8th December 2007
Drew Middleton was Foreign Correspondent for the New York Times during the Second World War. He wrote for the paper from 1942 until his death in 1990. During this time he covered the Dieppe Raid, the Normandy Landings and the end of the war in Germany. He spent some time in Moscow in 1946, moved to Germany in 1947, where he remained for 6 years, and was then Chief Correspondent in London for ten years from 1953-63, before returning to New York. For more details, see his obituary in the New York Times.
His book "the Struggle for Germany" was published in 1949, and provides an early view of the origins of the Cold War.
He describes Germany immediately after the war in similar terms to the "First Impressions" of other observers I've quoted in this blog:
"Here was destruction and chaos in a degree never before known in the world. An intricate, highly organized society had been disrupted. The invasion of Germany from west and east, heralded in the west by prolonged and intensive bombing, had brought about not only the complete defeat of the German armies but the ruin of a state. This we have forgotten. The Germans have not forgotten it, for there are very few Germans living today who are not reminded of it every day of their lives."
"The Germany of that day was silent and broken. Allied planes flew over the Ruhr. In the sunshine lay the huge plants that had fed the armies of the Kaiser and Adolf Hitler with guns and ammunition. Nothing moved on the ground. Locomotives and cars lay on their sides rusting in the sun."
The situation in Germany in 1945, was far worse than it had been in 1918, at the end of the First World War:
"In that summer  very few Germans saw further ahead than the coming winter. All the standards had fallen. The national slogan seemed to be 'eat, drink and be merry and damn the expense to your honor or your virtue.' The Germans did not believe 'tomorrow we die.' They believed something far more hopeless; that tomorrow would be worse than today. So it was not surprising that millions of Allied soldiers found Germany a combination of brothel and black market."
Drew Middleton described how his own views changed from supporting a hard, revengeful peace in Germany, as Communist Russia appeared a greater threat:
"Having seen at first hand the terror and destruction and brutality of the Nazi regime from Belgium in 1940 to Holland in 1945, I was, in 1945, strongly convinced that a German desert might be a good idea. What changed my mind in the next three years was the impression gained in western Europe that a German desert now meant a general European desert and a general European war later. And, of course, in the meantime I had been in the Soviet Union for a year and had been profoundly impressed by the enormous potential strength of that country and the potential power for evil which resides there, as indeed it does in all tyrannies."
His own views reflected those of the US government:
"The policy of the United States toward Germany has oscillated between a 'hard' and a 'soft' peace. In the beginning during the last years of the war, the objective was a harsh settlement. Midway through 1946 sentiment both in Washington and Germany began to swing toward a less restrictive peace and a considerable measure of German recovery. In both instances, however, the principal governing factor was relations between the United States and other Occupying Powers. The United States hoped in 1944 and 1945 to govern Germany in harmony with the other Occupation Powers. When through the intransigence of first France and then Russia this proved impossible, the United States had to hammer out its own German policy. Russia replaced Germany as the potential enemy."
According to Middleton, in 1945, US policy towards Germany was uncertain. He quotes one US official too busy with coping with the pressure of daily events, to worry about what was official policy:
"'What's our policy in Germany?' I asked a Military Government officer in Bavaria in 1945. 'Brother, I don't know. Maybe the big wheels in Frankfort can tell you. They snow me under with all sorts of papers. How 'm I going to read them when I'm doing forty-eleven different things to get this burg running again?'"
The Russians, on the other hand:
"... knew what they wanted. Of all the advantages enjoyed by the Soviet Union in the struggle for Germany, this is the simplest and most explanatory. The Russians want Germany, not as conquered territory, although they would certainly not disdain force if it could be used without interference by the United States, but as a political and economic vassal of the new Russian Empire. They want all Germany, not merely the 46,600 square miles of the Soviet Zone of occupation or its seventeen and a half million people. This is a fundamental of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union."
Communist Russia was a threat not only to the US in Germany, but to the capitalist world generally:
"Before we progress farther in our examination of Russian policy in Germany, account must be taken of one event which affected the Soviet policy in Germany, the entire German problem and, indeed, the entire civilized world. This was the decision taken sometime in 1945 by the political Bureau of the Communist Party, the supreme policy making group in the Soviet Union, to press and emphasize the revolutionary and destructive elements in Marxism and Leninism as they apply to the capitalist and enemy world."
The British in Germany had started out well:
"British Military Government at the outset boasted a much better-prepared personnel than that of the other powers ... In the first summer after the war, traveling through the British Zone, I was impressed by the large number of experienced and able men who knew exactly why they had been sent to Germany, exactly what the local problems were and precisely how and where their particular task fitted into the whole job of Military Government."
But British influence dwindled over the next four years due to the "near collapse of the British economy in the winter of 1946-7." For the first two years of the occupation Britain had born an equal share of the costs with the US, but "from late 1947 onward, Britain began to yield some of its influence on political and economic policy making in Germany. In September of that year the British Government notified the United States that the dollar shortage would make it impossible for Britain to continue the 1946 agreement sharing costs in Western Germany. After negotiation, the two countries on December 17, 1947, signed a new agreement under which the United States undertook to finance virtually the entire cost of the British-American bizonal area and thus assumed an additional liability of about $400,000,000 a year."
As for Germany and the Germans, rather than a revival of National Socialism, Middleton was concerned by the survival of authoritarianism, (which could be communist or fascist). This led him to the view that the greatest danger was an alliance of a nationalist Germany with Communist Russia.
Looking to the future, he thought it unlikely Germany would remain divided. Either Germany would become part of the "Western community of nations" or a united Germany would enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union becoming the most powerful of its satellite states. This could come about through either a Fascist revival in Germany reaching a deal with the Soviet Union for restoration of the lost Eastern territories, or through economic depression and popular discontent.
In summary: "Now we [ie the US] are engaged in a great contest with a totalitarian power [ie the Soviet Union] whose sources of strength are greater than those of Nazi Germany. The last four years have taught us, if they have taught us anything, that there is no retreat. The consequences of defeat are before us in eastern Europe. One of the ways in which victory can be won is to bring Germany back into the Western community of nations. But this Germany cannot be the Germany of Hitler. A Fascist Germany is a false reinforcement to the democratic powers.
We must make two efforts. The first is to see that the Germany which develops in the next five or ten years is a democratic Germany which we can trust. The second is to ensure that this Germany does not through our own mistakes fall to Communist pressure and ally itself with Russia."
This view, expressed by Drew Middleton in 1949, is generally much the same as the classic Cold War orthodoxy, which was dominant in the US and Western Europe throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s.
Subsequently, as David Reynolds has described in his article on "The Origins of the Cold War: The European Dimension, 1944-1951" (The Historical Journal Vol. 28, No 2, 1985), this "orthodox" view was challenged in the 1960s by "revisionist" historians who "attributed much of the blame for the Cold War to the U.S.A." and who "frequently portrayed Stalin as a cautious, flexible statesman, with limited security interests and suggested that U.S. leaders behaved in a cynical, calculating way, both in their diplomacy and in their manipulation of domestic opinion." The revisionists were then questioned by others, who used aspects of both views to form a "post revisionist synthesis" which Reynolds himself criticises for seeing the Cold War as a bi-polar struggle between the US and the Soviet Union, and for not taking sufficient account of the "European Dimension."
I am no expert on the Cold War and its origins, a subject well covered by many other historians. But as a student whose research interests are the British in Germany, I am interested in why people at the time acted the way they did, and the debate does raise some interesting questions:
When and why did British and US policy towards Germany change after the war? In my research so far, I have found that British policy and attitudes towards Germany changed in the transition from war to peace, in many ways which had little to do with fear of any threat from the Soviet Union. It seems to me that this change in policy was led as much by those on the ground, in Germany, as by the politicians and civil servants in London.
The British in Germany realised very soon after the end of the war that there was no threat of further German resistance. They were shocked at the scale of destruction they saw all around them and made great efforts to restore order and start the process of economic reconstruction. They did this partly because the need appeared self-evident, and partly to reduce the cost of occupation to the British taxpayer. In time, they came to feel and express sympathy for the suffering of Germany people as individuals. Both British and US soldiers and administrators found they could work well with German administrators and were increasingly willing to transfer responsibility for government back to local German control. All this happened well before Cold War concerns started to dominate foreign policy in Britain and the US, with the Berlin Air Lift in 1948 and the Korean War in 1950.
Why then did Drew Middleton write the way he did in 1949? Was it his time in Moscow in 1946-7 that changed his view of the Soviet Union? How realistic was his concern that a re-united nationalist Germany would become an ally and dependent satellite state of the Soviet Union?
And to what extent were his (Cold War) views (as published in 1949) shared by British soldiers and administrators in occupied Germany after the war?