Hans Braun, Uta Gerhardt, Everhard Holtmann, eds. Die lange Stunde Null: Gelenkter sozialer Wandel in Westdeutschland nach 1945. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag, 2007. 345 pp. ISBN 978-3-8329-2870-4.
Reviewed by Frederick L. McKitrick (Department of History and Anthropology, Monmouth University)
Published on H-German (September, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
A New Day for Germany
The popular and oft-cited phrase "zero hour" (Stunde Null), the moment of total capitulation on May 8, 1945, has been used in a double sense. First, it captured the sense of wonder, experienced by Germans who lived through those years, that they could emerge from the rubble to a rebuild a peaceful and prosperous nation within a mere decade. Second, it expressed the proud sense of a break with an authoritarian and militaristic past. Notwithstanding the depth of cultural resonance the phrase may continue to have, historians have tended to treat it as a popular myth (like the miracle in "economic miracle") and prefer to stress continuity--whether from Weimar or the Third Reich--of personnel and institutions. This collection of essays firmly, and properly, reasserts the significance of an actual "zero hour."
The volume has two organizing principles: The first is that a radical, decisive break with the past did succeed in transforming Germany's authoritarian social, economic, and political system into a democratic and genuinely competitive one. Moreover, that transformation must be viewed as "long" (1945-49), and not simply as imposed from the outside, but rather as the outcome of interplay between internal German impulses to change that responded to the exogenous forces of the occupation. The second organizing principle is the infusion of social science. The contributors are drawn from the disciplines of history, philosophy, political science, sociology, and theology. The promise is that they will both treat the enormous influence played by social scientists (many of them German émigrés) in the formulation of occupation policy (where the focus falls predominantly on the United States) and that they will use social science concepts (ritual analysis, systems analysis) to bring a much needed theoretical structure to the discussion of this period. The approach, the editors say, is needed because social scientists have neglected this crucial period and historical accounts tend to stress "description" at the expense of theory.
The essays are grouped into three thematic sections. The first treats aspects of American planning for occupation. Sociologist Uta Gerhardt argues against the view that the Morgenthau Plan and the Joint Chiefs of Staff directive (JCS 1067) of April 26, 1945, which embodied the treasury secretary's views, foresaw a Carthaginian peace, and that U.S. policy was initially punitive and only shifted course with the onset of the Cold War in 1947. She argues for a continuity in U.S. occupation policy that reflected the views of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons (who served briefly as a consultant to the Enemy Board of the Foreign Economic Administration). From the start, policy worked toward Germany's economic revival, one that would reorient German capitalism away from cartels, autarky, and militarism and toward true competition and peaceful multilateralism.
In the next essay, historian Marita Kraus develops the thesis of the continuity of U.S. occupation policy at the level of policy implementation on the ground. Again contrary to scholars who have pinpointed a reversal of U.S. policy with the onset of the Cold War, her essay argues that U.S. occupation proceeded according to clear constructive guidelines, formulated at least by August 1944 and later spelled out in the Handbook for Military Government for Germany. Second, countering the widespread contemporary impression of inadequately prepared and naïve American military personnel, she shows that many were well qualified with solid backgrounds in their fields, including a number of Harvard and Yale professors of sociology, art, and archeology (presumably immune to naïveté), brought in to help rebuild German cultural institutions. They were, moreover, subject to rigorous periodic review. Field reports were well formulated and perceptive, and authorities acted upon their recommendations. Central to her discussion are the substantive and symbolic importance of the Allied rituals of denazification, where she argues, the purpose was less to punish than to build anew. The cathartic effect of removing symbols of National Socialist rule (street names, public places) resonated deeply and was movingly expressed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung's first editorial upon resuming publication in October 1945, which reflected how the lead used in the type for Mein Kampf (1925) was melted down and recast in the service of a free press.
The interesting contribution of church historian Heike Springhart takes a narrower focus on the institutions of the churches and the role envisioned for them by the United States in effecting a spiritual as well as institutional transition to democracy. Because both major institutional churches (the author speaks generally without differentiating between them) survived the Third Reich intact, the Allies regarded them as playing an essential role in the spiritual and social "reeducation" of the German people--even as they harbored no illusions as to the authoritarian leanings of most churchmen. The Americans especially saw in the universalism of the church--precisely what the Nazis so hated about it--the spiritual equivalent of economic multilateralism and political integration into world community. Influential in Washington in this respect were the ideas of the psychiatrist Richard Brickner, who saw in the church the potential to furnish the "therapy" necessary to dismantle the "paranoid personality" and "aggression" of German society. Also influential was Talcott Parsons, who saw the church as able to "stabilize" German society in the wake of still-strong insecurities left in the wake of its rapid industrialization. For their part, German theologians built upon the ideals of Eric Voegelin, who had written in 1938 of a "political religion"; that is, a religion engaged in the world and specifically in the process of breaking down barriers between people--the same sort of barriers of class identification that had led to the political fragmentation of the 1920s.
The book's second section shifts from occupiers to the occupied and to the Germans' treatment of their National Socialist legacy. Historian Edgar Wolfram's article uses a brief overview of the judicial treatment of Nazi criminals and the types of sentences handed out to them over the course of the Federal Republic both to hold a mirror up to some basic assumptions of West German society and to examine how the trials reflected the way in which Germans came to terms with their recent past. Wolfram argues that the outcome of the early Allied-organized trials (Nuremberg 1945-46 and the Army trials of 1948-49) was the popular view that responsibility for Nazi crimes rested with Adolf Hitler, the party leadership, and the SS, but not with the Wehrmacht, and that ordinary Germans were passive sufferers. In the German-run trials in the ensuing decades, Wolfram argues, the judges reflected the prevailing inability to carry out a consequential punishment of Nazi crimes. The irony today is that, as time and statutes of limitations put more and more perpetrators out of reach, the public is more ready to demand their punishment.
Historian Edith Riam looks at the trials of Nazi criminals that took place from 1945 to 1950 and were carried out by the Germans themselves. These events have received far less scholarly attention than the spectacular trials of that period conducted by the Allies. Based on the number of convictions (5,367) and the even greater number of judicial inquiries held about Nazi criminals (about twice that), she concludes that one can speak of a "zero hour" in West German justice, even given the large continuity of Nazi personnel in the court system. The sheer numbers seem less impressive when one considers that the trials took place under strong Allied expectations, which peaked in 1948 and declined sharply afterwards. Moreover, she says, until we know more about the motives of the prosecutors, the severity of the sentences, whether they were actually carried out, and the reaction of the German public, these conclusions must remain provisional.
Philosopher Gösta Gantner, in a perceptive contribution, argues for a "zero hour" in philosophy as reflected in the postwar thought of Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, and Theodor W. Adorno. Each of them worked to overcome the nationalist "German philosophy" of the Nazi era, which celebrated the irrational and posited the existence of a unique "German" thought that unified the German "racial community." Jaspers, in a reassertion of the rationalist, universalist values of the Enlightenment, began the debate on the problem of guilt (criminal, political, moral, and metaphysical) in 1946 with the purpose of making good debts to Germany's victims and cleansing the German soul, as well as the building up of social and political institutions so that Germany could live in peace with its European neighbors. Gantner's assertion of Heidegger's centrality in the creation of a philosophical "zero hour" may surprise readers familiar with his involvement with Nazism; moreover, Gantner bases the claims in the essay it on a single passage of a lecture delivered in 1949 and concedes that his ideas received only marginal attention. But Heidegger's contribution in the wake of the mass, anonymous deaths of Auschwitz was to insist upon the individuality of death and the restoration of rationality. Finally, Adorno contributed an insistence that one could not simply return to Enlightenment, but must draw a line under the old society. Adorno doubted that this new society could be bourgeois, because a capitalist economy would require a strong, potentially totalitarian state in order to keep antagonistic social groups in order. He pursued a general direction of political and cultural self-understanding.
The articles in the book's third section examine academic research. Sociologist Hans Braun reviews the already well-known public opinion surveys conducted by American social scientists of Germans, especially German prisoners of war, with the unsurprising conclusion that acceptance of occupation and democratic ideas became more widespread by 1949, and the surprising conclusion--given the deep involvement of social scientists in the occupation forces--that American policymakers didn't pay much attention to the results anyway.
Historian Claus-Dieter Krohn examines an "informal" dimension of the U.S. occupation: the efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation to support German social science research. Rockefeller officials were convinced, with good reason, that German universities, with their autocratic professors, antiquated teaching and research methods, and nationalistic students, needed deep reform if democracy were to take root. To this end, the foundation sponsored numerous academic exchanges and contributed to the founding of a number of universities and research institutes, including the Freie Universität. Convinced of the importance for democracy of building the social sciences, the institution worked to introduce up-to-date American empirical research methods to German scholars. Given that German universities did not really change until the late 1960s, and in any case the foundation by then had directed its focus away to the Third World, the direct results of its work in Germany are hard to measure. But the efforts of this private institution--the integration of German academic life into that of the West--ran parallel to American political and economic policy. In her essay, Alexia Arnold continues the discussion of the importance that U.S. occupation authorities placed on the social sciences in Germany as a foundation of democracy. She provides many facts in her descriptions of the three research institutes in Cologne, Munich, and Freiburg set up by UNESCO in close cooperation with the Americans.
It is the volume's final contribution by Everhard Holtmann that realizes most fully the introduction's principle of applying ideas from the social sciences (perhaps not surprisingly, since he is one of its authors). Using the anthropological concept of socially transformative ritual, Holtmann argues that Germany became democratic by renegotiating the boundary between state and society, or more specifically, redefining the political and the unpolitical. Looking at rituals of electioneering (but here providing only scant detail), he observes that as political life revived (at first only at the local level), it did so along the traditional fault lines of class and confession in the CDU/CSU-SPD. And, also traditionally, each side portrayed the confrontation in ideological terms of two competing Weltanschauungen. Yet, by the 1960s, as the outcome of a complex struggle between both democratic and authoritarian forces within Germany, and Allied forces without, the political was redefined and ideological parties became peoples' parties. On another level, the same traditional German virtues of order--discipline, hard work, cleanliness--that had served Wilhelmine authoritarianism and Nazi dictatorship, survived the moral breakdown of the postwar economic collapse to serve the parliamentary democracy of the Federal Republic. That these processes were the outcome of an extended negotiation made this period the "long zero hour."
Readers who ask whether the collection's promise of integrating history and the social sciences is fulfilled will notice that only the final article actually makes an extended attempt to use a social science concept to explain the process of change. The others, interesting as they are, tend either to address (describe) the involvement of social scientists in postwar Germany or to treat social science perfunctorily. More serious is the problem that, in a volume whose central premise is an argument for continuity, scarcely a single reference is made to the period before 1945. History and the social sciences still have a lot of communicating to do. Nevertheless, the individual contributions are generally solid and well researched and will prove useful to scholars in their particular areas of research. The volume has the additional, and timely, virtue of bringing the constructive role of the American occupation back into the center of discussion.
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Frederick L. McKitrick. Review of Braun, Hans; Gerhardt, Uta; Holtmann, Everhard, eds., Die lange Stunde Null: Gelenkter sozialer Wandel in Westdeutschland nach 1945.
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