J.R. Johnson

What Does the GI Think as He Sees Hungry Europe?

(4 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 44, 4 November 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At every turn today one can see the degradation, the thinly-disguised barbarism of contemporary capitalism. Usually capitalism does one thing, prepares for war while at the same time it talks about something else, e.g., preaches about peace. But sometimes the big powers forget to disguise themselves. The New York Times and its correspondents are as a rule careful to preserve the elementary decencies. But quite recently they have exposed themselves (and we are sure, slandered the American people) in one of their accounts of American occupation forces in Germany.

The conditions in most of Europe today are a disgrace to civilization. Even according to this New York Times correspondent, today you can see “scores of pedestrians harnessed to heavily laden carts ...” The American visitor “winces” at the sight of women greedily scrapping up “pebble-sized lumps of coal from passing wagons.” People line up for soup and coffee and slices of brown bread doled out by the American Army.

Fate of Europe

This is a small part of Germany today, but it relates to the fate not only of Germany but of a whole continent. The writer whom we have just quoted sees it in Germany and describes it accurately enough.

Now what would be the attitude of the modern civilized person to such misery? At the very least he wants to have no part of it. If even he is not going to do anything, he does not want to see the misery, he does not want to hear about it. As a matter of fact millions upon millions of generous-minded people realize that the war against Germany is over and would be willing to do all they can to alleviate the misery of a broken nation. Some few pathological cases gloat over the consequences of the defeat. But modern man is not so constituted by nature and training. Humanity and humanitarianism are so much part of our modern ideology that, except when whipped up by the fears and the passions of war, or crisis, the ordinary citizen reacts strongly against such catastrophes as are represented by Germany today.

Not so, however, the New York Times. In the N.Y. Times magazine of Oct. 13, 1946, Kathleen McLaughlin writes an account of the GI wives in Berlin. This Times correspondent reaches the depths of a vulgarity and callousness, which are obviously shared by the editorial staff of the Times.

Suburbia in Germany

The sub-title of the article tells us that “With maids and meat, army brides scale the heights of Suburbia.”

It is as if in the midst of the Black Death in medieval Europe, or the Great Plague of London in the 17th century or the famine now sweeping India and China, we were asked by a historian or journalist to take note of how nice and dandy it was for the doctors and nurses who were having all they wanted, to eat and drink.

Of the German shambles, Kathleen McLaughlin reports with the soul of a chamber-maid in the eighteenth century. The GI wives, we are told, write letters equivalent to “having a wonderful time.” They have “houses” and “steaks, chops ... butter and milk” and now, get this, “to say nothing of any number of commodities folks back home can’t get.”

According to the correspondent “they love it.” About that we shall have something to say in a moment. For the time being, however, let us go on with the Times writer. The GI wives, she tells us, have created quite a sensation in their neighborhood among the Germans. They have become the “equivalent of the ‘station-wagon’ set” The disgusting petty-bourgeois morality of this is bad enough, but the writer in an unguarded moment goes on to record that the neighborhood gossip concentrates on these GI wives, their households, amusements, etc. where formerly it was concentrated on the prominent Nazis living in the suburb.

Change of Rulers

One set of rulers has been driven out. Another set has come in, with the same fat chops, steaks, commodities which even the folks back home can’t get, and everything else including station-wagons. There is one particularly offensive picture and caption illustrating the article. It shows some of the wives wearing an American flag on the arm. The caption reads “Whistleproof-Brassards distinguish GI wives from frauleins.” Think of what the average German must feel on seeing this distinction glorified in a paper of the standing of the Times.

Is this how American civilization is being recommended to the Germans? An army of occupation has the dirtiest, the most hated of all army jobs. Most professional soldiers detest it. The non-professional soldier, today as always, is concerned with one thing, to get home as quickly as possible after the war is over. We do not blame the occupying soldiers. They are doing their duty. If comforts are provided for their families, that is proper. But to transform these comforts into “having a wonderful time” and “becoming the station-wagon set” in place of the defeated Nazis, that is to insult the Germans and at the same time to slander and degrade the American people.

For our part we say quite frankly that we do not accept the implications of the Times correspondent. There are doubtless many of the wives who are happy at feeling themselves part of a little aristocracy built on chops and steaks and the commodities “that even the people at home can’t get.” But the majority are in all probability deeply disturbed at the wreck and ruin which they see around them. The article hints at this. Some of the GI wives “wince” when they see German women picking up scraps of coal in the street. They will wince too this winter at the hungry ill-clad children.

They will wince at the deaths from starvation. That is the nature of modern civilized man, particularly of working people. For the time being they may be rejoicing at the fact that life is not as miserable as they may have anticipated. But that complete callousness to what is taking place around them is a mark of a mature ruling class and the satellites and jackals who live on scraps from the big table and identify themselves with the big bandits. It is impossible that the majority of the wives of the GIs are like that, or will continue to be that way during their two-year stay in Germany. The commanding officers and upper personnel, yes. They fraternize with the Nazis. The average wife of the average soldier is not that type.

After the war of 1918, the British army of occupation in Germany had to be recalled by the British authorities. Too many of the soldiers were suffering from malnutrition. They were giving their food away to the hungry German children. In Japan today American soldiers have made permanent allies of the little Japanese boys who follow them around everywhere. We can be sure that they do not let these unfortunate children starve as long as they have a candy bar in their pocket. The American women in Berlin will live their lives as best they can. But we hope they will violently denounce the degraded morals and mentality of their ruling-class which tries to rouse their self-satisfaction on the misery and humiliation of a starving nation.

Last updated on 8 July 2019