I think that, for the most part, Americans’ knowledge of history comes from movies and television. It’s hard to deal fully with real history in either medium. Hardly anyone knows, therefore, that there was a vicious terrorist resistance to the occupiers of the Reich. Known as the “Werewolves,” they were, in the words of a fairly recent (2000) book on the subject, written by the Canadian historian Perry Biddiscombe
..the Werewolves did considerable damage. Their…guerrilla warfare and vigilantism caused the death of several thousand people, either directly or through the…reprisals that they provoked. The property damage…equalled tens of millions of dollars.
Big numbers in that long-ago world, big enough to constitute an “insurgency” every bit as worrisome as the Iraqi version, at least early on. And it provoked a brutal repression, more brutal on the Soviet side of Germany–where they carried out an ethnic cleansing from the Central European satellites–but quite brutal on our side of the Yalta line as well.
…the occupying powers imposed rigorous non-fraternization and denazification policies and severely prohibited German civilian movement and right of assembly. Almost all the country’s soldiers, sailors and airmen were incarcerated, at least temporarily…
Not at all a PC kind of occupation. And Biddiscombe, who doesn’t like the drastic measures any more than you or I, nonetheless concludes that it just had to be done. If you think it’s too harsh, he says, remember that the Werewolves were trying to save Nazism, and you should think through “what impact the organization of such a movement–under the noses of the invaders and occupiers–was likely to have had.”
If left free to organize, the Werewolves would have killed many more Allied soldiers, demonstrated the impotence of the occupiers, delayed for a long time, perhaps a generation, the denazification of the culture, and provoked internecine conflict within the Allied zones of Germany.
The brutal repression worked, the Werewolves were shattered within a couple of years, and, as even the tv generations know, Germany became a successful democatic country.
If the Allies had been operating under current standards and rules of engagement, the repression would not have been possible. Abu Ghraib was nothing compared to the vicious treatment of prisoners in occupied Germany, and innocent victims were commonplace, for which our military leaders did not apologize at all. Quite the contrary. Their view was that the Germany people had to understand, without any room for doubt, that we would not tolerate any effort to revive German militarism or Nazi doctrine. The quickest way for the Germans to end the occupation was to cooperate with the occupying armies, turn in anyone who was inclined to resist, and learn the rules of a democratic society.
I am not saying–since I don’t believe it–that if we had imposed a similarly brutal occupation on Iraq, we would have wiped out the terrorists in a couple of years. The situations are very different, not least of all because the terrorists in Iraq have material external support from Iran and Syria, and financial and ideological support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. If the Werewolves in the Western zones had received Soviet support, it would have made our task enormously more difficult.
I am telling the story for several reasons. First, because it’s useful to know that there was considerable resistance to our most successful occupation, and to the task we set ourselves: extirpate totalitarianism and create democracy in Germany. And second, that those who judge our behavior in Iraq as something akin to Nazism (a phrase tossed around by intellectual luminaries in public life with gay abandon, especially luminaries from Massachusetts), know very little about Nazism, or about how tough it was to wipe it out.