July 30, 2017

1949. The "Moral Reconstruction" of Germany

Downs Speech on the Future of Germany
German, American, British, and French military police officers stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1949 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 1949

For the past six months I have been living in Germany, observing German people in their struggle for survival. In the previous two years I had been in the United States with one refresher trip to Europe. On both sides of the Atlantic I find that people do not know and understand enough, and that the gap caused by years of war has not been bridged.

In New York, writers, artists, and reporters ask, "What has happened to German intellectuals? What in God's name happened to them under Hitler?"

In industrial Detroit, union leaders ask what is happening to the German labor movement. And what part did it play in the Nazi war machine?

My mother in Kansas, who is of German descent, still is trying to figure out what happened and what is happening.

As reporters, trying to tell this story is a big job, and I'm not too sure how successful we have been.

In talking with the German people during the past six months, I find too that there is a great lack of understanding. Principally, the major lack is the realization of what a great store of hatred still exists among common people the world over for what Hitler brought on the world.

When I was a correspondent in Moscow in 1943, I saw the first wartime atrocities on a large scale—families shot in their homes, children murdered in their beds.

When I walked out of Belsen concentration camp shortly after the British took it in 1945, I remember a phrase in my reporting of that horror: "The name of Germany is going to stink in history for a long time."

This is simply a fact. The job of freedom-loving Germans is to clean up that name. And believe me, peace-loving and freedom-loving Americans want to help you clean it up. That is a major goal of the occupation.

The average American has very little conception of what happened to Germany over the past twenty-five years. Think yourself how difficult it has been to explain what it is like to live under the air raids in Berlin. I had a similar job trying to describe life in the air raids of London. I don't think I ever succeeded.

Even the question of this blockade—in writing to friends back home, they want to know if the letters came over the airlift. And it is true that a new pilot coming to Germany went to the Air Force transportation desk and asked for a rail ticket to Berlin, where he wanted to spend his furlough.

Germans I have talked with have been surprised and hurt when an artist like Gieseking is not allowed to perform in New York, or when a Furtwängler is banned in Chicago. I do not know the details nor the merits of these cases. But it is the result of about fifteen years of fear, distaste, and finally fighting what Germany under the National Socialists stood for. As you found out and as others are now finding out, dictatorship has a smell that soils everything it touches, even art. It is a long time wearing off.

So in this respect, the problem of the reconstruction of Germany is a moral one. What the ordinary people of the world want from Germany is assurance that never again will she bring war to an already battered civilization.

In America particularly, we live under the assumption that, if you tell enough people the truth in a free and democratic society, the truth will prevail. This kind of society, we feel, should be directed by the people operating their own government through free elections. That is the kind of government we hope that the reconstituted Germany will have. We figure it is the safest and the best for all concerned.

It has been the policy of the American military government that democracy cannot operate in a vacuum. Thus we have been promoting the establishment of a free German government so that Germans can get experience in running themselves.

The governments of the Länder have been operating smoothly and successfully in most cases. But the kind of experience and practice that we talk about is demonstrated in situations like this:
(1) Military government attempts to establish a hunting law to make it a popular sport for everyone met opposition in Bavaria. Baron Wolfgang von Beck, head of the state hunting department, resigned because "the law would make a cheap business of what used to be a sport of recreation."

(2) In Württemberg-Baden, a recent study of police procedures in making house searches found that out of 10,651 recently conducted, only 81 were supported by warrants. This despite the fact that the Land constitution says that private homes are inviolable and searches only can be conducted by court order under code of criminal procedure.
I do not contend that military government policy is always right. But right or wrong, the main job of the moral reconstruction of Germany must lie with the Germans. We say that the best and fastest road to this reconstruction lies down the free highway of democracy. Already great progress is being made by you.

Democracy, here and in the United States, needs a lot of improving before it becomes perfect. It is a full time job that all men must work at in order to remain free.