Morgenthau Plan for postwar Germany

In 1944, Morgenthau proposed the Morgenthau Plan for postwar Germany, calling for Germany to lose the heavy industry, and the Ruhr area “should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it can not in the foreseeable future become an industrial area”. Germany would keep its rich farmlands in the east. However Stalin insisted on the Oder-Neisse border, which moved those farming areas out of Germany. Therefore the original Morgenthau plan had to be dropped, Gerhard Ludwig Weinberg argues, because it was “too soft on the Germans, not too hard as some still imagine.”

At the Second Quebec Conference on September 16, 1944, Roosevelt and Morgenthau persuaded the initially very reluctant British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to agree to the Morgenthau plan, likely using a $6 billion Lend Lease agreement to do so. Churchill chose however to narrow the scope of Morgenthau’s proposal by drafting a new version of the memorandum, which ended up being the version signed by the two statesmen. The gist of the signed memorandum was “This programme for eliminating the war-making industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar is looking forward to converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character.”

The plan faced opposition in Roosevelt’s cabinet, primarily from Henry L. Stimson, and when the plan was leaked to the press, there was public criticism of Roosevelt. The President’s response to inquiries was to deny the press reports. As a consequence of the leak, Morgenthau was in bad favor with Roosevelt for a time.

German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the leaked plan, with some success, to encourage the German people to persevere in their war efforts so that their country would not be turned into a “potato field.”

General George Marshall complained to Morgenthau that German resistance had strengthened. Hoping to get Morgenthau to relent on his plan for Germany, Roosevelt’s son-in-law, Lt. Colonel John Boettiger, who worked in the United States War Department, explained to Morgenthau how the American troops that had had to fight for five weeks against fierce German resistance to capture Aachen and complained to him that the Morgenthau Plan was “worth thirty divisions to the Germans.”

In late 1944, Roosevelt’s election opponent, Thomas Dewey, said it was worth “ten divisions”. Morgenthau refused to relent.

On May 10, 1945, Truman signed the U.S. occupation directive JCS 1067.

Morgenthau told his staff that it was a big day for the Treasury, and that he hoped that “someone doesn’t recognize it as the Morgenthau Plan.”  The directive, which was in effect for over two years directed the U.S. forces of occupation to “…take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany”.

In occupied Germany Morgenthau left a direct legacy through what in OMGUS commonly were called “Morgenthau boys”. These were U.S. Treasury officials whom General Dwight D. Eisenhower had “loaned” in to the Army of occupation. These people ensured that JCS 1067 was interpreted as strictly as possible. They were most active in the first crucial months of the occupation, but continued their activities for almost two years following the resignations of Morgenthau in mid-1945, and some time later, of their leader, Colonel Bernard Bernstein, who was “the repository of the Morgenthau spirit in the army of occupation”. They resigned when, in July 1947, JCS 1067 was replaced by JCS 1779 which instead stressed that “An orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany.”

Morgenthau’s legacy was also seen in the plans for preserving German disarmament by significantly reducing German economic might (see also The industrial plans for Germany)

In October 1945, Morgenthau published a book titled Germany Is Our Problem in which he described and motivated the Morgenthau plan in great detail. Roosevelt had granted permission for the book the evening before his death, when dining with Morgenthau at Warm Springs. Morgenthau had asked Churchill for permission to also include the text of the then still secret “pastoralization” memorandum signed by Churchill and FDR at Quebec but permission was denied. In November 1945 General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone, approved the distribution of 1000 free copies of the book to American military officials in occupied Germany. Historian Stephen Ambrose draws the conclusion that, despite Eisenhower’s later claims that the act was not an endorsement of the Morgenthau plan, Eisenhower both approved of the plan and had previously given Morgenthau at least some of his ideas on how Germany should be treated.

Following his resignation, along with other prominent individuals such as the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, Morgenthau remained for several years an active member of the group campaigning for a “harsh peace” for Germany.

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