August 15, 2017

1949. The Question of Rearming West Germany

Europe's Newest Dilemma
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer addresses the first volunteers of the newly established Bundeswehr in Andernach, West Germany, on January 20, 1956 (source)
Passages in parentheses were crossed out on the script before broadcast.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 10, 1949

The Army's American Forces Network here in Berlin has a program called "Hillbilly Gasthaus," a daily session of American folk music. One of the most popular numbers on this program, believe it or not, is called "I'm Biting My Fingernails and Thinking of You."

It struck me that this hillbilly lament has certain international implications. It could be the theme song of Western diplomats, military men, and defense secretaries when they sit down these days to discuss Germany.

The German question which is gripping the conscience of Europe today—and which has finally come out into the open—is whether or not to allow the West German republic some form of military power with which to participate in Western Europe's military defense plans. In other words, should the dreaded word "Wehrmacht" again become part of Europe's postwar vocabulary?

Perhaps you felt the shudder that emanated from this continent when this discussion finally came into the open—a kind of ideological earth tremor that shook this part of the world. After all, it was only some fifty months ago that a German army was regarded as the scourge of modern civilization.

But in the four and a half years of uncertain peace, things have changed. The struggle between East and West has reached a stage where East Germany already is being incorporated into the military organization of the Soviet Union.

The bald fact is that by admitting West Germany into the European community of nations, America and the Western Powers have automatically entered the Bonn republic into the defense program of Western Europe.

Now, whether we like it or not, it becomes necessary to consider the possibility of using Germans to defend democracy. A possibility, let us admit, not of choice but of necessity.

I am not talking about the moral aspect of this situation. Anyone can detail the atrocity of power that has made Germany the source of two wars in a generation—and generations before that. The war which ended in 1945 was the most horrible of all.

Morally—after the world's most recent experience—there is no human excuse or justification for rearming a nation that in its attempted conquest of Europe brought death to more than twenty million; which pursued the most dastardly pogrom of race extermination in the painful history of civilizations.

But the fact remains that no nation—the United States, Russia, or any other—has given up that bit of sovereignty which gives the state the right to make war. Attempts in the United Nations have failed, and treaties already are becoming reminiscent of pieces of paper.

So, lacking popular support or education for some sort of world government or world diplomacy to prevent war, it is perhaps incongruous to bleed deeply when preparations for yet another war go on before our eyes.

This incongruity also is civilization's dilemma.

Every international agreement concerning Germany since Hitler's armies first marched in 1939 has been based on the concept that when final victory was won, never again would this nation be allowed the forces to inflict upon the world.

Yet as the differences between the Communist and Democratic world widened, it was revealed that widespread training and arming of Germans was underway under the auspices of Russia.

The popular impression persisted in the West that we would never stoop to such tactics. However, in the past six months, the reports reaching correspondents became too persistent to be ignored. It is an accepted fact that although the Western Powers have made no decision on the rearming of Germany, our military men find it necessary to make plans against the day when it may become necessary.

It is the course of current history, however, and not the military that is the villain in this situation.

This is how it came about.

As far back as 1946 it was becoming apparent that Russia, America, Britain, and France were failing in the four-power rule of their late mutual enemy. As the schism became wider, the three Western Powers finally decided they would consolidate their occupation zones of Germany into a political and economic unit to be ruled by a democratic government of the Germans' own choosing.

The real motive behind the Marshall Plan and European recovery is that a prosperous and working Europe with a healthy and expanding economy is the only peaceful defense against the totalitarian revolution called Communism.

By placing the German republic as a participating nation in the Marshall Plan, West Germany automatically entered into Western European defense.

The Soviet Union, meanwhile, matched these moves by sponsoring a Communist coup in her zone of East Germany, creating another satellite government and speeding up organization of a so-called People's Police to maintain the puppet Communists in power.

The Western Powers then ended military government in West Germany. The armies retired to the job of policing their occupation zones. And the American, British, and French governments began worrying about the defense of Western Europe against the encroachments of Soviet power and Communism.

It was at this point that the rumors started flowing about the possible militarization of the German republic. There was MAP, America's Mutual Assistance Program of arms aid to our allies. There was the conference of the Allied chiefs of staff in Washington and the trip to Europe of the chiefs of the US Army, Navy, and Air Force. Significant meetings were held in Heidelberg, headquarters of American military forces in Europe. And finally last month there was the Paris meeting of the European defense ministers, including America's Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson.

The word "Germany" began to leak out of all these meetings. We began asking: "What part has Germany in these discussions?" Just about everyone replied "absolutely nothing."

Secretary Johnson declared: "The United States has absolutely no plans for the rearming of Germany," but he added, significantly, "for the present."

I believe that no one was lying. There were and are no Western plans for German rearmament, because no one could agree on them, or even wanted to. Even in the minds of the French, British, Belgian, and Dutch generals, the memory of German power is fresh, and even more fresh and abhorrent in the memories of the people of their nations.

(It was denied for diplomatic and political reasons. But word of the discussions leaked even as far as Berlin, one hundred miles inside the Soviet zone.)

(Information received here is that the Paris defense conferences considered the establishment of five German infantry divisions to be used, if necessary, under overall Allied control, but that any German force would be denied its own air power or other arms which could be interpreted as large-scale offensive weapons.)

(Apparently no decision was reached as to what kind of West German military force to be established in the event of an emergency, if any at all. It is a question here in Europe that can cause governments to fall.)

During the past year America, Britain, and France have been promoting the West German republic, increasing its sovereignty, and projecting it into the Western European community. This is healthy progress toward European recovery, but the events behind the Iron Curtain have forced European defense into the number one priority.

The question of whether or not any West German armed force could be established was propounded not on the initiative of the West, but by the actions and events occurring in the East.

The best example of the new situation is the case of East Germany, the newest Russian satellite.

Even before the Soviet Union created the East German government they began organization of what they called the People's Police. At first this Communist-led police force looked no different than the Western police, which we created to preserve civil order. But as time went by it became clear that the People's Police is more than a German security force. It is, in fact, the nucleus of an army supplied with weapons ranging from small arms and automatic weapons to armored cars and tanks.

Last month came a report that in the spring we will see a conscription of German youth in the Russian zone—young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty who are not employed in vital jobs on factory or farm. These men, according to the report, will receive training in the People's Police. Whether this is true or not is unconfirmed, but the result of the report has been that large numbers of young men from East Germany have been making their way westward for fear of being conscripted.

The point is that, in the view of the military preparations of East Germany, the increasing crisis in the Balkans, and the worsening relations all down the line between East and West, it is not surprising that the men in charge of Western European defense should be considering the place of Germany in their plans.

Most certainly the Russian generals are not neglecting this point. They have moved to consolidate East German military manpower into their sphere. The West is only considering it.

But what does Germany think of all this talk and preparation by both East and West to make her a divided partner in their military schemes?

The Germans don't like it very much. That is, they don't like the idea of creation of another Wehrmacht at the present time.

Certainly there is a nucleus of unregenerated Nazis who dream of marching again. There are unemployed Germans who would like the resume their jobs. There are reactionary political and economic leaders who see the solution of unemployment and the reconstruction of industry only through rearmament. And generally there is a submerged ambition in all Germans to raise their nation from the disgrace of defeat by again fighting her back to the top.

But as of today the great mass of the German people are shocked by any suggestions that her youth, just now growing to military age after the bleeding of the Nazis, should again go into uniform—with their fathers hardly cold in their graves.

Senator Elmer Thomas recently wound up a Congressional junket to Europe with the statement that, since the Germans are such good fighters and like to fight, another German army should be armed to fight for the West.

I was sitting with a former Luftwaffe pilot listening to the radio when this news hit Berlin. The young German looked up in surprise. He had flown seaplanes in the North Sea during the war until there were no more planes. He then was put in an antiaircraft battery and finally captured by American troops at the Brenner Pass.

His reaction to Senator Thomas' proposal was simply: "Not me."

This "not me" attitude at the moment is the mood of the great mass of German people. In Germany and Frankfurt today housewives have organized a campaign against the sale of military toys to their children this Christmas. Such sales serve to inculcate a military and warlike attitude in their kids, they say, and German mothers have had enough of that.

I have talked with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer about the future military position of Germany. His views are definite. He says that Germany has had enough of armies in the past fifty years; the country had been bled to its lowest point in history by them. As a matter of fact, he criticized certain United States military officials who he said were talking with certain former Nazi generals about military matters.

We pressed Adenauer as to his ideas about future German international cooperation. He advocated a kind of United States of Europe based on German-French friendship. Then he said that if ever again there was to be a German armed force, it would have to be under the control of and only a part of an international European military force; that never again should there be a Wehrmacht as such.

However, it must be pointed out that America and her allies are creating the new German state in their own image, and this image implies a future German sovereignty. Included in this sovereignty is the right to make war.

Consequently as Germany gains independence and strength and as she becomes a sovereign participating power in the Western European community, the present mood of pacifism is bound to change. Already in Bonn there are politicians who will argue that Western Germany needs a security force to match the militarized People's Police of East Germany.

The day before yesterday the upper chamber of the French government voted against a resolution against any remilitarization of Germany, an action taken only because of the prevalent discussions by the military that have leaked to the press and radio.

British statesmen also are on record against reconstituting any military power here. And our own statesmen have disavowed any such plans—for the present, that is.

The bald truth is that we are not going to make the decision on the question of rearming Germany.

The decision will be made east of the Iron Curtain. For if pressure on that curtain increases, then Western defense will become more vital. And as the days become more critical, you can bet that a formula will evolve—and don't be surprised if that formula includes plans for German military aid in the defense of Western Europe.

Cold wars, like politics, make strange bedfellows. Only diplomacy on the highest level can prevent cold wars from becoming hot wars.

Sitting here in Berlin and looking at the situation, the diplomats had better get busy.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.