The German Army blames British sea power and Russian toughness for its defeat . . . but it expects victory in the next war
A. Beverley Baxter. M.P.October11943
GERMAN GENERALS TALK!
Beverley Baxter LONDON LETTER
The German Army blames British sea power and Russian toughness for its defeat . . . but it expects victory in the next war
A. Beverley Baxter. M.P.
WE HAVE a number of high-ranking German officers now enjoying the hospitality of Britain—behind barbed wire. They vary in type like members of the same family but though some are grim and unsmiling and others affect a swaggering joviality their minds converge at the same point like railway trains at a junction.
They are strange men. There is something that makes them not quite human. It is as if a scientist, emulating the famous Doctor Frankenstein, had tried to improve on the human species and had attained everything but the spark of life itself.
The Germans use a revealing phrase in their attitude toward discipline. They speak of a “corpselike” obedience to authority, both by civilians and soldiers. It is a fact that death absorbs and obsesses the German mind. That crafty little devil Goebbels showed his understanding of this when after Hamburg had been blotted out he sent trained commentators to the microphone to describe the horrors of the bombing with every hideous detail which words could summon.
He did the same about the winter campaign in Russia. Wagner understood these dark recesses of the German mind when he ended his colossal “Ring” by killing Siegfried and putting Brunhilde on a horse so that she could ride to Valhalla and be consumed in the flames with the gods.
I stress these lugubrious points because in judging what these German officers say in their prison camps it must be remembered that they do not speak as ordinary men summoning their thoughts and expressing their feelings. They are like criminals who have agreed beforehand upon their story. No doubt that sinister little sprite, Goebbels, has also realized that captured Germans can be a useful medium for carrying propaganda direct to their captors—especially highranking German officers.
This, then, is the probable explanation of why so many of these officers say very much the same thing. It is the “corpselike” obedience of the Generals to the German tradition of waging war at all times, whether the guns are noisy or silent, whether the world is fighting or at peace.
Thus forearmed we can study their case. If it is propaganda we shall recognize it as such. But this
much is certain, it shows the necessity of dealing with Germany with a severity that shall accord with justice —and severity could hardly go farther than that.
“We know that Germany cannot now win the war.” That is the first thing which our guests say. It makes pleasant hearing and creates a good impression. They attribute their failure to two principal causes, British sea power and the inhuman resistance of the Russians. Typical of the Hun mind they do not resent either our maritime supremacy or the Russian ferocity.
Rather do they regard these two items as German miscalculations. They thought the airplane had outmoded the battleship, and they did not believe, despite the lesson of 1812, that the Russians would scorch their own lands and leave nothing but ruins for the advancing Germans to occupy.
Apparently they do not blame Hitler as much as themselves. With a curious evil honesty they seem to look on Hitler as nothing more than an inflammatory symbol—a sort of slogan on two legs which served their purpose. I do not mean that they mock him or belittle him. The military clique has always found its dupe and Hitler was well up to the average.
Having admitted their own failure the Generals
then take up their next position. “We do not believe that you can win the war either,” they say. There is nothing offensive in their manner. These corpses in uniform eat and drink, are warmed by the same wind and chilled by the same rain as the rest of us, but they have no passion. One has a feeling that if they were stabbed they would collapse but not bleed.
Italians Just Holding Troops
ÏF IT is put to them that Italy should soon be out of i the war they shrug their shoulders. “That will be a disaster,” they admit, “but not without its compensations. We have had to supply Italy with coal and oil which has been a heavy burden to us. Now you will have to use your ships to bring them the same things. With American miners sometimes on strike and your own coal barely enough for your needs, do you relish the idea of sending a million tons a year to Italy?” Asked why they deserted the Italians in Africa they reply that Italy did not come into the war to fight. “An army which believes that a war is over and then finds that it has only begun is never any good. From
Continued on ncier. 36
Continued from page 17
the time that General Wavell defeated them with a couple of divisions we knew that the Italians could never be more than holding troops on a quiet front.”
With the same queer bluntness they admit that Italy as a base for American and British bombers is a very serious matter for Germany. “We recognize that when you have Italy,” they say, “you will be able to bomb any target you choose. That will be a severe strain to the Reich. Your air raids have been very hard. But you must remember this. It is possible to bomb a country as small as England until it ceases to exist, but not a civilization like Germany.*’
You might think that by this they are referring to the spiritual condition of Germany. Not so. They merely mean by “a civilization” that Germany is a large country made up of many Teutonic states—perhaps to them that is the only civilization that exists.
They do not show the slightest resentment against our bombing raids. Death does not appall these living corpses, and certainly not the death of civilians. Germany has föught so many wars that it is life which seems abnormal.
The bombing of the Rumanian oil fields worries but does not distress them, vital as the Rumanian supplies are to the German war effort. “You can damage production from the air,” they say, “but you can only destroy the wells with troops on the ground.”
One more question about the Allied air offensive. Can the German people stand it indefinitely? “If it goes on,” they answer, “it will become our greatest problem. Our scientists have not found the answer to it. But they will. No weapon retains the ascendancy for long. Science always finds the antidote.”
One last question on that subject. Why did the Germans bomb London in 1940, instead of our ports and factories? “That was a psychological mistake,” they answer. “We regarded London as the nerve centre and it was part of our war of nerves.”
Again there is no criticism of politicians nor any slur on Hitler’s intuitions. It was just a German miscalculation, one that may have robbed them of victory, but that is war -—and there will be other wars after this one. Or so they think. Hitler may chew the carpet in his rage but these German Generals speak as bloodlessly of their failures as of their successes. War is no bountiful jade to them. It is just scientific slaughter in which deductions do not always agree with results.
Views On Russia
What about Russia? “We believe that we can hold Russia,” they say. “Stalin has suffered very large losses and once we establish a stalemate the Russians will lose their desire to attack.
They will grow war weary. Besides they are distrustful of America and Britain.”
When it is suggested that such a distrust, if it actually exists, would end when America and Britain invade the Continent, they reply:
“We can mobilize 17 divisions in 17 days at any given point in Europe. What can you do against that with a sea-borne landing? You will be driven back wherever you land. After a series of disasters your Mr. Roosevelt and your Mr. Churchill will suddenly announce with wonderful speeches that you have decided to defeat Germany by beating Japan first. The war except for air bombing will then move to the Pacific.”
Will Germany then attack in Europe? “No. Germany will not attack. On the contrary,” they say, “she might withdraw even from the occupied countries and make of herself a selfcontained citadel. We can wait,” they say. “The war will end with a peace of exhaustion and we can wait.”
What would be the terms of such a peace? “Everything would probably go back to the frontiers of 1939,” they say. “The occupied countries would be free again—free to starve and. quarrel among themselves.”
But even if they quarrel among themselves would they not combine in a deadly hatred of Germany? “The countries ot: Europe,” they declare, “never combine in anything because they have no leadership. Certainly we have made a great many enemies in the occupied countries but do not imagine that we have made only enemies. Many people, especially the younger ones, have been attracted by our resolute way of life. They know that what you call freedom is often no more than lack of discipline. And once Europe realizes that it cannot be rescued by the Allies it will look for leadership among its own nations. To whom shall it look—France? (a shrug of the shoulders) Russia? (another shrug but a darkening of the brow) No. Europe will look to Germany.”
One last question. How long will the war last? “Ten years,” they answer. “There will be periods when there is no fighting at all. Remember you do not like casualties. The war should go on for 10 years.”
I am sorry if in this analysis of the German military mind in captivity I have given any of you the prospect of a sleepless night. It can do nothing but good to learn the psychology of these men because Germany is ruled today as it has always been by the military mind. Nor are we to assume for the moment .that these Generals have spoken all their thoughts. The very unanimity among them strongly suggests that they are following an imposed and agreed formula.
If the war ends in 10 weeks or 10 months instead of 10 years, they will merely say that it was a miscalculation on their part. But they have disclosed the strategy which they have adopted
Continued on page 38
Continued from page 36
as propaganda agents under detention.
It is well to remember that in the summer of 1918 the captured German officers talked in one strain. Then, however, they assured us that we were beaten, that the Americans could not get across the Atlantic in any numbers, and that Paris would fall in a few days. Four months later the war was over.
But quite aside from propaganda it is obvious that Germany is counting on two factors to save her from a crushing defeat:
1. War weariness.
2. Distrust and even dissension
among the Allies.
She has not lost faith in the efficacy of the Bolshevist bogey. It was by the use of that bogey that she was allowed to arm. As Europe seethes with potential revolutions Germany believes that she may yet be allowed to live as a barrier against the rising tide of Communism. “America and Britain may not like us,” they say, “but the dollar and the pound are frightened of Russia.”
Is it possible that Germany is actuated by ideological motives and that, given a reasonable peace, she would act as a wall against political extremism in Europe?
That is what Germany would like us to believe. Certainly, if given the chance, she would go Blue or Brown or Black or even Red. She will call herself a democracy, or a totalitarian state or a Soviet of German republics if by doing so she can secure a breathing space to prepare for the next phase of the war which began in 1870 and has never ended.
Recently I spoke at a British Legion meeting with Field Marshal Lord Milne who for six years preceding the
rise of Hitler to power was Chief of the British Imperial General Staff. On the way home he said to me:
“Germany never disarmed. She lied and twisted and built factories ostensibly for motor cars and really for airplanes. When she was only allowed an army of 100,000 men she sent the staff officers, after their training, into the police force so that the police became a hidden army. It made no difference whether Germany was governed by Stresemann, Bruning or Hitler, she was preparing for war all the time.”
To the Germans 1914-18 was a battle which Germany lost through miscalculations. Already she regards the present war as a second battle which she has lost by the same means. But she believes that the third battle, 20 years from now, will give her victory and world domination.
Achtung! Anyone who has motored in Germany will remember that warning sign with its grim hand to tell you that danger was ahead. It was everywhere on the roads. Achtung! Achtung! Achtung!
After the war we should erect one of those signs in the British House of Commons. The Parliaments of Washington, Paris, Ottawa, Brussels and the Hague should do the same. The only place where it would not be necessary is Moscow.
These officer-prisoners in our camps have said what they were told to say but only the blind and the feebleminded can fail to see the unintended warning behind their words.
Whatever the cost we must deal with Germany now. She stands before the bar of civilization as the eternal criminal. Five times within living memory she has attacked civilization and four times civilization forgave her.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.