Skip to comments.THREE OCCUPATIONS: There Ain't No "Model," and None are Without Problems
Posted on 05/25/2004 7:04:38 PM PDT by LSEdited on 05/26/2004 10:41:32 AM PDT by Admin Moderator. [history]
It's common for people, but Americans especially, to think that what's happening to them has never happened before. Short memory, that.
But just under 60 years ago, American occupiers had conquered more than half of Nazi Germany and marched ashore to take the home islands of Japan. The German, Japanese, and Iraqi occupations have a number of points of similarity, but just as many differences. Using earlier occupations to support, or attack, the current U.S. policies in Iraq often doesn't work, and just as often works too well.
*The first thing to remember is that Japan, Germany, and Iraq were each completely different political/religious entities. Hitler had attempted to replace German Christianity with a Nazi religion and himself as the "holy" leader (even the term "heil" really implies "holy," not just "hail"). But most Germans, even devout Nazis, really didn't buy the religious aspects of fascism. When Hitler died, he died as dictator, not messiah. Without his continuing control over Germany, the political structure crumbled.
This is crucial as a distinction with, say, Japan, where the Emperor Hirohito was viewed as the "son of God" and thus every Japanese---not just loyal militarists---had pledged their lives to his whims. Absent the atomic bomb, had he ordered his subjects to engage in mass suicide attacks on invaders, Japanese Bushido-types and everyday people would have innundated beaches in tidal waves of kamikaze attacks. Such suicidal attacks would have ultimately been futile---again, presuming there had been no atomic bomb---but it would have been horrifically bloody. Richard B. Frank (Downfall) points out that US intelligence was badly flawed and that at minimum American forces would have suffered a million casualties merely invading the southern island alone.
But the bomb changed all that, and changed the Emperor's mind. He broke precedent and ordered his subjects not only to surrender but to utterly abstain from any resistance. Thus, these same people who just a month earlier were willing to strap bombs to their bellies now responded meekly to GIs, so much so that many American soldiers did not have to carry weapons when walking in Japanese cities.
Islamic jihadists in Iraq or Afghanistan have no equivalent to the Japanese Emperor. The numerous Muslim sects fight among themselves, and even within Shiites, Wahaabists, Sunnis, Sufis, and others, they cannot agree on a leader, let alone a person of divine status from whom to take orders. A "Japanese solution" to Iraq is not an option, as there is no one whose voice carries universal currency who could immediately end all fighting, even if he chose. For that reason, pointing to Japan as a model for U.S. occupation of Iraq is nearly meaningless.
However, it is worth noting that just a few months after Douglas MacArthur took over as the military administrator of Japan, there was a massive protest march against the new Japanese "collaborationist" civil authorities. This march numbered over 100,000, and MacArthur permitted it. (I mention this because not long after the U.S. took over Baghad, there was a large, peaceful anti-U.S. march that outraged many Americans. There have been others in other cities. But this is nothing new, and it is common for American occupiers to permit such venting.)
*The German occupation produced its own problems. Historian Stephen Ambrose notes that in the first 30 days of the 101st Airborne, occupying Austria (not exactly the heart of the Fatherland) lost 30 men in 30 days to accidents, self-inflicted fatal wounds, car crashes, and at least one shooting by a drunk "friendly." Put another way, for the first 30 days after Bush declared major enemy action over, the death toll in Iraq was about what it was in 1945 Austria.
In contrast to Iraq, in 1945 Germany, there was no significant post-war guerilla-type action, mainly because by that time every male capable of carrying a weapon was already conscripted into the military and was now in Allied custody. However, Germany had its own Abu Ghraib-scale problems. Outright criminal behavior, including vandalism, theft, and rape, were occuring at epidemic levels in Germany. Between May 1945 and March 1946, the Provost Marshal of the Third Army---Patton's supposedly tightly disciplined group---reported 42 "serious" incidents ranging from murder, assault and battery, rape, and assault with a deadly weapon. But this was only equal to what occurred in the average month after VE Day (John Willoughby, Remaking the Conquering Heroes). Even with the prison scandal in Iraq, American (and foreign) troops there have behaved much better than did their "greatest generation" predecessors. (U.S. troops in Haiti from 1995 to 1996 also had very low levels of serious misconduct---perhaps the result of a professional volunteer army?) The 1946 Provost Marshal's office issued an alarming report, comparing the murder rate by GIs in occupation to the murder rate of Washington, D.C.---America's murder capital---and found that proportionally the U.S. Army homicide rate in Germany was higher.
Far more common than the "serious" crimes was a general "letdown in standards" that shocked even the toughest military leaders. Even the U.S. Army's own Historical Series refers to "almost an epidemic of unprovoked attacks on German civilians and robberies by U.S. soldiers" in the American zone. Dwight Eisenhower, about to become Chief of Staff, was concerned that this small minority committing the acts would give U.S. forces "a bad reputation that will take our country a long time to overcome." The Army's Historical Series headed its section on this period of the occupation, "The Army in Disarray." Troops had to be specifically ordered in training manuals not to "hunt at night with spotlights" or "fish with hand grenades" [!]
One major problem---which does not really exist in Iraq---was that Germany as an economy had nothing. The nation was completely flattened. That meant that GIs had everything and when possible, Germans would pay to get what the GIs had---legally or not. As Franklin Davis' Come as a Conqueror put it, "virtually every occupation soldier was faced with the maximum of opportunity and the maximum of temptation." He had (or could get at the BX) many items the Germans didn't have, such as tobacco, coffee, flour, butter, shoes, stockings, gasoline, etc, and the Germans' houses had numerous items he desired, such as binoculars, microscopes, crystal, antiques, paintings, and Nazi mementoes. This created a black market totally unseen in Iraq, where the economy was not destroyed and which remains remarkably vibrant. (Just look at any video from a report about a car bombing, and notice how in the background a thriving commerce continues without a hitch). An American soldier in Germany could sell a pound of coffee for $1-3 dollars; a pair of U.S. shoes for $3; and a gallon of gas for a little over a dollar. This placed tremendous pressure on soldiers to buy cheaply items at the BX, then re-sell them on the black market to Germans. It also encouraged the looting of Germans' houses.
It is also interesting to note that while nothing can top the modern media for its leftist slant and anti-war rhetoric, it's nothing new: in January 1946, the New York Times editorialized that the U.S. zone was far worse than the Soviet controlled zone and that "every newspaper dispatch coming from [Germany] is a further recital of what must be considered a failure."
There you have it! The New York Times called German occupation a "failure" after only a year---four years before it ended. . . as a success.
But the Times wasn't alone. Drew Middleton in Colliers in October 1946 wrote an article called "Failure in Germany." This was followed by an article by Edward Morgan entitled "Heels Among Heroes." And where have we heard this? John Dos Passos wrote "Never has American presige in Europe been lower. People never tire of telling you the ignorance and rowdyism of American troops." His article was called (sound familiar?) "Americans Are Losing the Victory" (Life, January 7, 1946). Indeed, Life seemed to be the CNN negative voice of the day. It carred a constant drumbeat of negative photos of the dispair of "average Germans."
*We have heard stories about how American soldiers in Iraq are disgruntled because their tours of duty were extended. This is nothing new. In World War II, the "Greatest Generation" were already carping about demobilization, getting home, and getting out before the war was over. Most European vets' greatest fear was being transferred to finish the war in the Pacific, and the determining factor for when they got out was a complex mix of points that included, but was not limited to medals. (John Kerry would have been in tall cotton!) As historian Stephen Ambrose noted, men who never once had concerned themselves with getting medals suddenly thought of nothing else.
It wasn't just the soldiers. In summer 1945, large segments of the U.S. population told pollsters they wanted to start "bringing the boys home" even before Japan was fully defeated! Things got worse after Japan surrendered. In January 1946, thousands of soldiers---including 20,000 in the Philippines alone--- participated in a series of demonstrations demanding immediate demobilization. More than 1,000 marched arm-in-arm from the Arc de Triomphe to the U.S. Embassy in Paris. When one GI told the crowd that the "generals are doing the best they can for us," he was booed down.
This occurred during the most rapid demobilization in human history: from May 8, 1945 to December 31, 1945, 2.5 million American soldiers, sailors, and airmen left Germany. Some 99% of total U.S. strength was redeployed, with 2.1 million discharged or prepared for discharge. Far from calling for more forces, the American public was screaming to bring the boys home immediately.
That, of course, is the strategy of the Left today: the Howard Dean/Ralph Nader wing of the hate-Bush movement want to start extracting troops now, so that if Iraq is destabilized, they can criticize Bush for failing to secure Iraq. But the "responsible" liberals want to increase troop strength, aware that to do so (short of a draft) would involve stripping other deployments, so that they can then criticize Bush for "leaving Korea naked" or some other such claim.
Regardless, previous occupations suggest a few conclusions. 1) American forces in Iraq have done a phenomenally professional job, and (even with Abu Ghraib) written a record that far exceeds that of the "greatest generation". 2) The media is always going to find any occupation a "failure," because to the media, even an occupation under a Democrat like Harry Truman cannot succeed. Were it to do so, it would mean that America succeeded, and the news people can't admit that today, nor could they admit it in 1946. 3) Each occupation has its own, special dynamics, and no amount of planning can ever predict all the pitfalls. Yet whether in Germany, Japan, or Iraq, American administrators have been remarkably tolerant of dissent, whether by locals or by disgruntled American troops. Twice their inclinations toward democracy have proven wise. The third is a work in progress.
Thanks for the context. The media today certainly doesn't have it.
Good article - however, I have heard that there was quite of bit of sabotage by the Germans during the first few years of the occupation; sniper incidents, mysterious explosions in the industrial Ruhr, even rumors about Patton's death.
The media quotes are priceless.
(Hmmm, makes me wonder: after war is there always a temporary emotional reaction like "buyer's remorse" among the populace?)
I'll have to look that word up. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. [end sarcasm]
Otherwise, this is fine reading.
Good Read. Thanks.
I remember reading somewhere that the US response to German/NAZI "insurgent" activity was rather severe and included many summary executions. Did your readings speak to the US handling of resisters in Germany?
Good one! You really should submit this for publication somewhere. Maybe frontpagemag.com ?
My column for next week is already written and deals in large measure with the subject you discuss here. The President made a serious mistake of omission by not giving precisely this historical perspective on American military occupation -- before the very audience which would best understand it, appreciate it, and contribute to it with interviews afterwards. The faculty and students at the War College study these very subjects, in detail.
The US dealt with these threats by conducting military trials, and putting those found guilty before US firing squads, which was legal under the Geneva Conventions. We could us such measures in Itaq, but are not yet doing so. I mention this, too, in my next column.
John / Billybob
John / Billybob
John / Billybob