The Problems of Nation Building

In the chaos of Iraq, there are some interesting lessons we might extract from our occupation of post world war II Germany. The historian David Stafford has carefully shown where the similarities and differences between these cases. With the collapse of the Wehrmacht in Germany, the Allies began a de Nazi program–dissolve the party, put war criminals behind bars awaiting trial and retribution, and abolish the Prussian state-often seen as the site of much militarism in that nation. With all their problems, the Germans had a long tradition of law, order, and constitutional government that is very different from the Iraqi state. It took over a decade of occupation before the Allies gave over full power to the new German government.

General Dwight Eisenhower spent two years planning the occupation, and it was clearly left in the hands of the military. The armed forces specifically trained military men of promise who would run the regional governments over the next several years. After the war was declared over, a wave of violence broke out, especially from the slave laborers recently freed from Nazi atrocities. Museums were looted, just as in Baghdad after Saddam fell. Faced with some Nazis who wanted to continue the struggle, the Allies acted ruthlessly and either executedor imprisoned the opponents. Eisenhower made it clear that “We come as conquerors, but not as oppressors.” The military rules not as social workersor asthosepledged toWilsonian liberation.

In their de Nazification program, the Allies had to back off since theyneeded some of the expertise of the older officials. They had the Germans make those decisions as to who should be pardonedor not. Still, self government did not come until 1949 and only then with thehuge boost of the Marshall plan. We can learn much about the problems of nation building, even from the problems of our successes.

Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.