- Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949–1959
Alaric Searle adds to the literature on West Germany's struggle with the Nazi past, here within the context of German rearmament in the 1950s. Using a vast selection of German records, Searle examines how Hitler's former generals involved themselves in debates over West Germany's integration into NATO and how their collaboration with Adolf Hitler defined their postwar role. This is a valuable study, to be read in conjunction with Jay Lockenour's Soldiers into Citizens (2001), which examines the integration of Wehrmacht officers into western democracy more generally and David Clay Large's Germans to the Front (1996), which examines rearmament specifically.
Searle reminds us that Nazi era generals spearheaded discussion on rearmament thanks to their technical expertise and their fear that without a German contingent, the Allies would abandon West Germany for a defense on the Rhine. Former staff officers like Hans Speidel and Adolf Heusinger advised and then became senior officials in the West German defense establishment. Former line general Hasso von Manteuffel, a parliamentary deputy after 1949, was involved in all rearmament discussions. Former Field Marshal Eric von Manstein and former Chief of Army General Staff Franz Halder [End Page 1256] advised the government on troop training. General Reinhard Gehlen headed West Germany's intelligence service, loading it with former Army staff officers (and some Soviet penetration agents).
Yet Wehrmacht alumni still did not speak with one voice. Memory of the 20 July 1944 coup attempt from within the army threatened a full assessment of the generals' role under Hitler and a redefinition of German military honor. Thus Konrad Adenauer's first security adviser, former General Count Gerhard von Schwerin, a Hitler-opponent characterized by Manteuffel as an "oath breaker," was victimized by a whispering campaign launched by those who had stood by Hitler at the decisive moment. On the other end of the spectrum, former general Hans Frießner publicly blamed Poland for World War II while former Waffen-SS general Felix Steiner thought new officers should be vetted by men such as himself. Former generals within the defense establishment thus steered between rival memories, either one of which could derail disarmament while calling the character of all German military leaders into question.
With some luck they succeeded. Generals jailed by the Allies for war crimes were judged innocent by most Germans thanks to the veterans' campaigns against "victor's justice." Communist propaganda against Speidel and Heusinger obscured serious debate of the German military's past thanks to its ham-handedness. And West German trials of former generals in the late 1950s, though dramatic, involved crimes against Germans, such as the trial of former Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner (a caricature of a Hitler general) and of Manteuffel himself, tried for the execution of a single German soldier. Successful cooperation between pragmatic former generals and their civilian superiors in creating a new type of German army together with a conscious suppression of the Wehrmacht's worst crimes would delay a full reckoning with the past until after the Cold War. Searle shows nicely how this curious dichotomy occurred.