Chapter Twelve

Garrulous Warmongers

Fortunately for the record, American officials are in the habit of talking much more freely than their British opposite numbers. Much that used to lie within the realms of "secret diplomacy" has come out into the open since the American amateurs have taken to running affairs in Europe. There was a lunatic fringe in both British and American headquarters in Berlin which hoped that the new war would be provoked any day. The British in general kept quiet about their plans, but not so the Americans. After the first couple of martini cocktails, they talked openly – and sometimes in front of German politicians whom they hoped to impress or correspondents whom they hoped to win over to their side. That wasn't very wise.

The Germans made the mistake of thinking that this sabre-rattling came straight from the White House; that it was a reflection of American public opinion; that soon their estates, factories, lost jobs and lost territories – not to mention their uniforms – would be restored to them by force of arms. And the correspondents – they sometimes made notes for future reference.

Mr. Richard (Dick) Scammon was one of those who believed in taking everybody into his confidence about the plans of the U.S. War Department – at that time managed by the unfortunate Forrestal, who was soon to lose his reason. Scammon was in charge of Political Parties in the Civil Affairs Administration (approximately Ministry of the Interior) of American Military Government. I have had many conversations with him, sometimes socially, sometimes in his office. The most memorable discussion was at a luncheon attended by Mr. Joseph Alsop, columnist of the New York Herald-Tribune, a chief of Administration in the Soviet Zone (since fired) and several other prominent German politicians.

Mr. Alsop was full of strength through joy of the U.S. monopoly of the atom-bomb that day, and predicted cheerfully that Russia would be knocked out in a very short time in the coming war – it was late 1947. I was silenced with the hors d'oeuvres – as the only Britisher present – for offering the view that the English people did not want to get involved in another war for the sake of Germany or Berlin; for suggesting that however much the English liked their American cousins, they did not fancy the idea of an American occupation of England – or the conception of England as a "static aircraft carrier" with the English people having no more independence than natives on the island of Guam. I felt I could even voice the opinion of some British Conservatives that Hitler had promised to destroy Bolshevism in Russia and instead had brought it half-way across Europe, and that American threats to drive it back from the Elbe made honest capitalists shudder lest they should bring Bolshevism to the English channel, if not further.

I was asked with some fierceness if the English had turned "yellow," if England was preparing another “Munich." While 1 meekly dealt with my soup, Mr. Scammon and Mr. Alsop mapped out the grand strategy, brushing countries and populations aside with a flick of the serviette as if they were crumbs.

"How can the Russians move across Europe when they think of warfare in Napoleonic concepts, with horse and cart transport and logistics reckoned in terms of hay for their horses?" asked pundit Alsop with bitter scorn. "Anyway, we 'don't have to worry too much about how the Russians spread themselves over the land-mass ofEurope. We have been through all this with the Japanese. There were some pessimists who felt we would be fighting the Japanese for generations, just because they were spread all over Asia. But my point of view – the view that Washington eventually adopted too – was that you hit them in the home base, right on the island itself. Hit them in the head, stab them in the heart. The limbs and roots will die of their own accord. That's what we did with Japan. And it worked. That's what we do with Russia. Drop that bomb on their big cities and how long will they last? What's the good of their armies in France, Italy or anywhere else in Europe, once their production and nerve centres are knocked out?"

1 ventured to suggest that Japan had already been beaten in the Pacific when the bomb was dropped; that the Soviet Army immediately smashed Japan's elite Kwantung Army in Manchuria; that her industry was conveniently concentrated in a few-score miles, which laid her wide open to bombing of any sort; and that as far as Russia's Napoleonic concepts went, the Soviet Army made Hitler's "blitzkrieg" look like snail's progress when they moved more men across Europe than America even sent abroad in World War II. However, I was demolished along with the Soviet Union's armies, and Messrs. Alsop and Scammon continued to lay down the larger, global strategies. Scammon, who was often a mouthpiece of Military Government, was the U.S. official in closest touch with German political leaders, so there is no doubt they were kept informed of his views.

"The hell of it is," complained Scammon, "that the State Department is always six months behind us. They have only just now accepted our demand to set up a separate West German state. We have been all set to go on that for more than six months. They keep holding us back on the most stupid technicalities. Now they've accepted the idea of a separate state, of course, we're ready to go ahead with the Peace Statute."

This discussion took place a few weeks before the decisive Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in London, late November, 1947. Mr. Marshall torpedoed the meeting so that the plans for the separate state could be rushed through without further delay.

"With the Peace Statute signed," continued Scammon, "we can make Germany an ally. We'll have a seventeenth nation in the Marshall plan with its heavy industry and 44 million more people on our side." (The French were still chary of throwing their zone into Bizonia at that time, – Author.) "But the State Department's holding us up. We're losing precious time. We should be all set to go in another few months."

"You mean by the time the State Department has accepted the idea of a separate Peace Treaty, you will be all set to...?" and I didn't even finish the sentence.

"Well, of course, we'll be ready to go." Scammon, who is an enormous man with a boyish, rosy, fat face, smiled at me as one dealing with a child. "I should say we'll be ready to go. As a matter of fact, one of my last jobs has been drawing up a paper on our occupation policy for the Soviet Union." And the self-fancied future Gauleiter Scammon went on to discuss seriously how the collective farms and industrial complexes would be handled. On the whole, he thought the farms could be left pretty well alone. It was the most economical way of farming, after all, in accordance with modern American methods. But industry? It would have to be – of all words – decartelised.

One could just see Standard Oil, General Motors, Bethlehem Steel, following the Scammons as Krupps and I. G  Farben had followed the armies of Hitler, their appetites whetted by the schemes of somebody in the War Department whose directives Scammon was following. It seems there was more than one certifiable lunatic like Forrestal there at that time. If all this seems fantastic and was fantastic, it is a reflection of something that was real and dangerous. Scammon as Scammon is a great bullying playboy, in charge of German political parties, an egomaniac who fancied himself as a prime political and military strategist. But the views he was expressing were not his own. They were the views, too, which were being handed down to German politicians to encourage them in their arrogance towards the Russians. Herr Stadtrat Reuter was there that day; drinking in the Scammon poison and already seeing himself re-installed as Gauleiter ofthe Volga Germans. A discredited Christian-Democrat leader was also there. Small wonder that the German puppetpoliticians shouted their insults and threats to the Russians.

On another occasion, in the presence of a shocked, senior British official, Scammon expressed himself on the manpower necessary to beat the Russians. "Of course, we'll have to mobilise the Germans," he said. "We have the nucleus of a very good army in the industrial police in our zone. Best foot-soldiers in the world." Those were not the sort of things to discuss before a newspaper correspondent – as the scandalised British official knew very well.

Mr. Scammon believed very firmly in the "preventive war." "I will be in Switzerland myself," he said, and when the future Mayor of Berlin, Reuter, said he hoped a place would be found for him "on the last train out of Berlin," Scammon grinned and said, "Maybe, even in the second last train." After the events in Czechoslovakia in February, 1948, Scammon was chosen by U.S. military government to broadcast to the Czechs to buoy up the hopes of the dispossessed and opposition. He begged them to "hold on a little longer." The hour of "liberation" from the "Red Nazis" was at hand, he promised.

Mr. Scammon's views were not a result of his own peculiar mental and political outlook. They were an extreme and energetic but faithful reflection of the views of many of his superiors.

In December, 1948, together with my colleagues Leo Muray of the Manchester Guardian, and Peter Sturzberg of the London Daily Herald, I interviewed some members of the Armed Services Committee of the United States Congress. They arrived in Berlin as part of a protracted European tour. The chief of the Committee, Congressman Short, a Republican, had distinguished himself in Frankfurt by telling correspondents that his solution for the blockade of Berlin would be to send a couple of squadrons of B.29's loaded with atom bombs and drop them on the Russians to make them "see reason." This sort of talk was known as "pepping up the morale of the Germans."

We missed Congressman Short but managed to see two of the committee, Congressman Bridges and Congressman Paul W. Shafer, of Michigan. We buttonholed them as they were going into dinner at Hanag House, the hotel where Very Important Visitors were accommodated in the U.S. sector of Berlin.

"Well, gentlemen," said Mr. Shafer, after introductions had been made and he had satisfied himself that we all worked for respectable newspapers, "I don't know that there's very much we can tell you, but shoot away."

It so happened that at that time there was a great gathering of official bigwigs at U.S. headquarters. It had doubtless been planned some weeks ahead and was meant to have finalised plans for the Republican-led "quick war" which was to have materialised in the summer of 1949. There was General Bedell-Smith, Ambassador to the Soviet Union, who had just arrived from Moscow; Secretary of the Army Royall, from Washington; Secretary for Air Symington, and Clay, both of whom had recently arrived from Washington. The Committee had stopped off in Paris and in Frankfurt. We asked Mr. Shafer if he had seen the generals and "big shots" and what were his impressions.

"There's gotta be a showdown with these Russians," he said, "and we're ready to go right now. Yes, sir, there's no doubt about it. The longer we wait, the worse things'll get for us. I don't mind telling you boys that we were mighty worried when we left the States, but after what we've seen and heard over here, we're not worried any more. We're ready to go just as soon as they like."

"Did Ambassador Bedell-Smith think the Russians are getting ready to move?"

"Well, he wouldn't want to say that. No. sir, he didn't give that impression, but he thinks there's gotta be a showdown all right. And better to have it when we're ready to go, not when they are."

"But who's going to do the fighting? Where are you going to get your ground troops from?"

"We're not too worried about that, not after what we've seen down in the Zone."

"You mean, arm the Germans? You think you can whip the Germans up into an army again?"

Congressman Shafer winked roguishly at his companion. "Now, I don't think we want to say anything about that, do we?" And he answered his own query. "No, sir, I wouldn't want to tell you anything about that. Of course, you may be sure that's one of the problems we've discussed out here. When we get back to the States we'll draft a report and make certain recommendations to Congress, but I wouldn't want to say what those recommendations would be."

"General Halder, the former Chief of Staff of the German Army, recently made a statement that he was in touch with former officers, and could get an army together in no time. Do you think that's correct?"

"Why, certainly. No problem at all. They've got the raw material down there all right. But that's not the important thing right now. First we've got to get German industry going full blast, and it's well on its way in that direction now."

"The French have expressed some fears about this revival of German industry; about building up a strong Germany as a base for war. Even General de Gaulle made a pretty strong speech about that a few days ago. He said very plainly that France didn't want a strong Germany. Did you have a chance to go into that aspect while you were in Paris? Won't you have to count fairly heavily on France if this 'showdown' comes about?"

(De Gaulle made his speech out of chagrin over the results of the U.S. Presidential elections. There seems little doubt that John Foster Dulles, a great admirer and friend of de Gaulle, promised the latter that, in his role of Secretary of State in the new Republican Congress, he would see to it that Germany industry was trimmed back.

Dulles was in favour of transferring much of it to France, even to Spain. Correspondents were specially sent to Germany to gather material about the vulnerability of German industry in case of war with the Russians. Long, inspired articles about this began appearing in the Republican press, suggesting that the industrial base for World War III be shifted further west, if possible behind the Pyrenees. It was good propaganda to bring Franco officially back into the fold again, and of course it would have been a trump card for de Gaulle, who Dulles was confident would soon take over in France.)

At this last question the roguish look came back into the face of the Deputy Chief of the Armed Services Committee – a look which said: "If only I could tell you poor dopes what's actually going on!"

"You boys," he said, "can be sure we've taken all that into consideration. The French are being very awkward, that I won't deny. But we figure we can do thejob without them. Let them stay out of it. As long as they stay neutral. That's all we ask. Then they can stay right out of it as far as we're concerned. Won't make a bit of difference. At the moment they're making things awkward by saying 'No.' Just let them stay neutral. Don't let them come in with us and not against us. Just stay quiet and we'll do the job all right."

It was a front-page story in the French press next day, as the Armed Services Committee were blithely continuing their trip to Rome, to see what contribution the former Fascist armies were prepared to make. There was a mild uproar in the French parliament, but the whole thing was dismissed as the ravings of a garrulous team of Congressmen, talking out of turn. And so they were. One could have dismissed the whole thing as a product of their war-fevered imaginations, had it not been that they were speaking to us just after they had been in conference with top executives of the U.S. Armed Forces, with the C.I.C. Germany and the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow. The views they were expressing could only have been the reflection of the Royalls, Symingtons and Clays.

The congressmen had left the United States before the elections. They were sure of a Republican victory; Republicans were even in a majority on the seven-man committee. They were counting on big business and the generals being even more firmly in the saddle than under Truman. They had not at all reckoned on the electors expressing their will for peace, and returning the less belligerent of the two parties to power. But if leading congressmen barked like that when they came to Germany, one could understand the pro-war, anti-Russian yelpings of the West German politicians.

I tested out the committee members' views on a French acquaintance of mine who occupied a very high position in the French administration in Germany. He confirmed that the French were asked for a straight "yes" or "no" as to whether or not they would fight for Berlin. He said the French answer was a very definite "no," and after the French reply there were equally decided "noes" from the Benelux countries. The British reply was a "yes" with some qualifications.

(This took place in the days when General Clay was floating his proposal to send an armed task force up the Helmstedt road to "bust its way through the Soviet Zone and the blockade to Berlin." This would have meant at least a shooting incident, if not something graver, with the Western Allies clearly the aggressors. The British were not prepared to support such a project with one armoured division in Germany, which could not have landed one tank in Berlin if the Russians decided to defend their zone only with tank-traps and land-mines. General Clay, according to American reports, was recalled to Washington and reprimanded for his proposal.)

The reasoning which prompted such projects, as explained to me time and again in early 1949 by incautious American officials, was something like this:

"There has got to be a showdown with the Russians. Why let them pick the time and place? Much better that we decide that. We can't just say we're going to start a war and run it that way, because Congress won't let us and Congress has to approve an act of war. In any case, we can't get the other countries in Western Europe to come in on a straight-out preventive war. The last Paris session of the United Nations showed how nervous and scared they all are. But we reckon if we get the thing started, no one will be able to back down. If a shooting war starts right here in Berlin, Congress will have to back us up, and once we get stuck into it, the countries of Western Europe will have to get in too – if only to defend themselves. Are we ready for a war? Hell, that's not the point. The important thing is to get it started. The Air Force, 15 German divisions, and the atom-bomb can carry the ball long enough for us to get ready. We didn't get ready last time till we had Pearl Harbour to give us a kick-off – we're gonna need the same thing this time. That's the reason we mustn't fall for any Russian tricks or compromises that might look like liquidating this Berlin situation."

If one pointed out that there were no signs of Russian preparations for a "show down," no mobilising of troops, no troop-movements in Eastern Europe, no building of airfields, and above all no psychological preparation in the Russian press, absolutely no war propaganda, the reply was: "All the more reason to hit them now, while they're unprepared. Why wait until they are ready? Catch them with their pants down, like we were caught in Pearl Harbour."

I know there are many Americans who believe that the war hysteria of 1948 and 1949 was built up artificially in the United States to increase the allotments of the various branches of the armed services, and not with any real intention of going to war. But the intentions were real enough in Berlin.

The Berlin planners, with strong supporters in Washington, had it calculated very neatly that the shooting war would start in June or July, 1949. The enthusiasm died away after the Republican defeat in the elections, and, one by one, the more rabid of the war enthusiasts were removed from office. It would not have been beyond the imagination and scruples of some of the lunatic fringe of war enthusiasts to have rigged an incident, to have had an air-lift plane or two shot down and blame the Russians. There were enough unemployed former Luftwaffe pilots, or even White Russians, to take up a reconstructed Russian Yak and create a Sarajevo in the Air Corridor to Berlin. I know that such projects were discussed.

Fortunately for the world at large, the Russians kept steady nerves during the crisis period and the months of the air-lift. They kept within their rights, but did not respond to provocations which might easily have started the "hot war." They warned British and American planes they would be forced down if they strayed away from the Air Corridor across the Soviet Zone, but otherwise they did not interfere.

At one period, the Russians listed a number of flights by military planes, including jet-fighters, over large areas of the Soviet Zone, from the Baltic Sea to the Czech border. They gave the times of the flights and, where they existed, plane-markings and numbers. They issued a warning that planes in these areas in future would be forced down by Soviet air-patrols. The British hastily said: "These are not our plane-markings. In any case, our pilots are good navigators and would not stray so far afield," The unauthorised flights ceased, however, as from the day of the Russian warning.

Click here to go to Chapter XIII

Click here to return to the index of archival material.