Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review - Eisenhower and the German POWs

Eisenhower and the German POWs
Edited by
Gunther Bischof and Steven Ambrose

            Steven Ambrose and the Eisenhower Center Studies on War and Peace have compiled a critique of James Bacque subtitled "Facts Against Falsehood."  Two pages of acknowledgements show that they did not lack for resources.  Eight "professional" historians dispute Bacque's claim that approximately 1 million POWs perished while in custody of the Western allies.  Their objective is not only to discredit Bacque, but to maintain the progressive fairytale that U.S. postwar policy was largely humanitarian.  In the process they inadvertently provide ammunition to critics of this policy.  They do not appear to have coordinated their story and the book contains some glaring contradictions.
            The authors provide numerous warnings about amateur historians.  Revisionists like James Bacque and Nikolai Tolstoy cannot be relied upon because the "awareness of the ineluctable quality of historical evidence is less present in the mind of the untrained."   Yet many of the accusations lodged against Bacque can be applied to the authors of this book.  All thinking people have a perspective that determines what they will emphasize and what they will ignore. Even "objective" reporters must rely on the information they have access to.  Eyewitnesses to an accident or a crime render entirely different accounts of what took place.  When the witnesses have an agenda they want to further the report is further distorted.  The authors provide several examples of potential distortions.
            Ambrose claims, "The available evidence, however, clearly does not support such a conclusion (of mass deaths)" (p. 13).  How reliable is the "available evidence," and how eager are the professional historians to recognize inconsistencies in this evidence?  We can refer to participant's memoirs.  One example is a statement by Fleet Admiral William Leahy, President Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff, recorded in his ironically entitled memoir, I Was There: “A number of important political questions were considered at this meeting [Quebec], but I did not attend the political sessions.”  In fact every account of the Quebec Conference places him there.  In addition to memoirs of participants, intelligence analysts provide an excellent source of information.  Thomas Barker gives the example of Nigel Nicolson (p. 193).  When Nicolson sent a situation report warning that returnees were likely to be butchered, he was reprimanded by his divisional commander.  Barker claims, "He rapidly changed his tune."  Ambrose gives the example of a statement made by General Eisenhower ("We should have killed more of them" (p. 8)) that Department of Defense reviewers ordered removed from Eisenhower's published papers.  Ambrose probably saw no need to delete it because he thought it was a jocular comment.  This is very revealing about Ambrose's sense of humor.  Thomas Barker reveals that Nikolai Tolstoy's book on the repatriation is virtually banned in Britain.  The distribution of the "Mashke Commission" report on POWs was limited by Willy Brandt  "to avoid exacerbating relations with the Soviet Union  (p. 203).”   Clearly, the record was not accurately kept in spite of Thomas Barker's claim that,  "Although never deliberately swept under the rug, the story was unknown to most readers of English (p. 189)."
            To repeat, writers have their biases.  I am no exception.  I make outrageous allegations.  Do not take them at face value.  Be skeptical.  A source that I might find credible might not meet your standards.  I allege that the United States government at the direction of progressive politicians was massively involved in the slave trade.  This was in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international agreements.  I have many sources for this allegation including Steven Ambrose and his fellow contributor, Brian Loring Villa.  Ambrose in his refutation of Baque's allegation that prisoners were starved claims they were not starved but transferred "mostly to be used as labor (p. 23)."   Villa is much more frank which is uncharacteristic of these critics.  He frankly states: "the EAC (European Advisory Commission) terms became convenient for the British and for any other nation that wanted German POW slave labor (p.63)."  Later he writes, "It is interesting to observe that Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who presumably represented the interests of working men, insisted on exploiting German slave labor (p. 68)."  Reudiger Overmans appears to praise the U.S. for its POW policies.  "The United States was the first of the Allies to release all its POWs (p. 148)."   Yes, the United States released these POWs.  The Army did this by surrendering control of its camps to the British and French. 
            George Orwell observed, "Food is a political weapon.”  It had been used with great "success" by the Soviets in the 1930s.  An integral part of the Morgenthau Plan was to use this weapon in Germany.  Ambrose begins his criticism of Bacque by quoting the JCS 1067 Directive's provision for preventing "disease and unrest."  This "disease and unrest" provision was contained in the original "Handbook for Military Government in Germany" which was rejected by FDR.  The modified JCS provision states, "You will estimate requirements of supplies necessary to prevent starvation or widespread disease or such civil unrest as would endanger the occupying forces.”  This is a significant difference that I am sure Ambrose was aware of.  Yet he failed to quote the entire provision.  Ambrose et al. repeat the claim that there was a world food shortage.  For some reason James Tent mentions that Secretary of Agriculture Clinton P. Anderson told President Truman, "Fortunately for this country and the world American farmers produced record crops of both wheat and corn again in 1946 (p. 109)."  The book deals primarily with the treatment of POWs.  It claims that they were not starved.  However, if U.S. forces were willing to starve women and children, would they hesitate to starve soldiers?  Tent dismisses the possibility of "hunger edema of massive proportions," by saying, "Patently this did not happen in postwar Germany."  Yet Herbert Hoover reported during his 1947 mission, “Famine edema is showing in thousands of cases, stated to be 10,000 in Hamburg alone. The increased death toll among the aged is appalling.”  Possibly the most damning and most discreditable sentence in the book is provided by Tent: "By the spring of 1947, and thereafter to the end of the military occupation, the number and variety of supplemental programs expanded to the point that some observers asked with only slight irony if there were any normal consumers - that is, those consuming 1,550 calories per day - left in the British and American zones (p. 111)."  "Some observers!"  Would Bacque be allowed to make such an egregious attribution?  The editors of this screed failed Tent in a major way.  On page 123 they provide an example "normal consumers."  The caption reads, “Seven German infants picked at random from a Catholic children's hospital in Berlin showing malnutrition in various stages. October 23, 1947."   This answers Ambrose's question, "Was Eisenhower a monster?"  Yes he was.  But Ambrose is correct in that these were not Eisenhower's initiatives.  Eisenhower was merely a large cog in an even larger machine: The Leviathan.  His successor General Clay would not allow humanitarian organizations to operate in Germany because, according to Tent, his "distaste for carpetbaggers (p. 108)."  As we all know, the Catholic Relief Services, the American Friends Service Committee and the Unitarians are infamous for employing carpetbaggers.

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