Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lessons from the Grave.

Patton Got Quite a Bit Right...Sort of.

General George S. Patton had an insatiable appetite for history. He knew quite well that the 'present' could never be comprehended, nor addressed, without a very humble and necessary nod to the past.  In many ways, for this man anyway -- cause and effect had deep and ancient roots.  But like most warriors, he abhorred politics, all the while being forced to acquiesce to the crooked trail they often traveled.

So not surprisingly, he was eventually fired, a fate shared by other generals who question the intents; maybe the intelligence of those who dictate foreign policy.  Among his sins: proposing to re-arm the Germans and push the Soviets out of eastern Europe. Perhaps a militarily sound idea, given the incredible view some find in our kind of myopic hindsight, but difficult to sell to a country exhausted by 5 years of war.  And of course, that thorny issue of the Soviet Union being a somewhat unpredictable and highly tenuous ally.  A marriage that was doomed at the altar -- if not for the greater evil emanating out of Berlin.  


Now just for the fun of it, or really, so that maybe you have the slightest idea what I'm babbling on about, I'd like you to do a simple word juxtaposition. Every time I say 'Germany,' I want you to instead imagine, 'Iraq.'   

VE Day (Victory in Europe) was just possibly the greatest mass exhalation of the century.  But when the champagne went dry and the hangover showed up, so did the truth.  Europe was in ruins, the population devastated by years of all-out war -- national economies non-existent.  And there was that little matter of The Holocaust, an atrocity that spread far beyond the Jewish community -- albeit, they bore the brunt of this genocidal storm. But there was more. Call it 'collective shock' if you like.  The real grinding issue behind these 10-million deaths was that this 'final solution' was perpetrated by a Christian, educated, acculturated state right smack in the heart of Europe.  State-sanctioned murder on a scale never before seen.  Difficult to swallow, harder still to comprehend. Yet it also spawned the concept of a World Court; accountability broadened to include this rather ambiguous term: "crimes against humanity" -- gross violations by...well, humanity.  And we're still struggling with that distinction today. The courts also established the precedent that "following orders" would no longer constitute a defense for the actions of an individual in uniform.  Perhaps an unreasonable demand for when the shit really hits the fan.

So at the time, given the emotion of the day, it seemed like a good idea to round up all these Nazi's and hang the bunch.  Hence, the formation of the Nuremberg Tribunals, named after the city of their birth. Vengeance first, housekeeping later. Except that there were a few issues lurking in the background -- particularly the opening salvos of what would become the new Cold War; not to mention the lingering issue of how all these Nazis got to be Nazis in the first place. So let's flashback to 1918.  

First order of business when Baghdad fell:  Round up all of Saddam's lackeys, have a quick trial and a quicker hanging.  Only instead, let's have the Iraqis administer the justice. You know, kind of loyalty test. 

But back to Berlin. Germany loses the first 'big one' -- WW I. Only they didn't really lose. They were still occupying territory in France and elsewhere.  Strange predicament for a 'loser' to find themselves in and certainly not lost within the German psyche.  Next came the Treaty cobbled together by the allies in Versailles -- one of many aimed at preventing Germany from ever militarizing itself again.  Massive financial reparations, the loss of territory in Germany's industrial sector...sanctions on a scale never before seen. Which meant that rebuilding even the basic elements of state function were nearly impossible. The result? Massive unemployment, runaway inflation, two revolutions and the rise of communist and nationalistic sentiment.  And of course, credibility for that little Austrian corporal who really knew how to work an audience.

American policy in Iraq: Capture and hang the bad guys, dissolve the Iraqi army, the police, the security forces and pretty much anybody else. Remove all Baathist party members from government and administrative posts. Create 50-70% unemployment, massive public suspicions by arresting thousands, re-fuel sectarian differences and fail to even get the electricity turned on. Everybody's a terrorist, so turn the Army into judge, jury and prosecutor.  As Patton observed, as military governor of Bavaria...the army is NOT qualified (or trusted) to police a civilian population. 

[Note: As I have talked about before, my own grandfather was in the German Luftwaffe -- by default a member of the Nazi Party. What does that mean to me?  Very little actually as the ideology was only useful to those with the political power to wield it.  And as all soldiers know, once the bullets start flying, politics no longer have a meaning.] 

The result of post-World War I decisions?  World War II.

Berlin or Baghdad?

Joseph Goebbels--
Hitler's social architect.
Now Patton wasn't alone in having an eye to history, or put another way, having the vision to understand that Europe's century of wars was rooted far more in economics than mere power politics.  At the end of the day, the ordinary man sees the meager food on his children's plates, not the grand ideals of the would-be demigod. But he will hear the message. And therein lies the vast power of the greatest   propaganda machine ever                                                   seen...until maybe today.  Hitler was the sword of action, but Goebbels painted the canvas.  Both men opened the door a crack on what could be a better world for the average German. This after 20-years of turmoil and hopelessness. Who could resist such a moment?     

Plans. What plans?  The US went back to Iraq and later, Afghanistan on with wings of vengeance.  Blood for blood. Hell, Americans were demanding it. Never mind that Bush Sr. created this monster called Al Queda, Bush Jr. was going to set 'these' people right. Saddam Hussein may have been a bad ass in many, many ways, but his forced removal was destined to create a political vacuum that would only be filled by incredible chaos.  The lesson of Tito's Yugoslavia evidently not on that weeks homework assignment. Not only was there no coherent plan on going in, none existed to get out.     

Enter General George C. Marshall, chief architect of the plan for post-war Europe that bears his name.  And in many ways, the last shining example of American foreign policy since.

"The reconstruction plan, developed at a meeting of the participating European states, was drafted on June 5, 1947. It offered the same aid to the Soviet Union and its allies, but they did not accept it, as to do so would be to allow a degree of US control over the Communist economies.  Secretary Marshall became convinced that Stalin had absolutely no interest in helping restore economic health in Western Europe. President Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan on April 3, 1948, granting $5 billion in aid to 16 European nations. During the four years that the plan was operational, US donated $13 billion in economic and technical assistance to help the recovery of the European countries that had joined in the Organization for European Economic Co-operation.

In 2013, the equivalent sum reflecting currency inflation since 1948 totalled roughly $148 billion. The $13 billion was in the context of a US GDP of $258 billion in 1948, and was on top of $13 billion in American aid to Europe between the end of the war and the start of the Plan that is counted separately from the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was replaced by the Mutual Security Plan at the end of 1951.

The ERP addressed each of the obstacles to postwar recovery. The plan looked to the future, and did not focus on the destruction caused by the war. Much more important were efforts to modernize European industrial and business practices using high-efficiency American models, reducing artificial trade barriers, and instilling a sense of hope and self-reliance." 

The Plan was costly and brilliant, but not as altruistic as one might assume.  If you peeked under the sheets, a second motivation existed:  containing the Soviet Union by strengthening the economies of western Europe, and by extension, hopefully preventing a World War III.  Which given the escalating antagonism between the two new 'superpowers,' seemed almost inevitable -- except for one minor matter:  the A-bomb. And by a necessary default: NATO. 

Back to Patton for a moment.  VE Day also marked the transition of Germany from a military problem to an administrative one; a task not normally found in an army's playbook. This situation was also frustrated by the sudden and overbearing encroachment of US and allied political will -- ambition if you like that term better, including those chartered to open the Nuremberg Tribunals -- amid the extreme media buzz surrounding this open-court spectacle.  

Note: The first round of trials focused on party members themselves, military commanders (questionable) and somewhat surprising perhaps: members of Nazi Germany's judiciary -- the very judges responsible for sanctioning a widespread genocide against civilian, non-combatants. And awaiting trial were German industrialists the likes of Krupp and Bayer who were to be tried for supplying the German war machine. Notable steel, munitions and the very gas used to exterminate millions. But hold on...Patton and others said, "I don't think so."

Politicians in Washington and elsewhere were also convinced that the German people needed "denazification," as if the citizenry as a whole were infested with an incurable political virus.  Something that sounds almost laughable...until you consider that the very same thinking permeated the think-tanks that sprouted up around Langley shortly after Baghdad threw in the towel.

Yes. Second order of business was to de-Baathisize Iraqi politics. Just as in Germany, every German was a fanatical Nazi and every Iraqi was automatically a terrorist. So, they were rounded up, tortured...locked away in numerous Gulags until they either confessed or ratted out some other poor slob. How's the saying go: "Win the hearts and minds..." Bunch of that going on in Guantanamo these days. 

Prior to Patton's dismissal and eventual death in Europe -- before even the implementation of the first economic tenets under the Marshall Plan, the buzz-word of administrative policy in Iraq Germany surrounded this rather vague, yet powerful notion of denazification. Patton, among others, refused to play along, citing the impossibility, in his opinion, of making any constructive progress in returning some state of normalcy to the country without the direct involvement of the German people.  This included everything from traffic control to garbage, food distribution, utility reconstruction...even answering the phones. And the German citizenry needed the work, not only to survive, but to gain confidence that life could indeed return to normal. And the US and its allies had an obligation (and certainly a political motivation), to convince the populace that the occupation was NOT about punishing the German people, but to create a more constructive world for all of Europe. You could say, the political antithesis of what would soon become life for those trapped behind the Soviet Union's new and ominous Iron Curtain.  A wall that proved impervious for the next 40 years.

*Addendum:  While Patton didn't live to see his philosophy bear fruit; meaning quite frankly that the Germans needed to be empowered to dictate the course of their nation, it quickly became obvious that repeating the spoiled lessons of retribution was not going to have positive results.  This lesson completely ignored by US policy-makers toward a defeated Iraq -- defeated not even an accurate term for it. Iraqi's army was mostly composed of internal mercenaries -- soldiers whose loyalty rarely exceeded their weekly paycheck.  For the leadership clique, it was merely a conflict perpetrated by the need for a domestic deflection from the real issue:  a leader who led through brutality and fear, and would eventually lead the country to ruin.

Back in Berlin, industry leaders, like the Krupps, didn't spend long in prison -- the nature of German loyalty was such that workers would not work under foreign supervision. And too, unlike Iraq, the Germans held no real resentment toward the Allied Forces -- a clear distinction being drawn between the acts of government and the guy on the street.  It was a necessary 'stretch' if a new Germany was to be allowed to rejoin the club of nations. how you  can build trust out of the ashes of conflict.     

Oh...those WMD's. Turned out to be diaper factory disguised as a...diaper factory.


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