Skip to comments.Does Iraq look a lot like Germany?
Posted on 10/12/2003 8:28:28 AM PDT by harpu
Postwar comparisons are many and inevitable - and sometimes they're accurate
WASHINGTON "History is more or less bunk," Henry Ford once famously declared and that's more or less how some historians and critics view Bush administration efforts to equate today's Iraq with Germany after World War II.
As concern over continuing U.S. troop casualties and unexpectedly high costs to rebuild Iraq has risen recently weeks, administration officials have sought to reassure the public by describing the situation as similar to postwar Germany.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer and other officials have used the Germany analogy to argue that:
The armed opposition in Iraq shouldn't be a surprise and can be overcome.
More has been accomplished toward establishing peace in Iraq in the few months since the war that toppled Saddam Hussein than was achieved over a period of years after Allied forces removed Adolf Hitler's regime.
The $20.3 billion President Bush wants Congress to approve for rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and establishing democracy there is an investment akin to the post-World War II Marshall Plan of aid to Europe, which paid huge economic and political dividends.
"Germany is a success story. That's why the comparison is used," said Marina Ottaway, a democracy scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is an example of a country that the United States occupied militarily and where the military occupation was followed by a successful democratic transition."
Mr. Bremer's spokesman, Dan Senor, said the Iraq administrator studied the postwar history of Germany carefully before he took over the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and regards the U.S. success there as a model for what he wants to achieve.
"Germany is of particular interest because, like Iraq, it involves rebuilding a country that was a complete totalitarian regime," Mr. Senor said. "Germany is a model of reconstruction of a country liberated from totalitarianism in a region in which America has strategic interests and was successful."
Experts caution, though, that although the history of occupied Germany can be instructive for policymakers and encouraging for the public, administration descriptions of what happened there have been marred by wishful thinking, simplistic analysis and outright errors.
"As a historian, I'm kind of disgusted at this misappropriation of history," said Gerald Livingston, co-founder of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and a visiting fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington.
"On the other hand, it's an inspiring story," added Mr. Livingston, who served in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps during the occupation of Austria in 1946. "It's an effort to give the Americans courage. It was a success story."
Big bad wolf
The most glaring distortion in administration characterizations of postwar Germany is the notion that a guerrilla movement known as the Werwolf plagued occupation troops much as Baath Party loyalists, Fedayeen Saddam guerrillas and foreign terrorists have done in Iraq, historians and veterans said.
The security situation in Iraq varies from one area to the next. Among Kurds in the north and Shia Muslims in the south of the California-sized country, both of whom were oppressed and at times simply slaughtered by Hussein's Sunni Muslim regime, U.S. troops have faced minimal resistance.
In the so-called Sunni Triangle formed by Baghdad, Ar Ramadi to the west and Mr. Hussein's hometown of Tikrit to the north, attacks on U.S. troops have been unrelenting, and terrorist bombings have killed dozens of Iraqi and non-Iraqi civilians, leading the U.N. to severely curtail its presence.
"Our troops in Baghdad and other cities are operating under difficult conditions," Ms. Rice said in a Chicago speech last week. "Baathist dead-enders, Fedayeen Saddam fighters and foreign terrorists continue to attack coalition forces, innocent Iraqis and symbols of progress. As President Bush has said, Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror."
In Dallas on Aug. 7, Ms. Rice told the National Association of Black Journalists that parallels could be seen in the occupation of Germany.
"There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes," she said. "But the road we traveled was very difficult."
Noting that "1945 through 1947 were especially challenging," Ms. Rice added that "the Marshall Plan was actually a response to the failed efforts to rebuild Germany in late '45 and '46. SS officers called 'werewolves' attacked coalition forces and engaged in sabotage, much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants."
Ms. Rice repeated her remarks nearly verbatim in an Aug. 25 speech to the 104th Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in San Antonio. The same day, Mr. Rumsfeld told the vets a similar story in more colorful detail.
"I suspect that some of you in this hall today, especially those who served in Germany during World War II or in the period immediately after the war, were not surprised that some Baathists have kept on fighting," Mr. Rumsfeld said in his speech. "You will recall that some dead-enders fought on during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany."
Mr. Rumsfeld continued:
"One group of those dead-enders was known as 'werewolves.' They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces. Mayors were assassinated, including the American-appointed mayor of Aachen, the first major German city to be liberated.
"Children as young as 10 were used as snipers. Radio broadcasts and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin museum.
"Does this sound familiar?"
Historians and veterans of the German occupation say Ms. Rice's and Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks vastly exaggerated the postwar resistance mounted by a guerrilla group known in German as the Werwolf. They say Ms. Rice's speech incorrectly described members of the group as SS men.
Formed by the Nazi regime in October 1944, the Werwolf largely consisted of teenage Hitler Youth members. They were trained to make bombs using soup cans packed with plastic explosive and taught to kill sentries using a garotte, as recounted by historian Antony Beevor in The Fall of Berlin 1945 (Viking, 2002).
"After the end of the war, as far as I know, you can't document any attacks by SS officers against the Allies," said historian Perry Biddiscombe, author of Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement 1944-46 (University of Toronto Press, 1998).
By implying that the catalog of sabotage he recited occurred after the German surrender of May 8, 1945, Mr. Rumsfeld's speech was misleading, said Mr. Biddiscombe, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Aachen Mayor Franz Oppenhoff, for example, was assassinated in March 1945, two months before the war ended. Aachen lies in western Germany, near the Belgian border, and was the first major city occupied by Allied forces.
"He said these things happened, and they did happen," said Mr. Biddiscombe, adding that Mr. Rumsfeld's speech writer consulted with him before the secretary delivered his VFW address. "He doesn't say when these things happened or the intensity. He doesn't make that distinction between war and postwar."
Almost all incidents of the sort Mr. Rumsfeld described occurred before the war ended, as Allied forces fought their way across Germany, and Werwolf quickly fell apart after the surrender, Mr. Biddiscombe explained.
"There's no doubt about the fact that if you look at it objectively, the intensity of these actions diminished after the war," he said.
Attacks on U.S. troops in the American sector of occupied Germany were so rare that some who were there deny any took place.
"It's a lot of baloney," scoffed Albert G. Silverton, 85, a Californian who was an Army Counter Intelligence Corps officer stationed near Heidelberg in 1945-46.
"It sounds very intriguing and very romantic and sensational, but believe me, the Werwolf was a totally ineffective joke," Mr. Silverton said. "I don't know of one case where any of our men were ever shot like is happening in Iraq."
Mr. Biddiscombe said attacks against Allied troops did occur after the war, but he has verified just 30 deaths of U.S. soldiers.
That figure includes five killed in an explosion at a Bremen police station in June 1945, he said, though whether the explosion was caused by a bomb or a gas leak was never determined.
In any event, the casualties in occupied Germany apparently were light compared to those Americans have suffered in Iraq.
According to a paper prepared by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, a 1953 Pentagon report listed 42 American soldiers "killed as a result of enemy action" from June through December 1945. In 1946, the total was three.
As of Friday, 94 U.S. military personnel had been killed by hostile action in Iraq since May 1, when Mr. Bush declared major combat operations at an end.
Mr. Rumsfeld is on firmer factual ground, the historians say, when he cites reconstruction milestones achieved in Iraq since May and in occupied Germany in the 1940s to argue that good things actually are happening quickly. At the Pentagon last month, Mr. Rumsfeld put it this way:
"If you compare the progress in Iraq to what happened in Germany after World War II, I'm told that in Germany it took three years to get an independent central bank; in Iraq it took two months. To get German police established, it took 14 months; in Iraq, two months. To get a new German currency, three years; in Iraq, two and a half months. To have a German Cabinet, 14 months; in Iraq, four months. So some things are being achieved at a good clip."
Mr. Rumsfeld expanded the list when he appeared before the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee Sept. 30: "In all major cities and most towns and villages, Iraqi municipal councils have been formed something that took eight months in Germany." In a speech to the National Press Club last month, where he attributed the list to Mr. Bremer, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "I think the biggest difference is that we now have 24-hour news, and everyone is examining everything every second, and it feels like it's been about four years since the end of the conflict, and it was May 1."
While Mr. Rumsfeld may have his facts correct, others say the comparisons lose some punch when considered in context.
Some things may have taken longer because the U.S. was one of four occupying powers in Germany, one of which was the often-uncooperative Soviet Union. Some things may have had lesser priorities than they have in Iraq.
"I don't think the forming of a police force in Germany was that urgent when the country was saturated with GIs," Ms. Ottaway ventured. According to a Rand Corp. study of postwar nation-building in Germany, Japan and six other countries since World War II, more than 1.6 million American soldiers were in Germany when the war ended.
Germany was divided into American, British, French and Russian sectors, and a year after the surrender, there were still 370,000 U.S. troops occupying a zone equal to about one-fourth of the country, the Rand study said.
The United States has more than 130,000 troops in Iraq, whose 167,000 square miles make it 20 percent larger than Germany. They are bolstered by roughly 24,000 foreign troops and Iraqi forces that include 46,000 police, 18,000 facilities guards, a 2,300-strong civilian defense corps, 1,800 border guards and the first 700 soldiers in a new Iraqi army planned to grow to 40,000.
Bremer spokesman Mr. Senor said such statistics make the progress in Iraq as compared with Germany all the more impressive, especially given that the Baath Party ruled Iraq nearly three times as long as Hitler's 12-year reign.
"When the German people began to pick up the pieces and work with the Allies in rebuilding their country, they at least had a memory of what life was like just over 12 years before with a more liberalized economy and a freer society," Mr. Senor said.
James Dobbins, lead author of the Rand study and a veteran diplomat who supervised U.S. relief and reconstruction operations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s, said his research team concluded that "the larger the size of the occupation force, the lower the casualties."
Mr. Dobbins also said that peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s might be better models for U.S. policymakers than Germany or Japan after World War II.
"Germany and Japan were, first of all, homogeneous societies without significant racial, ethnic or religious tensions," Mr. Dobbins said. Iraq has all of the above, he noted.
"Secondly, they were completely devastated and wholly defeated societies who were giving no thought to resistance," he continued. "Thirdly, they were First World economies that just needed to be pump-primed."
Yugoslavia, "like Iraq, was carved out of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War," Mr. Dobbins said. "Like Iraq, it united a number of feuding religious and communal groups that were hard to hold together. Like Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia were both Muslim societies," referring to the Yugoslav provinces.
An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cast the argument differently.
"The general theme of this is that we are signficantly ahead of where we were in Kosovo, equally clearly in Bosnia,' the official said. "Many of the things what we might call 'big ticket items' that we did in Germany, we've already accomplished in Iraq."
Marshall as guide
The president alluded to the Marshall Plan as a precedent when he proposed his Iraq aid package, part of an $87 billion request to fund military and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a national TV address Sept. 7. Other officials have invoked it by name frequently.
Proposed by Secretary of State George C. Marshall in a speech at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, the Marshall Plan was, as Ms. Rice said in her Texas speeches, a response to Europe's slow postwar recovery.
"The Marshall Plan ... cost roughly $90 billion in today's dollars," Mr. Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee last month. "Those investments helped transform a region that ... had been a source of violent war and instability for centuries and turn it into a place of peace, prosperity and mutually beneficial trade."
Iraq administrator Mr. Bremer told the same committee that the $20.3 billion in grants "bespeak grandeur of vision equal to the one which created the Free World at the end of the Second World War."
Historians say the administration's comparison of its $20.3 billion request for Iraq reconstruction to the Marshall Plan is valid.
"The term 'Marshall Plan' has come to be used widely, it's used all the time, to mean a large reconstruction effort or a large aid program," Ms. Ottaway said. "What is true is that the Marshall Plan was a response to a reconstruction effort that was not going well."
As Congress debates Mr. Bush's aid proposal, Democrats have attacked the administration's use of the Marshall Plan analogy on other grounds.
Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat who vehemently opposed the war in Iraq, complained that the administration and its GOP allies who control Congress were rushing the multibillion-dollar package to passage.
"The Marshall Plan was not a huge bill presented to Congress for its rubber-stamp approval," Mr. Byrd declared. "It was a comprehensive strategy to provide $13.3 billion to 16 countries over four years to aid in reconstruction."
The mechanisms may be somewhat different, Mr. Senor said, but the goal is the same: "Iraq, like Germany, is in a strategic part of the world of interest to the United States, and an area where helping to build a model of a free, democratic society would yield dividends for American national security in decades to come."
Make Iraq a state, with Byrd as its ssenator and it would have all the porkbarrel it needed. But maybe "pork"barrel wouldn't be the politically correct term.
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For a prior take on the same subject, see my UPI article, also posted on FR, "Lessons for Iraq from General Washington, Major Andre and Der Fuhrer Adolf Hitler."