Occupational Hazards

Occupational Hazards

Mini Teaser: Many Americans, including some of senior rank, appear to hold candy-coated views of the post-World War II U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan. Dealing with Iraq will be hard enough without enshrouding ourselves in myth.

by Author(s): Douglas Porch

In Iraq, senior Ba'athi officials and Republican Guard officers will no doubt insist that, without their vigilance, Sunni domination of Iraq would have been compromised and Iraq dismembered by Iran.

A "truth and reconciliation" process considered by the administration is presumably meant to avoid the "judicial chaos" produced by trials of "B-" and "C-class" criminals in Germany. These committees will replicate to a degree German Spruchkammern, an AMG version of magistrate's courts made up of citizens able to hand out small fines or days of "rubble clearing" to "lesser offenders" and "followers."

This sounds sensible, but as the German experience shows, the risk of this process is to transform criminals into "patriotic martyrs" and cause the procedure to rebound against those willing to collaborate with the international community. "In 1945 it was hard to find a German who admitted that he had been a devout Nazi", wrote Constantine FitzGibbon, an American officer who served in Germany's AMG. "In 1955, it was equally hard to find one who would admit that he had served on a de-nazification court, for many who had were socially ostracized or economically penalized in their own communities." Post-Saddam Iraq can be expected to follow postwar Germany in this regard, producing "patriotic martyrs" on an industrial scale while staunch Ba'athists of Saddam's Iraq become as rare as hen's teeth--at least in the short term. That is precisely what is likely to become of some 30,000 Ba'ath Party officials and members now barred from public service: they will become a kinship of patriotic martyrs, at least for Iraq's Sunnis, a community skilled at both administration and the potential production of mayhem. Many suddenly unemployed army officers may join them.

The flawed assumption that underlay post-1945 nation-building was that democracy constitutes the natural reflex of peoples liberated from suffocating tyranny. However, "democratization" of the civil service, judicial and education systems in postwar Japan and Germany proved to be beyond American capacities. MacArthur's "top-down" nation-building style, the retention of Emperor Hirohito and the assumption by Supreme Command Allied Powers (SCAP) that the Japanese were an "obedient herd" actually strengthened the grip of the Japanese bureaucracy and helped to socialize the Japanese to "the acceptance of authority." A powerful bureaucratic culture, the requirement to enlist German jurists to serve the numerous postwar trials, an ingrained belief in the superiority of the German education system, and administrative sabotage of Allied-imposed reforms all combined to impair attempts to shatter the steel grip of German official attitudes and practices. In effect, stability came first, progress later.

Nor did demands for reform rise up from demoralized, apathetic populations accustomed to leaving government to their "betters." Expecting Coalition-induced winds of change to whistle through a bureaucratic Ba'athi state appears to replicate the naive assumptions of 1945. The good news is that, over thirty years, German and Japanese bureaucrats became loyal servants of their respective democracies. The lesson of 1945, therefore, is that reform emphasis should be placed on creating a better state rather than tinkering with civil service culture and personnel.

The benefit of de-Ba'athification will be that, like war crimes trials, it will put on record that to have served Saddam and his party was to have participated in a criminal enterprise. However, formal de-Ba'athification is likely to be so complex that it is probably not worth attempting. As in the 1945 cases, de-ideologization will take care of itself.

The de-nazification of Germany really began in 1943, as news of the fall of Stalingrad and Tunis and the defection of Italy served notice on the Germans that defeat was only a matter of time, seriously eroding the Hitler myth. "A widespread revulsion to the war and all things associated with it had sunk deep into the German psyche", conclude two historians of postwar Germany, who argue that Nazism was already extinguished by May 1945 even if nationalist fealty to Hitler was not.

The same was true of Japan. By the time U.S. troops set foot in the home islands, the Japanese were fed up with the war, Japanese soldiers were deserting, and the military was generally loathed by the population. Many Germans and Japanese were eager to see those responsible for the war punished. But clumsy AMG/SCAP attempts to assign culpability for Axis aggression and crimes to entire populations, and to make them "work their passage" through forced labor, served in the short term to create a "community of opposition to anything imported by the occupation."It seemed as if Germans especially had lost the war and yet kept the Nazis.

Similarly, the disastrous wars against Iran and the Allied coalition, followed by ten years of sanctions and then the disappearance of Saddam, mean that Iraq is already psychologically de-Ba'athified, the population disillusioned, and the "Saddam myth" discredited. The Ba'ath Party was neither socially nor ideologically homogenous, and it had become a sanctuary for opportunists, the unscrupulous, the ambitious and the tremulous. Its defining ideology was hardly more than transparent propaganda. Its only binding principle was its collective culpability in assisting Saddam's human rights abuses. The Iraqi dictator found the party to be the weak reed of his regime after the Gulf War. He relied instead for support on his family, those from his village of Tikrit and other Sunni tribesmen. The Ba'ath Party served primarily to assist the secret police to control the population.

This suggests that de-Ba'athification without any edict proclaiming it would have been relatively easy. The party would have withered away without much effort. The vast majority of the 1.5 million party members, therefore, should be left in peace so long as they have not committed crimes. De-nazification, after all, proved to be a misplaced policy. The goal should be to punish the regime's higher echelons and those who committed crimes against other Iraqis, not to set some arbitrary number and make proclamations about who is and is not entitled to serve the public.

Against this view, we are bound to hear the argument that Saddam could not have carried out his criminal activities without the collaboration of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi police, civil servants, teachers, soldiers, jurists and businessmen. Denunciations, for which the police and secret services offered bounties, lubricated the Ba'athi state. How many people disappeared into Saddam's prisons, how many deserters had their ears severed, because a neighbor sought revenge or looked to ingratiate himself with local authorities? There are plenty of scores to be settled on these and other grounds, so it remains to be seen whether pressure by vengeful emigres, Kurds and Shi'a, and the demands of the U.S. Congress, for purges and trials of Saddam's Ba'athi supporters will prove irresistible. They very well may.

If such trials do take place en masse, it will leave the American occupiers with a dilemma. If we really launch into a wholesale purge of Ba'athi Iraq, we risk replicating the same confusion over defining behavior and attitudes, the same summary judgments, settling of scores and petty injustices as occurred in Germany. In that case, a cumbersome classification system for Nazi suspects was buttressed by the notorious Fragenbogen, lengthy questionnaires in which Germans had to prove that they had been neither party members nor accomplices in Nazi crimes. In this case, the impression that the American occupation is neither as "neutral" nor as "liberating" as claimed will be confirmed.

As in Germany, we also may find it difficult to purge Iraq's administration and simultaneously run the country. Hardly had World War II ended than the United States had interned 82,000 Nazi Party members and dismissed 100,000 civil servants in the U.S. zone of occupation alone. When questioned about his appointment of Friederich Schafer, a conservative who had been close to the Nazis during the war, as governor of Bavaria, George Patton declared:

more than half the German people were Nazis and we would be in a hell of a fix if we removed all Nazi party members from office. The way I see it, this Nazi thing is very much like a Democratic and Republican election fight.

The press brouhaha that followed Patton's outburst caused Lucius Clay to intensify de-nazification. Roughly 13 million Fragenbogen were eventually completed. Adenauer complained that, if he followed U.S. directives, only citizens over 65 and those under twenty would have the blemish-free records that qualified them for government service. Indeed, although only 58,000 of one million German civil servants eventually lost their jobs, many more were sent on leave without pay or even interned while their cases were being screened. So arbitrary and unjust was the U.S. de-nazification effort considered that it provoked the formation of a society called the "Victims of Denazification", which counted 30,000 members in 1954. In this way, Clay managed to separate the concept of de-nazification from that of justice. It may turn out that the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq will be forced to make so many exceptions among the barred 30,000 that the policy will be effectively neutered.

On the other hand, many Iraqis, especially among the more religious parts of the Shi'a community, believe that all Ba'ath is are culpable and should be punished. The effects of this belief have already emerged, and the U.S. banning of the Ba'ath may be a response to them. If justice is not seen to be done through official channels, a rampant "settling of scores", as occurred in France after 1945, may sweep through Iraq as aggrieved family members and non-Sunni populations take justice into their own hands. That is already happening, as perhaps hundreds of Ba'athi officials have been killed in vigilante and revenge murders.

IN THE FINAL analysis, the United States should allow the Iraqis to carry out their own "de-Ba'athification lite", complete with war crimes trials of Saddam's top henchmen, the better to avoid the complications of the cumbersome post-1945 de-nazification of Germany. An invasive campaign of democratization and cultural engineering will probably spawn resentment and allow opposition politicians to make the U.S. presence the issue. The goal should be to "normalize" Iraq fairly quickly by puffing a responsible leadership cadre in place while retaining a supervisory role with enough soldiers to back it up. This will ensure that Iraq does not slide into chaos. Then, with any luck, as in Germany, the next Iraqi generation will wonder why their parents ever allowed a tyrant like Saddam Hussein to come to power, and vow that it will not happen again in their country.

Douglas Porch is professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. He is currently working on a history of the Mediterranean theater in World War II (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004).

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