October 18, 2003

Europe 1945

A couple of interesting posts pulling things out of the archives about the reconstruction of Europe in 1945. First, Foreign Affairs magazine has this report by Allen W. Dulles to the Council on Foreign Affairs in December of '45.

Second, there's these articles from Life magazine that are posted over at Jessica's Well:

The troops returning home are worried. "We’ve lost the peace," men tell you. "We can’t make it stick."
Never has American prestige in Europe been lower. People never tire of telling you of the ignorance and rowdy-ism of American troops, of out misunderstanding of European conditions....

All we have brought to Europe so far is confusion backed up by a drumhead regime of military courts. We have swept away Hitlerism, but a great many Europeans feel that the cure has been worse than the disease.

The taste of victory had gone sour in the mouth of every thoughtful American I met.

Now as the Foreign Affairs article pithily says, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes." So, while it's possible to read too much into this, I think there are four things worth keeping in mind, regardless of what you think about the current occupation of Iraq:

  1. Just because it's tough going six to nine months in, doesn't mean it's doomed to fail. Allen Dulles thought the situation in Europe might be "beyond us" in 1945, but we successfully rebuilt the continent.

  2. The European reconstruction was hard. That should be sobering to those that admit that Iraq poses even greater challenges (ethnic & religious tensions, terrorism, etc.)

  3. The critical reporting might be beneficial because it keeps the administration honest about real progress. This one is hard for me personally to swallow because the current overly-negative slant of the mainstream media drives me crazy. But, it's hard to tell — it took several years for the administration to get on track with the Marshall Plan and other bold new approaches — critical news might have pushed them to keep looking until they hit on a plan that worked.

  4. And finally, sometimes muddling through is all you can do. People criticize the Bush administration for underestimating the post-war challenge and not having a plan that addressed all of the issues. Bush supporters point to the fact that many of the contigencies that the original plan addressed simply didn't materialize (refugee crisis, WMD usage, oil well fires, etc.) I think it somewhere in the middle, but the fact of the matter is that is probably too complicated and dynamic to plan out completely in advance. What's needed is flexibility, determination and the resources to see it through.

Posted by richard at October 18, 2003 05:46 PM