The future of Germany and the chances of a lasting peace in Europe are intertwined. Potsdam took care of one and made a start on the other.
I. Only a Beginning
The making of peace in Europe is a job that has two main parts. One is the final de-struction of German military power. That part of the job was well planned at Potsdam. The other is far more elusive and difficult to accomplish. It is the creation of positive conditions which will encourage peace and friendly dealings among nations. This part of the job was only begun at Potsdam.
The smashing of German power had largely been achieved by the combined armies of the victorious Allies. What remained was a considerable industrial plant which might some day be used for the production of arms, and a lingering reluctance among certain sections of the German people to believe that they were totally and finally licked. Potsdam provided a program for ending both sources of possible future trouble.
The industrial capacity of Germany beyond what is required for peace-time needs, fru-gally defined by the victors, is to be carted off to build up the productive strength of the United Nations, particularly Russia. The economic details of this plan are discussed be-low. What it adds up to in broad terms is that Germany will be reduced to poverty. Its role as an industrial power will pass to other nations. It will not be able to plan to make war for it will have neither the resources nor the machinery to turn out modern weapons.
The other necessity was to change the attitude of the German people. It may be true, as most Germans today insist, that a majority of the people disliked the Nazi dictatorship. But whether it is true or not, no one can doubt that a dangerous proportion of Hitler’s subjects accepted the twin ideas of Teutonic superiority and the omnipotence of the state. At Potsdam the German state went out of existence, formally as well as actually. This event more than any other should drive into the German mind the reality of defeat, and its meaning. For in Hitler’s Reich even the army came second. It was the mighty dictator-state, personified by the Fuehrer, defended by the Wehrmacht, that concentrated in itself all the energy and intelligence and power of the people. Now the state has been supplanted by the absolute military rule of four victorious powers which will control Ger-many from top to bottom until it has developed acceptable evidence of a capacity to rule itself — peaceably and under democratic safeguards. This short demonstration of the collapse of the Hitler myth was a necessary contribution to the mental and emotional disarming of Germany. The “master race” was officially interred at Potsdam in the rub-ble of administrative buildings.
But the crushing of German power leaves a wide area for positive measures of peace-making in Europe. In this area the victors must establish justice, social equality, political freedom, and the protection of the rights of individuals and minorities and lesser nations — for these are the only secure foundations on which peace can rest. At Potsdam they made a few hopeful gestures in this direction. As far as Germany is concerned, the most hopeful was the agreement to permit political and trade-union activity among anti-Nazi groups. The Russians have allowed parties to function from the beginning of their occu-pation, now the permission will be extended to the whole country. Obviously it will be a half-artificial exercise as long as foreign military control continues. But it will give democ-ratic elements among the people a chance to rebuild organizations crushed by the Na-zis and to establish lost habits of administration. Out of this will come gradually a new political life for Germany. It is too early to try to guess what shape that life will take. What must be recognized is that the German people will meanwhile be preserved in a state of artificial social and political peace — like prisoners in a well-run jail — and will therefore have no opportunity to assist actively in the purge of the fascist poison that permeated the body of their country. That job will be left to the victors; and the Germans will be robbed of what would have given them their best chance of political health. Perhaps the most valuable positive act of the Potsdam conferees was the slap adminis-tered to Franco. This should knock out from under his regime a major prop, particularly if it is followed with the severing of diplomatic relations by Britain and the United States and an economic boycott such as was applied for a time to Argentina. Franco’s reaction to the verdict shows how fully he realizes his danger. While the Spanish Republicans pull together their strong but scattered forces, the Generalissimo is hastily summoning his advisers to consider ways of circumventing the intentions of the Big Three. He will have to work fast, for this time it looks as if the powers meant business. The new British government is clearly not going to continue Churchill’s tactics, and even in Washington one can detect evidences of impending change.