How the Nazis Won the War

Noam Chomsky

Excerpted from Secrets, Lies, and Democracy, 1994

Operation Paper Clip, which involved the importation of large numbers of known Nazi war criminals, rocket scientists, camp guards, etc.

There was also an operation involving the Vatican, the US State Department and British intelligence, which took some of the worst Nazi criminals and used them, at first in Europe. For example, Klaus Barbie, the butcher of Lyon [France], was taken over by US intelligence and put back to work.

Later, when this became an issue, some of his US supervisors didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. After all, we’d moved in-we’d replaced the Germans. We needed a guy who would attack the left-wing resistance, and here was a specialist. That’s what he’d been doing for the Nazis, so who better could we find to do exactly the same job for us?

When the Americans could no longer protect Barbie, they moved him over to the Vatican-run "ratline," where Croatian Nazi priests and others managed to spirit him off to Latin America. There he continued his career. He became a big drug lord and narco-trafflcker, and was involved in a military coup in Bolivia-all with US support.

But Barbie was basically small potatoes. This was a big operation, involving many top Nazis. We managed to get Walter Rauff, the guy who created the gas chambers, off to Chile. Others went to fascist Spain.

General Reinhard Gehlen was the head of German military intelligence on the eastern front. That’s where the real war crimes were. Now we’re talking about Auschwitz and other death camps. Gehlen and his network of spies and terrorists were taken over quickly by American intelligence and returned to essentially the same roles.

If you look at the American army’s counterinsurgency literature (a lot of which is now declassified), it begins with an analysis of the German experience in Europe, written with the cooperation of Nazi officers. Everything is described from the point of view of the Nazis-which techniques for controlling resistance worked, which ones didn’t. With barely a change, that was transmuted into American counterinsurgency literature. (This is discussed at some length by Michael McClintock in Instruments of Statecraft, a very good book that I’ve never seen reviewed.)

The US left behind armies the Nazis had established in Eastern Europe, and continued to support them at least into the early 1950s. By then the Russians had penetrated American intelligence, so the air drops didn’t work very well any more.

You’ve said that if a real post-World War II history were ever written, this would be the first chapter.

It would be a part of the first chapter. Recruiting Nazi war criminals and saving them is bad enough, but imitating their activities is worse. So the first chapter would primarily describe US-and some British-operations throughout the world that aimed to destroy the anti-fascist resistance and restore the traditional, essentially fascist, order to power.

In Korea (where we ran the operation alone), restoring the traditional order meant killing about 100,000 people just in the late 1940s, before the Korean War began. In Greece, it meant destroying the peasant and worker base of the anti-Nazi resistance and restoring Nazi collaborators to power. When British and then American troops moved into southern Italy, they simply reinstated the fascist order-the industrialists. But the big problem came when the troops got to the north, which the Italian resistance had already liberated. The place was functioning- industry was running. We had to dismantle all of that and restore the old order.

Our big criticism of the resistance was that they were displacing the old owners in favor of workers’ and community control. Britain and the US called this "arbitrary replacement" of the legitimate owners. The resistance was also giving jobs to more people than were strictly needed for the greatest economic efficiency (that is, for maximum profit-making). We called this "hiring excess workers."
In other words, the resistance was trying to democratize the workplace and to take care of the population. That was understandable, since many Italians were starving. But starving people were their problem-our problem was to eliminate the hiring of excess workers and the arbitrary dismissal of owners, which we did.

Next we worked on destroying the democratic process. The left was obviously going to win the elections; it had a lot of prestige from the resistance, and the traditional conservative order had been discredited. The US wouldn’t tolerate that. At its first meeting, in 1947, the National Security Council decided to withhold food and use other sorts of pressure to undermine the election.

But what if the communists still won? In its first report, NSC 1, the council made plans for that contingency: the US would declare a national emergency, put the Sixth Fleet on alert in the Mediterranean and support paramilitary activities to overthrow the Italian government.

That’s a pattern that’s been relived over and over. If you look at France and Germany and Japan, you get pretty much the same story.

Nicaragua is another case. You strangle them, you starve them, and then you have an election and everybody talks about how wonderful democracy is.

The person who opened up this topic (as he did many others) was Gabriel Kolko, in his classic book Politics of War in 1968. It was mostly ignored, but it’s a terrific piece of work. A lot of the documents weren’t around then, but his picture turns out to be quite accurate.