At the end of October, an international colloquium of scholars gathered at Harvard University to commemorate the fortieth birthday of the German Federal Republic and found themselves, as they read accounts of the demonstrations in Leipzig and the mounting tide of East Germans fleeing to the West, contemplating the possibility that there might not be a forty-first.1 The novelist Peter Schneider, the author of Der Mauerspringer (The Wall Jumper), put the prospective dilemma in its starkest terms. “If the GDR comes to the door and says ‘You’ve been saying you loved me for forty years. Here I am! Take me!’ how can anyone forbid the union?” The conferees laughed uneasily and talked of the necessity of giving European unity precedence over that of Germany, but no one was very clear about how that might be managed.
Nor has that question been answered now that the possibility of Mr. Schneider’s script being enacted has become much greater than it was in October. During the past weeks, the newspapers and the air waves have been full of statements by European leaders from Whitehall to Warsaw intimating that they would prefer German reunification to be adjourned to the Greek calends. Mrs. Thatcher, to be sure, has intimated that she might settle for ten or fifteen years, and Mr. Gorbachev has told President François Mitterrand that reunification might be a suitable subject for discussion at an all-European conference meeting sometime next year, but neither betrayed the remotest degree of warmth for the idea.
Even President Bush has abandoned his earlier position that the possibility of reunification should be a source of concern to no one. Although it is apparently now the administration’s position that it would not in principle oppose reunification if it were to come as a result of free elections, in the wake of the Malta summit the President talked of additional conditions, telling his allies in Brussels that
unification should occur in the context of Germany’s continuing commitment to NATO, an increasingly integrated European Community, and with due regard to the legal role and responsibilities of the Allied powers. In the interest of general European stability, moves toward unification must be peaceful, gradual and part of a step-by-step basis [sic]. And lastly, on the question of borders, we should reiterate our support for the Helsinki Final Act.2
Leaving aside the question of whether the Soviet Union could be expected to agree with any form of reunification in which the Federal Republic’s present Western connection was made to apply to the new united state, Mr. Bush was noncommittal about how he intended to go about imposing these terms, and observers in Germany were skeptical about the feasibility of any restraints. “With the announcement of free travel [by the East German government],” wrote Josef Joffe, the foreign editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “de facto reunification has already been proclaimed…. How much can governments slow this process? Governments can sign treaties, but diplomacy is not equipped to deal with mass movements of people.”3
It is clear enough why President Bush should be so firm about the necessity of preserving Germany’s Western alliance, for there is no doubt about the benefits that the United States and the Federal Republic have derived from it over the last forty years. For the US, it has facilitated the process of containing the Soviet Union, bringing—although more slowly than Washington wished—half a million well-trained troops into the NATO battle line and eventually, although at the price of German unity, restoring the balance of power in Europe. It also gave the US government a measure of control over its partner, as alliances are apt to do, thus relieving the worry, which Washington shared with Konrad Adenauer, that the impressionable Germans might be led into evil ways by the Soviet Union. To the West Germans, it brought security, prosperity, and an unfortunate degree of amnesia, for during the heady days of economic boom and competitive armament, many Germans saw little need for facing up to the meaning of the recent past or to their responsibility for the crimes of Hitler’s New Order.
Still, the Germans were by no means the worst of Europe’s amnesiacs, and there were powerful and persistent voices among them—Paul Celan, for example, and Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, Siegfried Lenz, Karl Jaspers, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Jürgen Habermas—who persisted in reminding their fellow citizens of things they might have preferred to forget. And there were others, starting with the generation of leaders that included Konrad Adenauer, Theodor Heuss, Ludwig Erhard, Kurt Schumacher, and Ernst Reuter, who dedicated themselves to the task of laying the foundations of a democratic commonwealth in which such things would never be possible again.
How this was accomplished is the subject of Dennis Bark and David Gress’s new history of the Federal Republic, a work of impressive scholarship, comprehensive scope, and narrative power, which will doubtless be the standard history in English for years to come. Certainly no previous work offers such circumstantial accounts of the evolution of the Bonn political system, from the days of the Parliamentary Council to the present, and of the great crises that the new republic had to survive—the Berlin blockade, the rearmament debate of the early 1950s, Khrushchev’s Berlin ultimatum of 1958 and the subsequent building of the Wall, and the oil crisis of 1973. The book also includes accounts of the so-called Machtwechsel of 1969, when power shifted from the right to the left, and both domestic and foreign policy were fundamentally changed under the Brandt-Scheel government; of the acrobatics of coalition politics in the subsequent period; and of the peace movement and the rise of the Greens and the missile debates of the 1970s and 1980s. There may be readers who will complain about its length, but because of its attention to detail and its richness in illustrative anecdote and illuminating quotation, A History of West Germany is immensely readable.
There is no doubt in the authors’ minds that the story they tell is a success story—at the very outset they say that the Federal Republic has been
a stable and successful democracy, offering more freedom with responsibility and better chances for a satisfying spiritual and material life for its citizens than any other state that has ever existed in Germany.
They find the key to this in the “vision and personality of Adenauer.” It would be hard to disagree. More than any other single person, Konrad Adenauer was able to overcome the automatic tendency of his countrymen to assume that leaders could be taken seriously only when they wore uniforms; his political style, which was stern, earnest, and patriarchal, convinced them that the stability for which they longed could be found in a democratic government under his leadership; and his long tenure in office provided the time to lay down an effective infrastructure for the democratic state and the continuity that invested democratic practice with an aura of normality.
At the same time, he set his face against the traditional preoccupation of the Germans with their uniqueness, which had often taken illiberal forms, and against the nationalism and fascination with power that had had such tragic results in the past. “In the lands of the German West,” he declared, “there is a natural longing to escape from the confines of national narrowness into the fullness of the European consciousness,” and he sought to give that desire effective form by making a reconciliation with France the major objective of his policy, an effort that eventuated in the conclusion of the Franco–German Treaty of Friendship of January 1963. This and Adenauer’s integration of his country into the free world were fundamental and impressive achievements.
But it is a pity that their admiration for the Federal Republic’s first chancellor should make Bark and Gress less than tolerant of his critics and opponents and lead them to denigrate them as leftists, liberals, and moralizers. To say, for example, that Gustav Heinemann, who resigned from Adenauer’s first cabinet because he opposed German rearmament, did so “on moralistic grounds” is obtuse; Heinemann, an active member of the Confessing Church throughout the Nazi period, did have strong moral objections to the raising of a new army, which is understandable in view of militarism’s disastrous role in the German past, but he resigned also because the chancellor had given Western leaders military assurances without consulting the cabinet, and because he was aware that rearmament would stiffe Soviet opposition to German unification.
Similarly, to give the impression that the Spiegel affair of 1962—in which high-handed and illegal actions by the defense minister, Franz Josef Strauss, which were defended by Adenauer, caused a nationwide wave of outrage that drove Strauss from office and shortened the chancellor’s own term—was the result of a deep-laid plot on the part of Der Spiegel’s publisher, Rudolf Augstein, is misleading. It also distorts the historical significance of the case to write that the affair marked the transition to “a liberalism which often put individual designs and purposes before principles of state.” In retrospect the affair can be seen rather as a grass-roots protest against the authoritarianism that had come to characterize the last years of Adenauer’s term of office and, by extension, the first real sign that democracy had come to stay.
The contributors to Peter Merkl’s The Federal Republic of Germany at Forty are, like Bark and Gress, certain that West Germany’s journey toward democracy has been successful, but since most of them are political scientists rather than historians, and less interested in narrative than in analysis and interpretation, they go about demonstrating this in different ways. Their essays discuss such matters as the nature of the political culture, the governance and financing of political parties, the role of trade unions, of churches, and of special groups.
There is a fine essay, for example, on the changing identity of women by Joyce M. Mushaben, who finds that, despite the continuation of “many deep-seated socio-cultural biases in the country,” women’s fight for greater representation in politics—their “long march through the institutions”—has been successful. Other essays consider the effect of the growing secularization of society in shifting public attention from anticommunism to social issues and the evolution of social partnership—between capital and labor, for example, in the restructuring of the Ruhr steel industry in 1987—and social conscience. The latter is illustrated by a perceptive article on German morality and the state of Israel by Lily Gardner Feldman, who argues that the special relationship with Israel, which John McCloy once said would be the test of German rehabilitation, has flourished and been strengthened over the years, although it may be severely tested over the next decade by changes in generational attitudes in Germany and departures from humanistic Zionism in Israel.
Change and dissent, to which Bark and Gress take a highly conservative approach, are welcomed by Merkl’s contributors as signs of strength. Indeed, the unifying theme of the book is generational change and the effect this has had upon traditional German values and structures. The often bitter domestic disputes and confrontations of the past forty years have, Merkl concludes, changed social attitudes for the better and engendered significant and substantial change in the direction of tolerance:
The patterns of social distrust and the privatizing Bunkermentalität (bunker mentality) of the immediate postwar years also have been moderated and this is also true of the once famous work ethic, although the changes in social norms are lagging behind those that have taken place in the political culture. The growth of postmaterialist orientations among the young, in a manner of speaking, amalgamates the concern for social and personal fulfillment with that for greater political liberties. Their new political assertiveness, while it may lead to further confrontations with the establishment, should be considered a boon and not a liability of West German politics.
For Merkl, presumably, the current alliance between the Greens and Social Democrats in governing West Berlin would not be ominous but rather a sign of resilience.
Other changes more relevant to the present international situation have also taken place. At the beginning of their history of the Federal Republic, Bark and Gress write that “the basic lesson of the last forty years” is that “identification with the West [is] a matter of psychological and strategic necessity.” But as the Federal Republic has become stronger and more self-confident, more and more of its citizens have begun to doubt this. This was perhaps inevitable. In an essay on anti-Americanism in Merkl’s book, Andrei S. Markovits writes:
The United States…resembles a rich uncle with annoying foibles, much generosity, and definite demands who is admired and needed by an initially poor, young, and talented nephew. The nephew may even appreciate the uncle and emulate him. But would he love him? Would he accept him without any resistance and resentment, always knowing—and being reminded of—the uncle’s initial generosity with material and spiritual support? Would there not be constant jockeying for more control on the part of the uncle and greater autonomy on the part of the increasingly independent nephew?
The answer, of course, is yes. But there are more specific reasons why the Western connection has come into question in recent years, and these are spelled out systematically in Wolfram Hanrieder’s fine book on West German foreign policy. Hanrieder shows that, even in the 1950s, when American and West German foreign policies were mutually self-supporting, and when Adenauer’s pro-Western course could count on the support of a very high proportion of the West German electorate because it promised rapid progress toward economic reconstruction and political rehabilitation, there were strains in the partnership. For all its emphasis on the Western alliance, Adenauer’s policy had an eastern component as well, and his refusal to recognize either the German Democratic Republic or the Oder-Neisse line presupposed the eventual union of the eastern territories with West Germany, presumably as a result of the demonstrated success of the Western connection.
But the logic of the American policy of double containment—of both the Soviet Union and the Federal Republic—contradicted this, since its objective, even if never clearly articulated, was a global balance of power, in which a divided Europe and a divided Germany would serve as major stabilizing elements. Even though the Western powers pledged to support German reunification in the Paris Agreements of 1954, that commitment, Hanrieder writes, “was made reluctantly, and hedged in ways that effectively meant that [they] would abide by it only after it had become impossible to implement.” They insisted, for example, as President Bush has just done, that a reunified Germany would have to be part of the West, “an enlarged Federal Republic, bound by the same contractual obligations.”
The American failure to prevent or undo the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, because it was the first inkling of these reservations, had therefore a traumatic effect in Germany. Willy Brandt wrote later, “A curtain was removed and showed us an empty stage…. We were robbed of our illusions. What was called my Ostpolitik was formed against this background.”4 Adenauer’s fears that the superpowers might make a deal at Germany’s expense became stronger, and he turned to France to prevent diplomatic isolation in the event that the United States might withdraw from Europe, even though he was aware that France was also capable of following a course detrimental to German interests. This aroused suspicion in Washington. Since, however, the Germans seemed reluctant to demand, and the Americans unwilling to provide, a thorough airing of differences in the interest of reconciling them, “there arose a deep insincerity in German–American relations,” and “during the Kennedy years almost every diplomatic encounter between Bonn and Washington on the German question turned into an occasion for mutual reproach.”
Nor did things improve after the beginning of Ostpolitik at the end of the decade. Although it coincided in time with the Nixon-Kissinger policy of détente with the Soviet Union, there was no coincidence of objective; when the American détente policy collapsed during the Carter years and was replaced by the Reagan administration’s return to cold war rhetoric, the rapprochement of the two German states continued and grew stronger. By 1983, when Franz Josef Strauss, a redoubtable cold warrior in his time, helped to arrange a five-year credit for the GDR amounting to one billion Deutsche marks, it was clear that there was a marked disarticulation between the policies of Bonn and Washington.
Long before that happened, however, differing views about nuclear strategy and economic policy had had a deteriorating effect upon German–American relations. The official doctrine of NATO was “extended deterrence,” which originally represented an unconditional American commitment to its allies that the US would respond with nuclear weapons in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe. Once the Soviet Union acquired the ability to inflict nuclear damage upon the United States, however, this doctrine was supplemented by a series of subdoctrines—“massive retaliation,” “flexible response,” “assured destruction,” “mutual assured destruction”—all of which, in Hanrieder’s view.
beginning with flexible response, amounted to a qualification of the principle of extended deterrence. Extended deterrence became a fiction: a myth of the alliance that had to be protected from the rough and unpalatable realities of the East-West nuclear balance and the inevitable reconsiderations of the American national interest that these realities brought with them.
This became abundantly clear in the 1970s when it was claimed that nuclear parity had made American ICBMs vulnerable. Since they were not permitted to develop their own nuclear deterrent, the West Germans perceived themselves now to be threatened by the disparities between East and West in shorter range nuclear and conventional weapons. This is what persuaded Helmut Schmidt to press for a modernization of NATO’s weapons, and led eventually to the “double-track decision” of 1979, by which plans to deploy new weapons and negotiations with the Soviet Union were to proceed at the same time.
But this policy fell prey to the vagaries of American arms control and rearmament policies during the Carter and Reagan years, with the result that the Germans found themselves first being pressured into agreeing to the deployment of the Pershing missiles in 1983, at the cost of serious domestic political problems, then being forced to remove the Pershings after the INF double-zero agreement in 1987, and finally being asked by the US to modernize the Lance missiles in 1989. The Reykjavik summit of 1986, during which President Reagan blithely negotiated far-reaching (but luckily unconsummated) arms agreements with the Soviet Union without having consulted his German ally at all, was enough in itself to destroy confidence in the Western connection.
Finally, there were economic problems. Here the nub of the matter was that the United States government came to regard its economic relationship with West Germany as one of mutual dependence, in which the US supplied security benefits but insisted on compensation for them in the form of payments to support US military forces in Germany, military purchases in the United States, and other burden-sharing arrangements within NATO. The US was driven to this position by its own monetary problems, but the Germans were objecting as early as the 1960s that the demand for such payments was unfair since, as Hanrieder points out, “their constant support of the global monetary system amounted to a massive if indirect subsidy of the American monetary position.” This did not persuade the Department of the Treasury in Washington, whose financial policies seemed unaffected by considerations of Alliance solidarity. In Hanrieder’s opinion:
In the 1970s American policies allowed the dollar to decline, to shift adjustment pressures to other countries, induce them to under-write perpetually imbalanced [American] budgets, and increase the competitiveness of American exports—only to reverse the procedure in the 1980s on the basis of an overvalued dollar. Throughout, domestic economic considerations took precedence over foreign policy consequences.
In the 1980s, this situation became worse as a result of what James Clyde Sperling, in Merkl’s The Federal Republic of Germany at Forty, calls “the Reagan nightmare of supply-side economics and military Keynesianism,” when “different political and economic priorities at each end of Pennsylvania Avenue ruled out any significant reduction of the budget deficit and consequently of interest rates, of the dollar’s value, or of the American trade deficit,” and made the Germans reluctant and suspicious economic partners.
The memoirs of Franz Josef Strauss and Helmut Schmidt are useful personal elaborations of Hanrieder’s analysis of the deterioration of German–American relations, since they serve as illustrations of the exasperation often felt by German statesmen after dealing with their opposite numbers in Washington. Strauss’s Erinnerungen (Memoirs) are, sadly, a mere collection of drafts of essays on particular phases of his life, which he intended to rewrite and amplify, a plan frustrated by his death in October 1988. Much of the book deals with West German domestic politics, and this is chiefly noteworthy for his evident animus against Hans-Dietrich Genscher, whom he regarded as disingenuous and untrustworthy, and for his account of his part in arranging the East German credits of 1983, and his interviews with Brezhnev in 1978 and with Gorbachev in 1987. (Gorbachev was notably noncommittal when Strauss told him “the key to the reunification of a free Germany lies in Moscow, not in Washington.”) The most interesting parts of the book are those dealing with his relations with Konrad Adenauer, whom he admired but regarded with caution, if not distrust, and who, he appears to believe, was not unhappy to be rid of him in 1962; and with his tenure at the Defense Ministry, where he has much to say about the growth of the Bundeswehr and not a little about the Americans.
His main impression of them—which he was not at all loath to share with them—was that they were politically immature, apparently unteachable, and, when the crunch came, unreliable. They failed to appreciate the importance of Berlin in 1945, when they allowed the Red Army to take the capital and win the political credit for having liberated it. They compounded this mistake in 1961 by having no contingency plans ready when the East Germans built the Wall, although Strauss claims that there was for a time a plan to send troops down the Autobahn and, if they were interfered with, to drop an atom bomb in East Germany (but not the Soviet Union). He asserts that the Germans were actually asked by the US authorities to suggest a target. The threat of Soviet retaliation was an increasingly disabling factor in American nuclear strategy, and Strauss writes that the Americans never seemed to realize that their constant shifts of doctrine and their attempts to recover their invulnerability, by elaborate but implausible plans like SDI, “could not help but be interpreted by Europeans as attempts to retreat from the European–Atlantic community of destiny” and thus weakened their reputation as allies.
All this is said more in sorrow than in anger. Helmut Schmidt’s criticisms of Americans are more serious and occasionally more caustic. Like Henry Kissinger, Schmidt believes that Americans tend to take a Manichean attitude to foreign policy, dividing all nations into enemies and friends and having a low opinion of the middle ground and those who wish to stand on it. Their judgment in foreign affairs is also strongly affected by idealism, romanticism, moral rectitude, and confidence in their own ability to solve the problems of the world.
In the first postwar years, these national traits were not obtrusive, he thinks, but “politicians such as Dulles and later Brzezinski, Perle, Weinberger, and especially Carter and Reagan found it difficult to keep their missionary impulses under control.” Since Europeans have no desire to engage in worldwide missions, they are apt to encounter American contempt for their weak-kneed positions:
At such times it is only too easy for Washington to ignore its European allies, and the arrogance of supposedly superior morality is then easily joined by the arrogance of actual superior power.
But the most serious American weaknesses, and the ones most destructive of Alliance solidarity, were, in Schmidt’s view, the bland assumption that it was the allies’ responsibility to redeem American economic mistakes and the almost instinctive tendency, when a sudden opportunity beckoned, to subordinate the interests of the allies to their own. “Both the Carter and the Reagan administrations,” he writes,
acted according to the comfortable rule that whenever the American public began to feel the unpleasant results of national economic policy, Japan and Germany (sometimes even the entire European Community) were to be made scapegoats,…and we often heard the demand that we act as the “locomotive” of the international economy.
Similarly, in 1977, when Schmidt discovered that, in its SALT II negotiations, the Carter administration was making no effort to win agreement on the limitation or balancing of “theater weapons” (the American term for weapons that, if used, would explode on German soil) but was concentrating on the nuclear vulnerability of the United States, he claims that his protests found neither sympathy nor comprehension on the part of the President or Schmidt’s bête noire, Brzezinski.
At the end of his book, Wolfram Hanrieder has a number of suggestions for stopping the deterioration of the tie between the Federal Republic and the West. Chief among them is his recommendation that the United States policy of double containment be at long last transformed, as far as Germany is concerned, into a détente between partners, that would bring a relaxation of tensions between them:
It is time to shed attitudes that regard the Federal Republic as a junior partner whose own central security interests can be slighted almost at will (as the double-zero arms control controversy demonstrated in the late 1980s) at the same time as Washington expects Bonn to help ease the consequence of America’s mismanaged economy and irresponsible fiscal and budgetary policies. There must come about a thorough revision of Washington’s postwar policy of containing the Federal Republic that corresponds more closely to the new realities of the German-American relationship and is stripped of any connotations of American tutelage. This would ease the singularity of the Federal Republic in the Western alliance and the German frustrations resulting from it.
Through no fault of Mr. Hanrieder’s, this advice comes a little too late to do much good. The momentum for reunification is gathering daily. On December 9, the twelve states of the European Community gave their approval, in a statement hedged about with conditions that are probably unenforceable.5 Flora Lewis has written, “now there’s no point talking about whether the two Germanys will be reunited. The questions are when, how, in what context and with what results.”6
Of these it is the last that is perhaps the salient one, notwithstanding the recent efforts of Bush, Baker, and Mitterrand to check the momentum toward reunification. If free elections take place in East Germany, the demand for reunification seems likely, sooner or later, to become irresistible. What kind of country will Germany become once it is reunified? More specifically, will it become any the less democratic than the Federal Republic is at the present time? Is the present disenchantment with the West strong enough to lead to a reorientation of national policy? Is the present wave of enthusiasm for reunification likely to engender a new German nationalism, and if so, of what kind?
One of the liveliest and most entertaining of recent books on German society is that of David Marsh, the German correspondent for The Financial Times of London. Mr. Marsh seems to be endlessly fascinated by the Germans, and he has interviewed a great number of them at length. But he appears to doubt the durability of their democratic convictions. He begins a chapter entitled “Uncertain Democracy” with epigraphs from Thomas Mann, Ralf Dahrendorf, and Helmut Schmidt, all questioning the depth of democratic conviction in the country. The last, dated 1986, reads,
We Germans remain an endangered people, needing political orientation. The affliction of division brings again and again the danger that the German tendency towards emotional excess will break through.
The chapter that follows is largely devoted to the Barschel case in Schleswig Holstein (a kind of German Watergate), the Flick scandal, “a story of Byzantine relationships between members of Germany’s political and corporate oligarchy,” and neo-Nazi groups.
But scandals and neo-Nazis have existed in other countries, including our own, without impairing their democratic institutions, and a lot of water has flowed down the Spree since Thomas Mann uttered his atrabilious comments about the incompatibility of Germanness and democracy. The forty years of solid achievement recorded by Bark and Gress and the contributors to Merkl’s survey have affected changes in German attitudes that will not be easily altered by new political circumstances, as both Dahrendorf and Schmidt would probably be the first to admit.
It is true that there are people in both Germanies who think that the capitalistic democracy of the West is not the appropriate foundation for a unified nation. In a brilliant analysis of the reciprocal influences between the two Germanies (which includes careful attention to German-German trade, literature, television, and other forms of communication), Anna Marie Le Gloannec of the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales de la Fondation Nationale des sciences politiques in Paris, sees the two states as distorted mirror images of each other, each searching for something better. Of West German society, which she appeared to regard as exhausted and jaded, she writes:
Anti-communism vanished, the necessities of reconstruction satisfied, the enthusiasm for Europe in decline, the American model become uninteresting, West German society finds itself, so to speak, orphaned [orpheline], disoriented.
And she cites Günter Grass as saying in 1985,
The varnish has cracked. We have suddenly perceived that the two German states are built on sand, that economic prosperity and social security are not in themselves adequate foundations, that one has a debt towards one’s self and towards one’s neighbor, that one ought to define one’s own position with respect toward the historical and cultural past.
Until that is realized, Grass has written recently, the two Germanies are not ready for reunification.7 But things are now moving too fast for the kind of soulsearching Grass believes is necessary, and since November 9 the mood of West German society hardly resembles that described by Miss Le Gloannec. “Third solutions” hardly seem to be in the cards.
Miss Le Gloannec believes that “a reunification that results from a simple coming together of the two Germanies will be turned against the West and against Europe [i.e. the European Community],” to which one might add that implicit in any form of unification is the possibility of a large change in German policy. It should be noted that the 1980s saw a remarkable revival of the idea of Mitteleuropa in scholarly discussions in West Germany. In a colloquium on the theme “Has European culture abdicated?” in Frankfurt am Main in 1988, it was suggested by several speakers that the intellectual vigor of central Europe would correct the decline of the West.8 A year earlier, in the so-called quarrel of the German historians, Jürgen Habermas accused a group of senior historians of seeking to repudiate the pluralistic Western-oriented history based upon the values of the Enlightenment, which had been dominant in German universities since 1945, in favor of a consensual history that emphasized Germany’s special position in the middle of Europe.
If these are straws in a prevailing wind, a reunified Germany may return to its historical position and its historical policies. David Marsh notes that in a visit to Gorbachev in 1988, Chancellor Kohl stated, “We will not wander between the worlds,” and repeated the same formula to President Bush a year later. “Since Kohl himself was partly responsible for the feeling that the message was not completely credible,” Marsh adds, “he had to keep repeating it.” Marsh himself believes that “the West should not rule out an attempt by the Soviet Union in the 1990s to win over the wandering German soul.” If a reunited Germany fell into a Bismarckian mood, such an attempt might be successful. Franz Schönhuber of the extreme right-wing Republikaner party has already made it clear that he regards such a Soviet-German alliance as natural.9 Whether this sentiment has any strength we shall see in the West German elections in 1990.
We are clearly confronted with les incertitudes allemandes. Can it be said that we must also be worried about what Le Gloannec calls, in another context, les espoirs les plus fous. The lost eastern lands have, after all, not been forgotten; it is not so long ago that Chancellor Kohl was embarrassed by a meeting of Heimatvertriebene—Germans expelled from Germany’s former eastern territories—shouting, “Silesia will be ours!”; and in mid-December there were placards in the Leipzig crowds calling for the restitution of the boundaries of 1937. Is it possible that the present wave of national enthusiasm could, after reunification, give way to the kind of expansive German nationalism that caused so much devastation and tragedy in the past?
In his brilliant and provocative study of the German search for self-understanding since the eighteenth century, Harold James of Princeton University argues that, failing to find a sense of national identity in political institutions, the Germans in the middle of the nineteenth century discovered that the performance of their economy was the most satisfactory measure of national integrity and the most crucial to their self-esteem. This has continued to be true, and James writes:
Historically, economic growth provided the raison d’être for Imperial Germany, for Weimar and for the West German state. In the 1950s and 1960s European integration provided an attractive activity for the Federal Republic because of the economic opportunities it presented…. The failure of economic growth in 1979–81…raised the question—one which became more tantalizing towards the end of the 1980s—of whether there was not a fundamental flaw in the existing world economic order that only Germany (with Japan) could correct.
This would suggest that the nationalism of a reunified Germany will be economic in nature, as befits an age in which military force has become largely unusable, that indeed as Franz Josef Strauss told Gorbachev in December 1987, “Mars should leave the stage of events and Mercury should make his entrance.” That could be reassuring, particularly in view of West Germany’s potential for assisting with the reconstruction of the impoverished East European economies; but James’s conclusion includes a significant warning. “If there is a lesson from the past,” he writes, “it is the following: how explosive the new nationalism will be is closely linked with the issue of Germany’s economic performance.” We should remember that economic collapses are always possible and that in German history they have been known to inspire swings to cultural and political nationalism of the most violent kind. It is also worth recalling that German economic diplomacy has been known, because of its vigor and lack of tact, to arouse the hostility of competitors. Which perhaps underlines Günter Grass’s warning:
Even with the best of intentions on our part, reunification would help to isolate us. And when Germany feels itself isolated, we know the often panicky reaction that follows.10
January 18, 1990
“1949–1989—The Federal Republic as History,” a colloquium organized by the Center for European Studies, Harvard University, and The German Historical Institute of Washington, DC, Adolphus Busch Hall. Harvard, October 27–29, 1989. ↩
The New York Times, December 7, 1989, p. A 14. ↩
Mare Fisher, “Germany May Be Reunifying Already,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 1989, p. A 31 (reprinted from The Washington Post). ↩
Willy Brandt, Begegnungen und Einsichten, Die Jahre 1960–1975 (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1976), p. 17. ↩
The New York Times, December 10, 1989, Section I, p. 16. ↩
Flora Lewis, “The German Die Is Cast,” The New York Times, December 10, 1989, Section 4, p. 23. ↩
“Viel Gefühl, wenig Bewusstsein,” Der Spiegel, 47/1989, 20 (November 1989), pp. 75 ff. ↩
See the colloquium papers in Warten auf die Barbaren: Essays über die Zukunft des geistigen Europas, edited by Hilmar Hoffmann (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum 1989). ↩
See my article “The Rising Star of the German Right,” The New York Review, June 15, 1989. ↩
Der Spiegel, 47/1989, p.77. ↩