The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

By Andrei S. Markovits; Simon Reich | Go to book overview

Introduction: The Latest Stage of the German Question

Immigrants seem to be flooding into Germany nowadays; I don't know why,
because history suggests that if they wait around long enough, Germany will
come to them.

-- Jay Leno, Tonight Show

In one brief comment, Jay Leno captures the ambivalence that Europeans feel toward Germany. They have often wanted to emulate the Germans, to share in their achievements, but not to be possessed by them. Leno thus describes the essence of the German Question.

That question, in more formal terms, focuses on how its neighbors can contain Germany's nationalist -- and in recent times, destructive -- impulses. The concern dates from the first successful efforts at Prussian expansion in the 1860s. 1 Europe's largest economy, located in the geographic center of the continent, is poorly endowed with natural resources and has pursued expansionist military and economic policies for much of its existence.

Germany has baffled social scientists, and the German Question has taken many forms. Why economic industrialization without political modernization? Why start World Wars I and II? Why the breakdown of democracy and the rise of fascism in 1933? Why Auschwitz? Why was the Federal Republic an economic giant but a political dwarf in the first four decades of the postwar period?

To be a contemporary German is to acknowledge these questions, to recognize that the answers are fundamentally linked to the way that Germans perceive their country's role in the world. And to be a German entails a response that is curiously counterintuitive -- as we will explore in this book.

The latest stage of the German Question differs markedly from its historical predecessors. The historical Answer to prior versions has involved various security arrangements designed to contain Germany. These arrangements have sometimes meant formal cooperation, whether the Triple Entente between Britain, France, and Russia or NATO. At other times they have developed more informally, fear of the Germans making strange bedfellows; for instance, the joint efforts of Stalin, Churchill, and FDR. Each set of arrangements has ultimately succeeded in containing German expansion, although never have the banks of European resistance come as close to breaking as between 1939 and 1945.

No comparable arrangement exists in the 1990s. Russian troops have pulled out of eastern Germany, and the United States, despite its military involvement

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