Writing about the ways of making peace, Brad DeLong describes “the [1944-45] debate between [Secretary of the Treasury Henry] Morgenthau and [General George] Marshall that was carried on—largely below the surface, largely without explicit confrontation” over the fate of postwar Germany and notes “The State and Defense positions win entirely and utterly and completely over the Treasury-based Morgenthau Plan. We get the Marshall Plan instead. I am still not sure why.” Morgenthau, you will remember, wanted – in Winston Churchill’s word – the “pastoralization” of Germany.
I think there are two reasons for Morgenthau’s failure. First, though, I disagree with Brad: there was not a conflict between Morgenthau and Marshall, above or below the surface. The conflict was between Morgenthau and everybody else. As John Morton Blum writes, by the end of January 1945, Morgenthau “had yielded in his views toward Germany neither to his fellow New Dealers, nor to his colleagues in the Cabinet, nor to the arguments of his subordinates. So also, he had conceded nothing to the objections of Churchill, Eden, and Sir John Anderson. Nor was he moved by Russian plans.” That’s a lot of different people not to yield to; almost nobody wanted the Morgenthau plan except Morgenthau. Not even the man whom Brad – I think not 100% seriously – calls a “Marxist,” Harry Dexter White; White wanted internationalization of the Ruhr and its industrial production used to pay reparations.It’s true that FDR and Churchill agreed to something akin to the Morgenthau plan, despite Churchill’s objections, when Morgenthau was present at the Quebec conference in September 1944. As Peter Clarke notes, though, it’s obvious why – Churchill knew that Morgenthau was one of the few real friends Britain had in the Roosevelt administration, and was keen to help him out.
At various times various players had spoken to Morgenthau without expressly opposing the plan – but he was a powerful figure within the Roosevelt administration because he was personally close to the President, so of course they would prefer not to challenge him directly.
Which points to the second reason for the Morgenthau plan’s failure: Roosevelt’s death, and Morgenthau’s swiftly consequent fall from influence.
Now, it’s true that in October 1944 FDR expressed shock that he’d agreed to the Quebec memorandum supporting the Morgenthau plan. Speaking to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, FDR said “he had no idea how he could have initialed” the Quebec memo.
Roosevelt might have been pulling a fast one – he was not above telling advisor A one thing and advisor B another – or he might well have been losing a step. People – including Morgenthau – had begun to notice Roosevelt looking bad. The episode with Stimson was one of at least three times during the debate over the Morgenthau plan that Roosevelt expressed surprise at having signed something – he did it again regarding the memorandum of March 10, 1945, repudiating the Morgenthau plan, and again the night before he died, when Morgenthau showed him a photostat of a letter Roosevelt had written suggesting Morgenthau not write a book about his plan. (The letter seems clearly in Roosevelt’s own voice – he writes, characteristically, “We must all remember Job’s lament that his enemy had not written a book.”)
After Roosevelt’s death in April, 1945 Morgenthau was increasingly on the outs in the Truman administration and in July, Morgenthau resigned – and the last, if not only, proponent of his plan had gone from leadership in Washington, DC.
It may be worth noting that Americans themselves may have agreed with Morgenthau. When polled in August 1944 and asked, “Do you think the United Nations should or should not prevent the Germans from rebuilding their steel, chemical, and automotive industries?” 51% answered “should.” On the same question in October, the share rose to 58%. And while in surveys throughout the last year and a half of the war asking whether “our chief enemy is the German people as a whole, or the German government?” large majorities answered the government – 71% in January 1944, 72% in April, 71% in June, 61% in September, 58% in January 1945, 67% in February, 69% in March – and then a drop: 56% in April – with 30% volunteering the response “both.” It was of course in April 1945 that US soldiers first liberated a concentration camp (Buchenwald). Asked in a May poll if “the German people themselves should also be held responsible for these cruelties (discovered in concentration camps in Germany)?”, 52% answered “yes.” The American people seem to have followed the same course of thinking as Morgenthau; it wasn’t until Morgenthau formally compiled a list of Nazi atrocities in December 1943 that he began thinking about a more punitive peace.