Echoing an analogy to the current situation in Iraq offered by Bush administration officials, syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell claimed that "after Nazi Germany surrendered at the end of World War II, die-hard Nazi guerilla units terrorized and assassinated both German officials and German civilians who cooperated with Allied occupation authorities." However, according to several sources, the resistance to the Allied occupation was extremely limited and disorganized, unlike the Iraqi resistance of today.
In his December 13 column, syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell claimed that "after Nazi Germany surrendered at the end of World War II, die-hard Nazi guerrilla units terrorized and assassinated both German officials and German civilians who cooperated with Allied occupation authorities" -- echoing an analogy promoted by Bush administration officials to the current situation in Iraq. But, according to several sources, Sowell's assertion is baseless. The resistance to the Allied occupation was extremely limited and disorganized, unlike the Iraqi resistance of today.
Sowell's claim that "guerrilla units terrorized and assassinated" German officials and civilians recalls comments by administration officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld -- who have equated postwar German rebels known as "werewolves" with current insurgents in Iraq. But the history indicates otherwise. According to numerous sources, the group did not "terrorize" or "assassinate" German officials or civilians after the war. As Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed in an August 29, 2003, Slate.com article, the most notable instance of this "guerrilla unit" assassinating a German official occurred on March 25, 1945 -- nearly two months before the war in Europe ended. Benjamin wrote: "Werwolf [Werewolf] tales have been a favorite of schlock novels, but the reality bore no resemblance to Iraq today." He went on to explain:
In practice, Werwolf amounted to next to nothing. The mayor of Aachen [a Germany city] was assassinated on March 25, 1945, on [SS Chief Heinrich] Himmler's orders. This was not a nice thing to do, but it happened before the May 7 Nazi surrender at Reims. It's hardly surprising that Berlin sought to undermine the American occupation before the war was over. And as the U.S. Army's official history, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946, points out, the killing was "probably the Werwolf's most sensational achievement."
An August 26, 2003, Los Angeles Times article also disputes Sowell's claim that the guerrilla group terrorized Germans after the war:
The Werewolves were founded in September 1944 by SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who saw them as a special force that would work behind U.S. lines to sabotage equipment and kill U.S. troops ... But according to Perry Biddiscombe, a historian of postwar Germany who wrote a 1998 book on the Werewolves, the force was designed only to assist the German army in winning the war. It was not created to be an underground movement after a German defeat.
"After the end of the war there's a lot more ambiguity," said Biddiscombe.
It's possible, Biddiscombe said, that some isolated Werewolf cells or officers may have continued to operate for a few months after the war. Guerrilla-style attacks did take place against U.S. soldiers -- wires strung across roads to decapitate soldiers or sand poured in gas tanks, for example -- and there were several suspicious deaths of U.S.-appointed mayors. In some towns, leaflets and posters threatened Germans who cooperated with the U.S. occupiers. But none of that activity can be directly attributed to the Werewolves, historians say.
"The Army put bars on jeeps to prevent decapitation by wires, but that was the only action taken by the Army," said [Lt. Col. Kevin] Farrell [a historian at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas]. "There's very little evidence of the Werewolves offering effective resistance." Moreover, historians say, the comparison between postwar Germany and postwar Iraq is questionable because of the scale of events taking place now in Iraq.
An October 12, 2003, Dallas Morning News article noted that apart from the "Werewolves," there were a few instances of attacks, but their scope was not remotely comparable to the Iraqi insurgency:
...the Werwolf largely consisted of teenage Hitler Youth members. They were trained to make bombs using soup cans packed with plastic explosive and taught to kill sentries using a garotte, as recounted by historian Antony Beevor in The Fall of Berlin 1945 (Viking, 2002).
By implying that the catalog of sabotage he recited occurred after the German surrender of May 8, 1945, Mr. Rumsfeld's speech was misleading, said Mr. Biddiscombe, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Almost all incidents of the sort Mr. Rumsfeld described occurred before the war ended, as Allied forces fought their way across Germany, and Werwolf quickly fell apart after the surrender, Mr. Biddiscombe explained. "There's no doubt about the fact that if you look at it objectively, the intensity of these actions diminished after the war," he said.
Attacks on U.S. troops in the American sector of occupied Germany were so rare that some who were there deny any took place.
"It's a lot of baloney," scoffed Albert G. Silverton, 85, a Californian who was an Army Counter Intelligence Corps officer stationed near Heidelberg in 1945-46. "It sounds very intriguing and very romantic and sensational, but believe me, the Werwolf was a totally ineffective joke," Mr. Silverton said. "I don't know of one case where any of our men were ever shot like is happening in Iraq."
The "Notebook" section of the September 8, 2003, edition of The New Republic also contained an item refuting this claim:
To be sure, few would argue that rebuilding Germany was easy. But that's where the comparison [with Iraq] ends -- in fact, postwar Germany was marked by a surprising lack of guerrilla violence. "There was basically no violence directed at us or allied servicemen after capitulation," says Peter Fritzsche, professor of German history at the University of Illinois. Most Nazi officers were busy trying to save their own skins, and the vast majority of Germans were only too glad to see the war end and the Hitler regime toppled.
From Sowell's December 13 column:
The media seem to have come up with a formula that would make any war in history unwinnable and unbearable: They simply emphasize the enemy's victories and our losses.
Losses suffered by the enemy are not news, no matter how large, how persistent, or how clearly they indicate the enemy's declining strength.
What are the enemy's victories in Iraq? The killing of Americans and the killing of Iraqi civilians. Both are big news in the mainstream media, day in and day out, around the clock.
Utter ignorance of history enables any war with any casualties to be depicted in the media as an unmitigated disaster.
Even after Nazi Germany surrendered at the end of World War II, die-hard Nazi guerrilla units terrorized and assassinated both German officials and German civilians who cooperated with Allied occupation authorities.
But nobody suggested that we abandon the country. Nobody was foolish enough to think that you could say in advance when you would pull out or that you should encourage your enemies by announcing a timetable.
There has never been the slightest doubt that we would begin pulling troops out of Iraq when it was feasible. Only time and circumstances can tell when that will be. And only irresponsible politicians and the media think otherwise.