Distillations magazine

Unexpected Stories from Science’s Past
January 9, 2012 People & Politics

Factory to Farm

The 1944 Morgenthau Plan envisioned postwar Germany as an agrarian state. Fortunately, the Marshall Plan was adopted instead.


In 1944 Henry Morgenthau, Jr., President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of the Treasury, had a vision. He saw postwar Germany as a vast farm—an agrarian state in which all heavy industry would be strictly forbidden and all advanced technologies effectively banished. A race of “happy peasant” Germans would never again threaten the peace and security of Europe. It was a plan so sweeping in its wrong-headedness that even Henry L. Stimson, who served as President Roosevelt’s secretary of war, had difficulty supporting it.

In what came to be known as the “Stimson Memorandum” he wrote: “My basic objection to the proposed methods of treating Germany which were discussed this morning was that in addition to a system of preventative and educative punishment they would add the dangerous weapon of complete economic oppression. Such methods, in my opinion, do not prevent war; they tend to breed war.”

Nonetheless, the plan was put into effect by U.S. Treasury officials on loan to the army, and until July 1947 it served as the marching orders for the U.S. army of occupation. Little or nothing was done to aid in the economic rehabilitation of the ruined German state.

Meanwhile, a brilliant German chemist named Erwin Weinbrenner prepared for his new agrarian life. In the years leading up to the war he had pioneered the development of totally synthetic Buna S tires; then during the war years he headed the Technical Services department at the Buna Schkopau plant. Before his involvement with the Buna program he had worked for both IG Farben—holder of the patent for Zyklon-B, the chemical used in Nazi gas chambers—and Bayer AG, both the kind of enterprises that Secretary Morgenthau and the “Morgenthau boys” had earmarked for extinction.

So how would Weinbrenner adjust to his new career as a dairy farmer? With wicked wit and a 32-page illustrated poem, KZL und Morgenthau. It would undoubtedly stick in Secretary Morgenthau’s craw that KZL was the abbreviation for Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp. In a series of drawings that accompany the verses and show the Germans reduced to the state of cave dwellers—but still quite tech-savvy and addicted to various Rube Goldberg–like labor-saving devices—Wein­bren­ner made the point that no number of legislative fiats would change the way people choose to live. The adoption of the more humanistic Marshall Plan in June 1947 was a tacit admission of the Morgenthau Plan’s shortcomings.

More from our magazine

Renaissance oil painting woman holding a mirror while another looks on

Controversy, Control, and Cosmetics in Early Modern Italy

In a society that damned women for both plainness and adornment, wearing makeup became a defiant act of survival.

black and white photo of a seated man in a lab coat

Joe Hin Tjio Counts Chromosomes

A basic scientific error hid in plain sight for decades until an Indonesian geneticist spent Christmas break on a lab bender.

Color illustration of a desert scene with a car in the foreground and storm clouds on the horizon

Everyday Monsoons

Washes and other gaps in the Sonoran Desert.


    Copy the above HTML to republish this content. We have formatted the material to follow our guidelines, which include our credit requirements. Please review our full list of guidelines for more information. By republishing this content, you agree to our republication requirements.