Byrnes’ ‘Speech of Hope’ on German autonomy (1946)

In September 1946 James F. Byrnes, the United States Secretary of State, addressed an audience in Stuttgart. This became known as the ‘Speech of Hope’ because it promised Germans an eventual return to self-government:

“I have come to Germany to learn first hand the problems involved in the reconstruction of Germany – and to discuss with our representatives the views of the United States Government as to some of the problems confronting us. We in the United States have given considerable time and attention to these problems because upon their proper solution will depend not only the future well being of Germany, but the future well being of Europe…

The American people want peace. They have long since ceased to talk of a hard or a soft peace for Germany. This has never been the real issue. What we want is a lasting peace. We will oppose soft measures which invite the breaking of the peace.

In agreeing at Potsdam that Germany should be disarmed and demilitarised, and in proposing that the four major powers should by treaty jointly undertake to see that Germany is kept disarmed and demilitarised for a generation, the United States is not unmindful of the responsibility resting upon it and its major Allies to maintain and enforce peace under the law.

Freedom from militarism will give the German people the opportunity, if they will seize it, to apply their great energies and abilities to the works of peace. It will give them the opportunity to show themselves worthy of the respect and friendship of peace-loving nations – and, in time, to take an honourable place among members of the United Nations.

It is not in the interest of the German people or in the interest of world peace that Germany should become a pawn or a partner in a military struggle for power between the East and the West…

We favour the economic unification of Germany. If complete unification cannot be secured, we shall do everything in our power to secure the maximum possible unification…

It is the view of the American Government that the German people throughout Germany, under proper safeguards, should now be given the primary responsibility for the running of their own affairs.

More than a year has passed since hostilities ceased. The millions of German people should not be forced to live in doubt as to their fate. It is the view of the American government that the Allies should, without delay, make clear to the German people the essential terms of the peace settlement which they expect the German people to accept and observe. It is our view that the German people should now be permitted and helped to make the necessary preparations for setting up a democratic German government which can accept and observe these terms.

From now on thoughtful people of the world will judge Allied action in Germany not by Allied promises but by Allied performances. The American government has supported and will continue to support the necessary measures to de-Nazify and demilitarise Germany, but it does not follow that large armies of foreign soldiers or alien bureaucrats, however well motivated and disciplined, are in the long run the most reliable guardians of another country’s democracy.

All that the Allied governments can and should do is to lay down the rules under which German democracy can govern itself. The Allied occupation forces should be limited to the number sufficient to see that these rules are obeyed…

The United States cannot relieve Germany from the hardships inflicted upon her by the war her leaders started. But the United States has no desire to increase those hardships or to deny the German people an opportunity to work their way out of those hardships so long as they respect human freedom and cling to the paths of peace.

The American people want to return the government of Germany to the German people. The American people want to help the German people to win their way back to an honourable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world.”