World War II Aftermath: Reexamination in Germany

Figure 1.--.

Young Germans are reeamining their past. They do not accept the previous reluctance to avoid a discussion of how Germans suffered in World War II. This is in part due to a lack of familarity with the totality of NAZI crimes. It is also due to the vert real fact that the Germans also suffered greviously in World War II. One German reader writes to us, "Well, wars do just happen. But the same way crimes and accidents do just happen and everything is done to prevent or at least to keep them at a low number, everything should be done to prevent wars, too. Furthermore, wars are always man-made, so man should be able to prevent them. It is just a simple black and white creation. Strange, that this could work over centuries so very well, and now still works. World War II brought democracy to us, but at a high price. Towns were bombed, many of them being no military targets. And two nuclear bombs were thrown on Japan. Not to mention the thousands of people died on all sides. I think the price is too high." We suspect that many young Germans feel the same. To a large degree this opinion seems to be a rejection of war as an instrument of national policy. This opinion is widely shared by young people througout Western Europe. It is a major issue that separates America and many Europeans today.

New German Generation

Young Germans are reeamining their past. They do not accept the previous reluctance to avoid a discussion of how Germans suffered in World War II. Many have begun to adopt the Japanese attitude, that Japan was a victim of World War II not a nation that brought World War II about. This is not to say, HBC stresses, that Germans with this viewpoint are embracing NAZIism or any way sympathetic toward NAZI policies. There are neo-NAZIs in Germany today, but such people are on the fringe of German society. (Interestingly the neo-NAZI fringe seems more active in former East than West Germany.) As a German reader explains, "I am not calling the things the NAZIs and Japanese did good. I just wonder if this has been necessary in the way it finally worked out." The increasing focus in Germany today is on the undeniable suffering of the German people rather than the suffering of the people in the countries attacked and occupied by the NAZIs. (Here we note a tendency to attribute the crimes to the NAZIs and not to the German people. This is an important question in itself. It is true that Hitler and the NAZIs never received a majority vote in the Weimar Republic elections. It is also true, however, that the NAZIs were a mass movement which broaded considerably after Hitler seized power.) We suspect that this changing attitude about World War II on the part of the rising generation of Germans is due to a variety of factors. German authors have begun to address the undeniable suffering of the German people more openly. School curicula is decidely pacifist in virtually pacifist in content. We also believe that the new German attitude is in part due, as in Japan, with the lack of familarity with the totality of NAZI crimes.

NAZI War Crimes

Most Germans after the War accepted their country's responsibility for the War and the honredous acts of the NAZI regime. The primary crime was waging aggressive war. But many countries in the past had done this. What set the NAZIs apart historically were what horrendous crimes they committed once they occupied a country. Accounts from German concentration camps defy belief. The Holocaust perpetrated against Jews and other groups targeted by the NAZIs is perhaps the best known NAZI crime. Less well known were the crimes against other groups such as the Slavs and the apocalitic NAZI vision in the East, a vision that they began to implement in Poland. There was also the NAZI slave labor program as well as the mistreatement of POWs, especially Polish and Soviet POWS. Almost unknown today is the Lebernsorn program of kidnapping children for Germinization. Many of the horrors perpetrated in the captive nations were outgrowth of programs in Germany associated with eugenics that involved or sterilizing mentally and handicapped children.

Suffering of German Children

German children through the Hitler Youth played an active part in World War II. The Hitler Youth movement was in fact a major support for the German war effort, both on the home front, supporting the anti-aircraft defense against the Allied bombing campaign, and actual combat roles with the Wehermacht and Volkstrum. After the war, however, there were large numbers of displaced children in Germany as well as the countries that the Germans had occupied. The displaced children were the orphans resulting from battlefield deaths of partents as well as deaths from the Allied bombing campaign and the fighting in the final months in Germany. Many more oprphans were created in the caotic poupulation transfers from the German populations that had lived in East Prusia, Silesia, the Sudetenland, and other areas in the east. Many Germans relaized that because of the NAZI atrocities, Germans could no longer live in Poland, Czecheslovakia, and other easter European countries. Many who did not understand this lost their lives in bloody reprisals or were forcibly transported after the War. There was also the problem of the foreign children brought to Germany under the Lebensborn program.

German School Curricula

We believe that German school curricula is largely pacifist in content. Our information is very limited. Hopefully our German readers will provide us some information about how World War II was addressed in their schools. One German reader who was in school during the 1980s and 90s has provided us some thoughts on how the NAZI-era and World War II was presented in his classes.

Allied War Crimes

As part of the reexamination of the War by Germans, soime allege that the Allies committed war crimes. This of course is a matter which could be debated endlessly. We do know that the Wehrmacht established a unit to collect information on Allied war crimes. It is of course undeniable that some Allied soldiers committed war crimes. In the calderon of war, it is inescable that some Germans attempting to surrender were shot. There were surely many other indivdual acts that could be classified as war crimes. This sor of thing occurs in any war from time immemorial. Here we are limiting our discussion to the Western Allies. (The Soviet Red Army and security forces committed war crimes on a vastvscale, both before and after the German invasion in 1941.) There is a huge difference between this and the wholesale killing and looting conducted by the Germans. It was the Germans and Japanese the began the bombing of civilian populations. This was followed up by ground troops which conducted wholesale brutilizations and killings without precedent in modern warfare. Even Germans officers were apauled, including the comander of the Abwer, German military intelligence. The Whermacht in fact arrested some SS officers. They wre quickly relaeased by Hitler and the Wehrmacht never again tried to control them. It is these centrally controlled oprtations that have to be considered when war crimes are alleged. Nothing like this can be alleged with the Allied armies that entered Germany in 1945. The major accusation that does seem to rise to this level is the Allied Air Campaign in which about 0.8 million German civilians were killed. Here there are many difficult issues. The British area bombing campaign especially the bombing of Hamburg and the AmericanpBritish bombing of Dresden near the end of the War can indeed be challenged on moral grounds, but the circumstances of both are much more complicated than commonly felt. Churchill himself was horrified when he learned of Dresden. There are many issues to consider here. First of all is who began the War and second who began bombing civilain populations in the first place. One has to ask how do you deal with an enemy that has targeted your civilian population. Another factor is fear of what the Germans were developing and as a result the need to end the war as quickly as possible. There was concern that the Germans were close to building an atomic bomb. That proved incorrect, but the Germans had developed a new generation of jet aircraft to replace the ME-262, planes which could have gone into production had the war continued into 1946. Not only that but more people would have died in the concentration and slave labor camps had the war not ended in May 1945.

Just War Doctrine

Our German reader believes that the price of democracy in Germany has been too high. (In further discussions he tells me that he was speaking og Germany not the captive nations.) We suspect that many Germans feel similarly about war. To a large degree this opinion seems to be a rejection of war as an instrument of national policy. This opinion is widely shared by young people througout Western Europe. Many today believe that war is the ultimate evil. HBC synpthaizes when that point of view, but can not agree. Here the most obvious proof, is that during World War II in country after country, many more people died AFTER the German occupation than during the actual fighting. It was the German occupation policies that resulted in mass death. About 25 percent if the people of Poland were killed in the War, most during the German and Soviet occupation. Several other countries lost 10 percent or more if their population, again primarily after German occupation. Not only were there mass executions by the Germans, but the occupation policies resulted in starvation and forced loactions which also killed countless individuals. The just war doctrine contends that war is justified in self defense and gainst such evil.

Modern Ramifications

Many would argue that while the Just War doctrinre may have been the case in World War II, but war is no longer acceptable in the modern world. Tragically this is of course not the case. Thee are nearly 1 million dead Tutsis today because the West (France even had troops in Rawanda) did not intervene. And these situations are not just rampant in the Third World, they also occur in Europe. The men and oder boys of Servernica were slaughtered because the Dutch U.N. peacekeepers stepped aside. And what would have happened to the Bosnians and Kosovars without American military intervention?


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Created: April 23, 2003
Last updated: April 27, 2003