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Condi's Lies? Or an Educational Quagmire?

I may have spent too much time researching the history for this post, but as a victim of America's educational quagmire, I rarely begrudge time spent chipping away at my ignorance. This is particularly the case with history, a subject with textbooks so thick and saturated that reading them is like wading through a rice paddy.

Back in August, both Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld compared the situation in Iraq to that in Germany in 1945. I don't know if the ensuing controversy is still permeating the Internet or is poised for a resurgence, but Steve at Absit Invidia just yesterday noted it, saying (without substantiation), "the Bush propaganda machine constantly tells us that we had similar casulaty problems in post WWII Germany and Japan."

Here is the entirety of Rice's mention of the comparison in a speech to the 104th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in post-War Germany and see only the successes. But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers -- called "werewolves" -- engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them -- much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.

And here's the relevant chunk of a Rumsfeld speech from the same day:

Indeed I suspect that some of you in this hall today, especially those who served in Germany during World War II or in the period immediately after the war were not surprised that some Ba'athists have kept on fighting. You will recall that some dead-enders fought on during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany.

Here's how war correspondent Martha Gellhorn described conditions in Germany after the arrival of allied forces. She said, "At night the Germans take pot shots at Americans or string wires across the roads or they burn the houses of Germans who accept posts in the military government or they booby trap ammunition dumps or motorcycles or anything that is likely to be touched."

One group of those dead-enders was known as "werewolves." They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted allied soldiers and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the allied forces. Mayors were assassinated including the American appointed Mayor of Achen, the first major German city to be liberated. Children as young as ten were used as snipers, radio broadcast and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government building, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin museum. Does this sound familiar?

Like the death squads in Iraq they failed to stop the liberation of Germany and they failed in rousing the population of Germany to widespread revolt. Indeed as one historian put it, "Werewolf intimidation only increased public hatred of the Nazi regime...German civilians sometimes led allied troops straight to where werewolf supply caches." The vast majority of the German people like the vast majority of the Iraqi people were glad to be rid of the tyrannical dictatorship.

I'll be honest that there is probably some deliberate overstatement here, with the Werwolves being used almost metaphorically. This aspect is mitigated, however, even beyond the complete validity of the point that the German/European reconstruction did not go flawlessly, because what there is of oversimplification in the Rice and Rumsfeld comments is forgivable in the context of our media environment, in which nuance is rewarded with deceptive headlines. That is not to say that there are no legitimate claims of similarity; Rumsfeld, having devoted more words to the analogy, endeavored to keep the comparison in perspective.

Rumsfeld notes that he is talking about the period "during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime," and the events that he mentions took place during the spring, "after the arrival of allied forces." According to the L.A. Times:

One reason for that ambiguity is that a few days before the Nazi surrender, the SS officially disbanded the werewolves. But in the last month of the war, as Germany collapsed, Nazi radio propaganda called on German citizens to take up arms to resist the occupying forces. Members of the Hitler Youth vowed to join the werewolves in attacking Allied troops, and some individual Germans who resisted after the surrender adopted the term "werewolf'" to describe themselves.

The Dallas Morning News has reported that:

Aachen Mayor Franz Oppenhoff, for example, was assassinated in March 1945, two months before the war ended. Aachen lies in western Germany, near the Belgian border, and was the first major city occupied by Allied forces.

It is clear that Rumsfeld, at least, is including the last few months before the official German surrender on May 7, 1945. It is debatable whether that's fair, but that debate only highlights what is different and similar between the two conflicts. If one takes the administration officials at their word that Iraq was part of a larger war, then the similarities are manifold. The Allies moved across Europe, recapturing countries on their way to Berlin. In that respect, it is reasonable to compare enemy subversion in captured areas in spring 1945 to an Iraq in which a substantial number of the insurgents are terrorists from around the Middle East.

Among the differences is what U.S. forces can currently get away with given politics back home. First of all, Germany was left in utter defeat after years of war, which is something we should all be happy to have avoided in Iraq. Second of all, University of Maryland history professor Jeffrey Herf notes, "Between 1945 and 1949 the Western Allies alone interned 200,000 former members of the Nazi Party, its various organizations and former Nazi government officials. Over 100,000 were indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Of them over 6,000 were convicted and something over 800 death sentences were carried out." Imagine the uproar if the administration sought to intern a comparable number of Iraqis.

If Rumfeld and Rice were guilty of not limiting or justifying their cut-off dates and the like, those who've too strenuously attacked Rice and Rumsfeld have far more egregiously engaged in a selectively narrow analysis. Former Clinton National Security Council aide Daniel Benjamin, whom Absit Invidia cites, is correct that RAND Corporation's comparison of various reconstruction efforts lists the total U.S. "postconflict combat-related deaths" in Germany as zero (see figure 9.4 in the Chapter 9 PDF). But he does so in such a way as to measure the conflicts with an ambiguous yardstick.

Not only does RAND begin the clock after the complete surrender of the enemy, but it apparently leaves out 45 deaths that a 1953 Pentagon report listed "as a result of enemy action" for 1945 and '46. That's still much lower than the Iraq total, but it's above even the 43 deaths that RAND notes for Somalia. I suppose the difference is the definition of "enemy action" versus "combat," and I wonder how the various casualties in Iraq would fall. I also wonder what the other Allies experienced in post-war Germany; Rice and Rumsfeld refer to the whole coalition, while their critics refer specifically to U.S. casualties. Is it possible that Russia, the U.K., or France had the Sunni Triangle of Germany? I can't find any information suggesting a conclusion either way.

What is clear to me, even through the "fog of peace" that followed academia's surrender of my mind to the real world, is that the battle over history is real. Unfortunately, far too many Americans have neither the resources, background, nor interest to form complete pictures that will put the political wrangling over distant historical facts in perspective.

I'm sure that the vast majority of you readers, who have come here via Instapundit, have already seen it, but I wanted to note that The CounterRevolutionary's helpful service of perusing New York Times articles from the 1940s for comparison purposes relates well to the above. One such article notes gang attacks on U.S. soldiers, and one can speculate how such occurrences would be played in the same paper today — probably as either indication that the troops aren't sufficiently respectful of local cultures and are turning the people against us or merely as further manifestations of insurrection. Similarly, I wonder whether the 1953 Pentagon report included such incidents in its tally.

As the Heritage Foundation mentions in Condi's defense:

Werwolves weren’t the only problem. Violent crime, thievery and black-marketing were rampant. Germans incessantly complained to U.S. military officials about inadequate public safety. And these threats paled in comparison to the physical privations. Many feared masses of Germans would freeze or starve to death in the first winter after the war. To suggest that the first year of occupation was anything less than a dreadful, harrowing experience for many Germans is just bad history.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:46 PM EST


Another resource that few people seem to be aware of:


Jim H. CMSgt USAF, ret @ 11/12/2003 03:03 PM EST

Thanks, Jim. That page has quite a wealth of material.

Definitely worth a bookmark and some time.

Justin Katz @ 11/12/2003 03:17 PM EST

Um, so you would compare an escalating and increasingly well-organized, combat-ready remnant in Iraq to an overstated metaphor? Isn't that more like wishful thinking? I don't wish ill on the Iraq war, and especially don't wish for greater harm to our soldiers. But I don't think the way to justify what's happening is to pretend it isn't so bad. We're in a hell of a fight, and we're in it partly because we didn't plan for it. Why do we need these gymnastics?

Cbal @ 11/12/2003 03:40 PM EST

Comparisons of postwar resistance in Germany and in Iraq break down on one critical point: After its defeat, Germany was not largely surrounded by undefeated Axis powers willing and able to support a German resistance.

We may have liberated Iraq, but the liberation of the Middle East has only begun. If you want to continue the WWII analogies, we've beaten ... Italy.

Mike @ 11/12/2003 03:51 PM EST

Yeah, WWII is exactly like this war. We went in unilaterally and with very few allies, we assumed we would be greeted as liberators and failed to plan for any other possibility, we didn't have to worry about the costs because, after all, Germany was a rich country and could support their own occupation, and we were able to win popular support at home by
questioning the patriotism or intestinal fortitude of anyone who dared to have another opinion. Yeah, just like Glenn says, those anti-war folks are so ignorant about history...

Nick Foresta

nick foresta @ 11/12/2003 03:56 PM EST


This is more an iteration of my ongoing examination of claims that the Bush administration deals primarily in deception than an initiation of comparison.

As Mike has suggested, and I mentioned above, the comparison of insurrection and dead-enders can only be made in a limited, generalized way based on the differences of where we are in the respective wars. All I'm looking for is a bit more circumspection among those, like Nick here, who have rehearsed their litany of sparsely substantiated complaints.

I'm sure the "rewriting history meme" is already well on its way to gospel truth among the anti-war crowd.

Justin Katz @ 11/12/2003 04:06 PM EST


Your post was a festering hive of ignorance, started off with this internally hypocritical bit of writing: "We went in unilaterally and with very few allies..."

Think about that for just a moment.

addison @ 11/12/2003 04:27 PM EST

Yes, Nick does seem like kind of a dolt. We had the same allies in Iraq that we did on D-Day -- the British, the Australians, the Poles, a few others. Only differences: the Canadians, and the French were pretending to help.

About post-War Germany, read Mario Puzo's _Dark Arena_. Very grim.

Michael @ 11/12/2003 05:30 PM EST


You wrote sarcastically of WW II "we were able to win popular support at home by
questioning the patriotism or intestinal fortitude of anyone who dared to have another opinion."

I'm afraid that is actually pretty true. US society, and the US government, in 1942-45 was much less tolerant of diversity and dissent than it is today.

Roger Sweeny @ 11/12/2003 05:32 PM EST

"Yeah, WWII is exactly like this war" --

Take off your ideological blinders and read the article again, the assertion is that POST-WAR Iraq is similar to Germany after WW2.

Jon Davison @ 11/12/2003 05:41 PM EST

Those who complain about plans they think the Bush Administration did not make should recall Moltke's comment: 'No plan survives contact with the enemy." Whatever plans were made before the campaign ended, and there were plans, must be modified by the realities on the ground. Failure to modify plans is the mark of foolishness, not making modifications as events develop.

Furthermore, as pointed out in a comment above, the Iraq Campaign is a part of an ongoing war which Bush and his advisors have always said would last a long time and require much effort, including casualties. Those who loudly announce "Bush lied" are themselves being deceptive. They are allowing partisan animus to overwhelm their judgement.

Michael Lonie @ 11/12/2003 05:50 PM EST

"We went in unilaterally and with very few allies..."

In fact, the allies bear a striking resemblance (in number especially) then and now...

HH @ 11/12/2003 05:54 PM EST

Justin and Addison,

"All I'm looking for is a bit more circumspection among those, like Nick here, who have rehearsed their litany of sparsely substantiated complaints."

I'm not the one trying to put the lipstick of WWII on this pig of a war in Iraq. If your argument is that my facts are wrong, I respectfully disagree. Wolfowitz was telling the senate arms services committee that the administration expected the revenues from Iraqi oil to pay for most of the re-construction. Look it up. I think any honest appraisal of the postwar occupation would conclude there was a general failure to properly plan for the war's aftermath. I wonder if you can offer anything comparable to Denny Hastert accusing Tom Daschle of aiding and abetting the enemy for pointing out the miserable efforts at diplomacy in the run up to the war?
Just be sure it's not a "litany of sparsely substantiated complaints."

Think about that for just a moment. "

Fair enough. It was a bit of a typo. The sentence should have read unilaterally OR with very few allies.

The larger point remains though. All allies are not created equal. Replacing France and Germany with
Slovenia and Poland just doesn't cut it. France and Germany can offer money, guns and bodies. Poland, to their credit, has at least offered some bodies but we all know they ain't ponying up any cash and will likely expect some kind of payment for their support thus far.

Nick Foresta

nick foresta @ 11/12/2003 06:00 PM EST

All allies are not created equal. Replacing France and Germany with Slovenia and Poland just doesn't cut it.

You know, there can be some argument about the contribution France made to World War II as a U.S. ally, but I am pretty sure that Germany wasn't much of an ally then...

The whole argument is ridiculous. Germany and France are bigger and wealthier, but obviously they were not willing to back us in this fight. Poland and Slovenia lacked the resources, but they did back us. It's true, all allies are not created equal -- Germany and France have so far proven themselves inferior to the UK, Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and a bunch of others.

Not that this is anything new for France, who wasn't much of an ally during the Cold War, either. Germany was a steadfast ally against the Soviets -- at least the Western part was -- but that's only because they were already nose-to-nose with Soviet tanks; it was us watching their backs, not the other way around. So on balance, I'd say Poland and Slovenia have acquitted themselves as allies a helluva lot better than Germany or France -- and we didn't even have to spend billions of dollars in their reconstruction, or protect them from the Russians for a half-century.

E. Nough @ 11/12/2003 06:21 PM EST


Why do you try to make the point that wussy French and German people should be allowed to run our foriegn policy? Saddam owed them $8 Billion. The Germans, after their close 9/22/02 election had just conducted a referendum to veto the Iraq War no matter what.

I was in Germany on the day of their wuss election. The 50.1% of half-wits who wanted "peace" thought that they had just stopped Bush. They thought they ran the world, at least morally, and that this election would stop the Iraq War from happening. The other half of Germans (the older, wiser and more business oriented) were appalled at the outcome of the election. But even the German conservatives were wusses because they were still saying that America needed to get UN approval for everything, despite knowing that their own government would nix all approval. So, Nick, are we older, wiser and business oriented Americans supposed to defer to the young German wusses??

The reasons for the Iraq Battle were obvious:

#1 Reverse 1000 years of Sunni Muslim dominance over Shiites in Mesopotamia.

#2 Push WMD production into Syria and Libya where it could be better monitored by existing spy networks.

#3 Take oil revenues out of the hands of America's enemies, including the UN which isn't supposed to be doing dirty business deals like the oil for food program was.

#4 Humiliate the world's left wing (they are actually too dumb to feel intellectual defeat) or at least show the world how the left wing isn't pro-democracy at all.

#5 Reduce Israel's enemies down to more bite sized targets.

#6 Liberate 25 million people and expose massive death camps.

#7 Show the Saudi Royal Family that we mean business.

The list goes on.

Jim Peterson @ 11/12/2003 06:37 PM EST

I'm really amazed at the contortionism.

100+ despots on Earth, one is completely disarmed, and you want to waste him.

I guess you folks never heard of the Internet, where stupid lies can't really last long in the cyber-breeze.

Ever hear of President Clinton? He was the first President hosed by the 'net, but not the last.

We don't care about people. Saddam was killing, according to Human Rights Watch, less people than the US, China or Sudan per annum. The death rate in the Congo is 100 times Saddam's 300,000 in 30 year "record." (3,000,000 since Bush took office).

We said we didn't want control, and won't relinquish it to anyone else.

We said we didn't want oil, and all those contracts went to "friends & family" of BushCo.

You keep kissing administration butt like this and you are only going to end up with a smelly kisser.

Josh Narins @ 11/12/2003 08:00 PM EST

Thanks, Josh.

It's such a relief when the opposition makes comments that don't require thoughtful response because nothing offered is capable of being specifically addressed.

(And particularly when the uppermost post on the commenter's blog is one taking the self-fisking Scott Ritter seriously.)

Justin Katz @ 11/12/2003 08:08 PM EST

Oh my, have you guys ever heard that history never repeat itself?

The true comparison is:

Chalabi 2003 vs. Adenauer 1945

Iraq is doomed, the US will pull out in the next 12 months.

Chocolatier @ 11/13/2003 06:14 AM EST

Recently the Naval Institute Proceedings (USNI.org) has run some interesting articles --- not all of them online --- regarding the post-war reconstruction. Last month Gen Anthony Zinni (part of the State Department) has vehemently argued that the post-war period was fumbled. However, a friend of his noted in this month's issue that the state department was allowed to plan and run the entire postwar reconstruction, and that this was essentially the huge mistake made. Franks should have set up DOD organizations to get the job done, instead State has flailed in the wind.

Jim @ 11/13/2003 09:42 AM EST

There you go again...

The comparison to Post World War II is just as hilariously wrong headed as the comparison by some soft brained members of the media to the Vietnam War.

Post World War II provided a unifying event, the rise of the Soviet state (the 'free' world got behind that), the Vietnam War was actually a War the United States fought with the Soviet's by proxy. Similarities...none.

If any of you brilliant historians (partisan hacks) can provide for me the similarities between these historic events and todays train wreck in progress in Iraq, I would be delighted.

Any response that only spews partisan talking points proves only that you have the ability to type, not that you are especially clever or have any insight.

For sure post war Japan was not a nice place. Post war Germany was also not a nice place. The comparisons kind of fall apart at that point. Iraq will be a problem for far longer than either Germany or Japan because of its neighbors. The administration appears to know this. I think some liberals are too slow witted to see that the situation is actually far worse than even their spin meisters make it out to be.

Should we have fought the war? I think on balance, yes, but the aftermath should have been better understood and far better communicated.

Ratherworried @ 11/13/2003 12:21 PM EST


I'm not sure whom you're addressing, nor from whence you derive your superior tone. I haven't seen anybody suggest, on the basis of similarities, that there's nothing to worry about.

Members of the administration (briefly) commented that reconstruction is tough work, and that we shouldn't lose sight of lessons of history, to whatever extent they're applicable. Others have contested that view, even labeling the comments as lies. I've attempted to advance the discussion of what comparison is possible.

You seem to be suggesting that some significant, even essential, differences make all comparisons foolish. But of course comparisons can be made; we get into trouble when we start to extrapolate more than is merited by the facts.

On the whole, my practical suggestions, to the extent that I've made them, are that we oughtn't to remember that Iraq and its construction are and must be considered merely an early step in a broader effort and that, if comparisons are to be made about post-war violence, we ought also to consider the differences in the actions that we'll allow ourselves to take (e.g., not interning Iraqis).

Justin Katz @ 11/13/2003 12:36 PM EST

Mr. Katz,

"...we oughtn't to remember that Iraq and its construction are and must be considered merely an early step in a broader effort..."

I keep hearing this line of reasoning but I have not heard anyone willing to follow it to it's logical conclusion. Before I offer my opinion, I would like to understand exactly what it is you mean by "broader effort". Do you believe we will repeat this invasion/occupation exercise elsewhere? Are you prepared for the difficulties that scenario presents? The costs in blood and treasure? We are unchallenged militarily but that doesn't mean we will always be. I'm no pacifist but I don't believe that invading other countries and installing more friendly governments is a sustainable foreign policy. It's easy to talk about re-making the world but it's very difficult to actually do. It's been tried before and the record of success is not very good. Maybe there's a history lesson in all this after all...

Nick Foresta

nick foresta @ 11/13/2003 05:09 PM EST

To Jim Peterson,

Your list of "obvious" reasons for going to war are neither obvious nor good reasons. Take #2..

" Push WMD production into Syria and Libya where it could be better monitored by existing spy networks."

This is a pretty novel theory. Rather than contain the WMD's or outright destroy them, we just want to spy on them. Nice.

Or how 'bout this one?

"Take oil revenues out of the hands of America's enemies, including the UN which isn't supposed to be doing dirty business deals like the oil for food program was."

Yeah right. Just remember this post the next time you complain about the ignorance of those who say it's all about the oil. And the last time I checked, oil production is still in the hands of some pretty awful folks in libya, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

But this one is the best...

"Reduce Israel's enemies down to more bite sized targets."

I am married to an Israeli and have traveled extensively in the middle east. Israel's enemies have always been bite sized. The PLO, Islamic Jihad, Hamas are all rather tiny. These groups are funded and supported by almost every nation in the region to one extent or another. Nothing we did in Iraq will change that. Saudi Arabia is still funding the PLO, Hamas is still getting their support from Syria and Iran. What's changed? Where are these "bite sized" pieces?

Please try again, I'm sure, given more time, you can do better...

Nick Foresta

nick foresta @ 11/13/2003 05:36 PM EST