A Phony "Phony History"
What irony: In opposing President Bush's actions in post-war Iraq,
some critics who accuse the administration of engaging in
"revisionist history" are rewriting history themselves.
What sparked their charge was a pair of speeches given Aug. 25 to
the Veterans of Foreign War by National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In
discussing the problems facing allied occupation forces in Iraq,
Rice and Rumsfeld referred to problems encountered by occupation
forces in post-World War II Germany to show that post-conflict
operations are often fraught with danger and difficulties.
The comparisons sent ex-NSC staffer Daniel Benjamin, a former
Clinton National Security Council aide, on the warpath. In an Aug.
29 article in Slate magazine, scathingly titled "Condi's Phony
History: Sorry, Dr. Rice, postwar Germany was nothing like Iraq,"
Benjamin takes Rice and Rumsfeld to task for mentioning the
Werwolf, Nazi agents trained to carry out acts of sabotage against
the occupying forces.
Benjamin doesn't deny the Werwolf existed, but he dismisses their
significance. "In practice," he sniffs, "Werwolf amounted to next
to nothing." The idea that Allied Forces encountered any meaningful
confrontation after Germany's surrender he rejects as merely "a
This view of post-war Nazi resistance quickly gained currency in
the mainstream press. Articles in The Christian Science Monitor and
The Washington Post quoted Benjamin to suggest that the
administration was guilty of exaggerating conditions in postwar
But Rice and Rumsfeld had it about right. And their main message --
that no one can reasonably expect any occupation to be bloodless,
frictionless and effortless -- should be above dispute.
In his Slate article, Benjamin tries to prove the administration
guilty of "sexing up" the German occupation by citing two history
books that have almost nothing to say on the subject. That's hardly
what you'd call evidence.
Further, he minimizes the significance of what those books report
about the Werwolf resistance. Sure, there was guerrilla warfare,
but measured by Benjamin's grand scale, "… little
materialized." Additionally, he assures us, there was "no major
campaign of sabotage … no destruction of water mains or
energy plants worth noting" (emphasis added). Benjamin appears
fully committed to "sexing down" the situation whenever
What he apparently didn't bother to do is read Perry Biddiscombe's
"Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement,
1944-1946," which gives full chapter and verse on Nazi-postwar
guerrilla operations. It's true that the Werwolf was poorly
organized, and the threat of attacks greatly subsided after a few
months of occupation. But they were very real. A survey of records
by the U.S. Army Center of Military History shows that at least 39
combat deaths occurred in the first few months of the occupation.
If the Nazis had been better organized, the Werwolf might well have
given World War II GIs as much trouble as the thugs in Iraq are
And 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.
Making the postwar reconstruction of Europe appear like a walk in
the park suggests that somehow this administration must have
screwed things up terribly to face such a plethora of problems. In
fact, history suggests the opposite.
Occupations are rarely easy. And it's understandable that the
Pentagon couldn't completely and precisely predict the postwar
conditions it would face in Iraq. In time of conflict, it's
impossible to fully anticipate the end state--what the country will
look like after the war. There is a "fog of peace" fully as dense
as the "fog of war," the phrase Prussian military theorist Carl von
Clausewitz used to describe why battles never go as planned.
Misusing the past offers little insight to understanding the scope
of the challenge the United States faces today. In truth, the key
to success in Iraq is to take a page from the occupations in
postwar Europe: Stand-up a legitimate government and domestic
police forces, and let the people rebuild their own country.
It took four years to do that in post World War II Germany.
Sometimes it takes that much time and effort to be on the right
side of history.
Carafano, author of "Waltzing into the Cold War: The
Struggle for Occupied Austria," and a former instructor at the U.S.
Military Academy, is a senior research fellow for defense and
homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.