21 January 2014
Happy New Year to all those reading this blog! I recently completed my thesis, on ‘Winning the Peace, The British in Occupied Germany, 1945-1948’, so I hope to have time to post a little more regularly in 2014 than I have in the past two years. I’ll start the New Year by writing about an issue that I had hoped to include in my thesis, but didn’t, as I couldn’t find enough material to pursue it properly.
I’ve written before about how the outlook of two of the British military governors in occupied Germany - Field Marshal Montgomery and General Brian Robertson - and other senior officers of their generation born in the 1880s and 1890s - such as Alec Bishop and Harold Ingrams - was permeated with the ideals, values and prejudices of the British Empire. As I progressed through my research, I wondered if their experience working as soldiers or administrators in the British Empire – ‘Echoes of Empire’ as I called it - encouraged some British people to perceive Germans after the war in similar terms to the native inhabitants of the colonies: as children who needed instruction and education, before they ‘grew up’, and became old and mature enough to take responsibility for governing themselves.
For example, Brian Robertson, the Deputy Military Governor of the British Zone of Occupation wrote, in the British Zone Review in October 1945, that their task, as defined in the Potsdam Agreement, of preparing Germany for ‘re-entry into the comity of nations’ was ‘rather like the problem of educating a child.’ Should they use ‘the stick or kindness?’ he asked, before advocating a ‘middle way’, writing that: ‘Nor do I believe that we should govern our actions either by vindictive harshness or by sentimentality.’ He then continued:
‘Just as in the case of children, what happens to them during their formative years has a lasting effect on them for the rest of their lives, so it may well be that in the case of the German nation, which is in a sense being reborn in the present stage of its history, what happens during the early years after its rebirth may have an effect upon its character for centuries to come…
'There is no place for high theory or for daring experiments in education. What we need to ensure is simple education of the mind and the inculcation of the Christian virtues.'
Petra Goedde claimed in her book GIs and Germans, that US soldiers in occupied Germany displayed similar attitudes, although she emphasised what she termed the ‘feminization’ of Germany, rather than ‘infantilization’, writing that:
‘Gender functioned as a crucial reference point in the discourse about Germany’s reconciliation with the United States. Within the first year of occupation, American soldiers developed a feminized and infantalized image of Germany that contrasted sharply with the masculine, wartime, image of Nazi storm troopers.’
Goedde argued that the non-fraternization orders imposed on both British and US troops at the end of the war, forbidding them to have any contact with German civilians, failed, because the Germans the soldiers met did not correspond to:
‘the [US] government’s official wartime image of a monolithic people unified by their support for the war. Instead they found a defeated population devastated by the destruction of the war and rather desperate in its desire to make peace with the Allies. While the Army pamphlets warned solders about “the German” – mostly in the masculine singular – soldiers saw a plurality of Germans, men and women, young and old, Nazis and non-Nazis, locals and refugees, perpetrators and victims. The lines that once had so clearly separated “us” from “them” became increasingly blurred….’
To a large extent, the attitudes of US and British troops simply reflected the reality on the ground. During the war, the Germans they encountered were (male) soldiers. After the war the people they met were mostly old men, women and children. Men of fighting age had either died during the war, or were held in prisoner-of-war camps. In 1946, for example, there were 7,279,400 more women than men in Germany. In the age group between 20 and 45 there were 1,482 women for every 1,000 men.
I wondered if, in the case of the British, there was more to it than that. Did British attitudes in Germany reflect similar attitudes to the ‘natives’ in the British Empire? I am no expert on the history of the Empire, but when I spoke to one or two of my colleagues, they confirmed that ‘paternalistic’ attitudes were very common among imperial officials and administrators. I tried to check this by reading some of the literature on imperial attitudes but, unfortunately, I have not yet found any books or articles on imperial history that specifically address the subject of ‘paternalism', or of the British treating the inhabitants of their imperial colonies, protectorates or dominions as children.
There were many parallels between the outlook of Indian Civil Service officials described in Clive Dewey’s Anglo-Indian Attitudes and those of British officials in Germany – in particular a sense of mission, modelled on, in Dewey's words, ‘the blend of paternalism and self-help which Anglican clergymen applied to poor parishioners’ in England - but no specific evidence of their describing Indians as children.
Douglas Lorimer, in Colour, Class and the Victorians, discussed how nineteenth-century British imperial attitudes towards foreigners were based on Victorian ideas of social class, in particular the idealised concept of the Anglo-Saxon ‘gentleman', in contrast with the ‘brutish lower orders.’ Increasingly during the nineteenth century, according to Lorimer, a new ‘rigid paternalism’, based on race, assumed that the native would remain the 'perpetual ward of his superior white guardians.'
I still think that ‘paternalistic’ or ‘infantilizing’ attitudes - treating ‘natives’ as children, who would eventually grow up and take responsibility for their own lives – were common among evangelical missionaries in the Empire, attempting to convert the heathen. They were also implied in the views of those, such as the Fabian Colonial Bureau, who promoted the idea of ‘Imperial Trusteeship' in the mid-Twentieth Century, but rarely, if ever, expressed explicitly.
If anyone reading this post, who knows more than I do about prevailing attitudes among officials in the British Empire, can shed any more light on the issue, please do get in touch, by commenting on this post, or emailing me suitable references to follow up.
Petra Goedde, GIs and Germans: Culture, Gender, and Foreign Relations, 1945-1949 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003)
Clive Dewey, Anglo-Indian Attitudes: The Mind of the Indian Civil Service (London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press, 1993)
Lorimer, Douglas A., Colour, class and the Victorians: English attitudes to the Negro in the mid-nineteenth century (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1978)
‘Quo Vadis’, British Zone Review, Vol 1. No 3, 27 October 1945, initialled BHR (Brian Robertson)
Web links to:
A 1929 Fabian tract on ‘Imperial Trusteeship'