German Anti-Americanism: East & West Zones:
Clinical Notes for a Diagnosis—and Remedy
The emergence and spread in Western Europe of a kind of anti-American feeling more virulent than anything known before has been one of the most disquieting—and puzzling—factors in postwar transatlantic relations. T. R. Fyvel dealt with the causes of this phenomenon in England in our December 1952 number. Now Norbert Muhlen shows that, while some of the same factors operate in West Germany, they are reinforced by more than a few additional ones.
An hour after the American military train to West Germany left West Berlin it was brought to an unscheduled halt. We were at a small station, somewhere in Soviet Germany. Although it was dark outside, I could read the legends on some of the red and blue streamers floating from the house tops: “The railroad workers of Germany pledge eternal friendship to the peoples of the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies.” And: “Our national defense forces protect us from the Anglo-American germ murderers.” And, largest of them all: “Ami, go home!” The “Amis” were, of course, the Americans.
Supervised by a uniformed stationmaster, two old men and a girl in her teens were inspecting the rails under our train. At the end of the platform, two policemen and, somewhat apart and aloof, a Soviet Russian soldier, all three with rifles underslung, eyed our train with cold hostility. The only other person in sight stood near my car, a pretty girl with a heavy rucksack on her back, and a row of medals on her blue blouse that marked her as a member of the Free German Youth, a Communist organization.
From the window of the next compartment an American soldier leaned out and called to the girl: “Hya, Kamerad!” There were a few seconds of silence. She seemed not to have heard him. Then, speaking in a guarded, serious voice, almost without inflection, she said in English: “Ami, come back.”
A moment later the stationmaster barked some orders and our train pulled out toward the West.
The departure of the “Ami” was being demanded day and night, in word and melody, over radio and public loudspeaker, on posters, banners, and written on walls everywhere in East Germany. But the real feeling of the overwhelming majority of East Germans was expressed in those murmured, almost inaudible words uttered from the platform of a lonely way station by this girl of the Free German Youth.
The anti-American campaign had been started in earnest in East Germany a few weeks before the invasion of North Korea, in the late spring of 1950, and has been going at full blast ever since, hammering away at America as the chief enemy of peace, progress, and plenty, the global warmonger, the atom-bomb and germ-war criminal against humanity, the power that had committed unheard of atrocities in the past, was still committing them in the present, and preparing even more horrible ones for the wars of conquest and rapine it was planning for the future. Particularly, the leveling of German cities and the general ruination of Germany in the last war was an exclusively American “crime.” Only yesterday the Soviets had been boasting of the military prowess and ruthlessness that had brought them victory “singlehanded” over the Hitlerites; now they were commiserating with a Germany defeated, and victimized in defeat, by the Western imperialist barbarians.
Cartoons in the East German press personify the United States as a bull-necked, hard-faced general taking orders from diabolical-looking civilians with hooked noses that evoke memories of Julius Streicher’s Jew-baiting Stürmer. America itself is pictured as a country of concentration camps filled with workers, writers, Negroes, and friends of peace in general, while FBI agents—mounted—fire on masses of people clamoring for peace and bread. This is the kind of tyranny America aims to spread over the whole world—so says Soviet propaganda.
The only reason why the English language is still taught in some East German schools and universities—although no longer in many others—is, as the Communist students’ paper has explained, the interest in “the national peace movements . . . and the great peace fighters in America and England-Howard Fast, Albert Maltz, Stefan Heym, R. Palme Dutt, Sean O’Casey, and many others.”
And still, most East Germans, like the girl on that autumn night of 1952, continue to react to the shouted chorus of “Ami go home!” with an “Ami come back!” How Soviet anti-American propaganda has backfired was demonstrated quite impressively in 1951, when the East German press reported at length and under big headlines how Josephine Baker had been refused service in a New York night club. I discussed this story with a number of East Germans, and they all assured me that, “naturally,” they didn’t believe a word of it. Communist propaganda had overshot its mark so often that it is now met with automatic disbelief even when it has some truth in it.
But there is a deeper reason for the failure of the “hate America” campaign. Soviet propaganda prates constantly about the freedom, progress, and happiness of life in East Germany itself, in the other satellite countries, and, most of all, in the Soviet Union. From their own personal experience most of the East Germans know that all this is lies. So they assume that all Soviet propaganda against the United States is equally a lie, indeed, that the opposite must be true. Many show themselves aware that the Soviet version of “American” reality is really the projected picture of the Soviet reality that they themselves know only too well.
“Potato bugs” is the derisive label given to charges the Soviets level at America. For the “hate America” campaign had begun with the story that American planes had dropped Colorado beetles—an insect popularly called “potato bug”—over East Germany in order to destroy her potato crop (and also by way of training American aviators for germ warfare, and at the same time opening up a market for Wall Street’s insecticides). But the East Germans never spotted any bug-carrying American planes, and they soon learned the real reason why their potato fields were full of beetles, and why they were unable to get rid of them—unlike West Germany, which had also been visited by the pests. East German insect-control experts had been fired as non-Communists, and East Germany’s stocks of insecticide had been transferred to Poland on Russian orders. By 1952 people in East Germany were sentenced to jail just for muttering “potato bug.”
Any credence given to the charge of warmongering against America has increased rather than taken away from her popularity. Quite a few East Germans with whom I talked in 1952 said: “Lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende”—better an end with terror, than a terror without end.
One point made by Soviet propaganda the East Germans do take at face value: that America is the main antagonist of the Soviets on the world scene. Accordingly they tend to believe, or at least to hope, that America is working energetically to weaken and eventually overthrow Communist rule in East Europe, just as they know from their own experience that Soviet Russia is working assiduously to weaken and eventually overthrow the rule of “Wall Street” in the West. Many East Germans who had escaped to the West told me of their disappointment when they learned that America—far from being war-minded at all—seemed rather inclined to seek “peaceful co-existence” with the Communist world.
In little, private gestures which are almost public demonstrations and yet so unpolitical that they are hard to cope with officially, East Germans show their pro-American feelings—when, for instance, they wear brightly checkered shirts and Ringelsöckchen, socks with loud vertical stripes that are considered particularly American; when they play and dance American jazz; even when they admit their taste for American movies, Coca-Cola, and chewing gum—all these having been denounced by the Communists as especially despicable instruments of corruption.
In Marked contrast to its failure in East Germany, anti-American propaganda has borne rich harvest in West Germany. True, it has rarely produced violent and genuine hatred, and it is hard to decide whether it is a majority, or a very substantial minority, that responds to it. But it is also true that many West Germans have come to dislike America rather intensely, and in terms of distorted stereotypes. In this writer’s opinion, anti-American feeling in West Germany has become more widespread and determined during the past year, and is still on the rise.
A not inconsiderable part of this feeling—though by no means all of it—is due to Soviet propaganda that seeks to direct general fears and insecurities, as well as latent resentments, into anti-American channels. The Communists know that they cannot hope to create any pro-Soviet feeling among the West Germans, who have learned too much from prisoners of war returned from Russia, and from expellees and refugees from East Germany, to be susceptible to illusions about the Communist reality. But many West Germans, convinced that most American propaganda against Soviet Russia is true, assume that much of what the Russians say against America is likewise true. No longer hoping to draw West Germany closer to themselves, the Soviets can at least try to draw her away from America. According to Stalin’s own words, disunity among the “capitalist countries” has now become a mainstay of Soviet policy.
“It matters very much to us,” wrote Berlin’s Mayor Ernst Reuter recently in the magazine Der Monat, “that anti-Americanism be recognized as a weapon in the Soviet fight against us.” This weapon could persuade Germans to stand by neutrally and passively instead of taking measures to defend themselves in a conflict between East and West.
A dance act I saw in a shabby night club on Hamburg’s waterfront expressed the mood of many West Germans. A young girl, nude but for a coquettish nightcap that identified her to the audience as the symbol of Germany, was wooed, first by a Russian who alternately played the balalaika and threatened her with a whip; then by a mustachioed Frenchman who cavorted with her gallantly; then by a wooden-faced Britisher who did nothing at all to win her favor; and finally by an American who chewed gum, had pockets bulging with bottles and cigarettes, and hummed a children’s song. But the nude girl rejected them all. Then, as the four foreigners pulled out their guns and began firing at each other, a German boy appeared from the wings and danced away with the girl, peacefully and happily. Acts similar in point were performed in almost every political cabaret; one was put into a movie; and all were applauded.
Opinion polls have found virtual unanimity among Germans in saying that personal contact with American soldiers has been infinitely more pleasant than with their Russian counterparts. But this did not prevent large numbers of those interviewed from expressing dislike of both powers, with about one-third of the respondents revealing almost identically hostile stereotypes about both Russians and Americans.
To Some degree, these attitudes merely reflect West German resentment of the continuing occupation by foreigners, and their slowly recovering self-confidence.1 This had led to the formation of hostile stereotypes that are extended from the soldiers of the occupying powers to cover the national characters of the countries they come from. These new prejudices have, in the case of America, merged widely with century-old stereotypes about our country. What the unfriendly or hostile prejudices of the “anti-American” West Germans amount to was summed up in a phrase I often heard in West Germany: “The Americans are Russians with creased pants.” Or Americans are like Russians, only less so.
In the eyes of many West Germans, both the Russians and the Americans are “primitive”—or, more politely, “young people” (or “childish,” “naive,” “simple-minded”). What makes the revival of the traditional Old World prejudices against newer countries so dangerous now is that it is joined to a second stereotype of much more recent origin—that America, driven like Russia by greed for power, is out to impose her own inferior way of life on the world. To a substantial minority of West Germans “the” American and “the” Russian are both “tough” and “arrogant,” if not “brutal” and even “cruel.” “The” American is thought of as “well-dressed” and “worldly,” while “the” Russian strikes them as more primitive and less veneered. But though there is much talk about the “Russian soul,” which swings between extremes of goodness and bestiality, no mention is ever made of an “American soul.”
As in all cases of generalized group prejudice, anti-American clichès are based on a few actual experiences and rational observations that—for reasons deep-set in the nature and the situation of the prejudiced—are overemphasized and distorted. Thus, the hostile belief that America lusts for power and world rule, widespread in all Europe as well as in Western Germany, is the defensive reaction of a continent down-graded in relation to a new world power. In Germany’s case, the emotional factors are both deeper and more intense than in other countries, for obvious reasons—the hugeness of the Third Reich’s crimes against peace and humanity, the thoroughness of her defeat, and her consequently larger loss of status both as a power and as a culture in comparison to the “upstart” United States. Unhappily—and inevitably—certain details of American policy in West Germany, especially in the first four postwar years, sometimes lent credence to the suspicion that the United States aimed to make over other countries in her own image. Quite a few occupation officials insisted that the regeneration of the Germans required a wholesale and literal copying of American civilization, especially in those aspects, often minor, in which they themselves happened to be experts. An American with the mission of democratizing the German press decreed that the make-up, layout, and contents of German newspapers were to be exactly like those in American newspapers; an education expert advised German students to address their teachers by their first names rather than as Herr Professor; a Military Government specialist decreed that separate municipal boards of health rather than the traditional health departments of the German police were to control public health matters. In these and many other such essentially unimportant cases, West Germans saw evidence of an American desire to create a “satellite,” rather than the mere provinciality of administrators who conceived of democracy as a strict adherence to the patterns of their home towns. There were also all the Americans who continually scolded the Germans for their lack of democracy—seemingly unaware of the fact that democracy is learned only by doing; that the Germans have had little chance of practicing it, and that democracy is in any case no ready-to-wear export article. And the Germans, on their side, too often sharing the notion that democracy was to come to them as a gift from above, did not fail to blame the Americans for their own political shortcomings.
Actually, a deep fear of being swallowed up by cultures—and continents—thought to be younger, more primitive, and therefore more powerful than the old, and presumably weaker, culture of Europe also underlies the resistance to “Americanism.” In a confidential article circulated by the most progressive element of German industry, we read: “The author has the impression that in Russia as well as in the United States a new civilization is emerging, and that both these civilizations have more in common with each other than with Western [abendlaendisch] civilization. Moscow and Washington are inwardly in very close proximity, and the difference between them lies fundamentally only in the means by which they realize themselves.”
While direct experiences of hoodlumism at the hands of the American occupation forces were few, there was hearsay and literature aplenty to testify to the “brutality” and “toughness” of Americans. The more overwhelming the massive evidence of Nazi crimes and brutality, the harder did many Germans try to believe that the crimes of other nations were “just as bad”; occasional American excesses became “atrocities,” while at the same time it began to be fashionable in Germany to speak of Nazi atrocities as “excesses.” The first anti-American book to win popularity in postwar Germany was the translation of a war novel published here in 1948: The Crusaders by Stefan Heym. Its main villains included a captain who considered rape and black market operations as among his privileges, a sadistic sergeant, and a selfish, hypocritical major who worked for Wall Street. Although Heym’s book was also “anti-German,” it became a postwar best-seller in West Germany. Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was likewise successful in German translation as a documentation of American army “brutality”—and reinforced the stereotype of American brutishness and spiritual squalor.
Most impressive however, was the tremendous success of Ernst von Salomon’s The Questionnaire in 1951, the first anti-American book by a German author. Von Salomon, a cynical and irresponsible adventurer-journalist who had been involved in the murder of Walter Rathenau and in other terroristic acts in the 1920’s, describes, with a certain masochistic relish, the atrocities, stupidities, brutalities, and acts of corruption supposedly committed by Americans in the course of their conquest and occupation of Germany.
Stories about terror in the United States itself have also found believers in West Germany. Whenever I heard West Germans mention concentration camps in both America and Russia, I found them quoting such “non-Communist” sources as—in about that order—Simone de Beauvoir’s American travelogue, reports of anti-Red “hysteria” and “witchhunts” sent by at least two New York correspondents of West German newspapers, and the “liberal” weeklies published in London and New York. The information agencies run in Germany by the U.S. Department of State are not much help. When this reporter visited Amerika-Haus, in Ulm last fall, the only periodicals on the open shelves of its library were the Nation, The New Statesman and Nation, and Commonweal—only the last of which applies the same standards both to the Soviet Union and the United States. Persistent inquiries revealed a back room where other American weeklies and monthlies were piled in stacks. Of the two show windows of Amerika-Haus in Ulm, one was devoted to an explanation of the rules of baseball; the other, to tobacco, with pictures of starved-looking tobacco workers, a German translation of Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road, and two outdated books on the history of tobacco.
The intellectual soil for anti-American attitudes was well prepared by the Communist and leftist propaganda of the 1920’s, when the Communists and their fellow-travelers were in control of large areas of Germany’s intellectual life. They presented a United States dominated by monopoly capitalism and ridden by terror and poverty—the appropriate dark contrast to the glowing “Great Experiment” in Russia. The American books most widely read in Germany were those of Upton Sinclair, Michael Gold, and others, denouncing conditions in this country. Travel books on America by Communists or fellow-travelers like Egon Erwin Kisch, A. Hollitscher, and Maria Leitner, enjoyed wide circulation. During the Nazi era, the same notions about America continued to be circulated, but with Hitler’s racial angle added to the attacks on “plutocracy.” For many Germans born before 1920, these stereotypes were their first introduction to things American, and they continue to associate America with the Great Depression, Sacco and Vanzetti, and pre-Roosevelt union-baiting.
Fresh fuel is provided today by highly colored misinterpretations of Congressional investigations, the death sentences on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the deportations of foreign-born Communist leaders—all this, combined with wildly exaggerated and often lying rumors, to drive home the point that terror rules in America as well as in Soviet Russia, that dissent is persecuted in America too, and that both countries are equally cowed by the state, secret police, and informers, the only difference being that in America terror cloaks itself in hypocritical professions of allegiance to the cause of liberty.
What is striking about most of this anti-American prejudice is not the misinformation as such. I was even more struck by the speed with which, after I would point out factual absurdities, many West Germans switched to equally erroneous anti-American assertions that contradicted their first ones. Hardly had I finished telling the highly educated editor of a neutralist paper that all his talk about concentration camps in America like those in Russia was nonsense than he began attacking America for exactly the opposite reason—that she permitted too much liberty. A country needed freedom—he said—as well as order, but while they had too much order in the Soviet Russia, they had too little of it in America, and this explains the social injustice, the sexual looseness, and “die Pin-up-Kultur.”
A few days later, in another city, a friend took me to a group of intellectuals who had met to discuss which books they were to blacklist as Nazi literature. Many of the titles they named, among them some by American authors, could by no stretch of the imagination be called Nazi, and I tried to tell them how dangerous was such suppression of unpleasant ideas. They replied, agitatedly, “Your American freedom is the most dangerous of all; it only leads to new Hitlers!” A little later they praised two American novels that voiced protest against American social and political conditions—the kind of protests that are misunderstood abroad as “anti-American,” and neither of which, in my opinion, was a noteworthy example of American writing. After pointing this out I was lectured, this time with some asperity, on the “anti-Communist hysteria in America” that went to the extreme of suppressing these “progressive” books. To my remark that one of these books, Norman Mailer’s Barbary Shore, had not been suppressed, but simply disliked by critics, they replied that this went to show that book-reviewing, too, was unfree in America. As far as I know, there were no Communists at this meeting.
I told a Bavarian landowner, whose family castle has been haunted by the same ghost since the 18th century, about the expropriation and expulsion of East German landowners. He knew nothing about that, but told me angrily that the “same thing” had happened in his neck of the woods—the “Amis” had taken over a piece of land (after due payment to its owner) for a drilling ground. He lived close to the Iron Curtain, and I told him that it was to his own interest if the “Amis” were militarily prepared for invasion from the East. To which he replied that the “Amis” were sissies, much too softhearted and pacifistic to be able or willing to fight the Soviets and defend his property.
But while almost any prejudice can be backed up by odds and ends of distorted fact, and while the Soviet propagandists do their best to supply such fact, the deeper reason why many Germans believe what they do about America is that they want to. “Anti-Americanism” permits them to feel justified in rejecting or postponing the necessity and obligation to choose between East and West. If they can persuade themselves that America is as objectionable as Russia, they will be able to square their neutralism with their consciences.
Many West Germans expect more safety from a neutral attitude, and since it is the Americans who are pressing them to side with the West, it is America that they feel as more immediately threatening. For above all else, they fear another war. After Eisenhower had said in an election speech that “the American conscience can never know peace until those people [those “now suffering under the Russian pall”] are restored again to being masters of their fate,” the whole press in West Germany fell into a panic. ‘This means that he wants war, that America plans to liberate the people behind the Iron Curtain,” I was told by practically everybody I met in Munich and Frankfort during the following week. I tried to explain that what Eisenhower had said did not at all justify such an interpretation, and that there were only a few uninfluential Americans who wanted a war. But I found no credence. To the fearful German mind, America’s “crusading spirit” spelled out an aggressive war against the Soviet world.2
But the same Germans, in the course of the very same conversations, almost always charged America with the diametrically opposite fault—the “Amis” would leave them in the lurch when Russia attacked. That the Americans should plan a “provocative” attack to liberate the peoples inside the Iron Curtain, and at the same time plan to retreat without defending the free peoples outside it, was of course completely irrational. But it served as a rationalization for the desire to remain neutral and pursue one’s own personal, local, and national interests without interference from and responsibility to the rest of the world.
Whereas many East Germans feel that they have little to lose and something to win by a war, most West Germans feel that they have little to win and everything to lose. If they take sides, they reason, the other side is sure to drop atom bombs on them—it makes little difference whose. Early in the Korean war, with West Germany close to panic, George N. Shuster, then the U. S. Land Commissioner for Bavaria, wisely told his listeners in a radio speech from Munich, that the first atom bomb was more likely to be dropped on New York than Munich. German friends told me next day they had heard Dr. Shuster say the first atom bombs would fall, not on New York, but on Munich!
These fearful West Germans also hope that if they remain neutral in a new war they will be occupied—not devastated—by the Russians and then liberated—not devastated—by the Americans. In sum, they grasp at the chance of surviving as neutrals that they mightn’t have as partisans, whatever happened. “When the Russians come, they will take away four of my six cows,” a shrewd peasant in an outlying Bavarian valley said, “but if war comes and we fight, all my cows will be killed, and myself in addition.”
Added to this West German distrust about the aims of American leadership, whether in peace or war, is the feeling that the Americans have not yet learned the technique of leadership as a world power (most Germans, whether pro- or anti-British, did admire the British in this respect). American policy in Germany since 1945, they believe, has had no line of its own, acting merely in reflex to the Soviet line, reversing its own aims whenever the latter changed its aims. The West Germans forget that their present situation—for which the disastrous Nazi policy is largely responsible—would justify a great sense of insecurity no matter how expert those charged with protecting them against Russia. But with the irrationality of fear, they prefer to suppress their awareness of the reality of the Soviet threat and the necessity of measures of self-defense; instead, they blame America for insisting that they be aware of it, and stand reality on its head by finding it necessary to “defend” themselves against “American” threats.
Remembering that the term “anti-Americanism” lumps together a great array of opinions and attitudes that vary strongly in depth and intensity, is it possible to arrive at any reliable breakdown of German public opinion in this respect? We can hazard a few judgments as to the most publicized sectors. The West German group that actually does hate America, except for the very few Communists, revolves in the main around the neo-Nazis, and altogether this group is today, apparently, quite small. The leaders of the neo-Nazis are uninhibited in their denunciations of America—”that country whose presidents think they are God and want to rule the world, and who don’t care whether the rest of mankind croaks as long as they make their profits under humanitarian pretenses!” That is how Fritz Doris, the leader of the now dissolved neo-Nazi SRP, spoke when I interviewed him. He claimed that it was Wall Street’s secret agents who broke up the friendship and alliance between Hitler and Stalin in 1941. And Doris, like his fellow neo-Nazis, dreams of a renewal of the alliance between “the German and the Russian national socialisms” in a solid totalitarian front against the West. Unlike the old-style Nazis, the new ones admire the Soviet Union outspokenly and accept the support of her agents.3
The other sectors of neutralist opinion differ in that, opposing American policy, they neither hate America nor prefer Russia. The only exception is perhaps the Reverend Dr. Martin Niemöller, who for personal as well as sectarian reasons has in the last years drifted into a qualified pro-Sovietism. On a visit to Moscow in 1952, he discovered the “religious soul” of Bolshevism and glowingly reported the same after his return. America, on the other hand, seems to him to be dominated by a sinister pro-Catholic, anti-German conspiracy. But Niemöller’s anti-Americanism and pro-Sovietism divides him even from his own political friends at home.
A Similar neutralism, more anti-American than anti-Soviet in complexion, prevails among a small group of Social Democrats and trade unionists whose dogmatic Marxism leads them to see America as the capitalist devil and Soviet Russia as merely an erring proletarian brother who may still return to the truly socialist fold. One of these Socialists—not without influence on the middle levels of his party, and with a personal animus against America, where he spent several years—explained to me that the plan for German divisions in the European Defense Community was dreamed up by American and German capitalists, who wanted to build a “civil-war army” as a safeguard against a social revolution by the “German working masses.”
In contrast, the majority of the Social Democratic spokesmen and leaders, and an even greater majority of their rank-and-filers, although sharing the isolationist, anti-militarist, neutralist mood of West Germany, at the same time oppose and reject Soviet Russia with strength and sincerity. Their dislike and distrust of America are much less militant, and in a great many cases almost nonexistent. I heard anti-American tirades from only two Socialist leaders, but suspicions and insinuations from quite a few. These last, however, wanted to justify an attitude of neutralism that was originally motivated by political expediency more than anything else; for the sake of election strategy, they had to be in total opposition to Adenauer’s government, and because Adenauer was identified with pro-Americanism, they had to be anti-American. This was part of their “left nationalism,” which has been a novel but widespread postwar manifestation in the German as well as in other European Socialist parties.
Anti-Americanism also obtains among the rightist parties—especially in the right wing of the Free Democratic party, and in the Deutsche, or German, party—but it is to some extent checked by the fact that these parties are part of the ruling coalition, whose strongest component is pro-American. On the whole, the attitude of the German political right is compounded of the cultural arrogance of the European upper classes in general and a peculiarly German national superciliousness that is voiced most articulately, though by no means exclusively, by spokesmen of the educated middle classes.
Anti-Americanism and most of its arguments and rationalizations are, however, not the monopoly of any one class in German society—just as adherence no less than opposition to Nazism could not be identified with any one social class (Marxist stereotypes to the contrary notwithstanding). Anti-Americanism, as an increasing mood and sentiment, permeates all social classes and all parties, in West Germany.
Are there West Germans that can be con. sidered—and who consider themselves—to be friends of America? Who are they? On the political plane, there is mainly Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who is leading his country, quite autocratically to be sure, toward integration with the West and effective defense against the East, and away from nationalism in the isolationist-neutralist as well as in other senses. There are also a small minority of Social Democrats without much influence inside their party, yet whose voices carry strong moral and ideological weight with the public at large. Outstanding in this group are the mayors of the three cities of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen—Ernst Reuter, Max Brauer, and Wilhelm Kaisen. The pro-American wing of the German Federation of Labor is considerably stronger than its Social Democratic counterpart, and held the reins of that organization up to the fall of 1952, when it was overthrown by a slight majority in favor of the regular Socialist party line. A sizable number of politically unaffiliated Germans—many of them intellectuals and one-time visitors to America through the American government-sponsored Exchange Program—must also be counted among the “anti-anti-Americans.”
Anti-Americanism in print is to be found only rarely in serious publications of any real intellectual level. It is more frequent, however, in a certain part of the daily press, which plays it up “to sell papers” competitively against the newspapers that were licensed by the Allied powers and remain strongly pro-American. Where anti-Americanism abounds most of all in print is in several of the weekly illustrated magazines that cater to a public of lower educational standards, and in farmers’ publications.
How can an effective fight be made against anti-Americanism? First and foremost, such a fight must be waged by the Germans themselves, as by the other European peoples afflicted with it. Only through a conscious process of soul-searching and self-reeducation can the Germans overcome the fears, resentments, and difficulties from which their prejudices and suspicions stem. They must, as Mayor Reuter told this writer, understand that America’s new power, and their own weakness, result from their own errors—errors that brought war and totalitarianism, and with which America had little to do. Only if they first overcome the habits of thought which led to such errors, Reuter has repeatedly said, can they find new and satisfactory ways of living with one another as well as with America. “Unfortunately, one cannot say that the European peoples have made serious progress in this effort,” was Reuter’s conclusion. This was at the end of 1952.
But there remain substantial areas in which America herself can contribute to a weakening of the sentiment against her and to the siphoning off of its more explosive ingredients. This is a main objective of that much abused “war of ideas” which in this country has been often, and is still, misinterpreted to be nothing more than a “war of words” or “ideological warfare,” that is, a contest of efficient propaganda techniques. In my eyes, this misunderstanding is tragic. The key is not here but in the genuine interchange of ideas through discussion and education—mere advertising and propaganda techniques are no substitute, indeed worsen the situation—and, infinitely more important, in sound, definite action, mutually understood and entered into by the West Germans and the Western peoples.
Shrewd, Moscow-trained Edward Schulz, who up to 1951 was second in command of the East German Communist propaganda organization, told me that he and his former colleagues felt that “American propaganda was not at all bad, and often quite excellent.” Nevertheless, he said, the Communists were not afraid of it because it was not backed up by corresponding action. “The Leninist insight,” as he put it, of the unity of propaganda and action has not been understood by the democracies, and this has caused their propaganda to fail.
That “actions speak louder than words,” this truism is indeed much ignored on our side of the “war of ideas.” Ideas have to be brought to life in action before they can be advanced in propaganda, which can only advertise our policy, our purpose, our cause, not of itself counterattack, challenge, and refute anti-American Soviet propaganda, much less win the West German people over to our side. It is policy in practice, an implemented program, that will decide whether in time to come West Germany will join with us, or stand aside in sulking hostility in a neutralist limbo.
Even granting that the “words” from America’s many propaganda organs were always honest, truthful, intelligent, and clear (which they by no means always are—but that’s a different story), it still remains true that they have often been contradicted—sometimes only by isolated acts, but of a kind whose dramatic character allows them to become symbols—by the American program in action, and thus deprived of their power to persuade.
Every week several thousand refugees arrive in West Berlin from the East. At least a majority of them had good reason to fear for their lives or liberty under the Soviets; a smaller number had to flee because they had actively fought against the Russians. Whether they are housed inside or outside refugee camps, most of them are left to vegetate in incredibly miserable conditions. America acts in accordance with the asumption that “refugees are the sole responsibility of the Germans.” Whatever our propaganda to the contrary, are not West Germans likely to conclude from this that America has no interest in the victims of slavery, believing only in liberation through war? When America chooses to cooperate with, and support, shady, self-seeking adventurers—for instance, in the case of the neo-Nazi hoodlums in the League of German Youth, who were trained in commando techniques—while abandoning independent, courageous, impoverished friends of freedom and of America to their own devices, she acts only to undermine her propaganda.
Another cause of friction, minor but not altogether irrelevant, is the present American image of Germany. Understanding works both ways, and it is not helped when influential American newspapers continue to show an undiscriminating hostility to things German by the selection, slanting, and editorial interpretation of German news. Their distrust, however much warranted by the past, is nevertheless often arbitrary, and unsubstantiated by the facts of the present. And among Germans it has reinforced the impression that America does not judge them on their own merits, and still looks upon them more as enemies than allies; which makes it all the harder for America’s real friends in Germany to speak out and win supporters, while it enables the anti-Americans, who are almost always anti-democratic, to back up their arguments by saying, “See, the Americans still reject us in toto, have no faith in us, no matter what we do!”
In the final analysis, anti-Americanism in West Germany will wane only when the West Germans themselves begin to feel really secure, both domestically and internationally. But the first step toward this, must be taken by themselves; only then can others help them. It is for the Germans themselves to learn the habits of self-criticism and self-reliance that go with a democratic community; and they must face up to and act on the realities and responsibilities of their situation instead of trying to find scapegoats to relieve them of the burden of choice and decision. If the West Germans are to be in the position to determine their own fate, it will be only as free citizens conscious of the values and aims they share with the West, and ready of their own will to defend these to the last ditch if it becomes necessary. Such values and aims are not compatible with militarism and hyper-nationalism, and cannot be defended by them—nor by “providential” leaders with mandates empowering them exclusively to do the political thinking and deciding for a whole nation. Just as little can they be defended by isolationist neutralism.
As long as the great majority of West Germans remain as atomized and unpolitical as they were in 1945—which, unhappily they still do—they cannot attain even the beginnings of the security they yearn for. Until they begin to think politically they will not become aware of the real interests that bind them to the West, and to America—common interests upon which their security, as much as the West’s, depends. It is these Unpolitische, “unpoliticals,” who continue, as before, to present the most serious obstacle to the rebirth of Germany as a healthy community. They are people who “just don’t care” about the common weal—or at least not enough to be willing to do something or sacrifice something for it. Much as they might dislike or fear certain eventualities, national no less than international, the Unpolitische will not take steps of their own accord to avert or oppose them; rather, they accept them passively and resign themselves—and, afterwards, find somebody else to blame. The big question is whether those West Germans who are genuinely anti-totalitarian and consciously pro-Western—the minority of free citizens—will be strong enough to carry the unpolitical majority with them in the future. In this writer’s opinion, there is still a chance that they will.
But if that chance is to be taken advantage of, it would be well if we in the West were at this juncture to make a special effort, by word and deed, to get through to the Germans, and to the other peoples of Europe, just how much in common we have to lose—and to win.
1 ln 1952, according to the findings of EMNID, the Bielefeld Institute for Market and Opinion Research, only 14 per cent of West Germans saw in the occupation of their country a “welcome protection,” 35 per cent “an inevitable necessity,” and 33 per cent an “undesirable burden”; 19 per cent gave no opinion.
2 In American usage, “crusade” can mean, among other things, “any remedial enterprise undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm,” according to Webster's Dictionary. In German usage, Kreuzzug is exclusively identified with “the wars of the Occident to liberate the Holy Land, and against other infidels,” according to Herder's Volks-Lexikon. Therefore, when Germans hear Americans speak of a “crusade,” they see a Kreuzzug, “a holy war,” of armed fanatics against the East.
3 Anti-Americanism of this kind is often reinforced by anti-Semitism in Germany. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Robert M. Kempner, and other Jewish Americans who were identified with postwar policies of severity toward Germany are cited to show that these policies were motivated by the Jewish “thirst for revenge”; the fact that other American and British Jews strongly opposed these same policies is never mentioned. In an equally gratuitous way, “refugees,” as distinct from “native Americans,” are particularly singled out in complaints about the American treatment of Germany.
Since the Prague trials, Communist propaganda from East Germany, and its camouflaged West German outlets like the Munich weekly Deutsche Woche, have gone to great lengths to identify “Jewish bourgeois nationalists,” “Zionists,” and Jews in general, with “Wall Street,” “American imperialism,” and America in general. Adenauer is consistently denounced for having sold out to Israel on Wall Street's orders. At the same time America herself continues to be accused of anti-Semitism, official and otherwise.