Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Operation Sunrise: The Secret Surrender


Nazi surrender Operation Sunrise OSS betrayal cold war Alan Dulles

Authored in 1979, this remains a fascinating account of the negotiations that took place in Switzerland between the OSS and Karl Wolff, a senior SS Officer, aimed at the capitulation of German forces in Italy in 1945.

At one level, this is just a well researched piece of micro-history which, in itself, as the authors agree, made little difference to the outcome of the war. In that respect, it reads like a period thriller.

At another level, however, it provides insights into the conduct of that mega-struggle and suggests that, though only a symptom of something, that something was the disease we would later call the Cold War.

We should start by praising this book for the clarity of its writing and its exceptionally helpful explanation of the conditions under which the negotiations took place.

Like so many books that give us the actual history rather than the subsequent myth (and there are many such myths!), you may be surprised by the interpretation.

For example, whatever the grand strategy of the three major players on the Allied side, the actual conduct of the war was largely driven by 'military necessity' rather than politics.

Many of the problems that started to appear in April and May 1945 arose precisely because all seemed to be agreed that military victory was the war aim and political issues could wait.

The story tends to confirm that there was not quite the necessity for the Cold War that we have been led to believe. It looks 'inevitable'. It was not. It was as much manufactured as not by special interests.

Any strategy of military necessity with direct lines of command to war leaders (applicable until May 1945) cuts out diplomats, political interests and political warfare operatives.

The negotiations of 'Operation Sunrise' tended to bypass (on both sides) this line of command and opened up an opportunity for a certain type of German thinking to 'infect' the West, like a virus.

Bear in mind that the European Right at this time was divided between those who could see the collapse coming and those who would fight on from stupidity (or loyalty which amounts to the same thing) or despair.

'Operation Sunrise' was not the only point where Soviet distrust of the West seemed reasonable but it was wholly unhelpful in reducing the space for the sort of discussion that was had at Yalta.

Smith and Agarossi persuasively argue that Allen Dulles in Switzerland developed a 'blind spot'. To him, these talks were the last opportunity for political warfare operations to make a difference.

In opening up a sensible opportunity for capitulation by Germany, he mishandled and misinterpreted what was happening (where many career soldiers did not) with perhaps grim consequences.

First, he allowed a war criminal, a leading SS Officer, to become a co-conspirator in the salvaging of two sets of careers. And, in doing so, he persuaded himself and others of Wolff's argument.

Second, in undertaking a project which muddied the water on 'unconditional surrender', Dulles helped to initiate the distrust that allowed the 'German virus' to mutate into a Western one.

What should disgust us about Wolff, as we should perhaps be disgusted by Gehlen and Operation Paperclip, is that this was the man who was Himmler's liaison at Hitler's HQ.

Whatever his post war claims (he got 15 years in the end), he knew who was being transported to Treblinka and certainly had innocent Italian blood on his hands. The Soviets would rightly have just shot him.

But this highly intelligent and undoubtedly physically brave SS officer on first name terms with Himmler and Kaltenbrunner managed to 'sell' himself, like Gehlen and Von Braun, as an asset.

Most of the allies had no illusions about him but the conduct of Dulles looks increasingly naive as the story is told and the seeds of the malign vision we have today of the 'West' were planted.

It is not that the Soviets were not a problem nor that they were not going to fill what vacuums of power they could but this was a State that had been nearly overturned by the West once.

Not only that but millions of its people had been brutalised and murdered and it was its massed ranks that had driven national socialism - murderous in intent not just as means - to the wall.

Wolff and those like him were engaged in a late project to split the allies and incorporate German national socialism into the Western model. He and others half succeeded.

They succeeded primarily (once the officials of the State Department, the politicians and the OSS, later the CIA, had recovered their power over the Truman administration) in creating a shared view of communism.

Think of these two reactions to events by two leading Nazis in the last days. First, Hitler stating to Wolff that the allies would split and he did not care which side he then dealt with.

Hitler was living in fantasy land but it helps us to understand the importance of 'unconditional surrender'. Wolff was horrified (as most Germans would have been) because 'Jewish' communism was the enemy.

Now look at this quotation from Himmler (not in this book):

"We have made serious mistakes. If I could have a fresh start, I would do many things differently now. But it is too late. We wanted greatness and security for Germany, and we are leaving behind us a pile of ruins, a fallen world."

Er, yes, well. This was on April 21st, 1945, and we see that as one world of Hitlerist fanaticism was dying, another one of 'starting again' was already opening up.

What was going on in Bern in the April 1945 was the seduction of intellectual amateurs, Wall Street lawyers and political fixers, by this second vision relying on a shared terror of 'communism'.

Dulles was not a fool and sometimes the authors are, I believe, too hard on him - this was a real time crisis - but, isolated in Switzerland, he undoubtedly came to fall for Wolff's implicit pitch.

This becomes the more significant when we realise that the political amateurism of the OSS becomes the dangerously powerful thuggery and malignity of the CIA.

The circle of American players in Italy in these last days become the basis not only of a hard-line Cold War but sponsors of the single major reason the US has lost its positive image - its security apparat.

Regardless of the villainy of the Soviets and the fact that unresolved political issues would have caused problems after the capitulation by the very nature of things, things could have been handled differently.

From the perspective of the time, before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union would have been an essential resource for the defeat of Japan and Stalin played more than fair in this respect.

The period from May to August 1945 might have been used more effectively to settle post war conditions and develop collaborative relations between the three dominant empires.

However, amongst the factors that helped unravel this possibility, we must include the OSS' adventuring and the effect of anti-communist German arguments about the threat of communism.

Instead of calculating responses to communism and a fundamentally defensive Stalin, political paranoia emerged, rushing into negative responses and developing a peacetime alliance with the real villains.

The atrocities were forgotten, the death camps were forgotten, the invasions were forgotten and the Soviet Union cast as an expansionist villain when its prime purpose was reconstruction.

The shift of power from war leaders and military men, with practical ends, to a curious clique of lawyers, cronies, politicians and military theorists transformed the situation.

Although we should not exaggerate the significance of 'Operation Sunrise', it marks one of a number of points where we can trace the transfer of power to a new cold war elite, paranoid and closed.

Perhaps the high point of the lunacy, which encompassed nuclear weaponry and the Rand Corporation, would be James Jesus Angleton. All the powers fell into the same trap. Gehlen ran rings round the US.

But, despite the reforms after the Church Committee, what we have now is not the rational Great Power diplomacy and hard power of the period before 1945 but the mentally unbalanced world of 'security'.

The blunders of the West in recent years can be traced to the mentality that emerged in Bern, the loss of focus on hard power and the elaboration of ever more oozalum-like political narratives.

Yes, of course, eventually, this mentality may have resulted in its prime aim - the destruction of the Soviet Union - but this presupposes that this was the right aim all along.

This is where we may part as reader and reviewer. The Soviet Union was either equivalent to national socialism, and Dulles implicitly and Wolff explicitly were right all along, or it was not.

My doubt lies in the fashion for equivalence between the two ideologies - one imperialistically seeking to expand on a radical racial premise and the other seeking development against intervention.

The crimes and oppressions of the latter are not in doubt (and unanswerable in most cases) but the British Empire was not exactly unsoiled by horrors nor industrialisation anywhere in the world.

This is no defence of Sovietism but we should doubt whether a mentality that could contemplate mutual nuclear extinction, acceptance of the security state and collaboration with Nazis is tolerable.

We should think on this when being seduced into our various positions in relation to the Ukraine or China.

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