29th October 2007
I've not posted for a few months, as I've been finishing my MA dissertation on: 'Winning the peace': Germany under British Occupation, as portrayed in Humphrey Jennings' film A Defeated People, the British Zone Review and the exhibition Germany under Control
The MA dissertation is now complete and I've enrolled on a PhD course, which will allow me to look at the same themes in greater depth, over a slightly longer period.
In my first post on this blog, on 1st October 2005, I wrote that:
"History is a process of discovery, and in this weblog I intend to record my thoughts, ideas, and, I hope, some insights and discoveries as I work my way through the course."
Let's hope I can keep posting new ideas and discoveries over the next 6 years, as I work my way through the PhD course. (As a part time student, it will take me twice as long as a British full time student normally takes to complete a doctorate).
Thank you to everyone who has read this blog, and especially to those who have emailed me or posted comments.
So to start things rolling, here is my PhD proposal:
Winning the peace: The British in occupied Germany, 1945-1951
At the end of the First World War crowds in the streets in London were calling for the government to 'Hang the Kaiser'. In more recent times Anglo-German relations is often trivialised as being about football hooliganism, towels on the beach and Fawlty Towers. At the end of the Second World War things were very different, and more serious, as British soldiers and administrators in occupied Germany struggled to cope, as best they could, with the challenge of winning the peace after winning the war; of occupying a country they had just defeated in battle; and of governing a country where the physical infrastructure had been destroyed and the existing political, social and moral frameworks had collapsed.
To what extent did the British and Americans succeed in 'winning the peace' as well as the war? And how did people, on both sides, become reconciled to the former enemy and even, in many cases, become friends, allies and partners?
For my MA dissertation, I looked at how the British Occupation of Germany was portrayed to people back home, in the eighteen month period between June 1945 and December 1946, in three official sources: Humphrey Jennings' documentary film 'A Defeated People', first shown to the public in Britain in March 1946; an exhibition, 'Germany under Control', organised by the Ministry of Information, which opened in London in June 1946; and the British Zone Review, the official fortnightly review of the British Control Commission for Germany and Military Government. These sources show that attitudes to the former enemy were varied and complex and changed with the transition from war to peace, as the British occupying forces found they had to deal with people as individuals, rather than collectively as the enemy.
For my PhD I propose to extend the period covered to the full six year period of the occupation; from the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces in May 1945, to the announcement made by Herbert Morrison in the House of Commons on 9th July 1951 that the state of war between Britain and Germany was now formally terminated. During this period there was a transformation in British policy and attitudes to Germany; from disarmament to re-armament; from dismantling, de-nazification and dismemberment, to reconstruction, recovery, and reconciliation.
The aim of the research is to achieve a better understanding of what the British in Germany thought they were doing, and why they were doing it.
It is proposed to examine the issue from both a British and a German perspective; to address issues of concern within both British and German historiographies, and so attempt to write a history that can be understood and accepted within both British and German societies and cultures.
Historical interpretations of the British occupation of Germany are contradictory and inconsistent. The prevailing view is that Allied policy in general, and British and US policy in particular, succeeded in creating a democratic and prosperous nation from the destruction of the Nazi dictatorship, with the former enemy nation becoming a friend, ally and partner in the subsequent Cold War struggle against new forms of totalitarianism, against communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular.
Many historians have questioned this view, from different perspectives, but without providing any coherent alternative interpretation that addresses the period as a whole. Some have highlighted intense contemporary criticism in the British press and in parliament, which portrayed the Occupation of Germany as a 'badly managed disaster area'. Others have claimed that the British didn't have a clue what they were meant to do before they got there and post-war planning undertaken during the war proved inappropriate and unrealistic. Tom Bower has written an impassioned moral indictment of British economic policy in Germany in the immediate aftermath of war, as the cynical plundering of technology gained by the exploitation of slave labour and concentration camp victims, whereas Patricia Meehan, responsible for a BBC TV documentary series broadcast in 1981, is fiercely critical of British policy and personnel, describing incompetent and inebriated administrators living a life of luxury on the spoils of war. In the 1980s a new generation of German historians debated the issue of 'restoration or reform' describing as 'a tragedy', failed British attempts to create a new start in German society and politics in areas such as land reform, nationalisation, local politics, the civil service and government administration, schools and universities. More recently there has been a debate within Germany on whether it is acceptable for Germans to remember and mourn their own suffering during and after the war. Perhaps it is therefore not surprising that there is still no single volume history of the British Occupation of Germany, although John Gimbel's classic work on 'The American Occupation of Germany' was published as early as 1968, and more recently Norman Naimark has published a comprehensive study of 'The Russians in Germany'.
The British Military Government and Control Commission were acutely conscious of the need to promote and publicise their activities to people back home. This is revealed in a great variety of sources including official publications such as the 'British Zone Review', government papers held in the National Archives, memoirs and autobiographies written by British soldiers and administrators and contemporary reports from press correspondents and other observers.
In the same way as I selected three sources I considered especially significant for my MA dissertation and examined these in some detail, I would propose to select a small number of additional sources or activities and use these to develop the story further. In this way I would aim to show how British policies, activities and attitudes in Germany changed over the course of the occupation and that what the British did in Germany can provide a different perspective, with some interesting and perhaps unexpected insights, into British culture and society as a whole.