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East of the West

In response to:

Which Way Will Germany Go? from the January 31, 1985 issue

To the Editors:

I read your article “Which Way Will Germany Go?” [NYR, January 31] with great interest. The author’s reflections are the most knowledgeable and thoughtful I have come across in a long time. I would like, however, to add a few words regarding the alleged German “apocalyptic vision” which apparently is supposed to explain the question implied in the headline.

The Federal Republic is not a state like any other. It is hard to define what it is. Is it a provisional rump state or the successor of the German Reich? Is what we now have the final state of affairs? Or are we in the waiting room of history? Whatever the answer may be, we certainly live in a divided country, the two parts of which are firmly integrated into hostile military pacts that face each other, armed to the teeth, across the line which separates the world into two camps.

Germany is a Central European, not a West European state. We are the East of the West and the West of the East. That is why we are constantly pleading for détente which presents the only way of preventing conflicts to develop into crisis and catastrophe.

There are 6000 nuclear warheads in Western Europe; 4000 alone are stockpiled in the Federal Republic; 60 percent of these have a range of less than 20 miles. In the event of war German territory would be devastated. No wonder that these weapons scare the Germans more than the Russians, especially since we have no say whatsoever in their ultimate use. The Peace Movement in Europe and especially in Germany has not developed because all those people suddenly and naively are believing in Russia’s peace love, but because they got frightened by America’s largest defense spending ever in peace time, accompanied by many warlike speeches.

Remember the debate about a limited nuclear war, or Eugene Rostow’s statement: “We live in a prewar period, not in a postwar period.” It is the constant militarization of foreign policy that frightens many of us. After all, we have to live next door to Communism and not 4000 miles away like the Americans.

There is a disquieting sense of being squeezed between two antagonistic superpowers—rivals not only in terms of power, but also of ideology—who for different reasons are both lacking in understanding and knowledge about Europe.

But to be quite clear, all this does not mean that there is any alternative option for Germany. We wholeheartedly subscribe to the same values as Americans do, believe in the same way of life, reject like them the Communist tradition and despise the Communist way of dealing with human rights and international law. No other nation has had as much experience with Communism as the German one: 12 million had to flee their homeland driven out by Communism, thousand of prisoners of war had to remain for ten years after the war in the Soviet Union. Three million people fled the GDR before the wall was built, because they could not put up with Communism.

I can understand that our partners taking German history into account have misgivings as soon as there is any sign of emotion among Germans. Yet to conceive of the Federal Republic as again going astray because people are worried about peace being threatened—that is what I would call an apocalyptic vision.

Dr. Marion Gräfin Dönhoff

Die Zeit

Hamburg, West Germany

Timothy Garton Ash replies:

Countess Dönhoff’s letter is an eloquent expression of the very fears and hopes that I tried to describe. To some extent, though, she seems to be answering the title given to my essay, rather than my argument. For of course my conclusion was that it is highly improbable the West Germany will “again go astray.” I repeat: there is no reason to believe that its special national interests and concerns cannot be accommodated for the foreseeable future in the Western alliance and the West European communities. Incidentally, I suppose one might quibble with the statement, “no other nation has had as much experience with Communism as the German one.” Russia?

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