08 February 2007

Needed: German national identity

Readers of this blog who actually bother to read the postings would have realized some time ago that I am a fervent Anglospherist. For that, however, it is essential to study and try to understand history and historical developments. That means looking beyond the last few years, even beyond the last few decades and, above all, not bouncing around with silly gung-ho prejudices that would not have seen the light of day in Boy’s Own Paper.

Having got that off my chest, let me, once again, spend half a minute reminiscing. Another thing some of our readers might know is that I spent my childhood in a place somewhat to the east of where I live now (Shepherds Bush in west London). I recall asking my father when I was at junior school why there were two Germanies when there was only one of other countries. Presumably I was not aware of the divisions of Korea and Vietnam. Ah, he said, that is the central question of modern European history and went no further.

Decades have passed and there is now only one Germany but her problems remain central to Europe and European developments. In brief, those of us who believe that the European Union is a cul-de-sac for Europe, need the development of a German national identity; we need a Germany that accepts her own history, good and bad, who is proud of her many achievements, having overcome the many serious problems and is ready to take up her role, discarded in the first half of the twentieth century, of being the central power of Europe. Only then will there be the slightest possibility of the “European project” being abandoned and some kind of a free network of democratic states created.

That would release the UK, as it seems remarkably reluctant to achieve that before the collapse of the European Union, to pursue what many of us would like to think is its destiny in the Anglosphere.

I am going to do a very brief canter through various historical events and our readers are welcome to comment. Naturally, I would prefer it if their comments, critical of what I say or otherwise, grow out of some knowledge of what they are talking about but bitter experience has made me realize that one cannot necessarily expect that.

The starting point has to be the fact that demonization of Germany is the lifeblood of the European project and the privileging of the national part of National Socialism is the sine qua non of the worship of tranzis that we have to live with and, in the case of this blog, fight against.

The truth is that the National Socialist period of German history lasted 12 years in total. (13, if you count it from the 1932 elections.) In fact, even if one accepts that the Germany of Wilhelm II was fairly aggressive in its foreign policies, the entire period of German aggression lasted from 1865 (at the earliest) to 1945. Not much more than a blip in European history.

The country that has been seriously aggressive towards her European neighbours for a considerably longer time was France, whether under the Bourbons, the French Revolution or Napoleon Bonaparte. Having been on the losing end of most wars since 1815 (not counting the Crimean War and various imperial skirmishes) France has managed to present herself as the perennial victim with Germany as the neighbour from hell. And that is why, sob, we must have the European Union. In a pig’s eye, to use a rather vulgar expression.

For those who like counterfactual history, an interesting exercise would be to discuss what would have happened if Germany had united under the liberal Diet of 1848 rather than the considerably less liberal, though hardly tyrannical, let alone totalitarian, Prussian ruler. Probably, one would come to the conclusion that the Diet was not capable of uniting anybody, even if the rest of Europe had acquiesced.

Though it was not the 1848 Diet that united Germany, the country had become the European leader in almost everything by the end of the nineteenth century. Even before that numerous English writers like Matthew Arnold and George Eliot looked to German literature, philosophy and education for inspiration.

By the turn of that century Germany led in all those as well as science, technology, art and music. The twentieth century was going to be Germany’s century and it is a huge tragedy for all that this did not happen.

As things stand, the twenty-first century is looking to be the Anglospheric one but the road to it has been hard. Anyone who thinks that the ending of World War I, let alone World War II, meant the triumph of Anglospheric ideas is seriously deluded.

There were many problems with the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (incidentally, Margaret Macmillan writes in her superb book “The Peacemakers” that January was so warm in Paris that year, the flowers were still blooming in the parks and gardens).

On the one hand, President Woodrow Wilson brought a seemingly new idea of using fairness and justice as well as national self-determination for the creation of the new countries. On the other hand, the victorious allies wanted compensation and some kind of an assurance that nothing like that would happen again. As a result, they produced a series of documents that almost guaranteed that there would be another war fairly soon afterwards and not much peace in between.

Wilson was seriously worried about France reverting to her historical attitude towards countries on its border and ones she had been at war with. The French, on the other hand, pointed out that someone had to pay for the enormous losses, human and economic, they had suffered.

The relicts of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires squabbled over doubtful areas and as the negotiations went on it became obvious that the principle of national self-determination, reinforced by local referenda was not going to be applied to any area where the predominant population was German, Austrian or Hungarian. Most certainly, there was not going to be a referendum in Alsace-Lorraine.

The European structure put into place was unstable and the first German experiment in democracy, faced with all the various internal and external problems, failed. Of course, the continuing instability that finally lurched into war was helped by the Soviet Union, in itself a creature of World War I.

The Middle Eastern structure, also put into place at the time, is still bedevilling the world.

This, of course, leads us to the nub of the problem. The last time German national identity was proudly proclaimed it was a travesty. The Nazi system and the Second World War were true horrors. It was essential that Nazi Germany be defeated but Anglospheric ideas did not triumph.

The one undisputed victor in Europe was the USSR and most post-1945 structures, from the Nuremberg tribunal to the United Nations were put into place either under close Soviet control or in response to it. Western Europe, including Britain, dissolved into socialism in the hopes that this would create a fairer system but also prevent a Communist advance.

To find out more about the growth of European integration in this period, one has to read “The Great Deception” but it is undeniably true that none of it could have happened if West Germany had not been forced to acquiesce in a denial of its German identity, accepting also an inferior military role (in many ways a useful option as it is rather a cheap one).

Whichever way one looks at it, this situation would have changed towards the end of the twentieth century. Even without reunification, West Germany on its own was going to be the largest and strongest country in Western Europe and there was going to be a point when France’s supremacy would no longer be assumed.

The post-Berlin Wall reunification both helped and hindered this process. On the one hand, it instantly made Germany the biggest and most important state; on the other, it caused various economic problems.

It is, however, worth recalling that West Germany’s democracy, which had already lasted for forty years, was strong enough to take in what was, in effect, another country and turn it away from its continuing undemocratic history. In other words, the twelve years of horror have long been superseded at least in the western part of the country.

What one needed was a change in German attitude to the country, to Europe, to national identity. By rights, this should have happened when Gerhard Schröder became Chancellor. Kohl’s generation had been the last one to remember the war and its immediate aftermath with any clarity and, thus, the last one to be governed by those events in its political thinking.

Someone who was a baby when the war was over, supported by growing generations of people who saw nothing wrong with being German, ought to have been able to launch into a new political era.

Unfortunately, Schröder was the weakest and least self-confident German leader since 1945 and found it impossible to break away from the French tutelage or to lead a German national revival, a necessity not just from the point of view of the European Union but also in the battle all of us have become engaged in with an enemy who is, once again, trying to destroy us and undermine our faith in ourselves.

European identity, for all the talk of “European values” is meaningless. It is not a standard round which people can rally. The EU’s fight to suppress national identity as something evil has added to the problems we are facing in the present crisis.

In particular, it was assumed for a long time that German national identity had to be suppressed, as being uniquely evil. It is no more evil than many others and it is now badly needed.

Things have changed, despite the problems with the military, as outlined by my colleague and some of the respondents to his posting. In the first place, that generational change has come. Two generations born since World War II have grown up and do not see the need to feel guilty for the actions of their grandparents or great-grandparents.

Secondly, there is the influx of the Ossies, most notable of whom is Angela Merkel, the present Chancellor. East Germany had not gone through denazification and its people had not had it drummed into them that they are uniquely evil. All guilt had been “removed” by the fact of the Communist system. But that system was probably worse than the Nazi one, if for no other reason that it lasted longer. Yet, no demands of self-abasement are made to any of the former Communist states, not even when people who had run that rather unpleasant system turn up as politicians in the new governments or the European Parliament.

Merkel may not have turned out all that she was expected to be by the media but she has not allowed herself to be bullied by Chirac either. It helps, of course, that France has a lame-duck president.

Personally, I find Anglospheric ideas the most attractive of all, be they in law, politics or constitution. I also find it interesting that many of those ideas can be traced back to the Germanic tribes of the late Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages. This brings us back to the many Germanophile pronouncements of the late nineteenth century, made by people who saw an alliance between Britain and Germany as the most natural one in Europe.

For various reasons, many of which had to do with politicking in the Foreign Office, it was France and then Russia that Britain allied herself with. So, let me end on yet another counterfactual idea: how would European and world history developed if Britain had not signed the semi-popular Entente Cordiale in 1904 or the completely unpopular Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907?