The Unloved Germans
The Grand Design: A European Solution to German Reunification
Germany Between East and West: The Reunification Problem
No page in Mr. Eich’s book gives as much pleasure as one of the plates: a photograph of a junkyard of German monumental statuary taken in 1945. There in a frenzy of scowling, gesticulating scrap they lie: Germania waving a laurel wreath on the end of a fat arm, bare-chested Hermann bulging his iliac muscles at a headless woman with drooping breasts, sightless busts with the sneer of command, fit young mothers with their hair in buns offering small Aryans up to a pagan sun. An isolated jackboot sprouts from a pedestal. Verdigris and old gasoline drums bed the heroes down.
To suggest that this image is valid, to suggest that the ogres of the German past were always at least as absurd as they were frightening and that they have in any case been consigned to the junkyard of history, is very much a purpose of Mr. Eich’s plausible, cheerful, superficial, and finally exasperating study of contemporary prejudice against his country. The appearance is objective, liberal. And in fact Mr. Eich does a good job when he traces and describes attitudes which belong to the Germans themselves, rather than to their neighbors. He refers to the exaggerated orgies of self-accusation which are so easily provoked, and admits that when word went out that he was preparing his book, he was deluged with anti-German material offered by Germans. He builds up an interesting, if not new, theory of over-compensation for real weakness and even softness, which finds expression in desperate boasts and threats. The figure of William II, with his withered arm and his compulsive flow of bombast, the relapse of the German population in 1945 into their “natural mildness,” are adduced to support this; it is an arguable idea.
BUT MR. EICH becomes less convincing—much less—when he proceeds cautiously to argue that because German truculence has so often proceeded from the need to hide weakness, foreign fear and hatred are therefore ill-founded. The bare argument itself is void: What difference does it make to the victim if the robber snivels as he strikes? Of course, it is true that anti-German prejudice, especially in Britain, is often unfair, ignorant, and founded on a subjective need to erect a bogy-man. But Mr. Eich’s examples of unfair criticism are often themselves so unfair that a reader may well shut this book more irritated with Germany than before, and on more detailed grounds.
It is, for instance, possible to dismiss Germany’s share in responsibility for the First World War by saying that Berlin “mysteriously” failed to suppress Austrian “bumptiousness,” and that German promises of support for Austria against Russia were mere bluff. But one does not have to go so far as West German historians like Fischer and Geiss (who consider that Germany deliberately inflamed this crisis and even hoped for a war) to feel that the written evidence makes this a grotesque interpretation. Or what kind of logic is it to contrast German soldiers in the …