The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

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

CHAPTER THREE
Germans and Germany: A View from the United States

I heard that the UN recently expressed reservations about the unification of Germany. I don't know why, there are more Nazis in Idaho nowadays.

-- Jeff Cesario, HBO Special

Of course, the "American mind" is so sweeping and general, so comprehensive and amorphous an idea that it is limited in its explanatory value. Although we might not be able to provide even a vague definition of what constitutes the American mind, we have no doubt that it exists -- amorphously, undefinably, ambivalently, full of contradictions. The conscience collective, precisely because of its amorphous nature, is a powerful whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. Yet any presentation will of necessity fall victim to either the Scylla of a huge generalization or the Charybdis of a falsely important niche.

Establishing a baseline of American attitudes is of fundamental importance for our project. The attitudes of Germany's neighbors are crucial in defining the contours and limits of potential German power. The importance of America's perceptions of Germany is threefold. First, the United States is the only genuine superpower in the post-Cold War world. As a result, the American view of anything and anybody matters. Second, American perceptions of Germany attain added importance by dint of the United States' special responsibility for the construction, maintenance, and protection of the longest and most stable democracy in German history, as well as its central role in facilitating unification in 1990. Third, power rivalry is extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it seems reasonable to suggest that political relations between the two nations will become a lot more complicated and contentious than they were before 1989.

This proposition may not be pertinent to global politics for years to come, if ever, but it will undoubtedly attain growing relevance as far as Europe is concerned. For the trajectory there is unmistakable: America's power and influence is waning, Germany's is growing. Hegemons and their aspiring rivals, Robert Gilpin tells us, often end up going to war, 1 having grown to distrust each other -- as the British and the Germans did in 1914. We have suggested that Germany is not a hegemon but, rather, a reluctant hegesy. Studying U.S. attitudes may add credence to this claim, by demonstrating that Americans do not fear Germans as growing rivals. Yet the very fact that Americans see no need to block German

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