Being occupied

by Chris Bertram on November 1, 2003

I very much hope that the US (and British) occupation of Iraq is a success, that peace will soon prevail, that a stable civilian administration is soon installed, that democratic institutions take root and that the Iraqi people enjoy a prosperous and uneventful future. That said, I’ve long thought that when people in or supportive of the Bush administration point to the experience of postwar Germany as suggestive of what can be achieved, there is some rather desperate flailing around for historical parallels going on. Good then to see some reflections on this from someone with a degree of historical, political and sociological insight who actually experienced the allied occupation of Germany: namely, Ralf Dahrendorf .

{ 8 comments }

1

brayden 11.02.03 at 3:58 am

Is Ralph Ralf’s twin-brother?

[Thanks Brayden – I’ve fixed this. C]

2

Chris K 11.02.03 at 5:54 pm

I have the theory that the systematic recasting of the Iraqi campaign in WW2 analogies is more than just an attempt at selling specific policies.

What did we not have to hear: Saddam = Hitler, anti-war movement = appeasers, Bush = Churchill, postwar Iraq = postwar Japan/Germany, Iraqi resistance = Nazi Werewolves, Baath = Nazi, feeding Halliburton and Bechtel = Marshall Plan and many, many more dubious historical equivalences. This is happening at an obsessive scale.

This is outright nostalgia in my view. Think of it: in 1945 the US was not only victorious in the largest conflict ever; it was also dynamic and vigorous. The other victors were ruined and exhausted. The US economy generated 50% of the world’s GDP, it was awash with cash and capital, it was growing healthily and everybody was upbeat. The US was the only nuclear power and had unprecedented diplomatic authority. Never did the US have more power and prestige than after WW2. To relive this glory is the dream that propels the neocons and other US supremacists. Just as empire nostalgia is discretely pervasive in the UK, greatest generation yearning quietly drives the US.

Just a theory.

3

James 11.02.03 at 6:05 pm

Chris, whilst this is an interesting article to link to, I’d like you to have explained at a little more length why those making the comparison are guilty of ‘desperate flailing’.
It took years, not months, to get any kind of indigenous rule going in Germany after the war, and the path to that was far from straightforward – indeed, one could argue that East Germany never really gained its independence at all in the fullest sense. I refer to your own post on your ’80s trip to EG here. Critics of the occupation of Iraq sometimes expect things to move more quickly than is sane to expect – e.g. France calling for immediate withdrawal and immediate handover of power. The comparison is being made to say, look, we’ve been here before, it can work in similarly unpromising circumstances, and it takes more than five minutes to do. Which is not an unfair point to make. Your problem with it may just be that the comparison fails to put the US in a sinister light, of course.

4

Thorley Winston 11.02.03 at 7:04 pm

That said, I’ve long thought that when people in or supportive of the Bush administration point to the experience of postwar Germany as suggestive of what can be achieved, there is some rather desperate flailing around for historical parallels going on.

As opposed to those opposed to the liberation of Iraq who are “desperately flailing around” about trying to cast the situation as another Vietnam? ;)

5

Thorley Winston 11.02.03 at 7:05 pm

It took years, not months, to get any kind of indigenous rule going in Germany after the war, and the path to that was far from straightforward – indeed, one could argue that East Germany never really gained its independence at all in the fullest sense. I refer to your own post on your ‘80s trip to EG here. Critics of the occupation of Iraq sometimes expect things to move more quickly than is sane to expect – e.g. France calling for immediate withdrawal and immediate handover of power. The comparison is being made to say, look, we’ve been here before, it can work in similarly unpromising circumstances, and it takes more than five minutes to do.

I agree, the “desperate flailing” seems to primarily come from those who opposed the Iraqi liberation and are trying to find some rationale to justify their previous position. The only reason to compare post-war Iraq with post-war Germany (or Japan) is to make the point that while progress may not be going as quickly as some would like, we appear to be progressing relatively quickly compared to the reconstruction of Germany and Japan – neither of which are considered “disasters” or “failures” today.

6

Lawrence Krubner 11.02.03 at 10:51 pm

None of know the future, and nearly all of us look backwards at either our personal history or at world history of some guidance as to how to move forward. The analogies to WWII, when Tony Blair made them, rung true for me, so I supported the way.

Those opposed to the war also sought historical analogies, like Vietnam.

This strikes me as one of those issues where reasonable people can disagree. I don’t have the slightest idea if the WWII analogy will prove more apt than the Vietnam analogy, or vice versa. Nor does anyone else.

7

zizka 11.03.03 at 3:18 am

Things are going about as I expected, and if I had supported the war I would feel OK about it right now. But because I expected approximately this, I didn’t support the war, and a lot of people supported the war after talking themselves into the idea that the occupation would be easy. So there’s a political problem now.

8

Thorley Winston 11.03.03 at 1:54 pm

Things are going about as I expected, and if I had supported the war I would feel OK about it right now. But because I expected approximately this, I didn’t support the war, and a lot of people supported the war after talking themselves into the idea that the occupation would be easy. So there’s a political problem now.

I supported the Iraqi phase of the war while expecting the situation to be much worse – i.e. a chemical/bio weapon attack on the troops, street fighting to capture Baghdad, an inferno in the oil fields, and a ten year occupation. So far none of these expectations have thankfully come to fruition (a testament to everything which has been done right) and right now it looks like a matter of political will to finish the job. Despite the attempts by some in the opposition leadership to try and gain traction over the bodies of dead American servicemen with a casualty-conscious public, there does not appear to be any reason to believe that the administration is going to go “wobbly” any time soon.

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