Mittwoch, Januar 11, 2006

Marching into the Saar 2006

Ok, you think, now what?

After Hitler took power in 1933, one of his key platforms was the return of the demilitarized Saar, key industrial areas in Germany. The Allies were basically holding them to ensure that Germany met its reparation demands in full. The story of the occupation is not pleasant: French colonial troops were notorious, and both the British and the French commanders laid a heavy hand on the population.

But let's go back a moment. Germany, the German Reich, had agreed to a cease-fire that went into effect on 11 Nov 1918. In that sense, Germany didn't surrender like it did in WW2, unconditionally, but rather there was a cease fire and an agreed-upon retreat to national borders before the war. The country had, politically, collapsed: the Kaiser had abdicated, and if it wasn't for some of the classic virtues of the German - order and hierarchy - the country would've collapsed as a political entity as well. Remember, Germany didn't exist until the 1870s, and it was heavily dominated by the Prussians. Given a tad more chaos and a tad less stubbornness, and Germany might well have splintered back into petty kingdoms.

But I disgress.

Working out a peace treaty was expected, and Germans knew that it would be harsh: they knew they would lose territory and population, and that they would probably end up paying restaurations and losing the few colonies they had.

Instead, they were humiliated.

The problem lay less in the conditions that the Allies basically imposed and more in the fact that the Germans didn't anticipate being humiliated. Well, maybe not a few German politicians and diplomats: they knew how bad things were. But it was the average German didn't, nor did the vast majority of politicians. They didn't realize that Germany had been defeated, militarily, and that only the Armistace had prevented a ful-scale attack in the Spring of 1919 that would've taken the Allied armies deep into Germany.

They also mistestimated the expectations of the Allies: David Lloyd George wanted to hang the Kaiser, and Georges Clemenceau said: Le boche payera tous, the Germans will pay us. That the Germany that sat at the table in Versailles was no longer the Prussian authoritarian state, but rather a developing democracy, was something that didn't outweigh 4 long years of war and the literal destruction of an entire generation of youth.

The Allies had enough troubles agreeing among themselves what to do with the Germans that they didn't offer any room for any German counteroffers: the Germans were dictated to (and oh how Germans dislike that).

One of the many conditions dictated to the Germans was the removal of the Saar from German dominion and its exploitation by the French as part of the reparations package under control of the League of Nations. After commercial exploitation for 25 years (!) a plebescite was to be held to determine political affiliation. In addition, some fairly severe economic effects and loss of key areas - 50% of iron ore, 25% coal, 17% potato production & 13% wheat - coupled with an unknown amount of reparations (while the Brits went along, the French basically wanted the Germans to pay for the entire war) and confiscation of goods (60% coal production, 25% pharmaceuticals, all ships over 1600 tons, to start with) meant that the victors were indeed divying up the spoils (the US didn't: that's another post entirely).

But this economic humiliation wasn't enough: it was the political humiliation that alienated the German population. Key was the plan to charge the Kaiser and his generals in an international court for war crimes, and to forbid any unification between Germany and Austria.

But the Germans had no choice but to agree: the Allies had not lifted their blockade of Germany and the Germans were almost on the verge of starvation. And they, the Germans, knew that if they did not acquiesce, the plans of the Allied forces were to march into Germany and divide the country in two, northern and southern. The German army had demobilized and what little was left couldn't have prevented this from happening.

Looking back from our perspective, the Treaty of Versailles wasn't really all that bad, all things considered: however, at the time, it was seen as "Siegerjustiz" or the spoils of the victors. Germany remained united, souvereign and independent. Germany, after all, lost the war.

But the Germans had massive psychological problems with losing the war: they had high expectations of being the victors - the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 wasn't all that long ago - and the Germans didn't realize that the terms that they now had to swallow were actually similiar to the terms that they dictated to France back then.

It's not merely a question of resentment: there was, rather, a continuous political demand that the terms be revised, and always from whatever party was in opposition.

During Weimar - and in many ways Weimar gives you the best glimpse into that tortured and complex thing called the German soul - the Allies slowly backed down and released those portions of Germany they had occupied to force reparations, leaving Zones I to III according to plan, with Zone III even being returned to German control in 1930, five years ahead of plan.

The US and Germany signed a completely separate peace, rejecting Versailles, while the French and the British insisted on the fullfillment of the treaty. This led to the final humiliation: while Germans thought 30 bn Goldmarks would be all that they could pay, the French and the Brits put their price on the war at 269 bn Goldmarks - the old Reichsmark, backed by the German gold reserves - payable over 42 years with 8% interest.

The Germans couldn't pay and the Allies occupied what became Zones I, II and III: after analysis the 269bn was dropped to 131bn. Still to large, this led to German hyperinflation and the collapse of the German economy.

Later, the Locarno Pact in 1926 and the entry of Germany into the League of Nations led to a commitment of preventing a new war, underscored by the Kellog-Briand Pact in 1928, where Germany demonstrated its will to peaceful settlement of international problems: war was to be outlawed.

Nice sentiments. As we all know, the Great Depression and German hyperinflation, coupled with ineffective politicians and parties, led to Hitler and the National Socialists. It's a very complex story and that is simplifying things enormously: suffice to say that the Nazis took over society, not merely political power. It's hard to understand how deep the Nazis took over Germany: suffice to say that there was now no aspect of poltical, economic and religious life in Germany that the Nazis did not at least have great influence on, if not control.

Keep that last point in mind: control over the society in all aspects.

Now why have I gone on for so long on this?

The populationn of the Saar voted in 1935 to remain German, but the Saar was demilitarized. On 7 March 1936 German troops marched into the Saar and (re-) occupied it, and the Allies merely protested. They were at peace; they didn't want a war; the stakes weren't that important; one just needed to understand Mr. Hitler to understand why he had to do this. Shortly thereafter: the incorporation of Austria, appeasement.

We now know that if the Allies had mobilized, if they had sent their troops back into the Saar, the German army would've turned tail and ran, because Hitler was bluffing. But by bluffing the Allies, he won major political victories that led to WW2 and megadeaths that the world has not seen since.

Remember what led to fascism in Germany: resentment, humiliation, collapse of the old order and incompetence of moderate politicians in the face of those whose sole goal is the seizure of power.

We are now once again at the same point.

The failure of the Allies to react to the remilitarization of the Saar? How about this analysis? The breaking of the UN Seals at Natanz is exactly the same political act: it is throwing down the gauntlet.

Appeasement? How about this analysis of how little Iran cares about what the West thinks. How about the collective gullability of the EU regarding Iranian nuclear plans and what they mean?

The breaking of the UN seals at Natanz is our version of German troops marching into the Saar.

And considering the similarities not only with the Ba'athists in Iraq and Syria, but also with the mullahs and the hard-wingers in Iran, we are facing the true begin of the next phase of WW3.

Do the Iranians want the destruction of their country? Of course not. But then again, that's assuming that they are rational: I'm not sure that this is the case. In any case: they are bluffing: they are, after all, fascists and think in terms of bluster and political coercion. Of removing the humiliation that they feel - rightly or not - and for revenging their feelings of resentment in political fantasies.

And just as the appeasers of the 1930s slunk away into the ash heap of history, their names forever sullied, so will it be with the current political leaders in Europe. The old order has collapsed: business as usual has led us to the current state of affairs and can't solve it. The incompetence of moderate politicians in the face of those whose sole goal is power is the current face of Europe.

How many deaths will it take for those lovely, well-meaning and gullible fools to realize, yes, once again, that the appeasement of the last 10 years has led us here? 100 mn this time? Or 200 mn? Or more?

If Iran gets away with breaking the seals at Natanz, it's merely a question of time.



AcademicElephant hat gesagt…

What an interesting--if profoundly sobering--post.

John F. Opie hat gesagt…

Hi -

Thanks. In what little time I have, I try.

I know that historical comparisons aren't always legitimate, but this one I think does carry some weight.

And I really hate to think what this will mean over the next several years...