Why did the West allow West Germany independence after WWII?
July 29, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Why did the allies permit West Germany sovereignty after World War II (admittedly only in 1955) rather than keeping control in their hands? Were they not at all suspicious of Germany after its role in the first two world wars?
posted by shivohum to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why did the allies permit West Germany sovereignty after World War II rather than keeping control in their hands?

1. because they were afraid that the Germans might like the Russians more then the West and
2. they needed to re-arm Germany for a possible East-West military confrontation.

Were they not at all suspicious of Germany after its role in the first two world wars?

What role?

The Pity of War: Explaining World War I by Niall Ferguson

Preemptive war

posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:32 AM on July 29, 2008

The United States kept a huge military presence in Germany through the 80's, and the Allies had learned their lesson about not paying attention to German politics and munition production ("fool me once, shame on you..."). West Germany had adopted a strong constitution to prevent to prevent those kinds of shenanigans, as well.

Most importantly, West Germany became a buffer zone for the huge red boogeyman next door. East Germany was sovereign on paper, too-- American troops all but occupying West Germany, Soviet troops all but occupying East Germany.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Major Curley. As a bit of trivia my father was drafted into the Korean war and served his time in Germany pricisley because

Allies also gave Japan independence after the war (well after the occupation ended in 1952) despite an even longer habit of getting all invadey. The reasons were roughly similar, though replace China with Russia.
posted by Ookseer at 11:56 AM on July 29, 2008

It's easier to work with people than against them. It was easier for both the Russians and the US to give their respective bits of Germany elements of autonomy and self-control, because it made it easier to run things. The alternative, with an outright occupation, would only breed hostility...
posted by prentiz at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2008

More effective to use German nationalism ("you're your own country, and much better off that the East Germans under the Soviet yoke") than fight it.

Which was also why de-Nazification, in both the Western and Eastern sectors, was such a joke. The US and Britain needed to use our erstwhile enemies, the Germans, against our erstwhile allies and current enemies, the Soviets. Plus, without sovereignty, you'd not have gotten the economic powerhouse that Germany became, which in turn formed the foundation for the EC.

Of course, this made for strange results. Colonel Ralph Peters, US Army retired, in one of his novels writes about underpaid American servicemen in piss-poor ex-WW2 Wehrmacht barracks earning extra cash by sucking off the prosperous Mercedes-driving German businessmen who those servicemen were ostensibly in Germany to protect from the Red hordes.

Not to mention the West German security services, initially composed of ex-Nazis, and in later years literally buying the freedom of Ossie dissidents from the Stasi -- and in the process propping up Honecker's government.

It's all pretty bizarre, and mostly because the Two Germanies were where the two superpowers met and contested. The Morgenthau Plan (to convert Germany into a fragmented and wholly agricultural economy, removing all heavy industry), despite its appeal, would never have worked: it wouldn't have provided war materiel for defending the Fulda Gap, and West Germany would likely have reacted by going Communist, as Italy and Greece nearly did.
posted by orthogonality at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2008

In addition to the reasons above, the vengeful and draconian measures of the Versaille Treaty were finally understood to be one of the main reasons the Second World War occurred in the first place. Germany simply couldn't live up to Versailles, making the rebuilding of the country's military more of an option that it might have been otherwise. The victors of WWII learned from this, obviously, and the improved approach worked.

But were they still suspicious of Germany? Sure, for a long time. When the two German nations were reunited less than twenty years ago, the rest of Europe supported it only demands that Germany would not make an attempt to alter the Oder-Neisse border to extend claims to lands in East Prussia, which had once been under Germany. Clearly, many in Europe were worried that this was a possibility.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2008

Some Germans are still sore about giving up claims to East Prussia. Das Ostpreußische Landesmuseum is located in Lüneburg, the city where I live. Many of the ethnic-Germans that were expelled from East-Prussia after the war ended up around the Lüneburg area and they established a sort of small support community for each other.

Still you see some bumper stickers around that say "Das Ganze muss sein!" with a silhouette of Germany including East-Prussia. That's pretty shrill but most of the people around here associated with it, aren't nationalistic about what happened, they just feel forgotten and neglected and just disappointed that Germany gave up claims in order to reunite.

I've heard some heart-wrenching stories about the Heimatvertreibung from elderly Germans that moved to Lüneburg from the Königsberg area after the war. An elderly woman told me that most of them understand and accept the relinquishing of claims to East-Prussia, that they were lucky to get out alive, but it just meant that they will never get to go home home again.
posted by chillmost at 1:49 PM on July 29, 2008

the vengeful and draconian measures of the Versaille Treaty were finally understood to be one of the main reasons the Second World War occurred in the first place. Germany simply couldn't live up to Versailles, making the rebuilding of the country's military more of an option that it might have been otherwise.

This is a myth that has long since been exploded. Read, for example, this essay; pull quote:
The Allied leaders did not intend to destroy Germany through unpayable reparations. They originally hoped to obtain postwar reconstruction financing from the United States government, and once it became evident that there would be no Marshall Plan after the Great War, the reparation bill that they finally submitted to Germany to compensate for the absence of American aid was relatively moderate and well within that country's capacity to pay (even before it was reduced even further during the '20s). ... Germany was not crushed by the burden of reparations; on the contrary, all of the reparation payments it did make were financed by American savers and investors rather than by German taxpayers.
The idea that poor Germany had been crushed by vengeful Allies was obviously useful to German politicians after the war; I'm not sure why it's had such a long shelf life.
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

LH: I don't think we disagree on the idea that reparations are not what caused the ultimate "reaction" from Germany (and the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian empire.) You'll notice I never mentioned reparations or economics. I could have been more clear about that; it simply didn't occur to me that that would be the issue that might first come to mind for a reader - though clearly, it might have. And did. What I see as vengeful of draconian was the destruction of German and Austro-Hungarian identity through an overly caustic dismantling of their historical lands - particularly West Prussia and Transylvania. I'm not saying it wasn't deserved in some sense, just that it was handled in such a way as to cause problems down the line.

Some of my thoughts were conceived in relation to my more personal experiences with the Dayton Accord in Bosnia. Quite simply, does a rashly created division of political geography, combined with a lack of safeguards for (or respect for) people caught in the inevitably-ensuing problems caused by such divisions . . . lead to grievances which in turn can lead to war?

About one in eight Germans became a member of a foreign nation as the result of Versailles. The Austro-Hungarian number was well carved up. None of the Axis powers were consulted in the process of these political machinations . . . and it's clear that from that, not only was resentment by Germany (et al) "built in" to the reaction of these treaties, but that there might be some ultimate reaction to them, which in fact there was - especially as the countries were granted nearly immediate self-rule, where grievances could fester unchecked and unhindered.

It's an interesting question for me because it adds perspective to my concerns about the fate of Bosnia, where divisions of political geography were made in haphazard fashion, with few safeguards. Only this time, it was the aggressors (in a war they lost) who received "bonus" territory, at the expense of the country victimized. I think we can learn from history - that's why I try to read it . . . but you know, the index is lousy!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:48 PM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: Great answers, thanks!
posted by shivohum at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2008

It's difficult to govern a foreign country. It wouldn't have been possible for the US, the UK, and France to maintain control over West Germany indefinitely.

Were they not at all suspicious of Germany after its role in the first two world wars?

Yes, they certainly were. (For a discussion of Germany's responsibility for the First World War, see this comment.) US planning documents from the postwar period include many references to the need to prevent a future revival of German militarism.

PPS/4 is a 1947 paper by George F. Kennan, describing the steps required to bring about the economic recovery of Europe. It includes a section on Germany:
The importance of Germany to general European re­covery is well-known and requires no statistical illus­tration. No impartial student of Europe's pre-war econ­omy can fail to appreciate the vital significance which German productivity and German markets have had for the well-being of the continent. And even a superficial glance at Europe's post-war economic situation will be sufficient to show that it is idle to talk of any real reduction in the abnormal economic dependence of the leading industrial nations of the continent on outside support as long as this tremendous center ot European productivity lies prostrate. ...

The primary objective of U.S. policy toward Germany is to prevent a recrudescence of German militarism and to see that the Germans never again menace the other peoples of Europe and the world. The draft treaty on disarmament and demilitarization of Germany which has been put forward by this Government in recent meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers is an emphatic mani­festation of this policy. The suggestions set forth be­low, designed to ensure that Germany contributes to European recovery, are regarded as comlng entirely within the framework of this security policy. Nothing contained in them is intended to constitute or imply the slightest deviation from the principles of that draft treaty.

This Government has recognized from the start that recovery in the allied countries should be given prece­dence over recovery in Germany. The present situation in the U.S.-U.K. zones, however, in which industrial production is less than half of pre-war, food supplies are considerably below the minimum requirements for health and efficiency, and foreign trade is only a trickle of its former dimensions, represents a degree of retardation in the recuperation of German production far greater than any reasonable system or priorities would warrant. Between this point and a point where it could be claimed that the interests of German economy were being favored over those of Germany's present neighbors, there lies a wide gap most of which must be filled before general European recovery can become a reality. ...

Among the measures which seem to be indicated if German production is to be increased are the following:

1. There should be a simplification of Allied con­trol and an increase in German responsibility for admin­istration. It is clear that the combination of two military governments in the U.S.-U.K. zones operating through central bizonal agencies in economic affairs, and through diverse patterns of zonal agencies in other questions, is not adequate, and cannot be made adequate even with the best of will and efficiency, to bring about the nec­essary increase of production. It cannot assure the requisite simplicity and economy of administrative ef­fort. It involves too great a diffusion of responsibil­ity and authority. It is not designed to encourage that sense of responsibility, confidence and opportunity on the part of the Germans themselves which is indispensa­ble to any real economic progress in that area.
You may also find PPS/37 of interest. Here Kennan argues that the US ought to push for an early German settlement, i.e. both Western and Soviet withdrawal from Germany, and German reunification (with safeguards against revived German militarism), rather than continuing to leave Germany and thus Europe divided. Kennan discusses both the advantages and the risks of this course. In particular:
Available information indicates that there is developing among the Germans a strong current of political restiveness and a determination to regain responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs. At the moment, this current is not directed against us; but it could easily become so. The real German leaders will continue to shun governmental responsibility in terms of a divided Germany. With Germany divided, and with the continued responsibility for occupation in the west, we will find it more difficult than we now anticipate to turn over to German authorities enough power to attract these German leaders to open assumption of responsibility. If they cannot be brought to this point, we will have to continue to work through discredited persons, regarded by the Germans as puppets; and real German political developments will go underground and take on more and more the character of an opposition to the occupational authority. Something, in other words, is going to have to be done to meet the insistent German demand for greater responsibility. It would be much easier to meet this demand in a unified Germany than through the London program.
posted by russilwvong at 3:49 PM on July 30, 2008

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