I am PhD candidate studying European and American History at Texas A&M University. My dissertation is an environmental history of the American occupation of Germany following the Second World War and it will show the importance of the environment to interactions between the occupiers and the occupied. Debates about nature, wildlife, agriculture, and hunting have deep cultural roots in German society and differing American ideas and approaches towards the German environment elicited strong responses. Germans believed that American regulations and natural resource use disregarded German laws, ideas, and conservation efforts. During the scarcity of the postwar years, environmental issues, such as timbering, agriculture production, and wildlife management, were directly related to concerns over access to food and fuel. These life and death problems encouraged Germans of all political persuasions to dispute military government policies related to the environment. In contesting occupation policies, the German people challenged the postwar power imbalance, practices that helped foster Germany’s postwar democracy.
By focusing on nature, my dissertation places the occupation within the larger narrative of German environmental history. This approach differs from previous studies on the German environment since 1945 that emphasize the Green Party and those exploring the reorganization of postwar conservationists; narratives that often see the occupation as an aberration rather than a period when environmental concerns emerged as essential issues within German society. My dissertation takes a thematic approach focusing on forestry, hunting, and agriculture as each of these issues were deeply entangled with the most pressing problems of the occupation: food and fuel. In order to supply Germans civilians, expellees, refugees, and displaced persons, American occupiers took drastic actions, such as logging Germany’s forest “without regard to growth,” shooting wildlife with machine guns, and seeking to break apart large farms.
In their engagement with the American occupiers, Germans foresters, farmers, hunters, and politicians fought to maintain their laws and traditions because they provided stability during a period of upheaval and turmoil. The influx of refugees, expellees, and displaced persons into rural regions, combined with the defeat of Nazi Germany and foreign military occupation, posed significant challenges to the traditional order. This led Germans to search “for other ties of loyalty” and many devoted themselves to preserving laws and traditions in the face of American democratization efforts and the rapidly shifting social makeup of rural Germany. Organizing efforts among German hunters, farmers, and foresters often proved successful, giving them a clear political stake in the new government and a motive to take part and preserve West German democracy.
The views and opinions expressed on this website (douglasibell.com) remain my own.