Dorothy Thompson: The President and the German issue (10-27-44)

Reading Eagle (October 27, 1944)


Dorothy Thompson1

The President and the German issue

By Dorothy Thompson

Until last Saturday night, the President had never committed himself on the future of defeated Germany. For months a controversy has been going on, in the press, on lecture platforms, and between various organized groups, over the German question. These controversies have ranged from the advocates of a Carthaginian peace, to include equally all Germans, to insistence that distinctions be made between the bulk of the German people and the men around and behind the Nazi regime.

The line taken by our shortwave OWI broadcasts has always followed the second policy.

Then came the publication of the Morgenthau Plan which made it seem as though this policy might have been sheer hypocrisy.

This columnist was the first to attack the Morgenthau Plan – on the air, the day after it became known.

Actually, it was soon scuttled. And it is now clear that it was a feeler put out to test the wind of opinion at home and abroad.

All such gestures must be seen in the proper framework. The renewal of the robot attacks, after a short period of relative calm, had inflamed and embittered British opinion. Articles in the Moscow press revealed apprehension in Russia lest the Americans should try perhaps to woo some elements in Germany for their own interests, at Russian expense.

The Morgenthau suggestions represented the ultimate in a Carthaginian peace, and it was interesting to watch the reactions in both London and Moscow. Almost immediately, a TASS dispatch denied Soviet intentions to dismember Germany. It was also significant that Anthony Eden in the House of Commons rejected both the formulas of a “hard” or an “soft” peace as meaningless, while the London Times and London Economist called for reason.

One can now see, with hindsight, that the Morgenthau Plan was in the nature of a trial balloon, and served its purpose. And with hindsight, one can see that it was wise of the President not to associate either himself or the Secretary of State with it, or with any other definite proposals, at that time.

For it was urgently necessary to find – and on that rests the whole security of our future peace – a common ground between all three great Allies, for all our dealings with Germany.

It is therefore significant that the President committed himself for the first time on the very day that Mr. Harriman arrived from Moscow with a report on the conversations that had taken place there between Churchill and Stalin. What he said could therefore not have been in contradiction with either Russia or Britain. It must always be remembered that the President is in a unique position. He is not only a candidate for reelection but the head of a state in a critical and evermoving situation, in which affairs develop regardless of the campaign.

It was also significant that what the President said about Germany, he set quite apart from the body of his speech. He introduced it as a “digression.” It was clear that he was looking for an opportunity to make a carefully-phrased statement.

I am surprised that so little attention has been paid to it in the American press. In the British press, it was the one part of the speech which was immediately seized upon – and with wholly favorable reactions.

With that speech, the unconditional surrender formula was, for the first time, interpreted and defined. Henceforth the German people know, at least in general terms, what they can expect.

The “hard” parts of the statement included three things: Complete liquidation of the Nazi regime and apparatus; total disarmament; and punishment of those “directly responsible for this agony of mankind.”

But the statement also contained solemn pledges to the German people. In making them, the President called upon “the very basis of my religious faith and political convictions.” He said, “I cannot believe that God has eternally condemned any race of mankind.” He denied the intention to enslave “because the United Nations do not traffic in human slavery.” He expressed the conviction that “in all peoples, without exception, lives some instinct for truth, some attraction to justice, some passion for peace.” And without any sentimental credulity, he left the door open for Germany to “earn her way back into the fellowship of peace-loving and law-abiding nations.”

The spirit was far above hatred and revenge. It was a declaration of democratic faith and a promise of statesmanlike behavior. It supplied our propaganda service, for the first time, with a solemn statement that can effectively be broadcast to the enemy.

Only three days later, dispatches from the front reported that in the face of our armies the blackout was strangely enough lifted in Düsseldorf and Cologne, and correspondents deduce that something odd is going on in the German population immediately behind the front.

So, regardless of the election campaign, hats off to the statesmanlike move and an enormous clarification!