The Sacrifice of Black Americans for Raison d'Etat

Nearly 13,000 officers who served in Hitler's Wehrmacht went on to serve in the postwar Bundeswehr in American-occupied Germany. Others, including the Eastern Front tank commander Hasso von Manteuffel, became prominent political figures. Von Manteuffel was prosecuted in 1959 not for any of the war crimes that the German army perpetrated against Russian civilians, but for shooting a German deserter (he served two years).

Why did we let Hitler's generals into the armed forces of democratic West Germany? Because we needed them to fight the Russians.

We sheep-dipped them at "de-Nazification" tribunals, made sure they weren't guilty of obvious and glaring war crimes, and put them on the front line of the Cold War, where they faced other Wehrmacht officers in the service of the Soviet puppet regime in East Germany. We took Maj. Gen. Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler's military intelligence chief for the Eastern Front, and put him in charge of Germany's postwar foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). He knew more about the Russian army than any Westerner alive, and we required his services.

Was that justice? In a sense it was: The Germans had the dubious privilege of holding a position that the Russians would attack with nuclear weapons in the first hours of a shooting war. They never would know who won. It came a lot closer to a hot war than anyone wants to admit (on this subject I recommend the German mini-series Deutschland 83). As a Jew, it made me nauseous to meet senior officers who had fought for Hitler; my people fought with the Bielski partisans in the Białowieża Forest, that is, the ones the Germans didn't kill in the first days of Operation Barbarossa. As an American, I was glad we did it. Nazism was no longer a threat, but the Russians were.

Something like this happened during and after the Civil War.

Half a million Northerners died crushing the Confederacy. Why didn't we just let the slave states leave the Union? The answer is that the Confederate rump would have allied with France and Britain to carve up the North American continent. Napoleon III of France invaded Mexico in 1863 and installed his puppet Maximilian of Habsburg. Mexican nationalists fought a guerrilla war under the brilliant leadership of Benito Juarez. In 1865 Lincoln dispatched Gen. Phil Sheridan, the scourge of the Shenandoah Valley, to Texas, where he raised 50,000 troops to threaten the French and supplied Juarez with arms and ammunition. The French withdrew in 1866.

Britain's Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, meanwhile, watched the military progress of the war hoping for an opportunity to intervene. If Lee had won Gettysburg, Britain probably would have recognized the Confederacy and intervened on the Southern side. Lincoln courted Russia, Britain's main geopolitical rival, hoping that the threat of Russian intervention would keep Britain neutral. Russia sent a fleet to New York in 1863 in a demonstration of support for the Union.