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«Winchester, UK Washington, USA First published by Zero Books, 2012 Zero Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station ...»

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While the ordinary G.I. helped themselves to what was left of the ordinary Germans’ household goods, the officers of the Occupation Governments lived high on the hog. The Americans had 5008 personnel running the administration, while the British Control Commission had a remarkable 24,785. On 15 August 1946 the British sent the wives of soldiers stationed in Germany to join them with the advice that ‘they were representatives of the British Empire’. Since they were to be stationed in homes from which Germans had been evicted ‘they should take the greatest care of the houses in which they live, and the contents thereof’. Living in the Germans’ few standing homes, the British wives also took advantage of ‘domestic help at low rates’ – often the former tenants, who would move into an attic or cellar.8 Theatre critic Hilde Spiel noted that The ladies of the Allied occupation, apparently at ease without noticeable consternation at the moral compromise entailed, now lay claim to the amenities – the hairstylists, manicurists, pedicurists, seamstresses, furriers and servants – of the ‘high ladies’ of the Nazi elite US diplomat George Kennan was uneasy, too, to find ‘the spectacle of this horde of my compatriots and their dependents, camping in luxury amid the ruins of a shattered community’. The American political officers were ‘inhabiting the very same sequestered villas that the Gestapo and SS had just abandoned, and enjoying all the same privileges’.9 ‘Demontage’ This programme for eliminating the war-making industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar is looking forward to converting Germany into a country primary agricultural and pastoral in its character. Morgenthau Plan, September 1944 The Allies’ announcement of a plan to ‘pastoralise’ Germany helped to rally Germany’s beleaguered population to the last desperate defense of the country. In September 1945, an American paper to the Allied Control Authority’s Directorate of Economics called ‘A Minimum German Standard of Living in Relation to the Level of Industry’, proposed that industrial and agricultural output should be held down to the level of 1932 - the worst year of the depression in Germany.10 Though the plan was later amended it did become the basis for the policy of ‘demontage’, the dismantling of German industry to take East to the Soviet Union – and West to Britain.

Plans were drawn up ‘for the total elimination of major shipyards, the equipment of which is to be allocated to reparations or destroyed’. British industries, including Courtaulds, Unilever and ICI, seconded staff to the British Civil Service to take part in the dismantling, so that they could grab machinery and technology (the same thing was done at the end of the First World War).11 British MP Richard Stokes told the House of Commons in July 1946 that ‘the industrialists of this country’ had gone to Germany ‘like a flock of vultures’ to ‘pick the remaining flesh from its bones’.12 In October 1947 the British and US governments listed 682 factories (186 in the American zone and 496 in the British) which were to be dismantled and sent to countries that had suffered German aggression. In the Manchester Guardian Stokes and the left wing publisher Victor Gollancz showed that contrary to government claims only a few of these factories were ‘war industries’ and itemised the plunder of German technical know-how at gun point (29 October 1947).

Germans protest against ‘demontage’ – the dismantling of their industry

The British in particular saw doing down Germany in terms of comparative advantage.

In August 1950, British High Commissioner Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick issued a press release rubbishing the idea that ‘in the matter of dismantling or of restrictions on German industry England has been influenced by the desire to throttle German competition’, adding that ‘there is no danger that petty considerations such as fear of German competition will influence our policy’. In private, however, the ‘petty consideration’ of throttling German competition dominated British policy. Lord Cherwell thought that ‘it should be possible to reach an agreement with the Russians by which they would take existing German machinery, raw materials and forced labour, while we should take Germany’s export markets’. Labour’s Herbert Morrison, then Lord President of the Allied Control Council, advised the Prime Minister to ‘start shaping the German economy in the way which … will run the least risk of it developing into an unnecessarily awkward competitor’.13 In 1946 the Times reported that ‘it is reliably estimated here that, food apart, the Russians are taking from the zone as reparations seventy per cent of current production’ (27 September). When Russians arrived to carry out the demontage policy and take machines from factories there were mass demonstrations.

A control officer’s car overturned in anti-demontage protests

Under the impact of war and occupation the German economy collapsed. Morgenthau’s vision of ‘pastoralisation’ came close to coming true the Tiergarten was dug over to plant vegetables. With output slashed and Nazi price controls lifted Germany suffered violent inflation at the war’s end, leading to a loss of confidence in the currency.

As the economy collapsed, so too did food distribution. The occupying authorities took

over the rationing of food. In the House of Commons Richard Stokes laid out the sorry news:

The fat ration in the British zone in Germany today is 1.75 ozs. per week. That is against our 7 ozs. in this country. The sugar ration is 2.25 ozs., as against our 8 ozs. a week. There is difficulty over bread. They have had practically no potatoes. Last week for the first time in six weeks the potato ration was honoured.14 Hunger demonstrations in the Ruhr, February 1947 When rations in the British and American Zones of Germany fell below 1100 calories provoking protests, officials explained ‘the short answer is that Germany lost the war’, while a delegation from the Medical Research Council dismissed complaints about children’s rations on the grounds that they ‘would have been regarded as satisfactory in England not so very long ago’ - in other words, they had brought the problem on themselves.15

The Military Tribunals

At the end of the war certain political and military leaders of the defeated powers were tried at International Tribunals in Nuremburg and Tokyo. The men who were hung or imprisoned deserved to pay for what they had done. But the war crimes tribunals themselves were the opposite of justice – they were political expediency masquerading as justice. The impact of the tribunals was to fix in public opinion and in the historical record that the Axis powers were wholly responsible for the war and the perpetrators of war atrocities. That the Allied leaders were not tried for their terrible deeds at Hiroshima, Dresden, Katyn, in India, or for their own role in the colonial land-grabbing, economic blockades and arms race that led to the war, shows that the tribunals had nothing to do with justice.

The trials were not in truth trials at all, but political theatre. Their precedents were the show trials carried on in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and, ironically, in Hitler’s Germany. Secretary of War Henry Stimson hoped that the tribunals would showcase justice in action and the superiority of the Allied approach over that of the Axis. In fact they made a mockery of every canon of Justice. The defendants were tried for breaking laws that did not exist but were retrospectively manufactured: namely starting wars and the abuse and murder of civilians under military occupation. There is no doubt that these things are wrong. But there simply was no law against starting wars, and certainly every power refused to accept such a limitation on their most sacred right.16 Also, the legal codes of all the participants, Axis and Allied alike, expressly excluded acts of war from prosecution under the criminal law. As one Quai D’Orsay circular pointed out, the court had to ‘operate retroactively,’ trying the defendants for actions that were not crimes at the time they were committed. Most obviously, the drawing up of the charge sheets excluded any investigation of the wrongdoing of the Allies. The first tribunal’s framework document, the Nuremburg Charter set out in Article One that the court was restricted to ‘the trial and punishment of the war criminals of the European Axis’ (and Article Three forbade any challenge to that mandate). That is to say that the charges the Allies drew up against the Axis leaders were at the same time an amnesty for their own wrongdoing.

Far from showcasing justice, the War Crimes Tribunals corrupted justice, making justice into little more than a theatrical performance, with its former principles edited out of the script, the ending changed from what was just to what was expedient to the powerful. War Department Lawyer Bernays put it like this: ‘not to try these beasts would be to miss the educational and therapeutic opportunity of our generation’.17 In other words, it was a show trial. The public was to be educated to believe that the war happened because the leaders in Berlin and Tokyo were ‘beasts’ and the Allies’ war was correspondingly just. Each affront to a principle of justice – whether it was retrospective justice, extra-territoriality, or partiality – all sprung from the same source, that this was a show of Might, not Right. It was Victors’ Justice.

Should the accused of Nuremburg have been allowed to enjoy a lengthy retirement, then? No. It was quite possible to deal with the deposed dictators and their accomplices without the bogus charade of the War Crimes Tribunal. The partisans who summarily shot Mussolini, and displayed his corpse, had showed the world how to deal with dictators. The execution was an act of war, which, if it means anything means the suspension of ordinary rules of justice. That much was well-known by the Allies, who during the war favoured summary execution as the best way to deal with the Nazi leaders. Churchill was in favour of summary execution, and so was Cordell Hull. A Foreign Office paper of 1942 read that ‘there should be no question of such leaders being tried either by national or international tribunals’ – rather, as the document sensibly puts it, the ‘fate of enemy leaders should be decided as a political question’.18 One reason that the Allies were at first against war crimes trials was that they were worried about the precedent. Curtis LeMay thought that if the Allies had lost the war he would have been tried for war crimes, and Winston Churchill wrote to Lord Ismay that the Nuremburg verdict showed ‘that if you get into a war, it is supremely important to win it’, because ‘you and I would be in a pretty pickle if we had lost’. Perhaps at the front of LeMay’s mind was the case of the US airmen shot down over Tokyo in the ‘Doolittle Raid’ of 1942.

The airmen were tried by a Japanese court and accused of crimes against the civilian population. Three of the men were executed. When President Roosevelt heard of the trial and execution, he sent a diplomatic protest through the Embassy in Switzerland to the Japanese authorities against this ‘barbarous execution’ complaining that the men were members of the armed forces who ‘fell into Japanese hands as an incident of warfare’.19 By the end of the war all of the Allies’ qualms about the use of the courts to deal with acts of warfare fell away. They were sure that they were not going to be in the dock, so they looked forward to putting the losers there. In Shanghai in February 1946 the Japanese officers who tried the Doolittle raiders were themselves tried and convicted for the ‘war crime’ of trying and executing American air force men.


Goering, Ribbentrop, Borman, Jodl, Speer, von Papen, Streicher and 15 others were tried for Crimes against Peace, and for Crimes against Humanity at Nuremberg. From the outset, many of the law officers taking part had doubts about the legality of what they were doing. Prosecutor Robert Jackson wrote to President Harry Truman in October 1945 pointing out that some of the Allies ‘have done or are doing some of the very things that we are prosecuting Germans for’. ‘We are accusing the Germans of mistreating prisoners of war’ but the French are ‘violating the Geneva Convention in the treatment of Prisoners of War’.

‘We are prosecuting plunder and our Allies are practising it’, Jackson continued. ‘We say aggressive war is a crime and one of our allies asserts sovereignty over the Baltic states based on no title except conquest’, Jackson added of the Soviet occupation. The British Judge Norman Birkett pointed out that One could not for example bring before the court, say, the Soviet Union because of what they did in Finland, or because of what they did in Poland. You could not bring the United States of America, or indeed Britain to judgement for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. It does not apply. If it continues only to apply to an enemy, then I think the verdict of history may be against Nuremburg.

The problem of one-sided justice was as Birkett indicated written into the Nuremburg Charter. The attorney for Admiral Doenitz did manage to chip away at the exclusive focus on Axis atrocities by arguing as a part of his defence that the Allies had also sunk ships on site and refused to help enemy seamen as he was accused. The prosecutor David Maxwell-Fyfe protested ‘the question whether the United States broke the laws and usages of war is quite irrelevant; as the question before the Court is whether the German High Command broke the laws and usages of war’. Doenitz’s defence was one of tu quoque (‘you too’). In ordinary cases, ‘he did it too’ is not a defence, but then ordinary cases are not tried under rules that exclude even the possibility that the other person would be tried in his own right.

Unfortunately for Maxwell-Fyfe, US Admiral Chester Nimitz made a deposition to the court to the effect that America had indeed set aside ordinary rules of maritime warfare just as callously as the Germans had. The court decided to take that into account when sentencing Doenitz.20 The outcome of the Doenitz case put the wartime Allies into a spin as the defence lawyers tried to raise more parallels, such as Britain’s planned invasion of Norway in 1940.

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