18th November 2009
Some historians have adopted an easy shorthand way of describing the aims of the three Allies; Britain, the US and the Soviet Union; for the occupation of Germany after the war, as agreed at the Potsdam conference in July and August 1945, as the “four D's”.
However not everyone agrees about exactly what these “four D's” were:
Alan Bullock, in his classic study of the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, lists them as: disarmament, demilitarization, de-nazification and democratization.
John Ramsden, in his study of Anglo-German relations, ‘Don’t Mention the War: The British and the Germans since 1890’ has decentralisation instead of disarmament, writing of “the four D's agreed at the July 1945 Potsdam conference: the denazification, decentralisation, demilitarisation and democratisation of Germany.”
Nicolas Pronay, in his introduction to ‘The Political Re-Education of Germany & her Allies after World War II’ also has de-nazification, de-militarisation and democratisation, but adds de-industrialisation as his fourth ‘D’, instead of disarmament or decentralisation.
Richard Bessel, in his recent book on ‘Germany 1945’ also has de-nazification, de-militarization and democratization, but adds decartelization to make up the four.
Perhaps not surprisingly therefore, the Wikipedia article on the Potsdam Conference lists five ‘D’s, not four: demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization and decartelization.
This may seem trivial, but it reveals some interesting differences in how both contemporary politicians and diplomats, and historians, have interpreted the agreements reached at the conference, (quite apart from the thorny issue of whether these words should be spelt with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’).
Firstly, everyone would appear to have agreed about the military and political aims of disarmament (or demilitarisation), denazification, and democratisation. At least in theory. What these meant in practice proved to be subject to interpretation.
A quick look at the original text of the agreement shows it was full of ambiguity. For example:
Where and how should the line be drawn between “Nazi leaders, influential Nazi supporters and high officials of Nazi organizations and institutions” who were to be arrested, interned and deprived of public office, and those who had only been “nominal participants in its activities”?
On disarmament, “All arms, ammunition and implements of war and all specialized facilities for their production” were to be destroyed. But how could you work out what “Production of metals, chemicals, machinery and other items” was “directly necessary to a war economy” and therefore also to be dismantled or destroyed, and what was required in peacetime as “essential to maintain in Germany average living standards not exceeding the average of the standards of living of European countries. (European countries means all European countries excluding the United Kingdom and the U. S. S. R.)”?
And on democratisation, what was the best way to do something defined in such vague and general terms as to “prepare for the eventual reconstruction of German political life on a democratic basis and for eventual peaceful cooperation in international life by Germany” let alone to control German education so as “completely to eliminate Nazi and militarist doctrines and to make possible the successful development of democratic ideas”?
Secondly, although these historians all have (more or less) the same ‘D’s for the military and political aims of the occupation: disarmament (or demilitarisation), denazification and democratisation, there would appear to be less of a consensus about what were the economic aims of the occupation, as agreed at Potsdam.
Alan Bullock has no economic aim among his four ‘D’s. John Ramsden has de-centralisation as his fourth aim. This was specified in the original text in two separate clauses as both a political and economic principle.
Nicolas Pronay has de-industrialisation, which reminds us that the first economic aim of the occupation, as specified in the Potsdam agreement, was to drastically reduce German industrial capacity generally and use the surplus plant and equipment to pay reparations. To quote the original text again:
“In order to eliminate Germany's war potential, the production of arms, ammunition and implements of war as well as all types of aircraft and sea-going ships shall be prohibited and prevented. Production of metals, chemicals, machinery and other items that are directly necessary to a war economy shall be rigidly controlled and restricted to Germany's approved post-war peacetime needs…. Productive capacity not needed for permitted production shall be removed in accordance with the reparations plan recommended by the Allied Commission on Reparations and approved by the Governments concerned or if not removed shall be destroyed.”
The next clause but one, clearly influenced by the Morgenthau Plan, named after the US Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, who proposed that all heavy industry in Germany should be dismantled or destroyed, stated that: “In organizing the German Economy, primary emphasis shall be given to the development of agriculture and peaceful domestic industries.”
Richard Bessel’s fourth ‘D’, Decartelization, was just one part of this general picture. The relevant clause in the agreement stated that: “At the earliest practicable date, the German economy shall be decentralized for the purpose of eliminating the present excessive concentration of economic power as exemplified in particular by cartels, syndicates, trusts and other monopolistic arrangements.”
In practice, it soon turned out that the level of industry in post-war Germany was not sufficient to pay for essential imports of food to prevent starvation and the British and American governments found that, at the same time as they were extracting reparations from Germany in the form of industrial plant and equipment, they were subsidising the cost of food imports from their own resources. So they tried to invoke another clause in the agreement, which implied that levels of production could be increased, rather than decreased:
“Payment of Reparations should leave enough resources to enable the German people to subsist without external assistance. In working out the economic balance of Germany the necessary means must be provided to pay for imports approved by the Control Council in Germany. The proceeds of exports from current production and stocks shall be available in the first place for payment for such imports.”
For the purposes of my own research, which aims to discover just what British people aimed to achieve in Germany after the war, the question remains whether the text of the Potsdam Agreement, and the four ’D’s, however your define them, was a good summary of what the victorious allies, including the British, aimed to achieve in their occupation of Germany after the war. The Agreement could be interpreted in so many different ways. While the politicians and diplomats continued to argue about what had and had not been agreed at Potsdam, at subsequent conferences held in 1945, 1946 and 1947 in London, Paris, Moscow and New York, the men and women on the ground in Germany did what they thought best in the circumstances, in their own zones and within their own area of responsibility, and then tried to justify what they had done afterwards.
Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) (First published in 1983 by William Heinemann Ltd)
John Ramsden, Don’t Mention the War: The British and the Germans since 1890 (London: Little Brown, 2006)
Nicholas Pronay and Keith Wilson (eds), The Political Re-education of Germany and her Allies after World War II (London & Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985)
Richard Bessell, Germany 1945: from War to Peace (London, New York, Sydney, Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2009)