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John J. McCloy and the "Splendid Reconciliation"
By Garrick Utley


When John McCloy arrived in Germany in 1949, he came for the second time as an occupier. The World War I veteran had first entered Germany with the American Expeditionary Force shortly before the armistice, fought in skirmishes around Koblenz and been attached to the regular army of occupation. Of that time, he later said, "...a number of us in the Army who had been in the German occupation in World War I... had experienced the bitterness of that occupation. And it was in the minds of all of usthe recollection of the reparations issue, and the reoccupation of the Ruhr, and the harassments, and the agitation, and the irritations on which Hitler so greatly capitalized later when he came into power.

The new U.S. High Commissioner envisaged that wardevastated Germany would some day resume its role as a strong European power, and with proper policy management this new Germany could flourish in the mainstream of Western democratic values. Arriving in a landscape of moral and physical ruins, McCloy was quick to begin putting his vision into action. His was a job which, in the words of Gräfln Dönhoff "demanded from him, on a daily basis, decisions which determined development for years afterwards."

McCloy instilled into the German-American relationship his keen understanding of the tasks facing Germany in a new era of reconciliation and reconstruction, of Germany's critical ties with France and with Western Europe, and of the United States' opportunity to establish peaceful and prosperous Atlantic relations. He developed good working relationships with Germany's postwar leaders, including Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Kurt Schumacher, leader of the Social Democratic Partythough he often disagreed with their governing styles. More importantly, along with his close personal friend Jean Monnet, he encouraged Germany's reintegration into the Western state system. He initiated the Federal Republic's admission into NATO a move that included rearming Germany only a decade after the end of a devastating war. He also spearheaded American acceptance of the Schuman Plan, which led to the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and finally to the European Union.

The son of an insurance claims officer, McCloy lost his father when he was 6; his mother learned home nursing so that her only surviving son might get a firstrate education. A fine athlete and student, McCloy won a scholarship to Amherst and later attended Harvard Law School. He was an advisor to Secretary of War Henry Stimson during World War II, and he drafted the articles of surrender for Japan at the war's end. As advisor to Roosevelt, he was instrumental in undermining the proposed "Morgenthau Plan" for Germany, which would have reduced the country to a land of forests and farms. After the war he returned to private law practice in New York, but soon resumed public life as president of the new World Bank.

When the Federal Republic was founded in 1949, Truman called on McCloy to go to Germany as Military Governor, a role in which he essentially continued the policies of his predecessor, General Lucius Clay. As the United States began the transition from occupation to supervision a year later, McCloy became U.S. High Commissioner, a position that demanded the talents of a diplomat and administrator. McCloy was particularly effective as he enjoyed the confidence of and excellent relations with the President, the U.S. Army and Averell Harriman, the top administrator of Marshall Plan aid. He used his almost dictatorial powers to scrupulously promote the growth of German democracy and the rejuvenation of the German economy, even when it meant treading on dangerous political ground, as was the case when he overturned the Nuremberg judgements against the Krupp family. During his tenure, he helped lay the basis for the more "normal" relations that a sovereign German government would one day carry on with the new U.S. Embassy in Bad Godesberg.

There was much to be done in terms of "normalization." Under McCloy's leadership, the High Commission's main purpose was to further the transition from military to civilian control. In May 1949, two months before McCloy's arrival, the Federal Republic's constitution had been adopted. In August, McCloy observed Germany's first postwar federal elections. In September, Theodor Heuss was elected the first President of the Federal Republic. As soon as the government was in place, thoughts turned to economic reform and foreign relations. The very night that Konrad Adenauer was elected Chancellor, he called on McCloy to ask his advice on the chief priority in running the country. "Rapprochement with France," was McCloy's answer, an idea to which Adenauer was "very receptive." An American diplomat told of Adenauer's first official trip to France as Chancellor: "Of course, there was no infrastructure for the fledgling German government at that moment, so we, in our munificence, provided him with an aging DC4 and hastily painted out the U.S. Air Force markings and sent him to Paris."

Economically, the Morgenthau Plan had been cast aside, but the operating principles of U.S. activities in Germany (the famous JCS 1067) were not geared to rehabilitate the country socially or economically. McCloy, ever the pragmatist, concluded, "You could not very well carry that out in its literal form." Quite simply, under these conditions " you could not function living amongst the Germans and being responsible for their welfare and peace and the necessity of feeding them." Consequently, the emphasis of U.S. policy changed gradually, as direct relief and repair of war damage gave way to the goal of rebuilding the German economy, a key factor in the recovery of Western Europe in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. In McCloy's view, the Marshall Plan helped to support German recovery, but the Germans themselves accomplished the "economic miracle." As he put it, "You have to give the accolade to Ludwig Erhard, who insisted over our objectionwe thought he was going too faston removing (economic) controls. But he had a good discernment and a good touch for it, it came at the right time, and the Germans were thereskilled workmenwho knew how to make the things that the world was athirst for at that time."

In 1950, the most pressing economic issue was the reform of European coal and steel, especially the relationship of French and German industry in the Ruhr. Previous policies aimed at breaking up
industrial cartels and decentralizing banking had met with mixed success. Meanwhile, the Schuman Plan attempted to end trusts in German coal and steel, to coordinate French, German and Belgian interests in these industries and to establish common European markets. German industrial interests resisted these aims. McCloy brought U.S. government policy to bear and worked closely with his friend Jean Monnet to encourage Bonn's acceptance of the antitrust provisions of the plan. The result was a breakthrough treaty, finally signed in March 1951, which laid the foundation for the later European Economic Community.

In the face of the Soviet threat, security and defense were equally pressing issues. When NATO was founded in 1949, few people in Europe or America were willing to contemplate any form of German armed forces. The situation changed dramatically in June 1950 with North Korea's invasion of the south and German rearmament became a realistic possibility. In McCloy's words, the use of Soviet military force "aroused Europe, and particularly Western Germany, whose situation presented a parallel unpleasant to contemplate." The Western powers had distinct views on the issue of German rearmament. France was adamantly opposed to any sort of German army, while the U.S. was unwilling to commit American forces to the defense of Europe without some sort of German contribution. To help assuage French fears, McCloy favored a unified European army, still under Atlantic command, but with a European ministry and no German defense ministry or general staff. McCloy convinced the new Eisenhower administration of the wisdom of a European force and was its strong advocate in Bonn, Paris and London. The argument proved exceedingly complex and difficult to win. It was not until 1955, years after McCloy left his post as High Commissioner, that Germany was finally admitted to NATO. Nonetheless, his argument had won the day and France had finally accepted the rearmament of Germany.

Culture and education were other important matters. Under McCloy's leadership, the High Commission gave special attention to German young people and throughout his career he encouraged their development as good citizens of a democratic Western Europe who were knowledgeable about the United States. German universities, having been drawn into the Nazi system and ideology, needed a thorough housecleaning. Many of the rectors were removed and instruction at every level was carried forward with guidance from the United States and Great Britain. McCloy's friend and colleague, Shepard Stone, took special interest in German educational reform and HICOG gave special financial support to the Free University in Berlin. After his tenure as High Commissioner, McCloy was instrumental in establishing a wide range of education assistance and fellowships for Germans and Americans to learn more of each other's countries and help build the foundation for close German-American ties over many decades. These include academic fellowship programs with Harvard and Columbia Universities and professional grants at the American Council on Germany, an organization which Mrs. McCloy helped establish.

In 1953, McCloy returned to private life with his interest in German-American relations undiminished. He served as advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, among others, and was for many years on the board of the American Council on Germany. John McCloy was personally responsible for what may be the single most memorable moment in the German-American relationship. In the internationally jittery summer of 1963, John Kennedy was planning a trip to the Federal Republic and sought the advice of the former U.S. High Commissioner. At the beginning of their talk, Kennedy informed McCloy that he would not go to Berlinhis advisors had warned him emphatically against traveling to the city, where tensions were high. An angry McCloy responded that, if the President could not visit Berlin at this critical moment, he should stay away from the Federal Republic altogether. Kennedy changed his mind, went to Berlin and spoke the now famous words: "All free men, wherever they may be, are citizens of Berlin. Therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words: 'Ich bin ein Berliner."' John McCloy died in 1989, just short of his 94th birthday and forty years after the birth of the Federal Republic. He did not live to see the Wall come down, but he died secure in the knowledge that Germany and America had long since achieved the "splendid reconciliation" which he had strived for.

Garrick Utley is the Chairman of the American Council on Germany, a premier forum for senior level German-American discussions. He is a regular contributor to CNN.

From: A Vision Fulfilled. 50 Jahre Amerikaner am Rhein. United States Embassy Bonn, 1949 - 1999. Edited by Christine Elder and Elizabeth G. Sammis. Published by United States Embassy Bonn. © Department of State, 1999.

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Updated: August 2001