World War II: Civil Affairs and Occupation Policies

Generalplan Ost
Figure 1.--Hitler's ultimate goal as first expressed in 'Mein Kampf' was to seize the East with its resources and Lebensraum. Germany's occupation policy was detailed in Generalplan Ost. It not only involved seizing the resources of the East, but sharply reducing the slavic population and using the survivors for slave labor, supervised by German colonists. As the Wehrmachy swept west, German soldiers took photographs of the people they encountered as if they were tourists visiting a strange new land.

Several countries occupied other countries during World War II, including both Axis and Allied countries. This involved the various militaries in non-military functions called civil affairs by the Allies. It was another term for military government. Military government and occupation policies varied widely. Allied policies were more consistent. As the Allies moved into German occupation areas of Western Europe, the policy was essentially one of liberation and relief because the Germans had devastated local economies. At first Alied civil affairs involved assisting liberated countries. This in some cases meant populations in desperate states, although the liberation of France occurred so rapidly that battle damage was largely localized to the Normandy are. Italy whch swiched sides was in a desperated conditions. The Dutch north of the Rhine in particular were starving. The Allies did adopt occupation policies for the Axis countries (Austria, Germany, and Japan). Italy was a little different because as part of the Italian surrender, Italy joined the war against the Germans. Axis occupation policies varied widely, especially German policies. One consistent theme with the Axis was economic exploitation and/or efforts to annex occupied areas and suppress the population. Here German racial policies had a major impact. In line with Holocaust actions, Generalplan Ost, and the Hunger Plan , the goal was to substantially reduce the Slavic population and convert the survivors to slave labor. Soviet occupation policies were also very consistent. The goal was to annex some areas, deport selected groups, suppress democratic elements, and install compliant puppet regimes. The policy when they reach Germany was to exact substantial reparations and a generous dose of revenge.

Occupying Powers

The World War II beligerants pursued radically different occupation policies. Occupation was a major Axis war aim, primarily to obtain needed natural resources and what the Germans called lebensraum--living space. The Axis powers occupied many countries in Europe and Asia as well as afew colonies in Africa. They proceeded to implement policies that were unique to the modern age. Their policies were designed to create new colonies to exploit. But rather than just exploit the local popultion, the Germans un particular set out on a massive ethnic cleaning operation to destroy or enslave the existing population, They largely suceeded in wipeing out the Jewish popultion in occupied countries, but had only begun to kill or enlave the Slavs when the War turned against them. The killing opertions conflicted with the need to exploit conquered areas to support the War effort. You can no longer exploit people after you kill them. This did not stop the NAZIs from killing Jews. It did slow down the implementation of Generalplan Ost to kill tens of millions of Slavs. The Soviet Union unlike the Axis did not need resources, but it was pursuing a mixture of the Communist ideology of world revolution and traditional Russian imperialism. Its occupation policies were very similar to those of the NAZIs without the Jewish racial component. This is not surprising as the two countries signed the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggrsion Pact, becoming allies in the carving up of Eastern Europe. Soviet policies changed somewhat after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, but still pursued ethnic cleansing, Communist revolution, and Russian imperialism. Allied policies were widely different. Allies policies were based on emergency action to save the lives of millions of displaced persons, many of whom were near starvation and sick. Next the Allies set out to return constitutinal, democratic rule.

Occupied Countries

Many more countries were occupied in World War II than World War I. This was because of the wider scope of the War and because several new countries were carved out of the Austro-Hungarian, Tsarist, and Ottoman Empires. And the nature of the occupation regimes in those countries was radically different, much more brutal and in several countries actually genocidal. The desire to seize territory and resources was a major cause of the War, unlike World War I. Here the goal was not so much temporary occupation, but permanent territorial adjustments and new colonial structures. And as part of this process, masive ethnic cleanings including the murder of tens of millions of people becaue of their ethnicity was planned and begun. Occupation this meant in many instnces a matter of life and death. The Germans wanted the East and changes in the West. Italy wanted the Mediteranean Basin, and Japn wanted China and the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). And once in possessions of these areas, harsh exploitation began. Hitler thought that the resources of the East would make Germany invulnerable. This lead to the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union, but hdespite great victories, few of the resources were secured. As it turned out, by far the most important occupied country supporting the German war economy was France. In Asia, the situation was different. Except for China and the Philippines, Japan invaded European colonies. Japan was determined to conquer China with its resources and vast market. As it turned out, the resources gained only supported the army deployed and the cost of the war proved a drain on Japan's economy. This ultimately led to Japan's decesion to attack the United States as part of the effort to secure the SRZ.

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Created: 6:52 PM 4/18/2011
Last updated: 5:27 AM 3/31/2015