"You cannot believe in democracy without being an optimist. Democracy is identical with the idea that people can live in freedom without abusing it."
Not Madison or Wilson or Roosevelt said that. The author was Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, the son of an Austro-Hungarian count and a Japanese woman. He wrote it in an article published at the end of 1945, in a newspaper printed by German-Americans on the very presses of Goebbels' old "Völlkischer Beobachter," amid the ruins of Munich, where smoke still reeked from caved-in basements and rats waddled in the streets, gorged on God knows what.

He titled it "Der Optimismus Amerikas," "The Optimism of America."

What if, instead of the fitful and incompetent pro-American propaganda the U.S. has attempted to beam into the Islamic world, we had gone into Iraq and set up a team of Kurdish and Shi'ite expatriates who had fled Saddam in the decade or two before the war and gave them a television network.

They would have been chosen for their commitment to a tolerant, democratic, free Iraq, and given training in media. But they would not have been kept on a tight leash. They would be free from any taint of the old regime but not unwilling to question or criticize the occupation of the liberators. They would fully understand the centrality of religious and tribal identities in their country, but they'd be able to use that knowledge to both lure an audience and draw it away from those old foundations, in the ways Iraqis must change if they are to form a strong, free, modern state.

The question is, almost, "what if Americans had set up their own Al Jazeera." The answer is not quite hypothetical. Something similar was done in Germany after World War II, in the form of the newspaper "Neue Zeitung", published for the German population from 1945 to 1955. Printed on the Munich presses of Goebbels' old "Völlkischer Beobachter" newspaper, the "Neue Zeitung" was set up by the U.S. Office of Military Government in Germany to be "an American newspaper for Germans" and to instill in them values that would ensure peace.

Its purpose was to foster the democratic 'reeducation' of German society; to inform locals of U.S. foreign policy, viewpoints, and the American way of life; and to present them 'with a model of U.S. journalistic practice.
As usual, with American projects, this was not a matter of brilliant planning or careful ideology. U.S. officials "were articulate in saying what kind of paper they did not want. But they never clearly said what they did want apart from vague allusions such as 'a democratic newspaper' or 'an official organ of OMGUS.' Consequently, the Neue Zeitung, like a chameleon, continually changed its color. As such, it represents a quite accurate example of the often confused, reluctant, and incoherent course of U.S. policy in postwar Germany."

From the start, a few opportunists at the helm of the "Neue Zeitung" took advantage of bureaucratic confusion and lax rules and turned what had started as a regional Army newspaper meant to dictate to and re-educate the vanquished people into the first strong voice of modern, post-Nazi Germany. It was a smashing success with its readers, and it helped awaken a beaten-down Germany.

With the important distinction that the Americans ruled in Germany in 1945 as part of a team of theoretically equal allies, and that they came ostensibly as conquerors, not liberators, it's difficult to read "Transmission Impossible," the academic historical study by Jessica C.E. Gienow-Hecht (written in 1999) and not be struck by comparisons to the situation in Iraq.

At the end of the war, American troops flooded into Germany with no coherent overall national policy for the occupation, let alone for Germany's reeducation.
President Roosevelt refused to commit to a definitive plan. The War Department and the State Department wanted to let the Germans up easy in a "soft peace;" the Treasury Department on the other hand wanted to dismantle the Prussian military-industrial complex and turn Germany back to pre-modern pastoral state, while the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) wanted to transform the Germans and unleash their potential for modern democracy. None of them quite got their way.
In the end, the occupation became the army's job for more than four years. This develoment exacted its price. The rather abstract and idealistic definition of reeducation endorsed by scientists, policy makers, and intellectuals proved useless to U.S. military officials. Trained as soldiers, they expected clear orders rather than philosophical concepts. 'I had no policy given to me as to what kind of democracy we wanted,' [U.S. Military Governor Gen. Lucius D.] Clay recalled many decades later. 'I did not have very much experience in the field myself, never having voted myself.'
The American effort in postwar Germany benefitted, however, from the fact that, in four years of warfare, a team of German-speaking émigré intellectuals who had fled the Third Reich had been brought together and trained at Camp Sharpe in Maryland in information media, psychological warfare, and psychology. Many were Jewish, and many had lived in America for decades. But largely they loved and understood Germany, and when they went back there after the fall of Hitler, they were home again.

Heading the newspaper in its crucial early years was Hans Habe, dandy, scion of a Hungarian-Jewish publishing family, who had edited a Viennese paper before the anschluß and had revealed to the world in 1935 that the Führer's family name was not "Hitler" but "Schicklgruber." Habe agreed with U.S. strategies of democratizing Germany to restore it to a place of honor among nations. But he loudly disapproved of strategies.

In his opinion, the Allies had to make democracy appealing by presenting it like a movie, not a lecture, to the German audience. Like moviegoers, the Germans would view the reeducation program with both curiosity and skepticism, always considering if they should continue watching or leave the theater. In order to make the audience 'stay,' as in a theater, the political reformation had to catch the Germans' attention, stir their natural curiosity, cater to their historical experience, and woo their taste in matters of Kultur. And as with a good movie, the program had to include famous actors, a dynamic plot, and many dramatic scenes.
"Kuktur" meant an emphasis on high art, as opposed to popular culture. It meant long articles by intellectuals, a gray front page, and ponderous prose. Yet Habe and his staff successfully wove into these recognizable German frameworks themes of freedom, creativity, individualism, and tolerance.

The exiles and émigrés assumed the role of "cultural middlemen." "The émigrés at the "Neue Zeitung" believed that reeducation could not consist simply of familiarizing Germans with American culture and showing them the advantages of democracy. Instead, they encouraged local readers to broaden their closed notion of Kultur and accept other concepts and ideas. They packaged American culture and ideas in the context of German highbrow culture, Bildung, and gender conceptions, and emphasized core democratic values, such as tolerance and individualism, by appealing to very traditional German interpretations of Kultur, such as elitist art."

The editors' effort to cloak U.S. values in a German guise is most obvious in their handling of Americana. They chose not to emphasize American material lifestyles because the vast gulf between the prosperity of postwar America and the sense of hopelessness in defeated Germany would have made the contrast even more painful to their readers. When covering the United States they usually wrote from the perspective of a cosmopolitan observer and focused on the country's political significance, culture, way of life, and German-American mutual perceptions. European academics, POWs, and prominent émigrés enthusiastically recounted their experiences in U.S. cities, camps, and universities.
In addition to the émigrés, the "Neue Zeitung" staff consisted in part of native German journalists who had been more or less untainted by Nazi publishing. The Germans in the newsroom included communists and socialists as well as conservatives and non-Nazi nationalists. But they, too, brought a mix of ideas. Two of the editors had been in the German army but deserted to the American side during the fighting in Italy in 1944. They had been sent stateside to reeducation camps.
They admired Franklin D. Roosevelt and preferred the American admixture of philosophy, sober pragmatism and basic optimism, over the cultural pessimism (Kulturpessimismus) of Heidegger and Spengler. [Alfred] Andersch returned from the United States not with a knapsack full of canned food, as did many of his fellow prisoners, but with loads of American books.
Another former tank soldier on the staff had kept a diary during the war in which he consistently referred to Hitler as "that pig." The book was found, the soldier was court-martialed, and likely would have been hanged had not a sympathetic judge produced an opinion ruling the man was insane due to a past unhappy love affair.

The "Neue Zeitung" was a phenomenal success. Three months into its existence, circulation had jumped from 500,000 copies per issue to 1.6 million. And from the very start, American authorities slammed the paper for the exact reasons that Germans loved it.

Nazi leaders had worked hard to associate America with lack of culture and Jewish domination. But average Germans had long since embraced many aspects of American life, and this continued during the war. They danced to "decadent" jazz records from the States even after 1941. "Mickey Mouse was so popular that it appeared on the coat of arms of a German battalion."

The "Neue Zeitung" constantly was under pressure from various U.S. military authorities, despite their common goal of introducing democracy to Germans. The émigrés, many of them leftists, picked and chose from the menu of American life for ideals they thought worthy of or appropriate for German life.

While rejecting the notions of unlimited capitalism, economic individualism, and unrestrained freedom, the editors praised the educational advantages, the functional optimism and idealism, and the guaranteed right to the 'pursuit of happiness' in the United States. 'What is the basic difference between the American and the European spirit?' the pan-European socialist Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi asked. 'The foremost difference is the gap between American optimism and European pessimism. European pessimism may be one of the reasons why Europe failed in its great effort to lead the world. American optimism will be a great plus for fulfilling this task.' Europeans regarded the American belief in mankind's goodness as naive. Americans, in turn, found Europeans' cynicism and fear of the evil in mankind troublesome. 'You cannot believe in democracy without being an optimist,' Coudenhove-Kalergi continued. 'Democracy is identical with the idea that people can live in freedom without abusing it.' Germans had to recognize the 'right to happiness' as a purpose in life, not as a side effect.
That Coudenhove-Kalergi piece (titled "Der Optimismus Amerikas"), from the Dec. 21, 1945, "Neue Zeitung" is deeply resonant for U.S.-European relations today. It also can say a lot about internal American political dichotomies in this age of wars of liberation and terrorism. It can illuminate a land that some people look at and see freedom on the march and others look at and see a cesspool of repression and torture. Just so, the small but significant omission that converts "pursuit of happiness" to "right of happiness" can explain much that covers the same ground.

Letters to the editor and readership polls in the "Neue Zeitung" showed strong disapproval of the "Nuremberg Trials" in 1946. "[M]any readers doubted the legitimacy of an international court in which the victors judged the losers after having vanquished them militarily." No doubt the Germans felt this because they identified with the defendants. Their excuses of "just following orders" could have applied, more or less, to most Germans who had survived the war, who, regardless of their personal beliefs, occupied some position in the gray area between active and enthusiastic cooperation with the Third Reich and open resistance to it. Most had simply kept their heads down and followed orders when they could not avoid them. They knew the distinction between "good" and "bad" Germans was artificial and false.

The letters to the editor were a sore point with U.S. authorities. At the end of the first year, an official report counted a total of 140,000 letters. By September 1947, ten employees did nothing but read letters to the editor. A great many of them sounded off criticizing this or that aspect of the U.S. occupation. After 12 years of Goebbels' censorship, the outpouring was remarkable. "Habe welcomed this outspoken critique as a manifestation of democratic freedom and willingness to think."

But one critical report on the paper from U.S. authorities, in April 1946, wrote, "A quarter of a million American lives were not lost, and untold billions of dollars spent, for us now to fear German public opinion. We did not fear German reaction to American ideas and life while our troops were hammering at Germany's front lines. Why now, with victory in our hands, should we be afraid to tread on Germany's ideological toes?" The harsh criticism of the paper even extended to its bad reviews of second-rate Hollywood movies, reviews which were slammed as "sabotage."

Habe fought to keep his paper in its position. Some wanted to quickly re-license the German media and put the news back in local hands. He petitioned against this. He also resisted pressure to "Americanize" the "Neue Zeitung." As early as November 1945 he battled a dictum to print at least two American authors for every German writer, in part by scanning his superiors' list of "German" authors among those the paper had given ink to so far -- 74 percent, so the bureaucrat said -- and discovering Carl Sandburg and John Steinbeck on the list. The superior lamely responded that since they were Teutonic names, "the Germans will take them for Germans," but it's hard to resist the conclusion that Habe had scored a point.

Yet a greater problem for Habe's superiors was that they never could be clear on what they meant by "American" views or news.

Confusing "American" with "democratic," they regarded the customs, the products and the journalistic practices of the United States as pillars of democracy. They felt they had fought the war for the American way of life. They failed to see that by catering to German Kultur, the editors successfully communicated some uniquely American values.
And they did so as well by giving reign to the free exchange of ideas and the competitive interplay of the written word. That, more than any front-page design or feature article or the letters in the author's name, marked an American newspaper and a free press.

Before 1948, the émigré editors and reporters of the "Neue Zeitung" had to satisfy the U.S. authorities' ambitions to denazify Germany. Operating mostly without direct oversight, and fending off critics in the U.S. government, they managed to build a strong readership base among the German people, and to instil, by example, the principles of free speech, free press, tolerance and individualism that would be essential for Germany's transition from totalitarianism to democracy.

But as the Cold War dawned, the authorities began to try to use the newspaper in direct competition with the Soviets for the hearts and minds of the Germans. Shortly before the ratification of the German Basic Law, and the emergence of the Federal Republic of Germany as a sovereign nation, U.S. authorities took charge of the paper in a disastrous bid to turn it into a propaganda instrument.

... In 1945 the "Neue Zeitung" was no more than an accidental by-product of information policy and a model of sound democratic journalism. In 1946 it was supposed to be a vital tool of denazification but also a reminder of Soviet-American friendship. Less than one year later, the "Neue Zeitung" emerged as an anticommunist propaganda tool. And in 1949 it was ordered to combine anticommunist, antinationalist, and pro-American viewpoints.
The "Neue Zeitung's" effort of denazification and re-education never was abandoned, but more missions were layered on top of it. The editors juggled the contradictory directives handed down to them in the shifting winds of the early Cold War. At first, they emphasized Allied cooperation as a bulwark against German nationalists' hope of a split. At this early stage of the post-war era, German locals still hesitated to cooperate with the American occupation for fear the Nazis would be back and punish them for it. Ironically, the "Neue Zeitung" was criticized in the early post-war months for being too harsh on the communists. Such issues as the dismantling of eastern German industries and the rapes of German women by Soviet troops were raised in its pages.

But as inter-Allied cooperation crumbled, the newspaper's mission shifted to pulling Germany into the Western orbit in the emerging conflict with Stalin. The State Department came to recognize its utility for promoting American ideology in the Soviet zone, where the Soviets already had tried to ban it.

The last of the émigré editors quit in 1947 out of frustration with U.S. oversight. Their mission to give the German people -- not American propaganda -- but a sense of the truth and hope for the future had been a winning formula everywhere but in the halls of power.

The new editor was Kendall Foss, American-born, Harvard educated, a pious Quaker, fiercly anti-communist but a great admirer of German Kultur. The newspaper's readers at once noticed the change. The U.S. authorities began shipping the editions as much as possible into the Soviet zone, but that cut its readership in the west. Between 1947 and '48, the percentage who found the paper "too American" doubled.

Overall relationships between the Germans and the occupiers were taking a turn for the worse. Drunken troops chased whores, assaulted locals, and engaged in black-market activities. The propaganda drive compounded this frustration among the locals, who felt betrayed. They saw the lesson of journalistic objectivity they had learned in the "Neue Zeitung" turned on its head. "Many Germans disliked not so much the 'ideological' message as America's readiness to spend money on propaganda rather than food, despite the widespread poverty in Germany."

Even some U.S. voices criticized the change.

Journalists such as Walter Lippmann and Marguerite Higgins castigated the propaganda campaign on the grounds that it completely ignored the German experience. While Soviet propaganda played on the Germans' hunger, Edward Hartrich wrote in the "New York Herald Tribune," "too many military government and Army officers in making statements or speeches to Germans indulge in rhapsodies of 'democracy' as if it could be eaten, worn, or spent." Even a few officers in military government dared to criticize the "Vigorous Information Program." "Let us avoid any suggestion of superior wisdom or racial superiority in this program," the Bavarian press chief, James Clark, advised [ICD chief Gordon E.] Textor in December 1947. "Ours is a big country and a powerful one -- but neither is it utopia, nor do we have all the answers."
As the West German elections approached, and the restoration of German sovereignty loomed, U.S. policy makers grew worried that their "democratic experiment" would backfire. Their worst-case scenario was that the elections would increase German nationalism, which would make the new government responsive to Soviet overtures of reunification under the Eastern Bloc.

They responded in part by trying to rein in the "Neue Zeitung" even further. Foss' efforts were found to be insufficiently propagandistic. The authorities particularly criticized an essay about a poor German farmer who wanted to sell one of his eyeballs to a blind American farmer for $10,000 because he needed the money.

Foss was told basically to make the paper a house sheet of the occupying forces. He resisted, the staff revolted, and U.S. authorities cleaned house and started the paper afresh, with their avowed mision to disseminate "U.S. ideas" as fast as possible, since the election was only months away.

Philosophical discussions on politics ceased completely. Now the Germans were told what was right and wrong and what their future was to be. The only enemies of German democracy, authors pointed out repeatedly, were communism and neo-Nazism. ... Virtually every major field of interest -- including the coverage of television, advertising, politics, philosophy, and history -- reflected the effort to propagandize a Western way of life, defended by the United States of America.
Circulation plummeted. By June 2, 1949, the press run was a mere 351,000 copies per issue. By contrast, the Soviet Army's equivalent voice, the "Tägliche Rundschau," sent 700,000 copies every day to Berlin and the Western Zone alone.

The paper was shut down shortly after the election. Gienow-Hecht's conclusion is that the "Neue Zeitung" was a great success at instilling democratic values in the Germans, as long as it was run by people who had roots in, and admired, the local culture yet had lived in America long enough to understand the U.S.

During the past two decades or so, scholars such as Kenneth Thompson, Inis Claude, Michael Hunt, and others have increasingly criticized attempts of U.S. officials to impose American ideology, culture, and products on foreign (particularly vanquished) countries. Driven by a sense of superiority, racism, moralism, and a mission, they argue, Americans substituted the export of market goods for an international cultural dialogue. Looking at postwar conditions in Germany, Ralph Willett concluded in 1989 that U.S. efforts to tie Germany into a Western orbit succeeded best on the material level.

This study takes a different view. It may very well be true that U.S. policy makers in the State and War departments had their own selfish motives when pondering what picture of the United States should be presented in postwar Germany. But they displayed indifference regarding the implementation of their cultural policy there.

And that opened the door for the people who had their hands on the machinery. But then as now, U.S. authorities concentrated on material, programs, and content in cultural foreign policy. They overlooked the importance of the transmitters, the bodies in the seats.
One wonders if the trasmitters of U.S. values should never be American-born. Perhaps they should preferably be natives of the target country with fairly recent exposure to U.S. culture. People who have gone through a process of assimilation from one culture to another -- as many of the émigrés did -- are better equipped to bridge the gulf of understading between them than are persons who stand on one side or the other.
America was and is uniquely stocked with such personnel. People live here who were born and raised in any country you can hit with a dart on a wall map, and any of them could be indispensible ambassadors between clashing civilizations. When this worked in Germany after World War II, however, it did so in spite of, not because of, the U.S. authorities. And the key that opened the door was bureaucratic incompetence.
When questioned about the paper's objectives, officials often displayed a stunning ignorance. In October 1948 a graduate student from the University of California asked for information on the "Neue Zeitung," but the Civil Affairs Division in the Department of Defense was not "able to find an authoritative statement of the paper's official policy."
Into the vacuum stepped just the right men and women for the job.


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© June 22, 2005 Douglas Harper Moe: "Say, what's a good word for scrutiny?" Shemp: "uh ... SCRUTINY!"