[lit-ideas] Unconditional Surrender

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 12 May 2008 15:12:28 -0700

An Army at Dawn, p. 293-4, concerning the January 1943 conference at
Casablanca :  "Now the president had another issue he wanted to raise.

 

"'I think we have all had it in our hearts and heads before, but I don't
think that it has every been put down on paper by the prime minister and
myself, and that is the determination that peace can come to the world only
by the elimination of German and Japanese war power,'  he said.  Perhaps
even the British journalists knew the story of U.S. Grant, who at Appomattox
in April 1865 had demanded unconditional surrender from Robert E. Lee?

 

"Similar terms seemed fitting in this war, Roosevelt said.  'The elimination
of German, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender
of Germany, Italy, and Japan.'  He glanced at a sheaf of notes.  'It does
not mean the destruction of the population of Germany, Italy, or Japan, but
it does mean the destruction of the philosophies in those countries which
are based on conquest and subjugation of other people.'

 

"The reporters might even consider calling this conference the
'unconditional surrender meeting,' he added.  Churchill nodded.  'I agree
with everything that the president has said.'  The allies must insist upon
'the unconditional surrender of the criminal forces who plunged the world
into storm and ruin."

 

Major General J.F.C. Fuller in his A Military History of the Western World,
vol 3, page 509 has some rather harsh things to say about the decision to
insist on Unconditional Surrender:

 

"Firstly, what unconditional surrender implied was that war was no longer to
be accepted as an instrument of creative policy - the establishment of a
profitable and stable peace - but that it was to be an instrument of pure
destruction.  From Casablanca a vulture was unleashed to batten on the
entrails of Europe.

 

"Like the Bourbons, Roosevelt and Churchill had learnt nothing and forgotten
nothing.  Both had before them the example of the abortive peace-making of
1919, from which Hitler had sprung, and although both the American and
British psychological warfare experts pressed for a definition of what
'unconditional surrender' meant, all their efforts foundered on the rock of
Roosevelt's opposition.  When, on March 16, 1944, a committee set up by the
United states Joint Chiefs of staff to study the implications of the slogan
recommended that the allies should declare that, although war criminals
would be punished, there would be no indiscriminate penalization of the
German people because Germany's cooperation would be needed in the future
peace, Roosevelt's reply on April 1 was an 'uncompromising negative.'

 

"Of all the judgments which have since been passed on this monstrous and
momentous slogan, the most powerful is the one made by a statesman the best
qualified to make it.  In his book Politics Trials and Errors, Lord Hankey
writes: It embittered the war, rendered inevitable a fight to a finish,
banged the door on any possibility of either side offering terms or opening
up negotiations, gave the Germans and Japanese the courage of despair,
strengthened Hitler's position as Germany's 'only hope', aided Goebbel's
propaganda, and made inevitable the Normandy landing and the subsequent
terribly exhausting and destructive advance through North France, Belgium
Luxembourg, Holland and Germany.  The lengthening of the war enabled Stalin
to occupy the whole of eastern Europe, to ring down the iron curtain and so
to realize at one swoop a large installment of his avowed aims against
so-called capitalism, in which he includes social democracy.  By disposing
of all the more competent administrators in Germany and Japan this policy
rendered treaty-making impossible after the war and retarded recovery and
reconstruction, not only in Germany and Japan, but everywhere else.  It may
also prove to have poisoned our future relations with ex-enemy countries.
Not only the enemy countries, but nearly all countries were bled white by
this policy, which has left us all, except the United states of America,
impoverished and in dire straits. . . ."

 

Comment:    I was looking for something else in Fuller when I ran across
this impassioned criticism of Roosevelt's policy of Unconditional Surrender.
Fuller's book was published in 1956 and was probably written a few years
earlier than that -- when Britain and Europe were "impoverished and in dire
straits."   Atkinson's judgment is not nearly as severe, but is this because
he is American and not bled white, or because time has smoothed out the
difficulties and ameliorated the passion?  

 

For myself, I never thought of all the problems Lord Hankey described,  but
the precept (more than a slogan, surely) did seem rather nebulous to me -
that is, I didn't see the logic in it.  Yes the Germans & Japanese
authorities said they surrendered unconditionally, but what did that mean?
Weren't conditions imposed by the victors?   Weren't conditions assumed by
world opinion?

 

Some of the counterfactuals presented by Lord Hankey are provocative.  I
can't quite see how we could have avoided Normandy.  Several in Germany
tried to halt Hitler's Gotterdammerung and failed.  Could they have done
better had Roosevelt nut uttered "unconditional surrender"?  It doesn't seem
likely to me.

 

I have read several histories that touched upon the implications of the
"unconditional surrender" dictum and never read that it influenced the
decision making of those winding down the war in Japan or Germany.  There
wasn't much left in Germany to preserve, but in Japan, their big sticking
point was the Emperor which MacArthur preserved for them despite the lack of
formal conditions. 

 

 

Lawrence Helm

San Jacinto

 

 

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