he was, inspecting the fuel situation in Europe, and what did he find? He found that although winter was already here, the rich German coal fields still were not producing much, and the United States would have to ship our own coal to Europe to make up the deficiency.

The American general who was responsible for getting coal for the United States zone in Germany was even more exasperated.

“I’d like to know what your civilian specialists would have done with this setup?” he retorted. And he went on to point out that there is practically no coal in the American zone of occupation. The mines of Silesia are controlled by the Red Army; the Ruhr fields are in the British zone; the Saar coal is in the French area.

“We Americans thought at first that it didn’t matter where the mines were located,” the general continued. “We thought that everybody in Europe was equally anxious to get the coal out of the ground before this winter. But it certainly hasn’t worked out that way.” . . .

Thus, although General Eisenhower went into Germany with instructions to bring order out of chaos—for the immediate security of our own Army—he was simultaneously directed to create new disorders in the process of “remaking Germany.” Self-styled “social engineers” in Washington devised projects to “solve the German problem” economically by transforming industrial Germany into a pastoral nation, and to solve the political problem by weeding out all Nazis. In attempting to carry out these complicated directives, a struggle developed here between Americans who were trying to get things running, and other Americans who had been entrusted with staging the “revolution.” In most cases this struggle was not deliberate; both groups were just trying to obey their orders from Washington. . . .

Our denazification policy is another example of the tug of war which has developed in the United States zone between our “reconstructionists” and our “revolutionaries.” The policy makers who were hell bent for revenge saw to it that our Army was ordered to arrest all officials of the Nazi Party “down to and including local group leaders and officials of equivalent rank.” But the Nazi Party, at its peak, claimed more than 8,000,000 adherents, including the majority of skilled workers. A large number of the most skilled railroad workers, for example, are thus automatically included in our category of “mandatory arrests.”

However, it was imperative to get the railroads running again in order to supply food for the approximately 20,000,000 persons for whom our Army was responsible for this winter, including our own soldiers, displaced persons and German prisoners and civilians. American engineers assigned to this job scoured our zone for trained German workers, while our counterintelligence officers were scouring the countryside arresting ex-Nazis.

In Berlin I heard an argument between two American officers. One cried despairingly, “How can I keep this railroad operating if you take away all my skilled workers?”

The other replied, “Don’t think you are the only one with problems. Where am I going to find enough jails to accommodate all these fellows we are arresting?” . . .

This, then is the segment of Germany for which Americans have accepted responsibility—an economic slum in the heart of Europe where the people can be maintained at subsistence level only by importing food and coal. Here we were confronted with the choice of letting the Germans sicken and starve and freeze this winter, or of shipping in food and other supplies from the United states to support our former enemies. If we made the first choice, we discredited our own administration. By making the second choice, we aroused the anger of some of our Allies who also are short of food and coal and housing.

Nor are American obligations in Germany easily confined to our own zone. An American officer in Berlin, Col. Frank Howley, told me about the situation in a suburb adjoining our sector, but just outside of the city limits and therefore located in the Russian zone. The mayor of this suburb came to our Berlin headquarters to plead for help, declaring there were 1000 women and children in his little town, and all the food reserves had been exhausted.

“But why do you come to us?” inquired Col. Howley. “Your town is in the Russian zone.”

“The Russians say they cannot do anything for us,” replied the mayor.

“And what happened to the people in that town?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Colonel Howley answered gruffly. “I believe in being tough with the Germans, and I don’t blame the Russians for being tough. When that mayor returned to my office and begged me to go with him to look at his starving children, I told him to get out and never come back again…I have children of my own and I do my job here best by keeping completely away from children.”

No time limit has been placed upon jobs such as Colonel Howley’s. The United States Army is committed to stay in our zone until the “German problem” is solved. When General Eisenhower’s deputy, Lt. Gen. Lucius D. Clay, was asked in Berlin how long he believed our occupation would last, he replied that it would take at least a generation “if we are going to do the job here we have to do.” . . .

Here in Germany there is no indication that Washington politicians have any clear conception of the precise purposes and probable duration of our German occupation. Our administrative machinery here is building up in a hit-or-miss fashion, and the men to run the machine are being recruited hastily and haphazardly, with almost no evidence of a coherent long range plan. Nevertheless, the chances are very great that this American bureaucracy in the heart of Europe will survive for at least a generation—and perhaps more. We have caught a bear by the tail in Germany, and it will not be easy to let loose without endangering the peace of Europe, which involves our own peace as well.

And we’re still there. Does that mean we should have stayed home?