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Maastricht University

Toward a Global Interpretation of Military Government Anti-Fascism Campaigns

Mikkel Dack, Rowan University

Aldo L. Raffa, an Italian-born political science instructor at Georgetown University, was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942, and later the U.S. Army, to carry out “special assignments” in Europe. In July 1943, he was shipped to Sicily, where he led the Political Intelligence Section that built the Anglo-American screening program to weed out Fascists from Italian society. In early 1944, he and his team were transferred to London to advise on the “denazification” campaigns being developed for Germany and Austria. Speaking to the New York Times, Raffa assured the American public that the “mistakes in the Mediterranean” would not be repeated in Central Europe. After a three-month posting in Germany to train Public Safety officers, he traveled to Japan to design “democratization” programs for General MacArthur. Over the course of two years, Raffa was stationed in four countries and contributed to four separate political reorientation projects.

In the months surrounding the defeat of the Axis powers, it was not uncommon for civil affairs officers to undertake transnational activities. Experience in military governance was limited and therefore personnel, equipment, and intelligence were regularly shared among Allied armies working in different occupation offices. This is especially true for political screening and reorientation projects. Many planners contributed to programs in multiple enemy states, while the field manuals they compiled borrowed from earlier publications and their screening instruments were often intended for multi-nation application. Perhaps this should be expected – after all, the Allied leadership had declared a “global war” on fascism, in all its variations.

Nevertheless, postwar anti-fascism projects, including democratization, are almost always interpreted with strict adherence to national orientations and geographical boundaries. Comparative studies do exist, of course, mainly of bilateral Germany and Japan, but most research examines American, British, Soviet, or French activities in a single country or zone of occupation. Surely this makes sense, as the inner workings of each individual campaign were distinct, and sometimes vastly different from one another, as were the extremist ideologies that they sought to destroy. Each military government had to manage unique local circumstances, as well as complex occupier-occupied relations and Allied-nation partnerships. These various projects certainly deserve distinct terminology – “de-fascistization” (Italy), “de-nazification” (Germany and Austria), and “democratization” (Japan).

However, my research suggests we should not so quickly turn away from international and inter-Allied interpretations, at least in regard to the scattered campaigns to “ideologically cleanse” the vanquished Axis nations. A greater appreciation for the interconnectivity of the anti-fascism programs implemented in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Japan is needed, and not just in a theoreticality sense; personnel, procedures, mechanisms, and instruments were similar in many military governments, and they were frequently shared and improved upon by planners and administrators in both Europe and Asia.

While dozens of wartime declarations spoke of purging fascist elements from specific nations, a more global message was delivered at Allied conclaves after 1942, especially in Moscow (1943), Tehran (1943), Quebec (1943/44), Yalta (1945), San Francisco (1945), and Potsdam (1945). At Yalta, the Big Three leaders affirmed their common goal to “destroy the last vestiges of Nazism and fascism.” Several months later, the United Nations was founded as the first global anti-fascist organization. At its spring 1945 inaugural conference, U.S. President Truman urged delegates to not just “remove tyrants,” but “kill the ideas which gave them birth and strength”. As such, the postwar anti-fascism crusade was not just about punishing individual Nazi and Fascist party members, or the Japanese military leadership, but also preserving the hard-fought peace by encouraging (or demanding) political, economic, and ideological transformation.

The mid-level planning bureaucracies charged with turning high-policy goals into pragmatic programs, were vastly similar and often interconnected. For example, all four Allied armies turned to civilian specialists to build their respective campaigns, and they also shared their work (and sometimes people) with one another for application in different postwar theaters. Beginning in 1942, the OSS recruited hundreds of university professors and graduate students, some of them refugee emigree scholars, to compile research reports on the nature and function of fascism in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Japan. Between 1943 and 1945, the academic staff working for the UK Foreign Office Research Development wrote dozens of functional guides for the British War Office, not unlike what the Sûreté did for the Provisional Government in liberated Paris. Ideas and strategies were exchanged within the western command and with the Soviets in the European Advisory Committee. All four armies established domestic civil affairs training schools, where soldiers attended classes on political screening, education reform, and democratic governance. American, British, French, and Canadian recruits participated in academic exchanges and the school’s administrators shared curricula.

In March 1943, under the command of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), “country houses” were established to plan civil affairs operations for post-hostilities Europe. Initially, the German and Austrian houses shared the same workspace and attended joint meetings to deliberate on how to effectively rid Europe of ultra-nationalism and militarism. The Italian planning groups, then operating in North Africa, sent representatives to England to work alongside them. All of these units employed civilian specialists, mostly academics, police officers, lawyers, and engineers. Likewise, the Interdepartmental Area Committee on the Far East, formed in the fall of 1942 to draft U.S. policy for democratizing Japan, was mostly comprised of professors and foreign service experts who had in-depth knowledge of Asia. All of these mid-level civilian planners promoted the use of social scientific instruments and valued practitioner models of growth and education. By the war’s end, they were mostly working independently within national camps, but still they consulted each other regularly and circulated drafts of any directives concerned with the rooting out of fascists. As such, international and inter-zonal collaboration outlasted the dissolution of SHAEF in July 1945.

Each military government was initially equipped with a comprehensive civil affairs handbook that, among other items, outlined procedures for identifying, screening, dismissing, and arresting fascists. The Civil Affairs Handbook for Italy, published in the spring of 1943, acted as a template for the writing of similarly-purposed guides for Japan (June 1944), Germany (August 1944), and Austria (February 1945). The meeting minutes of the various editorial boards reveals the direct influence of earlier handbooks, and also the determination of civil affairs officers to continuously improve their political screening and education programs. In January 1945, when Austrian denazification planners realized they were far behind in completing their handbook, a team was immediately sent to Rome to consult British, American, and Italian de-fascistization agents.

The political questionnaire (Scheda Personale) used in Sicily in September 1943 to identify Fascists was repurposed the following year for the German and Austrian occupation (Fragebogen) and finally for Japan (Seiji ankēto) in February 1946. The instructions, evaluation guidelines, and structure of these forms, and even some of their questions, were strikingly similar. Likewise, democratic reorientation projects first implemented in Europe, including educational reforms, were later used by occupying armies in Japan (a topic examined by Jana Arestin and Katherina Gerund in an earlier article on this blog.) In fact, some of the same American and British education officers who revised school textbooks in Italy were transferred to Germany, Austria, and Japan to carry out similar tasks, despite lacking the necessary language skills.

Most military government anti-fascism programs were predicated, at least initially, on an uncompromising system of criteria-based categorization. All four campaigns involved screening individuals for employment and using party membership and rank to measure culpability. Furthermore, while some war criminals were hunted down and made to stand trial, hundreds of thousands of Italians, Germans, Austrians, and Japanese faced civilian-staffed tribunals to account for past political transgressions. All of the occupiers installed appellate courts in their respective territories, a mechanism first used in Italy in October 1943. As described by Fabio De Ninno in an earlier article on this blog, Italy was known as a “testing ground for their [America’s and Britain’s] later occupations.” All of the Allied armies also relied on trusted local administrators – most, but not all, were proven anti-fascists – to support and ultimately inherit their programs. They also struggled to obtain political intelligence, leading to the widespread use of informants. The bureaucratic weight of the screening programs, pressure to resurrect economies, and the growing threat of respective Cold War adversaries resulted in sweeping political amnesties and ultimately the early termination of all four campaigns.

It seems then that the major anti-fascism projects of the late 1940s and early 1950s were closely related, at least in several important ways, and certainly more so than is depicted in the existing scholarship. Many of the punishment and reorientation programs were similar, if not the same, because of their shared origin, and they were often the product of international Allied collaboration. Indeed, no two military occupations are the same, but perhaps it is time to move beyond the siloed interpretation of these histories. Whether screening Fascist Party members for key political positions in the Bonomi government, interrogating Nazi teachers by a civilian tribunal, or dismantling large economic institutions in Tokyo, all of these projects were part of a larger, and in some ways aligned, global campaign.



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Photo credits:

Cover picture: SSgt George A. Kaufman replaces a road sign in the German town of Krefeld, 1945.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mikkel Dack is Assistant Professor, History, Rowan University, USA