Looking inside the German resistance
There were extensive contacts between Hitler's opponents at home and Allies. But Roosevelt was strict about what not to do.
Alliance of Enemies
The Untold Story of the Secret American and German Collaboration to End World War II
Thomas Dunne Books /
St. Martins Press. 392 pp. $24.95
Reviewed by Thomas Lipscomb
More than half the casualties in the European Theater occurred in the last 10 months of World War II - between the July 20, 1944, "General's Plot" bombing of Hitler's Wolf's Lair conference room and V-E Day the following May. Was everything possible done to bring the war to a speedy close?
The Allies provided arms, equipment and advisers to local resistance all over Europe, including the Czech underground, which successfully assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the most feared man in Nazi Germany after Adolf Hitler. British and American support of the French resistance greatly improved the chances of the D-Day landing in Normandy.
But, according to the authors of the beautifully researched Alliance of Enemies, the German resistance was consistently ignored by the Allies. Though some of the highest-ranking officers in the German military - from Erwin Rommel to Ludwig Beck, chief of staff of the Wehrmacht - were heavily involved, they could not break the Nazis' tight control of explosives.
Claus von Stauffenberg might well have killed Hitler had he been able to set the timer in a second briefcase bomb. It would have been simple for the Allies to provide sophisticated explosives to the German resistance, but it never happened. Why not?
At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Prime Minister Winston Churchill how U.S. Grant had once been known as "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. This was only a half-truth at best. FDR ignored Grant's offer of generous "conditions" when Robert E. Lee surrendered. And the terms offered by Gen. William Sherman to the Confederates' Joseph E. Johnston were so generous that Grant was sent to make sure they were renegotiated.
Roosevelt had the politician's tendency to fall in love with a snappy phrase, and he fell totally for this one. Privately, Churchill feared that giving the Germans no alternative to fighting to the end would only strengthen the Nazis' grip.
Joseph Goebbels promptly took advantage by rallying reluctant Germans to support what he now called "total" war: "Goebbels was jubilant, claiming he could never have dreamt up a more effective strategy to persuade the doomed Germans to fight to the last breath." For now there could be no protection from what the average German feared most: Soviet troops avenging Nazi outrages in Russia.
Alliance of Enemies contains a superb summary of the extensive contacts between Germans opposed to Hitler's regime and prominent British and American figures. These contacts began well before the war and provided vital information about coming Nazi offensives and even forecast the attempts against Hitler's life. Author Agostino von Hassell's grandfather, who had been Hitler's ambassador to Rome, was executed for his involvement. Groups of high-ranking Germans opposed to the Nazis - such as the Wednesday Club and von Moltke's Kreisau Circle - tried to alert Britain and America as early as the mid-1930s.
Considering that in 1935 Field Marshal Gerd von Runstedt was already sounding out former German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, who had fled to Harvard, to ask what he could do against Hitler, it is hard to see how Roosevelt missed the opportunity.
But Roosevelt was prejudiced against "the vons" and "those Junkers." He confused his laudable desire that America fight a war for democratic values with the notion that by supporting the German resistance to fascism he was somehow backing a coup by a bunch of German aristocrats.
Clausewitz's definition of war as "the continuation of politics by other means" is as familiar as it is generally accepted. The problem is just how to define victory once war is under way.
As the Iraq war shows, there is more to victory than military success. And the cost of the wrong definition can be high. The price for indulging Roosevelt's "unconditional surrender" was appalling.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, "Wild Bill" Donovan - whom Roosevelt appointed to found and lead the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - and Allen Dulles (doing his best to negotiate a quick end to the war from his office in Switzerland) all urged Roosevelt to work with German anti-Nazis to destabilize and overthrow the Nazi state as quickly as possible to save lives. But Roosevelt refused.
The Nazis had already destroyed the last formalities of the Prussian state. Yalta partitioned it into geographic oblivion. What Roosevelt and Stalin really achieved was the neutering of Germany. The country today is as bereft of medical and scientific innovation as it is of a single university in the top 30 in the world. Its turgid social welfare government rules a declining population with soaring unemployment. Its sclerotic corporate giants sneak as much capital out of the country as they can so they can make money in places such as the United States. And its "intellectual capital" flees on two feet.
On learning of Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939, the crafty head of German military intelligence, Adm. Canaris, muttered "finis Germaniae" - "the end of Germany."
Hitler executed Canaris just before his own suicide in 1945. Today it looks as though Canaris had the last word.
Thomas Lipscomb is a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (USC) [email protected].