August 26, 2004
Our German alliesBy Douglas Hanson
Last week's announcement that the US plans to withdraw 70,000 US troops from overseas locations has drawn the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth from the left's so—called national security experts. Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark, Clinton's architects of the 'home by Christmas' Bosnian adventure, were absolutely apoplectic at the prospect of finally withdrawing troops from Germany 60 years after the end of World War II.
'The timing is especially strange,'' Richard Holbrooke, a Kerry foreign policy adviser, said after Bush's announcement. ``No matter what the official explanation, it would appear that this is related to the fact that U.S. forces are now stretched too thin around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.''
Of course, Holbrook neglected to gripe about the withdrawal of US troops from the Balkans after nine years of both combat and peacekeeping operations, but heck; what's nine years compared to 60? One would think that wanting to keep troops in Germany 15 years after the Berlin Wall came down, and then scattering US forces around the globe in the 90s, that Holbrook was trying to disperse our combat power, or prop up a socialist state, or both.
Certainly, a case could be made that withdrawing troops from South Korea increases the risks incurred by one of our true allies, since they fought with us in the Korean War. And yes, even France was an ally in the true sense of the word during WW II, despite de Gaulle's constant obfuscation and effete snobbery. Yet, it is puzzling that the left is falling on their sword over US troops leaving our German 'allies.' The Germans were one of our three major adversaries during the war, and arguably, the most dangerous. After all, FDR gave defeating the Third Reich top priority as stated in his 'Germany first' policy.
As is the case with most of the left's arguments with President Bush, the crying about the withdrawal of US troops from Germany is full of deception and revisionist history, especially when it comes to covering up the blind naivet� of the Democrat president at the time. The left is dependent upon an uninformed electorate that knows little, if anything, about the post—WW II period, or how the term 'ally' has evolved into some sort of locked—in—stone, article of faith in the modern geo—strategic lexicon. Only Kerry's defense advisors would consider Germany a long—running, unwavering ally of the US in the manner of Great Britain, rather than as a necessary evil to counter another one of our former allies, the Russians.
Despite warnings from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US General George Patton, the Soviet Union set out to satisfy its desires to dominate all of Europe. At the end of WW II, the public relations hype of the meeting of the American and Soviet armies at Torgau on the Elbe had subsided, and more important practical matters had to be dealt with. Even though the US Army had already entered Prague, it was decided to let the Soviets take control of the city and the parties agreed to a line of separation further west of the Czech capital.
The ink wasn't even dry on the agreement when the Soviets decided to test the will of their American allies. What today may surprise many Americans, did not entirely surprise Colonel Hank Reed and the men of the 2d Cavalry Group, Mechanized. Posted along the line of separation, the regiment waited until our allies were within range, and then fired several 'shots across the bow' at the advancing Russian units, who promptly turned tail and ran back into Prague. The first rounds of the 'Cold' War had already been fired in May of 1945, but what had been obvious to Churchill, Gen. Patton and the men of the 2d Cavalry was brushed aside by the Truman administration and the Pentagon.
Despite the clear intentions of the Soviets, the US stuck to tradition and proceeded to conduct a rapid demobilization of the US armed forces. For example, the Army ground forces had numbered over 8 million at their peak, but by mid—1948 had been reduced to only ten Regular Army divisions, of which only one was trained and equipped as an armored division. As America hurried to bring the boys home, all the while ignoring the obvious fact that the Red Army was not demobilizing, another threat was materializing within Germany itself: the Nazi guerillas.
Popularly called the Werewolves, they were actually organized in the fall of 1944 with a core cadre of dedicated SS, Gestapo, and diehard Nazis from the Wehrmacht. There were approximately 6,000 guerillas available for duty by early winter of 1945, but their numbers grew as the end approached and the occupation of the Fatherland became reality. The Werewolves were well trained in the arts of ambushes, assasinations, sabotage, and the current favorite weapon of Iraqi terrorists: the roadside bomb. The first Soviet commandant of Berlin was killed in 1945, while US barracks were bombed, and individual soldiers were killed out while on patrol or out on the town.*
Even though the guerillas did not cause the same level of problems as say, the Mehdi militia in Iraq today, the US Army decided it needed units that were light and mobile, yet had more armor and firepower than the military police. In the face of what, in retrospect, was an insane policy of continued demobilization despite serious external and internal threats to the occupation of West Germany, commanders formed the US Constabulary primarily around armor cavalry organizations such as the aforementioned 2d Cavalry. Even these units were drastically reduced in number as West Germany gradually matured into a democracy, and as it developed its own police force.
By 1948, West German police assumed the Constabulary's internal police mission, while a fledgling border police force was beginning to take shape and would be operational by 1951. That a proficient police force and border patrol (Bundesgrenzschutz) could arise so quickly out of the total chaos and destruction of the Reich is a testament to the hard work of the Germans, and, of course having a highly trained veteran cadre of, well, you know...Nazis. That same year, the US Army was down to a measly ten divisions, but it would take another year for officials to honestly acknowledge that the Soviets had maintained their military at full strength, and a not—so—new threat had emerged.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) came into being in April 1949. It was a collective security alliance with 12 countries, but if any of the European countries' leaders had been told that in a few years the German Army would be resurrected, they would have fainted dead away. Yet, the stage had been set for the US and other Western powers to have to rely on each other for 'collective defense.' In other words, America's military options were limited by who else wanted to play along to give us sufficient combat power to do the job, despite the possession of the A—bomb. This is what is known as 'coalition warfare,' and it's a favorite strategy of John Kerry and his advisors.
In 1950, the Korean War hit Truman and the Pentagon right in the gut. A—bomb or not, the North Korean Peoples Army launched a bold attack on South Korea under the umbrella of Soviet nuclear capability. In essence, conventional ground and air power remained the primary strategic force of choice in the new nuclear age. Unfortunately, US ground forces were woefully unprepared in both numbers and training, thanks to a strategic naivet� on the part of both the civilian and military leadership. By the end of the Korean War, and during Eisenhower's first administration, the realization hit that the standoff with the Soviets in Central Europe required a commitment to quickly activating additional well—trained conventional forces, while not jeopardizing the economic boom at home. The only trained cadre of veterans easily deployable was there for the asking, in West Germany.
The concept of the Bundeswehr had actually been pondered by German officials some years before its eventual establishment. The Basic Law (Grundgesetz) of the new Federal Republic of Germany was drafted in May 1949, and naturally limited the new German Army strictly to self—defense missions, so it could not train for or conduct offensive operations. This language, however, had little grounding in operational realities. Limiting the Bundeswehr to its home territory was one thing, but wasn't counter—attacking Red Army formations on German territory an offensive operation? And to be a viable force, wouldn't the new army have to be equipped appropriately, that is, with panzers?
Then there was the matter of manning the force with the only experienced veterans available. Western Europeans and Americans were understandably concerned with the possibility of the new German military leaders having at best, mixed loyalties. What no one could doubt, though, was that re—arming West Germany was the only option available to the West given Germany's tremendous inherent industrial and military strength. In 1954, West Germany was granted its sovereignty, and the following year, the NATO alliance took the next logical step.
Ten years after Nazis surrendered, the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) authorized the establishment of the Bundeswehr, with recruitment drives launched shortly thereafter. As expected, most of the first volunteers were veterans of the Wehrmacht who had been serving in the border police (Bundesgrenzschutz——BGS). This was a reasonable technique, since the BGS was equipped as light infantry and could logically form the core of follow—on units. The US Army provided training facilities and equipment for the fledgling army, and by the end of 1956, the new German Army had about 65,000 men, including 10,000 from the BGS. Almost all of these men were WW II veterans. General Hans Speidel, Field Marshal Rommel's former Chief of Staff, became the first Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, and later became Commander of Allied Land Forces in Europe.**
Thanks to the Soviets, another one of our former 'allies,' what had been unthinkable ten years earlier, was now a reality. And it must be said, the Germans did not disappoint the alliance in their efforts. Ultimately, the German Army (das Heer) grew to over 500,000 troops, and West German arms industries produced some of the finest equipment in the world, including modern Leopard II main battle tanks. At the height of the Cold War, if the Red Army and the Warsaw Pact attacked into Central Europe, at M+1 (mobilization day plus one), the largest army on the continent did not belong to the USSR, but belonged to the Federal Republic of Germany.
It is obvious that the West Germans played a critical role in the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. But the genesis of their status as allies must be put in the proper historical perspective. The US rushed pell—mell into an ill—advised demobilization in the face of a mounting threat from the USSR, and a burgeoning guerilla force within the borders of the US occupation zone. The realization that the most powerful nation on earth could not simply rely on 'push button warfare' in place of trained conventional forces forced our civilian and military leadership into a course of action they would have rather avoided.
Training and equipping the German Army was a necessary evil, and obviously, it was not the fostering of any common bond or shared values; witness Germany's descent into socialism and it's anti—American stance over the Iraq war. The Germans as 'allies?' Hardly. As coalition partners? Absolutely. However, the mission is accomplished now, and it's time to come home, and prepare for other battles.
* The soldiers of the 'greatest generation' typically handled these killings in a fashion that would upset the sensitivities of many Americans today. It was not unheard of for US forces to arrest, convict, and execute German males at the ratio of 13 for every one US casualty. Not surprisingly, the Soviets were masters at this craft, frequently leveling entire towns and sending the populace to locations unknown, never to be heard from again.
** Speidel was ostensibly chosen for this post because of his supposed strong anti—Nazi sympathies, which it was hoped, would persuade the skeptics that the leadership of the new German Army could keep a handle on things. In fact, Speidel was jailed for seven months because of his role in the failed July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. Decades late however, some historians questioned his anti—Nazi credentials, and noted that several documents relating to his actions leading up to that day had been removed from his file by persons unknown in the occupation forces.
Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent