September 28, 2003


Doing some research for a Flitters post (isn't that a funny thing!) I paused to reflect on differences between the German occupation of 1945 and the Iraqi occupation of 2003 (Apparently Donald Rumsfeld likes to compare the two.) And the really big one... perhaps the "biggest change" the Americans made, between then and now, was their treatment of the standing army.

In Iraq, up to 400,000 soldiers were essentially released to their homes, on a $50 a month stipend, officially on May 23. No matter who you believe in Iraq, there can be no question the labor market remains deeply dislocated by this. It is probably contributing, among other things, to the renascent Islamist drive to put Iraqi women back in the homes... at 60 per cent unemployment in Baghdad, in large part due to the early troop release, it could almost have been expected. It also gives local militias like the Badr brigades a fertile recruiting ground, and, combined with the near universal prewar gun ownership in that city, is certainly contributing to the crime wave in Baghdad. (It's notable that Bremer's predecessor as head of the CPA, Jay Garner, had wanted to keep the army in being as a labor force.)

In Germany by contrast, the return of the 5 million German soldiers in Allied custody was a tedious process lasting months, and hundreds of thousands were used as laborers in prisoner-of-war units for quite some time (and because PoW's got more rations than regular civilians, were generally happy to do so). Although the number was steadily reduced, ex-Wehrmacht labor companies were kept in service in France and Germany until all PoW status was terminated in July of 1947. In the first summer of occupation, roughly 2 million were used as laborers (fed for their work, not paid) full-time.

There's no question this had to have an effect on keeping Germany peaceful. Indeed, looking back through the first six months of the Iraqi experience only shows us what a masterful job of keeping things under control the occupation of Germany really was.

It's frustrating that Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice seem, by their facile comparisons, to be belittling that achievement. For instance, you can look at Rumsfeld's piece, cited approvingly by my co-blogger:

Within two months, all major Iraqi cities and most towns had municipal councils -- something that took eight months in postwar Germany.

I had to go back into the official history, linked above, to evaluate this one... to find that, as so often with Rumsfeld, he makes a semantically correct comparison that falls down upon the slightest source-checking.

You see, the big thing Rumsfeld leaves out is that, while the Iraqi councils were all appointed by nature, the German councils in January 1946 were all democratically ELECTED by Germans... in a fair vote with a remarkable 83 per cent voter turnout. That free and honest election at the municipal and provincial level had a lot to do with the early emergence of a democratic West Germany, and the rapid end to military rule. And while some individual German politicians would continue to be subject to "de-Nazification," I can't find a record of the occupation authority summarily disbanding entire councils or governing bodies, as has happened frequently in Iraq with the ones Rumsfeld touts.

If Eisenhower, had, as Rumsfeld did in Iraq, merely settled for the appointment of local officials in July, 1945, retaining the same kind of prerogative to disband them, with no plans for when a real election would take place to supersede them, would the six months advance in the creation of some kind of local government he got by doing so really have been to the Germans' and Americans' long-term advantage? One rather doubts it.

You see the same thing in comparisons between Iraqi insurgents and the Werwolf resistance in Germany, made by both Rumsfeld and Rice. I say more about this in Flitters, and Slate had a good piece, but the simple facts that the senior administration figures regularly gloss over in making this comparison is that, as one of its final acts in power, the German leadership sent an order for all Werwolf units to disband, and for the most part they seem to have done so. There are no U.S. deaths in post-war Germany that are authoritatively considered to have been caused by Werwolf, and their only recorded action in October, five months after the occupation (equivalent to September in Iraq) was a "strongly worded threat" to an occupation officer. (Werwolf involvement in an attack in Americans in Bremen in June, 1945, the only claimed case where they may have caused fatalities in the West German zones, does not seem to have made the history books I could find.)

(Would it have been different if Hitler had made it out of Berlin and into the countryside, the way Saddam Hussein did? Quite possibly. The point of these comparisons, above, is not to show that things are going really surprisingly badly in Iraq, but to show that history's a complex thing, and those who pick and choose little factoids to back their case without mentioning the context are duplicitous. When I re-created this website as a blog two years ago, my first post was picking on Ted Rall twisting Afghan history to support his arguments. It's just as wrong when Rumsfeld and Rice do it, too.)

PS: I'm not saying the local representation model the American civil affairs people is necessarily wrong for the environment (Here's a good piece on how it works. Here's a less impressive review.); just that saying "two months" versus "eight months" is facile.

PPS: For people who say that the local councils are "democratic," two figures. People in that neighbourhood council cited in that last link above who voted: 80. Neighbourhood councils in Baghdad: 88. Likely enfranchised electorate, based on those numbers: c. 7,000, or about 0.3 per cent of the adult population of the city. That may be a lot of things, but an election it ain't. It's actually worse than that: apparently in many cases Civil Affairs officers just picked the local council membership.

Posted by BruceR at 03:52 PM


Missed this one when he first wrote it. Sorry if you've seen it already.

"They all think that the soldier is filling his flask with cold water from the cooler. Later it turns out that he emptied my father’s bottle of Johnny Walker’s into his flask..."

Meanwhile, Riverbend wasn't impressed with the raid next door to her place:

"I couldn't see her face because her head was bent and her hair fell down around it. It was the first time I had seen her hair… under normal circumstances, she wore a hijab. That moment I wanted to cry… to scream… to throw something at the chaos down the street. I could feel Reem's humiliation as she stood there, head hanging with shame- exposed to the world, in the middle of the night."

You have to wonder when both well-known Iraqi bloggers have traumatic U.S. raid stories in the same month. It's clear from Salam's posts that he regards being taken by American soldiers in the middle of the night as more or less as frightful for people as being taken by soldiers of the previous regime was.

UPDATE: I think it's great that alternative media including blogs are challenging the U.S. media's view of the Iraq situation as a "quagmire." I also think it's great that the Iraqi blogs are challenging the jingopundits right back.

Posted by BruceR at 02:34 PM


Steven Den Beste's latest piece on Africa has, as is his wont, another not fully sourced tangent that bears commenting on. This time it's his thoughts on "blood diamonds."

"A lot of the fighting in the Congo has been over areas which support very lucrative smuggling in what are now known as 'bloody diamonds'."

SdB's mixing up his wars here. The fighting in Sierra Leone was largely over control of the diamond fields. In Congo, the diamond fields (in the south of the country) have been consistently in government hands... the fighting in the last decade has largely been in the east of the country, and is actually centered more on tantalum concessions, not diamonds. We've talked about this before.

The Congo diamond fields have been about as peaceful as... well, Alaska during the gold rush, but there hasn't been military activity there recently. No, the accusation in Congo was always that the Kabila governments were able to draw on military resources from other African countries, particularly Zimbabwe, to prop their shaky regime up and perpetuate the civil war by giving them a piece of their diamond profits... and conversely, that was the only reason the rest of Africa cared about the Kabilas.

An export industry that props up an existing regime may be evil, depending on how you feel about the Kabilas, but it doesn't make the gems themselves "blood diamonds," at least not the same way as diamonds in Sierra Leone (or tantalum in the Congo), where the rebels seized the resource from civil authority and held it for their own criminal profiteering.

UPDATE: I should add that I have absolutely no quarrel with SdB's actual thesis here, as usual.

Posted by BruceR at 01:25 PM