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Subject: Stephen Ambrose on Bacque's "Other Losses"

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                 Ike and the Disappearing Atrocities
                      by Stephen E. Ambrose

           New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991

   Seldom has the publication of a historical monograph on a subject
   ordinarily of interest only to a few specialists - the treatment of
   prisoners of war - received so much attention or excited so much
   anger as James Bacque's "Other Losses." Published in 1989 in
   Canada, it was the subject of a cover story in the popular Canadian
   magazine Saturday Night, of a British Broadcasting Corporation
   documentary, of two German television documentaries and of a coming
   Canadian Broadcasting Network documentary. (The Canadian book, I
   should say immediately, carries a jacket blurb from me that was
   taken out of context and used without permission) It has been
   discussed on American television, in Time magazine and in many
   other news media outlets. In its German edition, it was a runaway
   best seller. The British edition elicited major reviews in the
   Times Literary Supliment and elsewhere. Prima Publishing of
   California intendes to publish the book in May, which could fan the
   flames in the United States.

   The reason for the notoriety is the author's conclusion that Gen.
   Dwight D. Eisenhower, as head of the American occupation of Germany
   in 1945, deliberately starved to death German prisoners of war in
   staggering numbers. Mr. Bacque charges that "the victims
   undoubtedly number over 800,000, almost certainly over 800,000 and
   quite likely over a million. Their deaths were knowingly caused by
   army officers who had sufficient resources to keep the prisoners

   Eisenhower's method, according to Mr. Bacque, was simple: he
   changed the designation of the prisoners from "Prisoners of War"
   (P.O.W.), required by the Geneva Convention to be fed the same
   rations as American G.I.'s, to "Disarmed Enemy Forces" (D.E.F.),
   which allowed him to cut their rations to starvation level. Mr.
   Bacque says the D.E.F. were also denied medical supplies and
   shelter. They died by the hundreds of thousands. Their deaths were
   covered up on Army records by listing them as "other looses" on
   charts showing weekly totals of prisoners on hand, numbers
   discharged and so forth.

   So outraged is Mr. Bacque by his discovery of this heinous crime
   that he has been quoted in a wire service interview as saying
   Americans "should take down every statue of Eisenhower, and every
   photograph of him and annul his memory from American history as
   best they can, except to say, 'Here was a man who did very evil
   things that we're ashamed of.'" Questions immediately arise. If
   there were a million dead, where are the bodies? Did Eisenhower
   have such vast power that he could order starvation on a mass scale
   and keep it a secret? Was the undoubted suffering in the camps,
   especially the transit camps along the Rhine, the result of
   Eisenhower's policy or the result of the chaotic conditions that
   prevailed in Europe in the spring and summer of 1945?

   Mr. Bacque, a Canadian novelist with no previous historical
   research or writing experience, says in his introduction: 
   "Doubtless many scholars will find faults in this book, which are
   only mine. I welcome their criticism and their further research,
   which may help to restore to us the truth after a long night of
   lies." Last December, the Eisenhower Center at the University of
   New Orleans invited some leading experts on the period to examine
   the charges. The conference participants, including me, plan to
   publish the papers in book form.

   Our first conclusion was that Mr. Bacque had made a major
   historical discovery. There _was_ wdiespread mistreatment of German
   prisoners in the spring and summer of 1945. Men were beaten, denied
   water, forced to live in open camps without shelter, given
   inadequate food rations and inadequate medical care. Their mail was
   withheld. In some cases prisoners made a "soup" of water and grass
   in order to deal with their hunger. Men did die needlessly and
   inexcusably. This must be confronted, and it is to Mr. Bacque's
   credit that he forces us to do so.

   Our second conclusion was that when scholars do the necessary
   research, they will find Mr. Bacque's work to be worse than
   worthless. It is seriously - nay, spectacularly - flawed in its
   most fundamental aspects. Mr. Bacque misuses documents; he misreads
   documents; he ignores contrary evidence; his statistical
   methodology is hopelessly compromised; he makes no attempt to look
   at comparative contexts; he puts words into the mouth of his
   principal source; he ignores a readily available and absolutely
   critical source that decisively deals with his central accusation; 
   and, as a consequence of these and and other shortcomings, he
   reaches conclusions and makes charges that are demonstrably absurd.

   Apart from its assessment of Mr. Bacque's findings, however, the
   conference - along with the book itself - raises a larger issue: 
   how are readers who are not experts to judge a work that makes
   new, startling, indeed outrageious, claims? Without the knowledge
   or the time to investigate, how are they to know if an author has
   finally revealed the truth "after a long night of lies," or is
   simply misleading an unwary public?

   As for Mr. Bacque's claims, the most immediate question is that of
   Eisenhower's motive: why on earth would Ike do such a thing? Mr.
   Bacque answers that Eisenhower hated the Germans. Now it is
   absolutely true that in the spring of 1945, Eisenhower's anger at
   the Germans was very great. He never attempted to hide these
   feelings. In "Crusade in Europe," published in 1948, he wrote, "In
   my personal reactions, as the months of conflict wore on, I grew
   constantly more bitter against the Germans." He relates that he
   signed tens of thousands of letters of condolence to the wives and
   mothers of his fallen men, and he wrote, "I know of no more
   effective means of developing an undying hatred of those
   responsible for aggressive war than to assume the obligation of
   attemption to express sympathy to families bereaved by it." The
   uncovering of the concentration camps added to his emotion.

   Eisenhower was an enthusiastic supporter of denazification, but not
   because he hated the Germans or believed in collective guilt. To
   the contrary, he believed that there were Germans who were
   committed to democracy and that the task of the occupation was to
   find them and bring them to the fore. In a speech in Frankfurt in
   1945, he declared "The success or failure of this occupation will
   be judged by the character of the Germans 50 years from now. Proof
   will come when they begin to run a democracy of their own and we
   are going to give the Germans a chance to do that, in time." This
   does not sound like a man who simultaneously was directing the
   death by starvation of one million young Germans.

   Mr. Bacque completely misunderstands Eisenhower's position and
   activity in the occupation. He puts full responsibility on
   Eisenhower for every policy decision, never recognizing that he had
   superiors from whom he took policy directives and orders -
   specifically, the Army Chief of Staff, the European Advisory
   Commission, acting in the name and with the authority of the
   British, Soviet and American Governments, the Joint Chiefs of
   Staff, the Combined Chiefs of Staff, that is, the American Joint
   Chiefs and the British Chiefs of Staff; and the heads of the
   British and American Governments. The report at the New Orleans
   conference on the diplomatic background, by Brian Villa of the
   University of Ottawa, noted that the policy of Eisenhower's
   superiors was to impress upon the Germans the fact of their defeat,
   the fact that they had brought it on themselves and in other ways
   to "treat 'em rough." Denazification was one aspect of that policy.
   Another was that German prisoners would not be fed at a higher
   level than German civilians, than the civilians of the liberated
   nations, or than the displaced persons (DPs).

   An assertion that is central to Mr. Bacque's accusation is his
   contention that there was no European food shortage in 1945. He
   points to warehouses in Germany full of food. He says that the Red
   Cross had food available. One of his most daming pieces of evidence
   is that a train from Geneva loaded with food parcels sent by the
   Red Cross to feed German prisoners was forced to turn back.

   This is shocking - food was available, men were hungry and American
   officers ordered the train to return to Geneva. But there was a
   reason: the Allied Governments had decided that Red Cross food
   parcels would be used to feed displaced persons, of whom there were
   more than two million in Germany, and the orders to Eisenhower on
   this policy were explicit. So DPs got those food parcels. It is
   painful beyond description to have to set food priorities in a
   hungry world, but it had to be done, and who could argue with the

   In his conference report on the food situation in Germany, James
   Tent of the University of Alabama - Brimingham says there was no
   question that there were severe shortages. Still, as Mr. Tent
   points out, there was food stocked in warehouses that was not
   distributed to prisoners living on a near-starvation diet. Again,
   this is shocking, until the reason is noted. The Allied Governments
   were fearful of famine in the winter of 1945-46, and they were
   stockpiling food. Even with the reserves, they barely got through
   the winter, and it was three years before the European foot
   shortage was overcome.

   Mr. Bacque's myth was Eisenhower's nightmare. No food shortage?
   Eisenhower wrote the Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, in
   Februayr 1945: "I am very much concerned about the food
   situation... We now have no reserves on the Continent of supplies
   for the civil population."

   And here is Eisenhower writing to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on
   April 25, 1945: "Unless immediate steps are taken to develop to the
   fullest extent possible the food resources in order to provide the
   minimum wants of the German population, widespread chaos,
   starvation and disease are inevitable during the coming winter."

   These - and many, many similar messages - went out before the
   surrender. After the first week of May, all of Eisenhower's
   calculations as to how many people he would be required to feed in
   occupied Germany became woefully inadequate. He had badly
   underestimated, for two reasons. First, the number of German
   soldiers surrendering to the Western Allies far exceeded what was
   expected (more than five million, instead of the anticipated three
   million) because of the onrush of German soldiers across the Elbe
   River to escape the Russians. So too with German civilians - there
   were millions fleeing from east to west, about 13 million
   altogether, and they became Eisenhower's responsibility. Eisenhower
   faced shortages even before he learned that there were 17 million
   more people to feed in Germany than he had expected.

   No food shortage? This is the report of the Military Governor for
   Germany in July 1945: "The food situation throughout Western
   Germany is perhaps the most serious problem of the occupation. The
   average food consumption in the Western Zones is now about
   one-third below the generally accepted subsistence level." The
   September report declares, "Food from indigenous sources was not
   available to meet the present authorized ration level for the
   normal consumer, of 1,550 calories per day."

   Mr. Bacque says that the prisoners were receiving 1,550 calories a
   day, and he contends that such a ration means slow starvation. He
   apparently never looked at what civilians were getting, in Germany
   or in the liberated countries. In Paris in 1945, the calorie level
   was 1,550 for civilians. It was only slightly higher in Briatin,
   where rationing continued. It was much lower in Russia, where
   rationing also continued. As noted, the official ration for German
   civilians was 1,550, but often not met. In Vienna in the summer of
   1945 the official ration sometimes fell to 500.

   There is such a thing as common sense. Anyone who was in Europe in
   the summer of 1945 would be flabbergasted to hear that there was no
   food shortage.

   According to Mr. Bacque, Eisenhower personally, secretly, and with
   sinister intent changed the status of surrendered German soldiers
   from prisoners of war to disarmed enemy forces. In fact, the change
   in designation was a policy matter. The decision was made not by
   Eisenhower but by his superiors, specifically by the European
   Advisory Commission. Nor was any attempt made to keep it secret.
   All those involved acted with the authority of the British, Russian
   and American Governments, and they were perfectly straightforward
   about the reason for the change in status.

   What happened is simple enough: the Allies could not afford to feed
   the millions of German prisoners at the same level at which they
   were able to feed German civilians, not to mention the civilians of
   the liberated countries of Western Europe, and not to mention as
   well the displaced persons. But the United States and other Allied
   nations had signed the Geneva Convention, which had the force of a
   treaty. They did not wish to violate it, so they used the new
   designation of "Disarmed Enemy Forces." The orders to the field
   commanders were straighforward: do not feed the DEF's at a higher
   scale than German civilians.

   With regard to another of Mr. Bacque's conclusions, he arrives at
   his sensational figure of one million dead through a system of
   analysis that has left almost everyone who has tried to check his
   statistics and methods befuddled. He did make one mistake because
   of a typing error by a clerk. He saw a figure of 70,000 prisoners
   in an Army medical report and then calculated the total death rate
   for all prisoners in American hands on the basis of that number and
   the 21,000 deaths also mentioned in the report. That is, he arrived
   at his most basic conclusion, a death rate in all camps of 30
   percent, by dividing the 21,000 deaths by the 70,000 prisoners.
   However, the 70,000 figure should have been 10 times higher. All
   other figures in the document make it clear that the correct number
   of prisoners was 700,000. This would make the death rate not 30
   percent but 3 percent.

   In fact, as Albert Cowdrey of the Department of the Army's Center
   of Military History reported to the conference, the overall death
   rate among German prisoners was 1 percent.

   Mr. Cowdrey's conclusion, strongly supported by another conference
   participant, Maj. Ruediger Overmans of the German Office of
   Military History in Freiburg (who is writing the final volume of
   the official Germany history of the war), is that the total death
   by all causes of German prisoners in American hands could not have
   been greater than 56,000.

   Finally, there is the matter of the column of figures in the weekly
   reports of the United States Army Theater Provost Marshal entitled
   "Other Losses." It is here that Mr. Bacque finds his "missing

   What were the "other losses?" Mr. Bacque interviewed Philip S.
   Lauben, a retired Army colonel who was a member of the German
   Affairs Branch of Eisenhower's headquarters in 1945. He writes that
   Colonel Lauben told him "other losses" meant "deaths and escapes."

   "How many escapes?"  Mr. Bacque asked.

   "Very, very minor," Colonel Lauben replied. Mr. Bacque says they
   were less than one-tenth of 1 percent, with no explanation of how
   he arrived at such a figure.

   Neil Cameron, the producer of the BBC documentary about "Other
   Losses," told the conference that he had obtained from Mr. Bacque
   the tape of the interview. It seemed clear to Mr. Cameron that Mr.
   Bacque had got an old man to agree with words that Mr. Bacque used
   and then put in his mouth. Mr. Cameron did his own on-camera
   interview with Colonel Lauben; in it, Colonel Lauben said he was
   misled by Mr. Bacque and was wrong about the meaning of the term
   "other losses."

   David Hawkins of CNN wanted to do an interview with Colonel Lauben.
   Colonel Lauben turned him down, explaining in a letter "I'm not
   being difficult. I am 91 years old, legally blind, and my memory
   has lapsed to a point where it is quite unreliable. Furthermore I
   am under regular medical care. Often during my talk with Mr.
   Bacque I reminded him that my memory had deteriorated badly during
   the 40 odd years since 1945.

   "Mr. Bacque read to me figures...It seemed to me that, after
   accounting for transfers and discharges, there was nothing left to
   make up the grand total except deaths and escapes, i.e. the term
   'Other Losses.' I was mistaken."

   Thus, Mr. Bacque's only witness for the charge that "other losses"
   was a cover-up term for deaths has twice repudiated what Mr. Bacque
   maintains that he said.

   What then were the "other losses?" In many cases they were
   transfers from one zone to another, something that was regularly
   done for a variety of reasons, none of them sinister, and all duly
   recorded in footnotes on the weekly reports.

   But the greatest number of "other losses" is revealed in the August
   1945 Report of the Military Governor. (These monthly reports are in
   the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan., in the National Archives
   in Washington and elsewhere; they are a basic source on every
   aspect of the occupation, including food shortages and prisoners.
   Mr. Bacque did not cite them and there is no evidence he examined
   them.) The August report lists the numbers of disarmed enemy forces
   discharged by American forces and those transferred to the British
   and French for forced labor.

   The report continues: "An additional group of 663,576 are listed as
   'other losses,' consisting largely of members of the Volksturm
   [Peoples' Militia], released without formal discharge."

   It takes little imagination to see what happened here. The People's
   Militia consisted of older men (up to 80 years of age, mainly World
   War I veterans) and boys of 16 or sometimes less. American guards
   and camp authorities told the old men to go home and take care of
   their grandchildren, the boys to go home and return to school.
   Along with the transfers to other zones that Mr. Bacque ignores,
   these people account for all the "missing million."

   In short, Mr. Bacque is wrong on every major charge and nearly all
   his minor ones. Eisenhower was not a Hitler, he did not run death
   camps, German prisoners did not die by the hundreds of thousands,
   there was a severe food shortage in 1945, there was nothing
   sinister or secret about the "disarmed enemy forces" designation or
   about the column "other losses." Mr. Bacque's "missing million"
   were old men and young boys in the militia.

   Nevertheless, Mr. Bacque makes a point that is irrefutable: some
   American G.I.'s and their officers were capable of acting in almost
   as brutal a manner as the Nazis. We did not have a monopoly on
   virtue. He has challenged us to reopen the question, to do the
   research required, to get at the full truth. For that contribution,
   he deserves thanks. But as to how he presented his discovery, I
   turn again to Albert Cowdrey: "Surely the author has reason to be
   satisfied with his achievement. He has no reputation as a historian
   to lose, and "Other Losses" can only enhance his standing as a
   writer of fiction."

   There remains, finally, the larger issue. It took a conference of
   experts to challenge Mr. Bacque's charges. Individual scholars have
   hesitated to take him on because to do so required checking through
   his research - in effect, rewriting his book. Instead, many of them
   have said in their reviews in Britain, France, Germany and Canada
   that they cannot believe what Mr. Bacque says about Eisenhower is
   true, but they cannot disprove it. Mr. Bacque has all the
   paraphernalia of scholarship; it looks impressive enough to
   bamboozle even scholars.

   Under these circumstances, what is a lay reader to do? I suggest
   that he or she trust common sense. As when confronting the
   Holocaust-never-happened school, ask the obvious questions. If the
   answers aren't clear, the charges have not been proved. In Mr.
   Bacque's case, two such questions are: Where are the bodies? and Is
   this book consistent with our picture of Eisenhower's character as
   we know it from innumberable other sources? Ultimately, in cases
   such as this one, it is often the obvious questions that bring us
   closest to the truth.

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