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Werewolves

August 30th, 2003

This piece by Daniel Benjamin in Slate attacks the idea, being popularised by Bush Administration figures like Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld that the occupying forces in Germany after World War II faced resistance from ‘Werewolves’, that is diehard remnants of the SS and Hitler youth similar to those found in Iraq today. The story seems to have been started by this National Review Online piece by Mackubin Owens

This story rang a bell with me, and, digging back I found this NRO piece by John O’Sullivan from early April which seems to have been the first mention of Werewolves. Interestingly, though, O’Sullivan, writing before Baghdad fell, was using this precedent to predict that no resistance would emerge.

Not a single “Werewolf” emerged from his lair. And the allies, who had arrived as conquerors not liberators, soon found themselves handing out food parcels to a grateful German population. That will happen in Iraq too. When? That no one can predict with certainty. But happen it will � and not long after the battle of Baghdad is joined.

So O’Sullivan’s account of the facts matches Benjamin’s and is exactly the opposite of his NRO colleague. I don’t know who’s right, though the fact that O’Sullivan’s version came first and that I had never heard anything of postwar German resistance before it became a Republican talking point suggests that O’Sullivan is correct.

I’ve never been a big fan of the ‘meme’ metaphor, but this example may force me to reconsider. Obviously, the Werewolves image has a good deal of reproductive power, and the virus changes its coat to survive in changing environments.

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  1. August 30th, 2003 at 16:32 | #1

    The version I heard, over thirty years ago, is that the Germans set up stay behind groups to be activated later. The allies codenamed these “werewolves”, and were continually on the lookout for them. However, they never were activated later (because they really were obeying orders and under direction, and the direction was unconditional surrender). Also it was never clear just how much resources had been available for them anyway. I heard oral tradition on the general subject, then checked some of it out.

    But that all goes to indicate a faulty analogy; they were not “resistance” groups, but analogues of what the US was at first suggesting, Baathist groups set up for stay behind purposes. Quite different from a grass roots resistance.

  2. Chris K
    August 31st, 2003 at 05:25 | #2

    Never in my lifetime has history been so systematically abused as with the Bush administration: a Hitler here, Werewolves there, Nazis everywhere. Not only a shame, but increasingly a source of ridicule. In decades we’ll say to our grand children: “Well, at least sometimes they made us laugh …”

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