Germany, Present and Future

May 27th, 2010

By Tom Carter

Victor Davis Hanson, one of my favorite conservative thinkers, has two articles at Pajamas Media discussing the present and future role of Germany in Europe.  They’re both worth reading, especially for those who haven’t been thinking much about Europe lately.

Americans should be paying much closer attention to the current problems of the euro, and, by extension, the European Union itself.  If the euro collapses and the EU implodes, the resulting economic tsunami could swamp us all.  What Germany is doing, and will do in the future, is critically important.  Hanson’s articles illustrate those facts.

Quotes from the first article:

For someone who has lived in Greece and occasionally visits Germany, it becomes increasingly clearer each year why the European Union won’t work. Germans work and create wealth. Yet  under the present system, they do not receive commensurate psychological rewards — and they increasingly receive insufficient material compensation as well.

And history shows us that an unhappy Germany is a very dangerous thing indeed. …

Very soon German workers are going to grasp that all the financial reserves they piled away the last two decades from not doing what a Spain or Italy did are essentially gone. Someone in Munich worked 40 hours a week until age 67 for someone in Athens not to — and for someone in Athens to demand that someone in Munich do so or else. The idea that nations like Greece, both overtly and implicitly, insult nations like Germany has no basis in historical terms. …

If it should choose, Germany could go nuclear in six months, its arsenal reflective of a country that makes Mercedes and BMWs. That is not so wild an idea in an age when unstable nations like Iran and North Korea boast of their arsenals and their aggression, while others such as Turkey and Brazil flout U.S. faculty-lounge sermons on non-proliferation.

From the second article:

There is a great unease over here, mostly in worry that no one knows the extent of aggregate debt, only that it is larger than let on and will result in higher taxes and fewer benefits without resulting in budget surpluses. It is always difficult for a government to ask its citizens to pay more than ever, receive less than ever, and end up nevertheless with greater debt than ever.  We’re next.

Here and there a few Germans seem to wonder what Obama is doing, but they are torn: “We are flattered the U.S. wants to emulate our system” versus “Why would you wish to get yourself into the jam we are in?” …

As much as we suspect the pretensions of the European Union, Americans must appreciate its achievement in lessening European tensions after the fall of the Cold War, the end of a common enemy in the Soviet Union, and the gradual diminution of a U.S. presence. If this implosion begins to unravel the EU, I think we will be once again right in the middle, rather than at the end, of history. There is simply too much history, too much memory, too many players over here to think a post-EU continent is going to always look like the Netherlands rather than from time to time the former Yugoslavia. Just think of Cyprus, the Turkish-Greek rivalry in the Aegean, the rise of radical Islam within Europe, Russia energy extortion, the large number of nuclearly capable but now non-nuclear states, and a hundred other scenarios that would have been unthinkable a year ago (but then so was the current meltdown).

I’m not quite as pessimistic as Hanson about what Germany may do if the problems of the euro and the EU continue to worsen, which seems likely.  However, no one — much less Europeans — should ever be complacent about what Germany might do under conditions of great stress.  I’m not suggesting anything as extreme as a resurgence of something like Nazism.  That’s not possible in modern Germany.  What is possible, however, is Germany getting fed up with the weaker nations of Europe to the point where they back off to protect themselves, telling the rest of the EU to fend for themselves.  When that happens, we can expect the tsunami.

I lived in Germany four years — two in Frankfurt, two in Berlin.  The Berlin Wall fell halfway through my two years in the city, so I got to see all of that up close and participated in some of the official events that followed.  Like Hanson, I admire the Germans for their intelligence, ingenuity, discipline, and hard work.  I admire their country for the way things work reliably and how clean it is.  And I also understand that the Germans are capable of doing whatever is necessary to advance and defend themselves.  Think of a tall, strong, good-looking, intelligent guy who seems like a decent fellow, a pussycat in polite society.  The mistake is to think you can push him too far without getting your face bashed in.

When I was a senior staff officer in a U.S. NATO corps in Frankfurt, I became close friends with my German counterpart in the adjacent German NATO corps.  Our job was to be prepared to defend against a Soviet push across the inner German border and through the Fulda Gap.  His corps’ job was to defend the sector just north of us.  We and our staffs frequently worked together on planning and tactical exercises, and we shared information closely.  Beyond that, we took turns hosting regular social events with our staffs — where I learned the limits of my tolerance for Slivovitz.

My highly intelligent, impressively capable friend and I became close enough to discuss Germany under the Nazis, World War II, and the Holocaust.  He, like many other Germans I dealt with, didn’t understand how all that had happened among his people.  Knowing them, I’ve never really been able to understand it, either.  But one thing I know for certain:  the German people will carry much of the rest of Europe on their shoulders for only so long.  When they cut them loose, there’ll be the devil to pay.

All this illustrates the importance of the Obama Administration getting its act together in foreign policy.  We need to be more attentive to and supportive of our friends and allies, like Germany.  Genuflecting to foreign leaders whose countries don’t support us, including serious human rights abusers, and apologizing for the United States is not the answer.  In fact, it’s part of the problem.


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