The plan to destroy Germany, by Pierre Rimbert (Le Monde diplomatique

Meeting of minds: US president Franklin D Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill meet to agree their policy on the treatment of Germany after the war, Quebec, 15 September 1944

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A procession of limousines, an impregnable fortress, legions of diplomats, throngs of journalists… the black and white footage alights for a moment on Winston Churchill’s large cigar, Franklin D Roosevelt’s white hat. On 15 September 1944 the Second Quebec Conference, a military summit, was in full swing. A thorny topic preoccupied the two Western leaders: what to do with Germany once it was defeated? With the Red Army winning one battle after another on the Eastern front and the Allies landing in Normandy, this was no longer a theoretical question. Word had it that the Reich’s forces might soon collapse; in reality, they would hold out for many more months.

Roosevelt and Churchill secretly signed a surprising memorandum as the conference drew to a close: a ‘programme for eliminating the war-making industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar [to convert] Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character’. In the wings, one man was ecstatic: US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr, who was Roosevelt’s close friend and neighbour. ‘It was the most interesting forty-eight hours I have ever experienced in my life, and the most satisfactory,’ he later told his aides.

What should be done with Germany? For weeks, Morgenthau, a former Christmas tree farmer, had been at the president’s ear with a simple reply: annihilate it, once and for all. On 13 September, over dinner, Roosevelt asked Morgenthau to outline his plan for Churchill and his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden. First, Germany should be demilitarised through the ‘total destruction of the whole… armament industry, and the removal or destruction of other key industries which are basic to military strength’ such as chemicals, metals and power generation. Its land would then be carved up. Poland, the USSR and France would annex certain areas, with the rest parcelled into two countries, one to the North and one to the South.

In the zone between the Rhineland and (…)

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(1‘Report on Quebec conference’, 19 September 1944, Morgenthau Diaries, book 772, 15-19 September 1944, FDR Library digital collection,

(3The quotes for this article are drawn from the following sources: John L Chase, ‘The Development of the Morgenthau Plan Through the Quebec Conference’, The Journal of Politics, Chicago, vol 16, no 2, May 1954; Warren F Kimball, Swords or Ploughshares? The Morgenthau Plan for Defeated Nazi Germany,1943-1946, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1976; Michael R Beschloss, The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2002; Ted Morgan, FDR: a Biography, Simon and Schuster, 1985; Cordell Hull, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, Macmillan, New York, vol 2, 1948; John Dietrich, The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, Algora, New York, 2013; Jean Edward Smith, FDR, Random House, New York, 2007; Benn Steil, The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 2018.

(4Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War: the World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, Pantheon, New York, 1968. The plan to destroy Germany, by Pierre Rimbert (Le Monde diplomatique

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