Franz Josef Strauss
Franz Josef Strauss; drawing by David Levine

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 Second World War (“with surprisingly little hatred in their minds”) to the deliberate preaching of hate by Ilya Ehrenburg? “According to Ehrenburg, the Germans tortured girls and burned old women alive.” According to everyone else, too.

The hardest thing to swallow is Mr. Eich’s view, which he expects us to share, that partisan warfare is somehow a crime against international law. Although he calls the massacre at Oradour a “catastrophe which defies comparison” (presumably because it happened in the West), he professes himself at a loss to understand the “remarkable” sharpness of world reactions when the West German police recently arrested for murder a visiting Yugoslav who had killed Germans as a partisan. The French resistance he dismisses as Communist-dominated. The Soviet partisans “stirred up hate in the German rear.”

It would be a great mistake to imagine that Mr. Eich is in any way an apologist for the Third Reich. He takes trouble, in most cases, to recall and describe the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. What is lacking here is any intuitive understanding of foreign attitudes towards Germany, any sense that the sufferings undergone by peoples other than the Germans may be perfectly justifiable grounds for persistent fear and resentment. Anyone who read Mr. Eich alone would have no idea that, especially in the last three years, West German intellectuals have been carrying through—in plays like Hochhuth’s The Deputy or Weiss’s The Investigation, or even Grass’s new play about Brecht in the 1953 East German workers’ rising—a majestic self-arraignment which is as far from “orgies of self-reproach” as it is from myopia about Germany’s name in the world. But the same egocenticity which Mr. Eich displays, the inability to put oneself in the place of a neighbor, prevails through Franz-Josef Strauss’s book on reunification.


THIS SHORT BOOK, apparently written for the British rather than for the American reader, is a significant step in the author’s patient reconstruction of a shattered reputation. Strauss, out of office since the “Spiegel affair” of 1962, will almost certainly return one day to the cabinet. His ambitions are too strong, his political skill and intelligence too well developed, his party standing too impregnable, to keep him much longer out of power in the divided coalition government which rules at Bonn. Against him stands only the mass of North German public opinion, still convinced that he is an enemy of democracy, an opportunist, and a military swashbuckler who offends the Americans.

But Mr. Strauss is no Prussian and no Nazi. He is, in fact, by far the most “American” politician in West German public life. Drawing on the solid sectional support of Bavaria, operating a spoils system for his friends and shaking a big stick at his enemies, contemptuous of the tradition that a German statesman must frame himself within some philosophical-religious Konzept instead of adopting contradictory causes which he thinks will buy him support, Strauss is something new in his own country. He shocks conservatives as well as liberals. Pragmatic and perceptive, he is convincing, if not conclusive, evidence that the old type of German politician committed to a Welt-anschauung is steadily dying out. A conversation with Strauss leaves one with the impression that, even if he doesn’t make the right use of his knowledge, he understands more about the workings of modern democracy than his colleagues. They lack, too, his ability to recognize a dead end when he sees one. While ministers at Bonn drone on about the “multilateral force” or the prospect of immediate political federation in Europe, Strauss is already giving the past a lightning funeral and banqueting a promising successor.

From a man with his mental powers this book is a disappointment. Intelligent remarks, well expressed and collected from a jackdaw’s round of smart new sources, twinkle everywhere. But the arguments which connect them to his conclusions are hasty and the broad proposals which he puts forward contain no evidence that they could ever be successfully applied. Even Strauss, now busily working up a name for himself as a world statesman who rises above petty German provincialism, falls resoundingly victim to national egocentricity. He too fails to understand the intense and justified suspicions which remain with Germany’s neighbors.

Spasmodically, he is aware of them. Few other German politicians have so clearly stated that there can be no German reunification until the Europeans have prepared a strong restraining framework within which this huge state can be reawakened. But he also accepts that the allied war aims were to “restore democracy” to the world, with the implication that the war is not over for the West until Czechoslovakia and Poland, for instance, have been “liberated” from Communism.

IF ONLY WEST GERMANS would realize that the war of 1939-1954 was not—except adjectivally—a war against Naziism but, in Europe, a war against Germany. Because Germany had become intolerably powerful, it was intended to reduce her power by imposing neutralization and making her cede part of her territory to her neighbors. This problem of German power remains, and so do European attitudes towards it, only slightly affected by the complication of the cold war. Strauss is at least clear that Germany is not just a problem because she is divided; but his solutions, involving German access to nuclear responsibility, would create the very panic in Central Europe which he wants to allay.

Strauss proposes the creation of a “United States of Europe” with its own nuclear deterrent, a “second pillar” of Western defense. This federation would start as the union of the six states of the Common Market, endowed with a European nuclear force based on the French and, if possible, British deterrents. From national control, these two forces would gradually pass to the control of a European federal government.

It is at this point that Strauss seems to me to leave the rails of common sense entirely. He thinks that this nuclear West European unit will exert a “powerful attraction…on Eastern Europe” and that “fears [of Germany among the satellites] would disappear in proportion to West European unity.” With this “Europeanization” of the German question, East Germany would become the “relic of a forgotten era” and the East European countries would become confident that in gravitating slowly towards the West, they need have no fears of coming under German domination. There would result “one framework which would make the reunification of Germany possible and avoid all its latent dangers.”

This idea would certainly avoid the latent dangers of reunification. It would ensure that no reunification took place before the end of the century, or ever. If the Common Market turns into a limited company to make a bomb, with West Germany as a major stock-holder, Europeans east of the Elbe would rush to bury their heads in the Soviet lap. It is not just the worried Red leaders who fear a European deterrent with West German participation; it is their populations as well. Strauss simply ignores this fact. He is, in reality, offering us only a re-heated version of Dulles-Adenauer policies: Let the West be strong enough and Communism will slink back to the Russian border. His attitudes towards Communism, too, resemble those of that morose and mistaken period. The mere fact that Moscow opposes a European nuclear force, he says, is valuable proof that the West should bring one about. Communist ideas on reunification, including a neutral Germany or an East-West German confederation, are mere traps: “Unification in a common prison.”


Most disturbing is his Jesuitical approach to—or, more accurately, sidle towards—the German claim to what is now Western Poland, the frontiers of 1937. For Germany to recognize the present Oder-Neisse border, he remarks, would be “a relapse into outdated thinking in national terms,” while East and Central Europe is composed merely of “pseudo-national states” with “artificial” boundaries. To the Slavs, that sort of talk from a German means only one thing: the typical assumption that true idealism demands the sweeping away of all petty, divisive nationalisms—and their replacement by a single German nationalism. That is the debauch of the European idea.

THE REAL POSSIBILITIES for the German question, the twenty-year-old division for which Western obstinacy is almost as responsible as Soviet obduracy, is set out by Professor Hartmann. He presents a dry, clear, concise, and complete account of post-war attempts to put Germany together again and adds his comments. It is a relief to read them: If his conclusions are worrying, they are also plain. The West has insisted too much on a reunification which costs the West nothing and the East everything. At the very end of his time, Malenkov offered informally almost everything the West had been asking for: free elections and a neutral, internationally controlled and reunited Germany. In other words, he accepted the “liquidation of Socialism” in East Germany. As Malenkov fell almost at once, there is no telling what might have come of it, though Professor Hartmann fears that the West would have put safety first, being then “determined not to be retarded in its drive for German affiliation with Western defense arrangements.”

Western policy since deciding upon West German rearmament has been to insist on unification through free all-German elections. Granted that the Russian attitude to Germany is far more one of military fear than of ideological expansionism, this was likely to be sterile.

The Western approach made sense only on the assumption that either Soviet weakness would eventually drive the Communists to accept the uneven bargain, or that…West Germany could be amalgamated into Western military and economic arrangements while mere lip-service continued to be paid to reunification.

It was the second alternative which came true. Now, while the West shows signs of repentance, not too unwilling to trade a neutralized pair of German states for a Moscow-Washington detente, it is the West Germans who refuse to be neutralized, who refuse to admit even the temporary existence of a Communist Germany, and adopt as their own the attitudes which were once forced on them. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union has fallen back to the plan for reunification by a “long, historical process,” beginning with a confederation of the two German states.

Since West Germany’s influence in NATO has so intensified Soviet fears—a recent development—a confederation seems the only workable approach to reunification. To make it possible, Germany and Central Europe generally would have to accept some version of the “Gomulka Plan,” i.e., agree not to accept or acquire national nuclear weapons and then set about gradual reduction of Great Power nuclear potential on their territory. Professor Hartmann warns rightly that German resentment of partition is now on the increase and must be somehow met or pacified, yet the West Germans themselves reject the confederation approach. They will not recognize East Germany: They will not risk their position within the Western Alliance, their security.

Are we, in the West, going to act for the German people over their government’s head? That means ending the long series of military concessions to Bonn, formally renouncing any plans for a joint nuclear force with German participation—a surrender would probably buy a nuclear non-proliferation treaty from the Russians at Geneva—and co-operating with Moscow in military reductions in Europe. It would mean encouraging the West Germans to increase their contacts with East Germany and to seek reunification in the only way it can be sought: with works, not faith. We could, thus, unload the explosives which we once put aboard the German wagon. Or are we going to wait, offending nobody, until the inevitable blast comes and we are blamed by patriotic Germans for supporting Bonn in a sterile policy?

This Issue

March 31, 1966