During the Second World War the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)- forerunner of the CIA - recruited three German-Jewish members of the Frankfurt School - Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and Otto Kirchheimer - to prepare studies on the origins of Nazism and make recommendations on the reconstitution of postwar Germany. Many of the key reports prepared by this august trio are now available in a new book: Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort. The book was edited by Raffaele Laudani, history professor at the University of Bologna, who also includes a lengthy and highly informative introduction. I do have slight quibble concerning the title, since the three recruits were only a small faction of the Frankfurt School and their views were not necessarily representative. Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment has a very different take on the origins of Nazism. But the OSS was not interested in "negative dialectics" or Freud; they wanted cold historical analysis and practical recommendations.
Today it seems strange that an American spy agency would employ Marxists to assist them in developing policy, but this effort predates the McCarthyism that would nearly destroy the Frankfurt School and alienate its member from America and the American experience.
The reports make for fascinating reading, and, looking back, the German scholars got many things right. Marcuse forcibly argues against the prevailing Allied view that Nazism was merely a continuation of Prussian militarism and a manifestation of the reactionary Junker class. Nazism, he argues, was something new - a totalitarian system that enveloped every level and every aspect of German civil society - something Franz Neumann had outlined persuasively in his 1942 book Behemoth. The structure and practice of National Socialism. Still, both Marcuse and Neumann, wearing the blinders of Marxist theory, erred in seeing Nazism as the logical endgame of monopoly capitalism.
None of the analyses or recommendations by the team seemed to have influenced American war policy. Neumann correctly argued that tne aerial bombing of German cities was backfiring on the Allies. Instead of demoralizing the civilian population the firebombing was galvanizing support for the Nazis and making the population dependent on Nazi relief efforts:
"While it is universally recognized that the obvious inability of the Nazi regime to prevent or even to protect Germany effectively against the intensified air war must inevitably undermine the regime's reputation among the German people, another much less evident but perhaps not less effective tendency has not yet been sufficiently emphasized - that the civilian population is becoming even more dependent of the functioning of the Nazi relief organizations." (Note Neumann's mastery of Washington bureaucratic prose.)
One of the more controversial aspects of the Secret Reports was Neumann's "spearhead theory" of German anti-Semitism. Neumann outlises his theory in the opening report:
"It follows that in this anti-Semitic ideology and practice the extermination of the Jews is only the means to the attainment of the ultimate objective, namely, the destruction of free institutions, beliefs, and groups. We may call this theory of anti-Semitism the spearhead theory of anti-Semitism."
We can see now that the spearhead theory relativizes to some extent the horrors of the Holocaust and the fact that the total annihilation of the Jews in Europe was a cornerstone of Nazi ideology.
The Secret Reports is an important historical document and yet another example of the brilliant contributions by the Weimar intellectual diaspora to American society.