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  • Experiment in Occupation: Witness to the Turnabout—Anti-Nazi War to Cold War, 1944–1946
  • Eduard Mark
Arthur David Kahn , Experiment in Occupation: Witness to the Turnabout—Anti-Nazi War to Cold War, 1944–1946. University Park, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Experiment in Occupation is a memoir by a quondam member of the Office of Strategic Services assigned to various functions in the American occupation of Germany from late 1944 through May 1946. The work is both an intermittently interesting personal memoir and bad history reminiscent of the more jejune efforts of early Vietnam-era Cold War revisionism. The book rehashes the allegations Kahn first made more than a half-century ago in a privately published work—Betrayal: Our Occupation of Germany, which was subsequently put out by KsiąZka i wiedza in Poland.

Kahn charges that the American occupation of Germany, though redeemed to a small degree by the service of some individuals like himself, was on the whole [End Page 140] botched. His bill of particular failings is threefold: (1) that many of the men assigned to occupation duty had been poorly prepared for their functions and knew too little about German history and the German language; (2) that the occupational authorities disposed too few resources and were overwhelmed by the tasks of reconstruction that confronted them, forcing them to abandon even the small degree of supervision of German life they had achieved; and (3) that the indiscipline of American soldiers and their penchant for corruption tended to undermine the moral authority of the occupation. This much of Kahn's description of the shortcoming of the occupation occasions little surprise, resembling as it does the journalism of the day and even the U.S. Army's official histories.

Kahn, however, pushes his critique further. His fundamental complaint is that the United States lacked a compelling vision of a democratic Germany. This, he believes, was a tragedy because his contacts with Germans left him convinced that most of them had not been deeply tarnished by Nazism and would have responded affirmatively to what Kahn likes to call the "goals of FDR and Eisenhower" if those goals had been adequately presented by a stricter, more comprehensive, and more enduring occupation regime. Under the more lenient occupation, he argues, German conservatives and even outright Nazis were able to reassert themselves, often aided by conservative Americans tainted by anti-Communism. Foremost among these malefactors was General George S. Patton, whose alleged misrule in Bavaria is the subject of two chapters. The result, Kahn laments, was a disaster. One of the final chapters of the book bears a Pravda-like title of leaden irony: "Democracy, American Zone Style!"

When Kahn published Betrayal in 1950, the future of Germany was still very much in question, and his indictment perhaps seemed compelling. But from the perspective of the early twenty-first century his account poses a problem: Germany, as Kahn is forced to admit, did not turn out too badly (p. 180) Moreover, the Germany of today is much more the legatee of the American occupation than of the Soviet occupation, whose policies Kahn frankly admires. To extricate himself from this embarrassment, Kahn produces a deus ex machina: the "democratic resistance" to American misrule waged by German workers and their unions (pp. 178–189). Others might contend that the Western zones flourished in proportion to the curtailment of precisely what Kahn advocates, namely, the strict supervision, which is epitomized in German memories by the jesuitical tyranny of the Frageboden.

As the preceding paragraph will suggest, Kahn's memoir is best when it hews closely to his personal experiences. It is at its most interesting when he relates his personal experiences and reproduces in numerous appendices extracts from his official reports and letters home. But when he ventures further afield, the reader encounters a weird alternative history of postwar events. Thus the fusion of the German Communist Party with parts of the Social Democratic Party into the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in April 1946 was, in his depiction, an aspect of the spontaneous "democratic resistance" by German workers against the American indulgence of reaction, not (as it so plainly was) an...