THE FATEFUL GAMBLE ON THE RHINE
Open rebellion this summer revealed Russia's failure to convert East Germany. But does that mean the Reich is ready to fight for democracy? A well-known Canadian author appraises the West's dilemma in offering guns to Germans
THE INN stood in a labyrinth of narrow pitch-dark streets beside the moonlit rapids of the Rhine. It was a crooked old house of stone and timber, built three hundred years ago, and it looked like a painted illustration out of Grimm’s fairy tales.
On this Saturday night it was crammed with Germans, all slightly intoxicated with Rhenish wine and quite drunk with music. Old folk and young, workers from the neighboring factories, boys off the farms, rich merchants and their fat wives, pretty girls and ruined army officers, all sang and danced and laughed as if there had been no war and no Hitler, as if they had nothing to worry about and nobody was worrying about them.
But the truth is that people are worrying about them—the very people who strove so hard to defeat them a few years before: Americans, Canadians, Britons and Frenchmen. They worry because Germans and the German way of life represent the biggest gamble of our time, a gamble on which the peace of the world may well hang.
The question on which the gamble turns is this: Can these people with their complex make-up—part gaiety, part industrial genius, part tortured spirit—be trusted with sovereignty, democracy, freedom and weapons? Within a fortnight of that evening at the inn part of the German people had
given part of the answer; had erupted in bloody riot not far from here against the Russian conquerors. But in spite of this, in spite of all the statesmen’s speeches, all the paper documents and all the experts’ calculations, no one knows how the gamble will turn out because the answer will come not from governments, constitutions, agreements or any known facts. It will come from the German people. People whose minds neither the Russians nor the West can fathom.
The conquerors have decided to trust the Germansat any rate to gamble that they can be converted to democracy. For with their technical ingenuity, their courage, intelligence, and in spite of their political illiteracy, they are the core of the struggle for the world. And the struggle for their conversion to democracy or Communism, make no mistake, is only beginning.
The songs in the wine house were not of war but of love, springtime and wine, folk songs centuries old sung here to the jingling music-box tunes of a jolly old accordion player and his perspiring little band. “I wish I were a fish,” the crowd chanted together, “if the Rhine were made of wine.”
Sad songs, too, of the German earth, the Rhenish castles and the mighty days when Germany was young. As the music changed the laughter died and the singers, swaying hand in hand, were engulfed in the sickly sweet nostalgia
of their race. Some women wept and the eyes of hardened soldiers turned misty.
While I sat watching this curious specimen of mass emotion, the kindly side of Germany’s Jekyll-Hyde personality, my host introduced me to a handsome bronzed man of middle age, a former SS colonel who had lost an arm in the Normandy invasion. He clicked his heels together, greeted me warmly in perfect English, praised the gallant Canadian Army (“Ja, those boys could fight!”) and then unconsciously disclosed the other side which no one in Europe is yet ready to trust.
His hour of talk was rambling, naive and often childish but, I think, worth reporting. He spoke if not for half of the German nation at least for the dark half of the nation’s character which is the main ingredient of the great gamble.
He defended with a quiet passion the “honor” of the German Army. He denounced the tales of its atrocities as cheap lies. He declared that Hitler had saved Germany from chaos, alas, with the final mistake of fighting too many nations at once instead of smashing them piecemeal as the army had planned it. After gushing with disagreeable self-pity for his country’s poverty he scoffed at the A-mericans as idiots who had prevented Germany from
extinguishing Communism once and for all. Even in the spring of 1945, he said, it would not have been too late. But the Americans lost their chance and must pay the penalty by fighting the Russians themselves.
“Still,” he added cheerfully, “if they will give us arms we can push the Russians back where they belong. We could do it alone easily. Somebody must do it, you know!” Everything could have been so different, he went on, if the British and Americans had only understood the Germans. “Why should they hate Germany? After all, we only tried to do what the British and Americans did long ago. We needed a little more land, that’s all.”
At the colonel’s suggestion the innkeeper produced an elaborate picture book to prove the achievements of Hitler’s Reich . . . the new buildings in Berlin, the superb roads, the giant industries, the marching troops, the rich farms, the happy homes, the young people disciplined and made happy by strength-through-joy.
“What do you think of that?” asked the colonel, and answered for me. “Hitler was a genius. I know because he was my friend. But he was not what you thought. No, he was something entirely different. Now I tell you something strange but true.
“When I first saw Hitler, I understood. Continual on page 48
The Fateful Gamble on the Rhine
CONTINUED FROM PAGE II
He came into the room like a man drunk or sick or crazy. He could hardly walk. His eyes saw nothing. He stood on a platform and four men in generals’ uniforms—I’d never seen them before -stood opposite him at the other end of the room.
“Now listen to what I tell you. When Hitler’s eyes caught the eyes of those men suddenly he came to life, he woke up, he began to speak and he made a great speech for an hour without stopping. His eyes never left those other men. Then I knew. I went home and I told my wife Hitler is not a hypnotist as everybody thinks. He is hypnotized. He is a medium—a medium, you understand, for others.”
I put this recital down because I think the colonel was speaking the truth as he saw it. He believed that legend of his own imagining. That is one of the first things to understand about the Germans—they can believe almost anything if it is unlikely, dark and mysterious enough.
Another of Hitler’s officers broke into the conversation to ask me what I thought about the Nuremberg trials. Giving me no chance to reply he added fiercely: “They could have shot our
generals if they wanted to. That would have been correct. We would have understood when we lost the war. But to hang them like criminals! To hang officers! Yes, and to try them in a court with a Jew as the chief judge! That we will never forget. No, and we will never forgive!”
Having made that clear he subsided into a wine glass. The colonel went on to tell more tales of Hitler’s salad days, most of them too fantastic to be worth printing. As I rose to leave not long before dawn the assembly joined in a friendly farewell, singing Aufwiedersehen in my honor. At the door the colonel shook my hand and then drawing himself up in a soldier’s ramrod posture he cried out so that all the room could hear: “For five years we
stood against the world ! Alone against the whole world ! It was too much. But what other people could have done that?” The eyes of the crowd confirmed his challenge.
In this man and in nearly every man and woman I met in Germany there was no sense of war guilt, no flicker of conscience, no awareness of any wrongdoing, no regret except for the military blunder of a two-front war, no understanding of democracy as we know it, no grasp of Germany’s present place in the scheme of nations.
But in all of them, from government officials who are managing an incredible national recovery to workingmen who know nothing but work, there was a single unspoken resolve — Germany must become great again. Great for what? That is the gamble.
The Germans’ resolve is being fulfilled already. In a few years at most Germany will be the most powerful nation in Western Europe. All calculations about Europe’s future must start with that premise. Nothing can suppress these people because they work like no other people on the continent. As a professor of German history told me, “With us work is not only a way of earning a living, it is a hunger. Without work we are not just poor, we are sick. Hitler succeeded because he seemed to cure the sickness of the depression.”
In the Ruhr Valley you can drive for a whole day along Hitler’s Autobahn and all around you to the edge of the horizon a towering jungle of smokestacks looms black against the sky. Their smoke plumes write an ironic finis to the ChurchillRoosevelt plan, conceived at Quebec, to pastoralize and paralyze the German state.
The towns still lie broken by Allied bombs up to the walls of the factories. But inside those walls the machinery is repaired and working day and night. The carpenters and bricklayers who rebuild the towns start work at seven and quit at six.
The hotel dining room in a Ruhr town where I stopped for the night was crowded with commercial travelers who brought their order books to the table and worked through their dinner. They were selling the gigantic product of Germany’s reviving industry. The stores of the town were filled with every kind of manufactured article from cosmetics to pianos at prices so ridiculously low that most similar British and American products could not compete with them in an open market —a sure warning of drastic changes ahead in the world’s trade.
Germany has restored, possesses and
knows how to use the most powerful productive apparatus in Europe.
That is the first tangible factor in the gamble. The second is equally certain—Germany is to be rearmed and soon will be again a major military power. At this writing it is by no means clear how Germany is to be rearmed. The European Defense Community, by which German forces were to be diluted and controlled within an international army, is stalled by French objection and may well be dead, as many European and American statesmen believe. If EDC is dead Germany will still be rearmed one way or another.
Its rearmament is the basic and most essential policy of the United States in Europe. For lacking German military strength Europe will remain indefensible. If Germany cannot be armed as part of an international army, if France continues to veto its admission to NATO, it will be armed under much more dangerous conditions of independence—and soon.
The United States had high hopes for EDC earlier this year when France seemed ready to ratify the necessary agreements. It has been bitterly disappointed by the developing confusion of French politics in which ratification, or any constructive policy for that matter, has proved impossible. French politics, however, are unpredictable and the agreements may yet be approved by the French parliament. But the United States, having waited a year already, will not wait much longer before giving Germany weapons.
No one in Europe sees the ultimate result of German rearmament. No European trusts the Germans. The statesmen may make soothing speeches but the common man does not believe them.
“The French,” said a Canadian who has lived among them for thirty years, “fear the Russians. Yes, but they fear the Germans far more.” No one can doubt that after talking to the ordinary people of France.
“Give the Germans twenty-five years or so,” said a Dutchman who spent the war in a German labor gang, “and when they’ve found their new Führer they’ll march again.” He pointed to the gaping empty space in the centre of Rotterdam carved out by German bombers in half an hour. “I saw that happen. The Germans will come back when they’re ready. They never change.”
In the mountains of Italy —the friend of Germany only yesterdayI met an Italian economist, once a member of Mussolini’s brain trust and an officer who fought through zero weather in Greece clad in shorts and cotton tunic. Now he was disillusioned and wistfully confessed his country’s fatal error.
“In peace,” he said, “the Germans are kind and charming. In war they are transformed. I tell you, sir. they are devils! That was Mussolini’s ruin
to trust them. Believe me, I know. Once l was in charge of Hitler’s bodyguard when he came to Florence. I saw that man up close and I was afraid
a mad man. You could see it in his eyes. When 1 saw the Germans in the war 1 knew we had chosen the wrong side and would be destroyed.”
The government of the Western German republic knows Europe’s fears and hopes they are groundless. It can only hope. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, that remarkable small-time local politician who discovered the world in his old age and has become the most formidable figure in contemporary Europe, so far controls his nation and holds it within the Western community. But the life of his government hangs on a thread, it survives by shaky day-to-day bargains in an un-
easy coalition and it may not last through the autumn elections.
What then? Would a victorious socialist party maintain Adenauer’s foreign policy? The British and Americans at Bonn believe it would, with necessary face-saving reservations.
Adenauer’s left-wing opposition attacks the EDC treaty ratified a few months ago. It denounces foreign interference but in private its leaders admit that there is no place for Germany to go except the Western camp, no escape from the necessity of rearmament. The internal politics of Germany are a
small matter beside the larger question which is unanswerable: Can the new
German state learn to operate the democratic process?
A highly intelligent young expert of the German government hazarded this answer: “Our people don't understand democracy yet. They are irritated and baffled by all this squabbling over the constitution and all the jockeying lietween the parties. They are not used to these delays and they don’t know what is at stake because this form of government is outside their experience. They want to get things done, and
whatever you may say about the Nazis they got things done—too well, unfortunately.
“We need about twenty-five years of peace in which we can educate our people and bring on a new generation raised under democracy. That’s not long to ask. You people needed centuries. But will we have those twentyfive years?”
There is the paramount question in a nutshell. Will Germany have time to learn and is it capable of learning? No man can possibly know. German democracy, a frail and doubtful growth,
is at the mercy of unpredictable events.
In Heidelberg, the cradle of the German culture that turned sour, I watched the confused search for democracy. The streets were packed with parades of rival parties each carrying its own banners and chanting its private slogans. The largest parade ended in a park where, between bouts of recorded music, hoarse orators thundered at a rather listless crowd.
An American military policeman watching this demonstration with a bored look was ostentatiously ignored by everybody. I asked him what the
meeting was about, “h'carch me,” he said in the accents of Brooklyn. “Every now and then they’ve got to shoot off their faces. I guess it makes them feel better. But it doesn’t mean anything.”
Overhead at that moment six jets scrawled the signature of American power across the sky. No one seemed to notice them. The Germans were ignoring their conquerors while they tried to master the alien system which the conquerors have planted among them.
I n a beer garden close to the famous crimson bridge of Heidelberg the alum-
ni of the university had gathered for a reunion. These men of middle age wore the queer round caps of their student days and gay ribbons across their chests. Most of them also wore the prized scars of the duel on their faces. They clicked their heels, bowed stiffly from the waist and kissed the ladies’ hands in the best traditional fashion.
Democracy meant nothing to such men. They lived in an imaginary world of “honor” now dead, but their nostalgia is still a living force. German democracy must reckon with it.
On the river bank I fell into talk
with a clean-cut young man who said he had been a captain in Rommel’s army, had been captured and imprisoned in Canada where he learned English.
“The trouble,” he said, “is that there’s no chance in politics for young fellows like me. The old men won’t let us in. All of us, you see, were brought up in Hitler’s time. We knew nothing else. We couldn’t imagine any other kind of system. So my friends have stopped thinking about politics.”
Given peace, the Germans may learn to make the parliamentary system work. Given an explosion in Europe even far short of general war a serious depression for example — Germany’s instincts are likely to turn naturally to the old principle of leadership, authority and obedience.
“You people in America and Britain,” a German professor told me, “imagine that everyone should be a democrat. You think democracy is good for every country. Did you ever think it might not be? My people have always relied on leadership at the top. They turn naturally to a leader whenever they’re in trouble.”
Yet the democratic process is working. The Adenauer Government has performed a miracle. The German people are free as they have never been before, the national debate is conducted fearlessly in the open, the government’s Opposition (an incredible invention by German experience) has the chance to capture office by honest ballots, and the experiment which failed in the brief Weimar Republic is progressing perhaps more successfully than an/one had a right to expect.
If the West has blundered in its German policies the Russians have proved infinitely more stupid. The third factor in the German riddle is the total failure of Russian policy throughout the heartland of Europe.
That failure lies stark and legible across Berlin, the core of the world struggle. Thus is written the story of Russia’s adventure in Germany—a false front with nothing behind it. The Russians have succeeded only in making all Germans hate them. The tide of hatred, long pent up, issued in the midsummer strikes and riots of Eastern Germany. It sweeps refugees out of the Russian zone in the thousands every week, all their possessions carried on their backs or in pitiable homemade carts and perambulators. The determined man can usually escape once he penetrates the armed corridor which runs like a moat around the entire city. Recently, for instance, an eminent German doctor left his operating room in East Berlin on the pretense of getting a cup of coffee, slipped into his car and drove to freedom in his surgeon’s gown.
Berlin is an island in siege, one of the noblest cities of the world with all its economic roots cut. It lives, a civic zombie, no one quite knows how, by a perilous blood transfusion along one artery of road traffic and one air corridor. Still it lives, and its inhabitants are getting used to a geographic, political and economic impossibility.
Such a monstrosity —this tomb of exile which is still the spiritual capital of the German people—cannot continue indefinitely. Therein lies the danger which may explode at any moment.
Among the occupying powers there are two conflicting theories about the events of the next few months. On the one hand some of the best-informed men of the Allied occupation hold that for many years to come there will be two Germanys and the West must concert its policies accordingly.
The opposite school replies that a situation so unnatural and artificial will not last. I heard this case argued over
and over again by men who know Germany. They maintain that the supreme object of Russian policy in Europe is to prevent the rearmament of Germany. Russia is just as sincere as the French in its fear of an armed Germany because it has felt that power in two invasions within the memory of living men.
Therefore, having failed to grasp Western Germany as it hoped, having failed to sell Communism even to the Eastern Germans, it will soon try another stratagem.
It will offer to unify Germany and set it free, provided it remains unarmed, at least in the beginning, and makes no alliance with the West. Th's offer will throw a monkey wrench into the whole Allied policy in Germany. The Adenauer Government, if it is still in office, will reject the unification offer as a mere trap to entice Germany into the Communist world.
Rut could the Adenauer or any other Government survive if it rejected that urgent racial hope? Finally, if Russia played the ultimate ace, long up its sleeve, and offered to return the far tastern marches now in Polish hands, would the Germans resist their chance to regain all of the ancient German (arth?
The first school of thinkers replies that Russia dare not risk such a venture. Russia now holds Eastern Germany against the Germans’ will. A new government of united Germany might be uncontrollable. It. might gradually arm itself despite all agreements to the contrary; and its army might face the wrong way.
These conflicting theories are the calculations of experts and they fill the diplomatic pouches moving from Germany to London, Washington and Paris. Rut no one, not even the Russians, can know the answer because no one can know or permanently control the mind of the new Germany. For Russia as for us it is only a gamble.
None of this can be considered for a moment apart from the tragedy of France. It is easy to say, as impatient men in Washington are saying, that France had better be written off as a reliable ally—a nation which cannot maintain a cabinet for more than a few months, which has never truly learned the parliamentary system; a nation which insists on government services but will not pay for them, a race of stubborn individualists who have always hated the state and (as one cynical Parisian put it) count the day lost if they have not cheated the government out of one tax or another.
France cannot be written off if for no other reason than that its geography is essential to the defense of Germany and thus to the defense of the continent. The whole military planning of NATO is based on French territory and its planes are based on French airdromes. Rut if Germany is to be rearmed over French protests, if France is convinced that it has been sold out, the whole strategy of European defense and, more important, the whole attempt to unify Western Europe will be undermined by French intransigence.
Somehow France must be persuaded that her future, the future of her neighbors, of Rritain, the United States, Canada and the entire free world cannot be separated for a moment from the future of Germany. That is the calculated risk. In fact, the risk can-
not be calculated since it rests on the incalculable substance of the German mind.
The West must face it, trusting the Germans and keeping its powder dry. The powder is in the hands of NATO, now a living organism with international machinery cutting clean across national boundaries.
It must be ready to defend Europe against the first symptoms of a reviving German militarism as surely as it meets the present peril of Russian Communism. In a few more years at its present rate of progress it should
be equipped for both tasks. And it must be friendly, successful and strong enough to hold the Germans of their own free will within the Western community until they learn to manage their own freedom peaceably.
The morning after the party in the Rhenish wine house, a queer little man, neat, respectable and obviously poor a schoolteacher, he said approached me while I was eating breakfast in a garden beside the river. Glancing about to make sure we were not overheard, he said that he had listened to my chat with the SS colonel.
“Sir,” he protested with an almost comic anxiety, “do not believe that man. He is not Germany. No, we are finished with all that. You can count on one thing—we want no more war. We want no more Hitlers. We want to be left alone. That, sir, is sure.”
It is equally sure that the Germans cannot be left alone because they happen to occupy the fulcrum of the world’s dizzy seesaw. Was this tortured little man right even about the mind of his people?
Who can possibly say? It is a gamble for the highest stakes in history. if
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