Saturday, December 13, 2008

The German Problem

In the afterword to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer looks back at the unexpectedly overwhelming response to his book, positive in the former Allied countries and decidedly defensive in the former Axis. In recalling the attack on the book by the then-chancellor Konrad Adenauer, he points out that the Germans simply could not face up to their past, i.e., rampant adventurous conquest and slaughter. It is in this context that he discusses, as he calls it, 'The German Problem:"

And now, as the thirtieth-anniversary edition of The Rise and Fall goes to press, the world is suddenly confronted with a new reunification of Germany. Soon, united, Germany will be strong again economically and, if it wishes, militarily, as it was in the time of Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler. And Europe will be faced again with the German problem. If the past is any guide, the outlook is not very promising for Germany's neighbors, who twice in my lifetime have been invaded by the Teutonic armies. The last time, under Hitler, as the readers of this book are reminded, the German behavior was a horror in its barbarism.

This raises the curious question: is there really something different about the Germans, different from the rest of us? If we say, yes, that there is inherent evil in the German People, then aren't we faced with an issue similar to that hallucinated by the Nazis, i.e., the alleged "Jewish Problem?" Or was Hitler somehow irresistibly charismatic and is there something inherently evil in all of us, although a difficult and bitter cup to drink, possibly true, and, as we face the current descent into economic chaos and the decline of the American Empire, maybe a glimpse into our own future?

I remember, after the wall came down, the raised hands of the nervous peoples of Europe, asking the obvious question, to wit: What are your intentions toward our sons and daughters?" and the hesitation of Germany, just a beat, but a hesitation nonetheless, to promise they wouldn't try to rebuild Grossdeutschland or maybe even just a bit more. As the Wikipedia article says:

To facilitate this process and to reassure other countries, some changes were made to the "Basic Law" (constitution). Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the current constitution could be used for reunification. After the five "New Länder" of East Germany had joined, the constitution was amended again to indicate that all parts of Germany are now unified. Article 23 was rewritten as keeping it could be understood as an invitation to e.g. Austria to join. However, the constitution can be amended again at some future date and it still permits the adoption of another constitution by the German people at some time in the future.

The final line is, of course, the kicker, and shows the apprehension of the encyclopedist, but I guess, if I had to choose, gun held to my head, that there is a little German in each of us, that given the proper confluence of economic misery and jingoist propaganda, we could find ourselves swept away, wondering why the bombs are now falling on us. No, wait, I'm wrong, it really is just them - the evil others - and now I may sleep a bit more soundly.
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