Five Images of Germany: Half a Century of American Views on German History

Five Images of Germany: Half a Century of American Views on German History

Five Images of Germany: Half a Century of American Views on German History

Five Images of Germany: Half a Century of American Views on German History

Excerpt

Henry Cord Meyer

This is primarily a commentary on German history, but it is also very much an essay about ourselves. We shall find that American views of the Germans and their history have fluctuated widely and changed markedly from decade to decade since 1900. When Leopold von Ranke laid the bases for modern historical study more than a century ago, he was confident that, given the facts-- the documents--and the proper method, man could reconstruct and record history "as it actually occurred." In the free world today we still respond to the challenge of Ranke's method and feel the obligation to be as accurate and complete as we can without lapsing into academic sterility. More than that, we now often attempt to present the essential truth about the past in a frame of contemporary relevance. This is a path beset with perils of conflict and emotion, as we shall soon see. And yet, if history is written with a firm sense of responsibility and then combined with an appreciation of its relation to the present, it can offer students and teachers valuable insights for exploring the great issues of our times.

But why an essay about German history when few schools in our nation offer a course in the subject?

There are several reasons. First of all, an individual one: many of our citizens are descended from German forebears, more than from any other group of European settlers except those from the British Isles. Read Carl Wittke's wonderfully moving account, We Who Built America (New York, 1939), with its tapestry of all the peoples contributing to our growing nation. Take the older, limited, and more self-conscious elaboration of Albert B. Faust, The German Element in the United States (Boston, 1909). Or understand the Tragedy of German-America , by John A. Hawgood (New York, 1940). German roots strike deep into America.

More important for all Americans, in this century our inter-

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