Thanks to Justin, I’ve been reading up on the Morgenthau Plan. This was America’s 1944 – 1947 policy of German deindustrialization, created and enforced by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, his assistant (and Soviet agent) Harry Dexter White, and OMGUS officer Bernard Bernstein. The ethnic loyalties of these gentlemen is a matter of record.
A bit of context is in order. Germany had always been a food importer, exchanging its manufactured goods with its European neighbors to feed itself. The early postwar limitations on manufactures meant that it would need humanitarian relief supplies to survive. Yet under the concurrent food policy, these relief supplies were prohibited to ethnic Germans, even going so far as to instruct American occupation forces and their families to destroy excess food supplies rather than letting them fall into the hands of German civilians. The result was as in Nazi concentration camps or Soviet Ukraine: millions of people, mostly children and the elderly, died from malnutrition and disease, and economic recovery of the whole of Europe was retarded.
Reading about these events sickens me – but then, in 2011 I’m pretty much over WWII. I can’t say with any honesty how I would have felt in 1945. The Morgenthau plan was leaked to the media at the time, and I’m heartened to read that it had to be executed in the teeth of popular and Congressional opposition. On the other hand, the humanitarian consequences, such as they are, of American policy toward our present enemies doesn’t rank very highly on my give-a-sh!t list. I’m struck by Roosevelt’s statement on the Morgenthau Plan:
Too many people here and in England hold the view that the German people as a whole are not responsible for what has taken place – that only a few Nazis are responsible. That unfortunately is not based on fact. The German people must have it driven home to them that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization.
In recent decades, American presidents have asserted in the face of the available evidence that that hostile foreign governments could only conduct their actions by oppressing the will of their own people. Clearly, an earlier generation of leaders had no such romantic notions. (And neither do our present enemies. The head terrorist in the movie Traitor justified his attacks on American civilians by quoting the Gettysburg address: our government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, therefore we should be collectively liable for it.)
But here’s the thing: my attitude towards this story is similar to my attitude towards our de-facto alliance with Israel. It’s not so much that I object to the policy, it’s that I dislike the idea that the policy is a function of narrow minority ethnic grievances rather than of the interests of the American people. In the case of the Morgenthau Plan, the answer is obvious: the destitution of Germany and impoverishment of Europe allowed Soviet subversion to spread. It was to counter this influence that the policy was ultimately abandoned in favor of the Marshall Plan. I’d like to think that American policy is as self-correcting today as it was then, yet I can’t honestly see much evidence for it.