Werwolf and Colonel Biu Tin: lessons in the psychological aspects of war
The early months of 1945 were not a good time to live in Berlin. With foreign armies advancing from both the Eastern and Western fronts, native Berliners were hoping that the more humane Anglo-American forces would reach Berlin before the Soviet Red Army, whose methods of conquest and occupation included shooting unarmed German boys for fear that they might one day grow up to be soldiers, gang rape of German women, and looting on a massive scale.
But the Juggernaut of Russian power continued pressing toward the capital of Hitler's Reich unabated. Despite determined German resistance, the Red Army was simply too strong, and Berlin--along with the Reich as a whole--officially surrendered on May 9, 1945.
During these final days of National Socialism, there was a split in the population. Die-hard Nazis intended to fight to the very last man (or even to the last woman in some instances). More sensible people saw the wisdom of surrendering in the face of the overwhelmingly power of Soviet forces, in hopes of ending the bloodshed and annihilation. The true-believers accused the demoralized and submissive segments of the population of bringing destruction to Germany through their defeatist outlook.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the depth of fanatacism on the part of a few dedicated Nazis better than the little-known Werwolf
was intended to be a German guerrilla resistance organization that would plan attacks on military occupiers, terrorize civilians who cooperated with military occupational authorities, and generally make Germany unmanageble for the allied powers. Even with Germany lying in ruins, and three foreign armies on German soil, some true-believers were not going to give up the fight.
On March 23, 1945, Nazi propogandist Joseph Goebbels delivered a famous speech on German airwaves that is commonly known today as "the Werwolf
speech." Just days before the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany, the regime in Berlin had reached a point of unparalleled desperation. Everything was falling apart, and no one--not Himmler, not Bormann, not even der Führer
himself-- seemed to be able to put it back together again. Against a background of extreme desperation, Goebbels commanded the citizenry to fight to the death to defend Germany from Soviet, American, and British forces.
Nine days later, on April 1, 1945, German propoganda radio broadcasted an appeal to the German public, urging them to fight on the side of Werwolf.
"Every Bolshevik, every Englishman, every American on our soil must be a target for our movement..." went the battle cry. "Any German, whatever his profession or class, who puts himself at the service of the enemy and collaborates with him will feel the effect of our avenging hand... A single motto remains for us: 'Conquer or die'." Hitler Youth units (Werwolf
consisted almost entirely of teenage boys with a smattering of remaining Waffen SS
) were known to write on walls in Berlin, "Traitors take care. Werwolf
If you've never heard of Werwolf
, it's probably because it was not very effective. Munitions dumps positioned around the German countryside for Werwolf
use were sometimes lost or forgotten. Leadership and organization were lacking. Morale took a fatal blow when Werwolf
members learned that the rumored Alpine fortress that was supposed to be the crucible of resistance did not actually exist. Top Nazi leaders were not in hiding in the higher elevations of Bavaria with intentions of one day returning triumphantly to power as Werwolf had
hoped. Instead, top leaders were either dead, incarcerated, or fleeing to South America. Within a few months of the war's end, Werwolf
had effectively ceased to exist.
They did, however, manage a few strategic victories before being snuffed out. They murdered Franz Oppenhoff, the anti-Nazi mayor of Aachen, put in place by the Western allies after Aachen was firmly under control. Werwolf
also scored a major victory when they knocked off the Soviet military commandant of Berlin, Colonel-General Nokolai Berzarin on June 16, 1945, more than a month after the German capitulation. Werwolf
also carried out a bombing attack in the western zone that killed 44 people.
Despite these isolated victories for Werwolf,
the organization proved to be a stupendous failure. Today, Werwolf
is but a footnote to history. Most Germans rejected
and put down their weapons. Even Werwolf
intimidation tactics (like threatening to kill every male over the age of fourteen in any home flying the white flag of surrender) failed to stand in the way of a mostly peaceful occupation.
Both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and (then) National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have invoked the memory of Werwolf
when talking about the insurgency in Iraq. Rice, in particular, took a lot of criticism for her comparison. Former member of the National Security Council member Daniel Benjamin criticized Rice in an article titled "Condi's Phony History.
Sorry, Dr. Rice, postwar Germany was nothing like Iraq."
Despite Benjamin's allusion to the contrary, Rice was not presenting "phony history", and she said nothing dishonest. She simply pointed out that the Nazi regime had planned an underground guerrilla movement to continue the fight long after the war was officially over. She compared these Werwolf
units to Ba'athists and Fedayeen remnents in Iraq. She maintained that a home-grown resistance movement can be extinguished, and offered Werwolf
as proof that it had already happened in history. What's dishonest about that?
Actually, the short-lived Werwolf
ought to provide us a lot of history lessons about how wars are won and lost. Take, for example, the commonly held liberal assumption that trying to defeat an underground resistance movement is absolutely futile, and in fact "only creates more terrorists". To the contrary; a homegrown insurgency can
be destroyed, but only if you convince the enemy that his struggle is hopeless.
Actually, that's pretty much how all wars are won and lost. Sure, having a larger force, smarter generals, and better weapons helps a lot. But in the end, the victors are the ones who manage to convince the enemy that continued hostilities are in vain. War is ninety percent psychological, ten percent logistical.
The psychological aspect of war is what liberals just don't seem to understand. They dismiss as a "myth" the plainly clear fact that the so-called "anti-war" protests of the Vietnam era actually extended the war, because they encouraged the belief in Hanoi that they should hold on until inevitable victory. When they claimed that the Vietnam War was "unwinable", they were actually working to fufill their own prophecy. The protests didn't end a brutal war a second sooner, and they didn't save anyone's life. They extended the length of the war, and eventually gave birth to the human rights nightmare that is post-war Vietnam. After US troops had withdrawn from Vietnam, they felt vindicated in their prediction that the war was unwinnable. It never occured to them that they shared the greater part of the blame for the defeat.
Shattering the liberal myth that the Vietnam War happened in a vacuum, Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin said in a 1995 interview with The Wall Street Journal,
"Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American anti-war movement," he said. "Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."
Colonel Tin was no ordinary foot soldier. He worked on the general staff of the North Vietnamese Army, and he received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975. His interview with WSJ
is a damning piece of evidence on the power of wartime psychology that the "anti-war" movement wishes didn't exist. In the interview, he explains the Vietnamese strategy of turning American public opinion against the war.
reporter Stephen Young asked Tin if the American "anti-war" movement was important to Hanoi's victory (an idea that most half-bright people would find self-evident) he replied, "It was essential to our strategy. Support of the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable." He later admits that one of the purposes of the Tet Offensive was to "weaken American resolve during a presidential election year." He also says of the Tet Offesnive, "Our losses were staggering and a complete surprise; [leader of the People's Army of Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen] Giap later told me that Tet had been a military defeat, though we had gained the planned political advantages when Johnson agreed to negotiate and did not run for re-election."
In other words, it was a military defeat, but a propoganda victory. The fact that the American media establishment seemed unwilling to portray it as an American victory--as Colonel Tin himself admits--managed to reduce support for the war by thirty percent and convince President Johnson not to seek reelection. For a better understanding of wartime psychology, read the entire text of Tin's WSJ
The defeat of Werwolf
is an example of a successful attempt to demoralize the enemy. The inabilty of US forces to defeat the North Vietnamese is its exact opposite. Instead of breaking the back of the insurgency, the enemy managed to turn psychological warfare tactics against the American public, and hold on until their eventual disasterous victory in 1975. In reference to the current Iraq War, the question remains--how can we replicate the results of 1945, and avoid the results of 1975?
Unfortunately, as it stands now in Iraq, events are looking a lot more like 1975 than like 1945. The momentum of the war has turned against us. Just as the Vietnamese did, Iraqi terrorists are using the power of propoganda against the United States, often with the gleeful help of our blatantly "anti-war" left-wing American media. On our side of globe, support for the war decreases every day. On their side, more and more Iraqis feel that cooperating with Iraq's democratic government may be foolhardy in light of America's wavering resolve. Fearful of an Iraqi government collapse in the event of a premature American withdrawl, Iraqis are hedging their bets. Better to avoid cooperating with "the enemy" (coalition troops, the new Iraqi government), lest they should be executed later on. In short, the terrorists in Iraq are doing a much better job of demoralizing the American public than we are doing demoralizing Iraqi terrorists.
The way to defeat the insurgency in Iraq is to refuse to fight their war. Stop handing them propoganda victories. Their tactics--like those of Werwolf--
include intimidation of civilians. Just as Werwolf
was said to be "watching" the Germans (not very well, of course), Iraqi terrorists threaten to kill anyone who cooperates with occupational authorities. Terrorists in Iraq have taken a particular interest in bombing police- and army-recruitment centers. If Iraqi men are too scared to join these dangerous positions, then the post-2003 government of Iraq will never achieve the stability it that has eluded Iraq thusfar. Amazingly, these tactics seem to be having very little effect--Iraqi men defy death threats and bombings to join the army and police force. The bombings seem to be having a greater impact on the American psyche than the Iraqi one.
Iraqi forces also threatened to kill anyone with a purple finger during the elections of January 2005. In nine seperate attacks that day, forty-four people were killed at the polls. Amazingly, the elections had a turnout of 58% of eligible voters, a number higher than most elections in the United States, where voters do not fear violence on the way to the polls. Clearly, the best way to counter these tactics is for ordinary Iraqis to defy terrorist groups and participate fully in their new government.
Winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis is probably the most important front of the war. Winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans is the second most important. So long as the anti-war movement is spreading lies about the war in order to erode public support, the enemy will keep the fight up. The more we broadcast our lack of resolve to the enemy, the higher they turn up the heat.
I'm not suggesting throwing "anti-war" critics in jail. I'm suggesting debating them, smashing their silly arguments, and exposing their obvious lies until they are revealed for the charlatans that they are. Once we accomplish this, the insurgency in Iraq will collapse. Just as Werwolf
ceased to exist after their last great hope--the "Alpine fortress" where the spirit of National Socialism would live on--was crushed, so too will the Iraqi insurgency be crushed when they realize that they are giving their lives in vain. Only when they get it through their heads that we aren't going home until the job is done, will the job really ever be done.
Psychology lies at the very heart of warfare. Some might even say that warfare is
psychology. In order to win the current war in Iraq, we need to recognize the massive role it has played in every war since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, the Left doesn't like to talk about psychology in war, because it has a way of indicting the "anti-war" movement. Indstead, they try to pretend that the situation on the ground in Iraq has nothing to do with the political situation in the United States, when indeed they are closely related. Nonetheless, we need to have a national debate about the psychology of war, even if we have to have it over the objections of liberals.