- Blind Eye to Murder by Tom Bower
Deutsch, 501 pp, £9.95, July 1981, ISBN 0 233 97292 7
- The Road to Nuremberg by Bradley Smith
Deutsch, 303 pp, £7.95, October 1981, ISBN 0 233 97410 5
Investigative journalism has many triumphs to its credit. It toppled a President of the United States. It has exposed, through the hard leg-work of tiny teams of sleuths, the evasions of corporations, ministries, crooks in local government, and the common shysters whose trickery Esther Rantzen mocks in tones of cloying surprise. The press are right to blow fanfares in their own praise because investigative journalism is precisely the sort of activity which those who sneer at the free press want to muzzle in the interest of ‘objectivity’ and ‘responsible’ journalism.
It is true that some individuals get hurt unjustly in the process – though they have their remedy in the courts. It is true that hubris can sometimes get the better of professional caution. The prestigious Washington Post and Bob Woodward himself failed, despite warnings, to check out the story on a five-year-old drug addict written by the wretched Janet Cooke, who won her Pulitzer Prize and subsequently had to return it when her report was proved to be a fabrication. It is also true that the techniques cannot be applied as fairly on television as in print simply because there is not the time on television to develop the case in detail – and detail, the piling up of damning fact upon damning fact, is at the heart of the technique. The least convincing programmes are those in which, instead of pursuing a specific abuse, the team decides to indict a whole industry or government. When they take some perennial social malaise, such as the inadequacy of the Health Service, of housing, or prisons or primary schools, and suggest that the whole society in which we live is rotten and culpable, they are really arguing that if only all were to change all would be well. That is a simplistic, and sometimes a sinister, conception of society.
Mr Bower is a Panorama journalist and certainly no charge of inadequate documentation could be levelled at him. He has ransacked the archives and interviewed over two hundred people in order to lay a ghost which has haunted him since his childhood. As a boy, he tells us, he grew up believing that the Second World War was ‘a just and moral crusade’ ending in a victory over tyranny. The British had fought in the expectation that ‘with victory would come justice: those who had done evil would be punished, and those who had died would be avenged.’ But as a man he came to realise Germany had not been systematically purged and that ‘the architects of the country were the same men who had held high positions in the regime which my boyhood heroes had fought to overthrow.’ Worse discoveries followed. Thousands of those who committed crimes, or knew about such crimes, had escaped trial. Others sentenced for vile offences were released and rehabilitated as if they had been guilty of nothing worse than dangerous driving. Others successfully resisted extradition or with disgusting arrogance displayed contempt for witnesses whom in former days they had tortured. Others managed to delay their trial and were in the end exempted by statutes of limitation. To this day, a farcical trial typical of the whole rotten business continues in Düsseldorf: a trial of men and women accused of murdering a quarter of a million people in a camp in Poland. The trial has dragged on since 1975 and still seems no nearer its end. It is a trial in which judges have died and been replaced, German lawyers have denied that there was a Final Solution and murderesses are acquitted because the eye-witnesses to their guilt have during the trial gone to their graves.
How has this happened and who was to blame? Mr Bower indicts the German people themselves, who have swept the past under the carpet. On the rare occasions when a German government tries to bring some of the most atrocious criminals to trial, the mud of law and procedure clogs the wheels. Too many know that if this person is convicted and sentenced, they themselves, or those nearest them, could be in danger, too. But who set the Germans this example? Tom Bower’s answer is unequivocal. British officials, and to a lesser extent American policies, permitted German concentration-camp gaolers, SS and Gestapo members, lawyers who had administered Nazi law, bureaucrats and industrialists who had supported Hitler and profited from slave labour, and bankers who had financed the plunder of Europe, to escape justice and emerge as the architects of the German economic miracle. He names the guilty British civil servants, and generals, and their accomplices in Military Government.
Why is this indictment, compiled with such unremitting labour, so grossly misleading? It is misleading because the author has started out with a simple and, indeed, irrefutable conclusion rooted in his mind. De-Nazification was a failure and war criminals escaped. There then follows a far from irrefutable inference. If this happened, those who let it happen must be guilty men. All the evidence is therefore interpreted to pin guilt upon somebody. This is, of course, how some Panorama or World in Action programmes are made. But Bower seems oblivious of the fact that he is not writing a television programme. He is writing history. Of critical examination of sources such as a historian should make there is hardly a trace. Of the social conditions prevailing in post-war Germany there is no analysis. Of the historiographical problems which beset the interpretation of diplomatic documents, there is no awareness. Of the place which de-Nazification took in the priorities of the Allies, there is no cogent discussion. Of that knowledge of life which should encompass how wars begin and end, of their aftermath, of the agonising judgments which afflicted every European country the Nazis occupied as their governments attempted to identify collaborators and assess their guilt, nothing shows. On Tom Bower’s television screen everything is in black and white. Protest is all the rage today and this is a work of protest. But as a contribution to history it is almost valueless.
In a far more sober study, The Road to Nuremberg, which is no less thoroughly documented, Bradley Smith describes how difficult it was for the Allies to agree on the policy to be followed towards members of the Nazi Party and to war criminals. Allied leaders and officials were genuinely puzzled, not shuffle-footed. Churchill’s instinct was to execute the leaders and criminals as speedily as possible as an act of summary justice. The Americans wanted a trial – a demonstration that the rule of law was to be upheld, whether or not the accused recognised it. They also wanted to inflict upon the German nation a punishment which they would never forget. The best-known exponent of this policy was Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury, whose scheme to pastoralise Germany, stripping it of its industry and its power to create wealth, found some favour with Roosevelt. It found no favour at all with the British. Nor did it with the State Department. Stimson said that being tough or soft with the Germans was not the issue. The issue was ‘whether the course proposed will in fact attain our agreed objective, continued peace’.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 3 No. 21 · 19 November 1981
SIR: I feel injured – though more surprised than hurt – by Noël Annan’s reference to an article of mine about the late Albert Speer in his ‘De-Nazification’ review (LRB, 15 October). Paving his way to Burke’s famous quotation about the impossibility of indicting a whole people, he cites my article as a fit of ‘fervour for a perfect world’. Noël Annan’s intention here, I take it, was to deride the old notion of ‘collective guilt’ as applied to Germany, or at least the idea that one can reasonably expect a whole nation to feel guilt.
I was not proposing that. My article suggested that it was misleading of Speer to suggest, as he did, that the mass of Germans had no access to knowledge about the crimes being committed in their name. To say that ordinary Germans could have known a great deal if they had wished to is a long way from stating in the manner of Morgenthau that the entire nation bore direct personal responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich and could therefore be collectively punished. I do not know why Noël Annan then made me say that only the middle class had such access to knowledge. All I wrote about the pre-war middle class was that its members tended to regard democracy as a failure.
Neither Noël Annan nor – as far as one can gather from the review – Tom Bower mentions another possibility which might have dispensed with all the intractable difficulties of de-Nazification and punishment by the occupation powers. This was to encourage the Germans to clean out their own house by carrying out a revolution – which would probably have been a social-democratic revolution in alliance with liberal forces, rather than the artificial transformation imposed in the Soviet Zone. There were thousands of men and women burning to undertake this, who were bitterly disillusioned by the absolute refusal of the Western powers, especially, to permit any such movement. It may be that the prior agreements and mutual suspicions of the victor powers made such a revolution impossible. But the option ought at least to be part of any discussion of occupation policy.
The Observer, London EC4
SIR: ‘Investigative journalism has many triumphs to its credit,’ writes Noël Annan in your issue of 15 October (LRB, 15 October) before going on to explain why Tom Bower’s book. Blind Eye to Murder, about Nazi war criminals, isn’t one of them. Nor, for not very different reasons, which is what prompts me to write this letter, is the ‘exposure’ of Leo Long – in the eyes of the press another sort of war criminal. What did Mr Long do: he gave Britain’s allies – the Russians – information which would assist them in the war against Britain’s enemy, the Germans. ‘Self-confessed traitor,’ says the press: ‘hound him, hound him.’ I remember that at the time of the ‘Blunt crisis’ you published a piece (LRB, 20 March 1980) in which one of Anthony Blunt’s fellow academics pointed out, as academics do, that there were moral complexities in the affair which the press, in its crusade against Blunt, had wholly ignored. There are few moral complexities in Mr Long’s case. As I understand the word, one can’t betray one’s country to an ally. Nor was the Soviet Union our enemy then because it is – is it? – our enemy now. Mr Long no doubt violated the Official Secrets Act, in its wartime version: but that is not an offence for which we ought to require people, 40 years after the event, to have their right hands cut off in the marketplace or – our nearest equivalent – to eat shit on television.
Vol. 3 No. 22 · 3 December 1981
SIR: I am very sorry if I misinterpreted Neal Ascherson’s article on Speer. I thought I had drawn valid inferences from it, but, if he says not, of course I accept his word. Nevertheless I am puzzled by his contention that British Military Government could have handed de-Nazification over to ‘the thousands of Germans who wanted a social-democratic revolution’ or who were offended that the British would not permit it. For better or for worse, the British insisted that if Germany was to become a democratic state the rule of law must be established. There was no legitimate German organisation which could legally undertake the task. Under Control Commission law, I think, the only legitimate political organisations were the licensed political parties. Only the KPD would have relished the task. The SPD realised at once that their best line was to criticise Military Government for their failure to de-Nazify; and that they would be mad to court the unpopularity at the polls of volunteering to do the job. Failing them, to what organisation could Military Government turn and say: ‘Make a social-democratic revolution for us.’ In any case, this would have made the British insistence on restoring parliamentary democracy and the ballot box ridiculous. Whether we like it or not, the Germans in 1945-50 were not all that keen on a social-democratic revolution. They showed where their heart lay when they voted Adenauer and the CDU to power.
Epuration is a nasty business, and the experience of France in those days showed that, if justice was rough, it also gave the unscrupulous a wonderful chance to pay off old scores. It is true that the British hadn’t the heart for it, nor the manpower to carry it out. But I’m afraid it is romantic to think that cohorts of Germans were then keen and competent to do the job for them.
Vol. 4 No. 1 · 21 January 1982
SIR: There are certain forms of bad faith which, presented under a comely skirt of reason, are especially difficult to detect, or define. Of these, Noël Annan’s article on De-Nazification (LRB, 15 October 1981) was an egregious example. If one alleges that it was full of self-serving arguments and circularity, and that it connived at the suppression of disagreeable truths, one can be accused of mere rhetoric. Annan’s limpid style, his apparently dispassionate concern to set the record straight, his assuming air of inside knowledge worn as lightly as a spring coat, his wincing distaste for emotional enthusiasm make it awkward to challenge him without seeming to flail about and do un-British things with one’s hands, like raising objections.: May I nevertheless make a few points in particular, while emphasising that what is wrong with the article is dispersed ubiquitously by virtue of its tone of smug and frigid incorrigibility?
One of the strategies adopted is that of penning into discrete compartments those who hold views congenial to Annan’s thesis and those who do not; these sheep and those goats receive indisputable allocation. Thus Stimson’s assertion that the treatment of post-war Germany was to be determined by ‘whether the course proposed will in fact attain our agreed objective, continued peace’ is taken to be an accurate statement of Allied motives, requiring no further proof, brooking no contest. Why is Morgenthau treated with manifest derision when Stimson is endorsed without cavil? Do Stimson, Jackson and McCloy comprise a triumvirate from whose dicta there can be no dissent? What the Americans wanted was not ‘peace’ in the naive, pacific sense, but a speedy return to something like Coolidge’s normalcy, and they were not too bothered how it was achieved. McCloy’s decisive influence is hardly reassuring, not least in the light (over which Annan draws a blind) of his conspicuous indifference to the crimes actually being committed in Birkenau and adjoining places while he was Assistant Secretary of War and thus in a key position to order the bombing of camps which, in the later stages of the war, lay directly under the flight path of Allied aircraft. Nor should one forget, unless one should forget everything, that McCloy was prompt to release Nazis who had already been convicted by the courts, through his act of clemency in 1950. So much for the claim that it was judicial difficulties over obtaining convictions which aborted punitive measures. In passing, it may be said that the demystification of Nazism depends more on calling murder murder (and theft theft) than on any mournful or tortuous attempt to make genocide or deportation crimes in themselves. A not inept parallel lies in Thomas Szasz’s arguments against giving mysteriously cryptic status to mental illness. The Nazis did not commit some abstruse sin, more appropriate for a priest than an occupying power to divine and exorcise, but old-fashioned statutory crimes, recognisable, verifiable and punishable, even by tribunals whose members had important careers to consider. What the British and their allies did was, maybe, the best they could, but to argue that the reinstitution of democratic suffrage was triumph enough, while ignoring the importance of democratic justice and accountability, is to fail to see, or perhaps even to imagine, what membership of a decent society should entail. Annan is very grand in suggesting that Mr Bowers do a bit more reading (cut along now, Bowers), but it is appropriate to wonder whether he himself has read, say, Günther Grass, not to mention the history, convincingly potted in James Wilkinson’s The Intellectual Resistance in Europe, of the repression of heterodox post-war German radicalism which did not chime with High Commissioner McCloy’s ideas. One does not have to be one of those despicable utopians who want to change everything in order to feel some contempt for those who were happy to change as little as possible. To claim that McCloy won a battle to impose ‘an American legal solution’ is sheer humbug unless you acknowledge that the rehabilitation of Krupps and l. G. Farben was also among the lawyers’ ‘solutions’.
It is also a bit rich when Annan proceeds to call Henry Morgenthau a ‘barbarian’ (he attributes this verdict to ‘British officials’, but one so in love with officialdom seems unlikely to have dissented from it). Wherein lies Morgenthau’s barbarity, unless disagreeing with the Foreign Office and its placemen is the mark of beastliness? If the barbarians who murdered millions of defenceless people (whose escape would have embarrassed the FO) are suitable cases for re-employment, why does Morgenthau remain inexcusable? Truman didn’t like him: oh, and must we all like Truman? Morgenthau’s fear of a resurgent Germany was hardly the fantasy of a vindictive illiterate. (Besides, what democratic statesman ever expected his ideas to be adopted without modification?) By eliding justice and revenge, Annan seeks to make any retribution seem inelegant and impertinent, even though it may be recalled that during the war Churchill sought to placate those who begged for some help to be given to the victims of the Nazis by assuring them that at least the guilty would be brought to justice. Now we are told that some of the monsters turned out to be ‘irreplaceable’. Are we to gather that nothing is unforgivable if top people are a bit short-handed? By fair analogy, had there been a flu epidemic in Hilldrop Crescent, Dr Crippen would have been suffered to remain in practice. (Incidentally, even though Burke never said it, there is rarely such a thing as an irreplaceable man: Eden thought the Suez pilots irreplaceable and very foolish it made him look too.) Annan reproaches the naive Mr Bower, who works in television, the nobody, for being ‘high-minded’: to be high-and-mighty-minded is, one presumes, irreproachable.
Next, I should like to doubt whether this situation of Germany in 1945 can in any helpful or honest way be compared with that of France in 1815. However iniquitous Napoleon may have seemed to his contemporaries, or some of them, he surely left no stench or taint remotely analogous to that of Hitlerism. It may indeed be true that, on the ground and at the time, the Allies made the best of an intolerable job, especially since a lot of them understandably wanted to get home to tea, but to argue now, as it were while summing up for the record, that 1945 brought a peace comme les autres to an enemy comme les autres is an act of moral colour-blindness. We may have had enough of the wailing of hindsight: the callousness of the lordly also has its limits. If Annan really believes that it is ‘always wise in politics to consider the future instead of trying to rectify the past’, it makes one wonder why he has spent his life in academic pursuits, however administrative. Recognition of the abiding presence of the past when calculating any scheme for the future is surely instinct in any humane endeavour which is not wilfully fraudulent or crassly frivolous. It is a pity that Annan’s brief did not include a consideration of why it is that, as a recent study shows, the facts of the extermination camps are systematically scamped in the teaching of modern history. It is, presumably, because influential persons who know and have read everything (or everything they want to read) agree with Annan that for 1945 one might as well read 1815. What, after all, is to be gained by nagging on about a mass-murderous government whose surviving victims were often bullied and betrayed by their liberators but whose culpable functionaries were urgently needed for banking duties?
Noël Annan writes: It is a little difficult to reply to a scream and a sneer, but let me try. First the scream. If Mr Raphael refuses ever to speak to another German, it would be impertinent of me to reproach him. To stand in Yad ve-Shem is to feel grief and shame that one was a European at the time of the holocaust. But to translate rage into political action is another matter. Mr Raphael frankly admits he would have liked to implement Morgenthau’s plan for banning industry in Germany for many years: and shouts that if Truman and McCloy, or Attlee and Bevin, would not have it, they and their supporters were scoundrels. But it was not just Mr Raphael’s hateful top people who would not have it. There was never the faintest chance that the British and American people would endorse a policy of repaying barbarity with barbarity and giving the Germans a dose of Nazi medicine. They would not have been willing to starve millions to death, or use them as slave labour, still less pay for Germans to live in limitless idleness. Mr Raphael may feel that revenge would have been sweet, but his countrymen would not have agreed. They wanted, in however confused a way, to rebuild a Germany with genuine democratic institutions. The Cold War had begun. I do not see why they should be vilified.
Some British officials were vilified. There were eight damaging innuendos or distortions of fact about Mr Gunston in that book. Does that matter to Mr Raphael? Clearly it does not matter to him that Abs was never a Nazi and when put on trial by the Americans and prosecuted by American lawyers was acquitted on all charges of breach of laws which the Americans themselves had framed. Mr Raphael says no man is irreplacable. Certainly. But the Morgenthau directive on finance required the dismissal of every banker down to branch sub-manager. Morgenthau was not a villain: we owe him gratitude for persuading Roosevelt to institute Lend-Lease. But his plan would have had the effect not just of smashing Germany but of making it impossible for the Anglo-Americans to govern it.
Now for the sneer. Mr Raphael calls me smug, complacent, frigid and – of course – lordly. Ah, well. Since clearly he will not take my word for my zeal in de-Nazification in the Political Division, he might care to consult Herr Michael Thomas in Hamburg or my immediate chief, whom I hope he would respect – Mr Austen Albu, later for many years Labour MP for Edmonton. I did not suggest that any retribution was ‘inelegant’. I showed when I wrote of Mr Bradley Smith’s book that I thought the Nuremberg trials and their sequel were just; and I accepted Mr Bower’s contention that sometimes culpably, sometimes involuntarily, the British failed to bring many war criminals to account. All the same, on Mr Bower’s own showing we executed hundreds, sentenced thousands to long terms of imprisonment and (p. 226) interned in 1945 eight million Germans
Is Mr Raphael in such a lather because the fashionable game of literary protest of which he is a master has come up against historical analysis? I don’t expect him to understand politics. He has never had to execute a policy and modify it when the impersonal forces of history render that inevitable. But what worries me more than his inexperience of politics is his contempt for historical inquiry and the search for truth. Mr Raphael asks me if I have read Grass. I have; and Grass is as enlightening about German history as Bunyan is to anyone unravelling the issues of the Civil War. They explain a little, but the historian has to take the impersonal forces as well as human beings and their decisions into account. I try to follow Ranke: ‘People have thought it was the duty of the historian to judge the past and instruct the present for the benefit of the future. The present essay is more modest. It merely wants to show what it was really like.’ In fact, you cannot instruct the present unless you first try to see how complex life has always been. Mr Raphael is interested in part of the truth – the failure of, or refusal by, the Allies to bring every member of the German ruling élites (down to sub-manager) to trial: for that is what he advocates. I do not believe you can discover the truth about that unless you try to discover ‘what it was really like’ in 1944-50. History is not a television script.
Vol. 4 No. 3 · 18 February 1982
SIR: I resisted comment on Lord Annan’s highly critical review of my book Blind Eye to Murder because I felt that, despite the appalling number of errors he made, its self-delusory bombast said more about the reviewer than the book; unintentionally he underlined my assessment of the character and motivation of British officials responsible for the administration of post-war Germany. He did himself a disservice, repeated to a larger audience on BBC Television. Now, however (Letters, 21 January), he digs an even deeper grave. Faced, not with a youthful ‘black-and-white’ television producer, but with a reputable author, he throws out accusations which are simply defamatory.
Lord Annan claims that ‘there were eight damaging innuendos and distortions of Mr Gunston in that book.’ I would like Lord Annan to name just one. But before he reaches for the book he should be aware that every fact about Mr Gunston was not only told to me by Mr Gunston himself, but cross-checked with at least four, and usually more, of the other participants. I phoned Mr Gunston at least twice, to check his account, and on the final occasion read a list of the facts which I intended to publish and asked for corrections. There were none. Before publication, Mr Gunston was proud of his role in re-establishing Hermann Abs as Germany’s foremost banker and key advisor to the West German Government. Publication of the book and serialisation in the Times provoked a public response to his hitherto unknown work which undoubtably wounded his confidence and pride. Secondly Annan writes that Herr Abs was ‘put on trial by the Americans and prosecuted by American lawyers and acquitted on all charges’. The truth is that Abs was never prosecuted, never tried and never acquitted.
Lord Annan writes about Frederic Raphael: ‘What worries me more than his inexperience of politics is his contempt for historical inquiry and the search for truth.’ How extraordinary.
The whole point of the Abs story is that the banker who regularly lied to the world bankers on Schacht’s behalf so that his master could finance German rearmament, who masterminded his bank’s enormous plunder of occupied Europe’s industry, and whose bank financed IG Farben’s infamous factory at Auschwitz, was not prosecuted as a war criminal after the war despite the politicians’ pledges. Instead it was Gunston and the British authorities in Berlin who deliberately protected Abs (and many other alleged war criminals) and welcomed his rapid re-emergence as an influential power-broker. Of course, Lord Annan was by implication party to the employment of those war criminals, except that his own role is barely perceptible. He is rarely mentioned in the thousands of files now available at the Public Records Office. Or in any written record, other than his own.