Letter from Henry L Stimson to Harry Truman (1944)

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I have considered the paper entitled “Suggested Recommendations on Treatment of Germany from the Cabinet Committee for the President”, dated September 4th, submitted to the Committee by the Secretary of State and have discussed it with my colleagues on the Committee.

With the exception of the last paragraph I find myself in agreement with the principles stated therein and they are in conformity with the lines upon which we have been proceeding in the War Department in our directives to the Armed Forces.

The last paragraph, however, is as follows:

  • The primary objectives of our economic policy are (1) the standard of living of the German population shall be held down to subsistence levels; (2) German economic position of power in Europe must be eliminated; (3) German economic capacity must be converted in such manner that it will be so dependent upon imports and exports that Germany cannot by its own devices reconvert to war production.

While certain of these statements by themselves may possibly be susceptible of a construction with which I would not be at variance, the construction put upon them at the discussion this morning certainly reached positions to which I am utterly opposed. The position frankly taken by some of my colleagues was that the great industrial regions of Germany known as the Saar and the Ruhr with their very important deposits of coal and ore should be totally transformed into a non-industrialized area of agricultural land.

I cannot conceive of such a proposition being either possible or effective and I can see enormous general evils coming from an attempt to so treat it. During the past eighty years of European history this portion of Germany was one of the most important sources of the raw materials upon which the industrial and economic livelihood of Europe was based. Upon the production which came from the raw materials of this region during those years, the commerce of Europe was very largely predicated. Upon that production Germany became the largest source of supply to no less than ten European countries, viz: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Austria- Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria; and the second largest source of supply to Great Britain, Belgium, and France. By the same commerce, which in large part arose from this production, Germany also became the best buyer or customer of Russia, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria-Hungary; and the second best customer of Great Britain, Sweden, and Denmark. The production of these materials from this region could not be sealed up and obliterated as was proposed this morning, without manifestly causing a great dislocation to the trade upon which Europe has lived. In Germany itself this commerce has built up since 1870 a population of approximately thirty million more people than were ever supported upon the agricultural soil of Germany alone. Undoubtedly a similar growth of population took place in the nations which indirectly participated in the commerce based upon this production.

I cannot treat as realistic the suggestion that such an area in the present economic condition of the world can be turned into a non-productive “ghost territory” when it has become the center of one of the most industrialized continents in the world, populated by peoples of energy, vigor and progressiveness.

I can conceive of endeavoring to meet the misuse which Germany has recently made of this production by wise systems of control or trusteeship or even transfers of ownership to other nations. But I cannot conceive of turning such a gift of nature into a dust heap.

War is destruction. This war more than any previous war has caused gigantic destruction. The need for the recuperative benefits of productivity is more evident now than ever before throughout the world. Not to speak of Germany at all or even her satellites, our Allies in Europe will feel the need of the benefit of such productivity if it should be destroyed. Moreover, speed of reconstruction is of great importance, if we hope to avoid dangerous convulsions in Europe.

We contemplate the transfer from Germany of ownership of East Prussia, Upper Silesia, Alsace and Lorraine (each of them except the first containing raw materials of importance) together with the imposition of general economic controls. We also are considering the wisdom of a possible partition of Germany into north and south sections, as well as the creation of an internationalized State in the Ruhr. With such precautions, or indeed with only some of them, it certainly should not be necessary for us to obliterate all industrial productivity in the Ruhr area, in order to preclude its future misuse.

Nor can I agree that it should be one of our purposes to hold the German population “to a subsistence level” if this means the edge of poverty. This would mean condemning the German people to a condition of servitude in which, no matter how hard or how effectively a man worked, he could not materially increase his economic condition in the world. Such a program would, I believe, create tensions and resentments far outweighing any immediate advantage of security and would tend to obscure the guilt of the Nazis and the viciousness of their doctrines and their acts.

By such economic mistakes I cannot but feel that you would also be poisoning the springs out of which we hope that the future peace of the world can be maintained.

It is primarily by the thorough apprehension, investigation, and trial of all the Nazi leaders and instruments of the Nazi system of terrorism, such as the Gestapo, with punishment delivered as promptly, swiftly, and severely as possible, that we can demonstrate the abhorrence which the world has for such a system and bring home to the German people our determination to extirpate it and all its fruits forever.

My basic objection to the proposed methods of treating Germany which were discussed this morning was that in addition to a system of preventive and educative punishment they would add the dangerous weapon of complete economic oppression. Such methods, in my opinion, do not prevent war; they tend to breed war.

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