Orville Prescott (1906-1996), the main book critic for The New York Times for 24 years, on October 5th, 1945 published a positive review of Germany is Our Problem, concluding that the whole world would benefit if key US decision makers responsible for policy about Germany took its content into consideration.
It was written by Henry Morgenthau Jr. (1891-1967), who until July 22nd of that year had been Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) and briefly under his successor, Harry S. Truman (1884-1972).
His father Henry Morgenthau Sr. (1856-1946), born in the small city of Mannheim in the Grand Duchy of Baden in southwestern Germany, was the son of a Jewish cigar manufacturer who immigrated with his family to New York in 1866.
From 1913 to 1916, the wealthy lawyer and businessman served as the second last American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, where he was faced with accumulating evidence about the systematic mass murder and expulsion of 1.5 million Christian Armenians from April 1915 on.
Disgusted by news about similar atrocities committed against Jews, in 1944 Morgenthau Jr. also got involved in foreign policy, and together with senior colleague Harry Dexter White (1892-1948) formulated some pretty extreme ideas about Germany’s future after World War II.
The original memorandum, written sometime between January and early September 1944, called for defeated Germany to lose not only its heavy, war-making industry, concentrated mainly in the western Ruhr area and the equally coal-rich Saar region.
The former would become part of an international zone up to the Danish border and the latter be definitely annexed by France, which together with the United Kingdom had controlled it under a League of Nations mandate after World War I.
Stripped of all existing industries, weakened and controlled in a way that in the foreseeable future it couldn’t become an industrialized nation again, Germany was to be converted into “a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character”.
For that purpose, Germany would be allowed to keep its rich farmlands in Pomerania, East Brandenburg, also known as the Neumark, and the Western part of Silesia, but not East Prussia, to be divided between Poland and the Soviet Union.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), who favored radical industrial dismantlement, insisted on the Oder-Neisse line decided at the recently finished Potsdam Conference, which moved those farming areas out of Germany.
Roosevelt had granted permission for the book while with Morgenthau the evening before his sudden death on April 12th in Warm Springs, a spa town in Georgia which he frequented due to his paralytic illness.
Against strong opposition by US Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson (1867-1950) and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (1897-1977), a revised plan was finally agreed upon by persuading the initially very reluctant British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) at the Second Quebec Conference, a high-level military conference held in mid-September 1944. However, it no longer included a partition of Germany into several independent new states and respected Stalin’s wish.
After relevant information leaked by an unknown source from White’s surroundings to columnist Andrew Russell Pearson (1897-1969) was made public on September 21st, Roosevelt first denied the existence of the plan, only to later partially pull back.
On the other side, the National Socialists used the sinister proposal, especially coming from a Jew, to encourage their troops and citizens to fight on. Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) spoke of Germany being turned into a potato field.
Among others, General Omar Bradley (1893-1981), first chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff , noticed “a near-miraculous revitalization of the German army.” Resistance in general had apparently strengthened.
Although in the end the scheme wasn’t fully put in practice due to its horrendous implications for all involved, it had an early influence. On May 10th, 1945, Truman signed JCS directive 1067, by which the US military government led by General “Ike” Eisenhower (1890-1969) was ordered to “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany or designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy”.
The beginning Cold War led to a new evaluation of the situation and a change of mind. JCS 1779, issued on July 10th, 1947, stated that “An orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive (West) Germany”. Nevertheless, considering the Bundeswehr’s sad current condition, at least Morgenthau’s vision of permanently eliminating German war potential and its ability to start another armed conflict is nowadays a reality. He would be very pleased.