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The German-American Relationship: The Importance of Vision

Speech by the Ambassador of the United States of America Richard R. Burt on the Occasion of Ceremonies Commemorating the Fortieth Anniversary of Secretary of State James F. Byrnes's "Rede der Hoffnung" Given at the Grosses Haus of the Wuerttembergisches Staatstheater Stuttgart, September 6, 1986


During the past two years we have commemorated the fortieth anniversaries of many events associated with World War II. Most of these anniversaries marked important battles or military victories, while these epochal events led to the ultimate defeat of Hitler, they carried a tragic price in human life. They still stir up bitter memories and horrible images both in Europe and the United States.

This day marks the beginning of a more hopeful period of 40th anniversaries. Coming up are the "positive" anniversaries commemorations which mark the events and decisions which laid the foundation of our postwar world.

Perhaps the most important achievement if the postwar era was the emergence of a new democratic Germany. The Federal Republic represents the best traditions of western culture. It has worked together with the Atlantic community to help provide our peoples with more freedom and stability than at any time in recent history.

It is remarkable that so many of the foundations for this community were laid in the first two years following World War II. Often they were the result of American initiatives such as the Marshall Plan. But other equally historic achievements were the product of the courage and creativity of the German people.

The Berlin municipal election of October 20, 1946 is one example. Despite Soviet coercion, Berliners gave democratic parties an overwhelming majority and handed the communists a resounding defeat. Tragically this was the only free election held since World War II,
in which all Berliners could take part. But it was the first of many times when the people of Berlin gave hope to freedom-loving peoples throughout the world.

A mayor role in the democratization of Germany in those early years was played by German universities. In the American zone, six of the seven postwar universities were reopened by early 1946. Tens of thousands of returning soldiers found their way to new lives through university education.

One of the earliest and - clearly one of the most important steps towards building this new Germany took place in this great city of Stuttgart exactly forty years ago today. The event was a speech by the American Secretary of State, James Byrnes.

I am grateful to Minister President Spaeth and Mayor Rommel for the opportunity to mark this anniversary. I am especially honored that Foreign Minister Genscher, who gave an outstanding address here on the 20th anniversary of secretary Byrnes' speech, could be present with us today. I am also pleased to note the presence of one of America's finest military leaders, General Dick Lawson.

I will try to contribute an American view of the background and implications of this speech. More importantly, I would like to discuss how I believe the ideas expressed by James Byrnes can help to guide us in the future.

To fully appreciate the importance of this speech, we must imagine in our minds the situation in Europe on September 6, 1946.

Secretary Byrnes had been meeting almost continuously with his British, French and Soviet colleagues in Paris for three months. Their task was to decide the shape of postwar Europe. As the Secretary himself noted in his memoirs, the most important and most difficult task was the future of Germany.

Germany, of course, was divided into four zones of occupation. Berlin was administered separately by the four powers. Despite agreements reached during the last months of the war, there had been no progress in overcoming Soviet objections to establishment of a central administration.

This delay had a staggering effect on the German population. The Soviet Union blocked shipments of food from its zone to the rest of Germany. It demanded agreement on a wide-ranging program of reparations, including Four Power control of the Ruhr, as a precondition for food.

In the Western zones, most residents were existing on 1,000 calories per day. This is below the minimum for survival. America was spending $200 million annually to help feed the German population. Shipments from CARE began in August 1946 - another important fortieth anniversary which we celebrate this year.

The original American plan for Germany had been to establish a reunified, demilitarized state. The demilitarized status was to be guaranteed by the four victorious powers. In April 1946, Secretary Byrnes proposed appointment of a Four Power commission to draft a peace treaty based on these principles. Britain and France agreed. Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov refused to discuss the proposal.

Soviet proposals for Germany were contained in a speech delivered by Molotov at the Paris Conference on July 10, 1946. The Soviet Foreign Minister claimed that the USSR supported a unified Germany with a strong industrial base. But there were Soviet preconditions, above all satisfactory payment of reparations. Most ominously, Molotov argued that conclusion of a peace treaty must he delayed by "a number of years."

Thus, in a few crucial months, the pattern of postwar development was becoming clear. One saw unfolding the first signs of the major struggle for the heart and soul of Europe which later engulfed the continent. Secretary Byrnes stated clearly how America wished to help construct the postwar world. Soviet behavior revealed a single-minded drive for control which has kept Germany and Europe divided until this day.

Soviet representatives refused even to discuss the central administration of Germany. They demanded heavy reparations and denied the German people the right of self-determination. They made clear in public, as in private, that a peace treaty would be delayed until unspecified preconditions, including payment of reparations, had been satisfied.

In his memoirs, Secretary Byrnes described his reaction to the Molotov's speech:

"Here, In this statement was confirmation of our fears that unless forced by world opinion to do so, the Soviet Union would not agree to a treaty of peace with Germany for years to come. They would utilize their veto power on the Allied Control Council and in the Council of Foreign Ministers to secure adoption of their conception of a 'democratic' government; to secure a part in control of German industry... and to enforce the payment of 10 billion dollars of reparations."

On July 11, 1946, one day after Molotov's speech, British and American authorities announced amalgamation of their zones to form a unit called Bizonia. France joined later. This step was condemned by the Soviet Union as the beginning of the division of Germany. In reality, Soviet policy aimed at holding Germany and its people as hostage. Proper nutrition and economic recovery were to be delayed, in cynical fashion, until Soviet political demands were met. Only by going ahead by themselves could the Western zones begin the process of recovery.

The Secretary had originally decided to delay a statement of American policy until the Council of Foreign Ministers was prepared to act on the future of Germany. The Molotov speech caused him to change his mind.

Secretary Byrnes chose to deliver his address in Stuttgart, seat of the Länderrat of Minister Presidents from the American zone. American authorities had organized communal elections as early as January 1946. The Länderrat was the most visible result of American efforts to establish democratic government in Germany.

The Secretary traveled to Stuttgart from Berlin, where he had been consulting with General Clay. He decided to make the trip by train, so that he might see Germany's stark devastation firsthand. Along the way, he greeted many American soldiers.

Upon arriving in Stuttgart, Secretary Byrnes met with the Länderrat. He then went to the Wuerttemberg State theater, which at that time was the only large gathering place still standing in Stuttgart. The atmosphere that day has been described to me by Professor William Griffith, one of the great American experts on Germany who is today a member of my staff in Bonn. In 1946 he was a young officer with the occupation authorities in Munich.

Professor Griffith remembers traveling to Stuttgart with a sense of expectation. Disagreements among the occupying powers were well known. He and his colleagues did not know what the speech would contain. It was probably some time before most of the listeners realized what a turning point it represented.

The setting was much in the American tradition. In addition to military officials, Secretary Byrnes was joined on the platform by two Senators -- Senator Vandenburg of Michigan, a Republican and Senator Tom Connolly of Texas, a Democrat -- in order to stress the broad bipartisan consensus for his policies. Both later played a major role in securing approval for such major initiatives as the Marshall Plan and NATO. The Secretary was introduced by an American military band. As he strode to the platform, the band played the well-known tune "Stormy Weather."

Byrnes' goal, however, was to avoid storms. In this historic address he made two important commitments about future American policy in Europe:

-- First, America would not repeat the mistake of the First World War: "We have learned," he said, " that we live in one world, from which world we cannot isolate ourselves. We have learned that peace and well-being are indivisible and that our peace and well-being cannot be purchased at the price of the peace or well-being of any other country."

-- Second, America did not intend to treat a defeated Germany harshly. Secretary Byrnes concluded his speech by announcing that: "The American people want to return the government of Germany to the German people. The American people want to help the German people to win their way back to an honorable place among the free and peace loving nations of the world."

Even speeches by a Secretary of State cannot change the world overnight. But, as the two Senators who accompanied the Secretary demonstrated, Secretary Byrnes was not speaking only for himself. This historic address embodied a commitment by the entire American people to remain engaged in the world. It also reflected the continuing strong affection in America for the German people. We were determined, as early as1946, to return Germany and Europe to freedom and prosperity.

But, Secretary Byrnes' speech was notable for another reason. Given the destruction and suffering in Germany in 1946, the Secretary's plan for a prosperous and democratic Germany must have seemed unrealistic -- or even utopian -- to many who listened. Experts at that time were predicting it would take decades for Germany to again reach its pre-war industrial production. Recovery seemed a distant, perhaps unreachable dream

But the experts forgot what Byrnes understood -- the power of vision. They forgot that when men and women dream positive dreams, even the cost imposing tasks can be achieved.

Because we again find ourselves in an era of change, it is particularly important today to recall the vision of Secretary Byrnes and others like him. Many young people seem to believe that there was an inevitability about the events which followed World War II in Germany. America's postwar leadership role, for example, is portrayed today as an inevitable development.

In reality, many Americans in the postwar era were not clear about their nation's role. There was considerable debate within the Truman administration over how to treat Germany and whether to remain engaged in Europe. In 1946, as today, Americans did not think in terms of spheres or of influence or a balance or power. We wanted to return Europe to "normality" and go home.

The American rejection of isolationism was not an easy step. It was brought about through courage and determination by leaders from both major parties. Secretary Byrnes' speech was designed as much to warn the American people of the dangers of isolationism as to inform the German people of our policy of reconciliation and healing.

The Western world was thus fortunate in those years. We were led by men and women of courage and imagination. They did not permit themselves to be discouraged by destruction and disorder. Rather they saw the aftermath of the war as an opportunity to create a new world - a world in which the conditions which had led to World War II were forever banished.

Over the next ten years, our Western partnership developed rapidly. Dreams such as the Marshall Plan, the European Coal and Steel Community, the IMF and the World Bank, and the OECD soon became realities. Working with American assistance, leaders of all major German political parties helped establish the foundation for the prosperous and democratic Federal Republic prophesied by Secretary Byrnes in his speech.

Germany's economic miracle is, of course, well known. Less appreciated is the political and social miracle which took place at the time. In 1945, the democratic roots which had grown up in Germany had been starved by twelve years of dictatorship. The nation lay broken and defeated. Its political institutions were shattered and discredited.

The growth of democracy was not easy in the conditions which existed in the postwar years. It was not imposed by the United States and Britain nor could it have been. Democracy succeeded in the Federal Republic because of the courage, determination and vision of millions of ordinary citizens.

As I noted recently in a speech delivered in Nuernberg, German democracy has developed into a phenomenally successful civic culture. Free elections are not the only measure of this culture. A strong web of democratic institutions has developed in every part of public life. The universities, the trade unions, the news media and the industrial enterprises have become models for democratic states throughout the world.

Let us all recall this democratic miracle as we ponder the lessons of the postwar period. Our democratic system will flourish even more if we understand the effort and courage which were required to build it. I believe that this contribution is sometimes taken for granted by the postwar generation, Thus, it is vitally important that younger people on both sides of the Atlantic recall the political achievements of the postwar period, in particular, the joint political vision of so many Germans and Americans. It would be a tragedy if this remarkable period of German-American collaboration were forgotten or worse, distorted.

And there is a real danger of such distortion. One German historian in the course of a conference on the postwar period is reported to have asserted, for instance, that American occupation forces frustrated the organization of a free and democratic trade union movement in West Germany. This distortion of postwar history is an affront to the million of working men and women who participated in the rebuilding of Germany's free trade union movement and to my countrymen who assisted in this process.

As a 1984 publication of DGB Executive Board has documented, German-American trade union solidarity in the struggle against National Socialism during the 1933-1945 period was extensive. This cooperation intensified and strengthened in the early postwar era as American labor unions - and their foresighted leaders - used their influence to halt plans for the de-industrialization of Germany, mounted a massive campaign to send food parcels to German workers and vigorously supported the rebirth of democratic unions that became a cornerstone of the new Germany.

How different Europe would be today if our joint vision for a democratic future had been shared throughout the continent. Tragically, Soviet leaders were guided by a different vision-a society based on hostility and regimentation. This vision made it impossible for the Soviets to understand the power of the democratic ideal. It led them to ignore individual human aspirations. It led also to a continuing threat to peace in Europe. As a result, the Soviets did not live up to their commitments to free election in Eastern Europe. And the Soviet Union did not permit the unification of Germany.

The Western response was the NATO alliance. The preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty makes clear the visionary nature of the Alliance. It notes that the signatories are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. And when the Federal Republic entered NATO in 1955, these principles were also applied specifically to the future of the German nation and to the goal of reunification. From the outset, NATO supported and continues to support German reunification on the basis of free self -determination in both parts of the country.

If our Western vision had been realized throughout Europe, there would be no need for a Western military alliance or for the stationing of American troops and missiles in Europe. For it is the division of this continent that is the cause of tension in Europe, not the arms race which is only a symptom of that tension. If peoples throughout Europe were allowed to determine their own way of life, we would not be faced with dangerous tensions or with the need to spend large sums of money on armaments.

Forty years is a long time. If commemoration of an anniversary of this sort is to have any meaning, it mast serve as a guide to the future. History cannot be frozen. New challenges and new threats have come upon us. If we are to succeed in the future as we have in the past, we must consider the experience of the past forty years and apply it to the world ahead of us.

Today's challenges are every bit as daunting as those which faced our leaders forty years ago. In many ways, the task is more difficult if only because the contours of policy are more blurred. Our predecessors were spurred on by the experience of a terrible war.

Today we are working against the background of forty years of success. Our peoples are living in prosperity and security. The new challenges we face are not always as clear as were those forty years ago. We sometimes ignore threats as being unimportant to our security or prosperity. Or some of the new problems are so complicated that our citizens are frightened by their very existence. Thus, we confront a paradox. Challenges are either underestimated and ignored or overestimated and expanded to catastrophic proportions.

These two threats - fear and disinterest - can sap our strength. Refusal to face problems can lead to dangerous immobility. Apprehension about our ability to deal with new challenges can lead us to mistrust our friends and placate our enemies.

For example, I am personally concerned that some American critics of Germany claim that the Federal Republic lacks the will to provide for its defense, while ignoring the major German contribution to our common efforts. Or in Germany, there are some who see every American measure to strengthen Western security as an aggressive plan to dominate the world.

Neither of these views are logical or even rational. But they demonstrate how easily our peoples can fall into the vicious circle of ignorance and distrust.

If we are to do as well in the next forty years as during the past four decades, we must emulate James Byrnes' openness and understanding. This will be of special importance to the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. Our strength, our stability and our geographic position will place additional burdens of vision and leadership upon our two countries.

Located as it is in the center of Europe, forming part of a divided nation, the Federal Republic faces pressures not experienced by other Western nations. In Germany, the democratic ideal is challenged every day of the year. At times it must seem as if the Federal Republic is locked into a frozen situation. Improvements seem far away.

After forty years, it may seem that old principles have reached a dead end. There is a risk that discouragement could replace hope as the main principle of public life. Or, we can react optimistically as did our predecessors forty years ago. We can view the complicated situation in Germany and Europe as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the democratic ideal in the new phase of history which we are about to enter.

That there is reason to hope can be demonstrated by the course of relations between East and West. Four years ago, many were predicting an ice age in relations between East and West. Today, however, an unprecedented number of contacts are taking place between American and Soviet politicians. Secretary Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Shevarnardze will meet again this month to continue preparations for the next summit meetings between President Reagan and General-Secretary Gorbachev. As President Reagan noted in an important speech in Glassboro, New Jersey in June: "If both sides genuinely want progress this could represent a turning point in the effort to make ours a safer and more peaceful world."

But the quest for peace is not limited to Europe or North America. One of the most important messages for the future is that the search for democracy is expanding far beyond our own nations. More than one hundred new nations have entered the scene since the end of World War II. These nations are facing problems which are even more severe than the ones which faced Europe forty years ago.

The peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America are struggling with the challenges of poverty, disease and underdevelopment. They are straining to develop modern societies on the foundations of traditional cultures. Frustration and hopelessness are many times more dangerous in these countries than in Germany.

Many of these countries are far from our shores, but they have a direct relevance to our own future. Democracy is not so widespread or so secure to allow democratic nations to ignore the plight of other struggling countries. I believe that these nations will succeed more
rapidly if they adopt an open, democratic system.

If we can help the rest of the world understand and adopt the democratic system, our own ideals will also be strengthened. Just as my own nation has drawn inspiration from our success in helping defend democracy in Berlin, so too can the Western community strengthen its own democratic system by helping other nations reap the benefits of our open system.

The challenge for the Federal Republic today is to move to a position of leadership in achieving this task. Forty years ago, the United States dedicated itself to helping Germany return to the community of free nations. Other nations now expect Germany to help them. I am most encouraged by the way in which the Federal Republic has met this challenge. Few nations bear as many responsibilities throughout the world.

The message of an Open World is a powerful recipe for success. If we strengthen our ideals by working together for democracy and openness, we will also strengthen their attraction in Eastern Europe. Positive changes in Asia and Latin America demonstrate the attraction of the democratic ideal. If we continue to make progress there, Eastern Europe cannot remain forever a backwater of division and repression.

In summary, we should rededicate ourselves to the vision set forth by Secretary Byrnes forty years ago. We should not be afraid to dream or to plan a better future. And as I have said so many times, Germany and the United States should join in a mature partnership, where each bears a fair share of the burdens and the responsibility for the health of our Western community.

Some persons, even in our own countries, sometimes question this vision. They say the world is too complicated or too dangerous. They claim that by pursuing our ideals we risk pushing others to strike back at us.

This to me is defeatism. It is also a recipe for failure. Hard facts can carry us only so far.

Our way of life draws power from our dedication. Our task now is to be proud of what we have achieved and to be hopeful about what we can do in the future. This pride and this hope will ensure the further success of our vision -- our Western vision of mankind.

As befit his southern heritage, Secretary Byrnes was a man of few words. But often brevity can be especially eloquent. And I think he put our Western message most succinctly in this concluding passage of his memoirs, written in 1947:

" there were many times when I was deeply discouraged. Our repeated efforts to achieve cooperation in a peaceful world seemed to be meeting only with constant rebuff. But we persisted in our efforts with patience and firmness. I have not lost hope, but today I would reverse the order and alter the emphasis. I would say that our policy should be one of firmness and patience... .To the goal of a just peace, freedom's past inspires us and freedom's future calls us."

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Updated: May 2003