Has Germany Finally Conquered Herself?

By Olshausen, Michael | Contemporary Review, May 1994 | Go to article overview

Has Germany Finally Conquered Herself?


Olshausen, Michael, Contemporary Review


AS nation-builders, the Germans never make small mistakes. The path Germany thrice followed (in 1848, in 1914, and in 1933), the 'path apart', the German Sonderweg, led her profoundly astray from the western, consensual, democratic tradition. At its furthest extension, the German Sonderweg proved so catastrophic that post-war Germany, for her own safety and her own good, voluntarily restrained herself through a network of multi-lateral alliances. The Grundgesetz of 1949, at first West Germany's -- and now united Germany's -- Constitution, would in fact anticipate, in Article 24, devolving upon supernational entities -- the United Nations, NATO, the EC, possibly others -- German sovereignty, at least insofar as this might, eventually, be required to insure the collective, European security. From these circumstances and from her government's behaviour over forty years, Bonn political scientist Karl Dietrich Bracher concluded, in 1986, with respect to West Germany, that she had evolved into a 'post national democracy among nation-states', that she had, in effect, succeeded in cleansing herself of the German/Prussian proclivity for nationalist expansion through immersion in the solvent of international-cum-European responsibilities. Never again conquest. Never, ever again the German Sonderweg, was Bracher's considered expectation.

Then, and quite unexpectedly, certainly to all of the parties involved, came German unity, which to date is flowing only rather unsteadily forward. It is their unification's apparent intractability that so sours the Germans. Nonetheless, this intractability is not, from an external perspective, really so surprising, at all. For Germany is acting out today that which defeat had formerly, and fortunately, denied to her: a conquest resulting from a journey along the Sonderweg. Only, in the present instance, like the wilful and shrinking Erysichthon of Greek myth, Germany is acting out upon herself, and that can really be quite painful. So, the question persists, are the Germans doing it again -- making a hash out of unification, much as they botched their other attempts at nation-building -- or not? Could a form of self-implosion, Erysichthon-like, become their fate?

The assessment I want to offer of the German circumstance is based in part on observations in fourteen, randomly distributed, ordinary, east German villages and towns. For it is in these communities, with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants (where, according to Germany's Statistical Yearbook for 1993, 64 per cent of all the east Germans live, compared to 50 per cent in the west, Berlin excluded), that the twice-burned inflammations of disenchantment and disaffection, plus scattered, apparent success stories, hug the surface, ready to erupt into the federal and local elections later on this year. A part of the assessment is based, as well, on personal ties to Germany's previous excursions along the Sonderweg, insofar, one hopes, as these may yield insight.

Some necessary, and initial, perspective on the relative strengths of the actors in the contemporary German drama can be obtained from an admittedly discordant, but nevertheless useful, comparison. During the Persian Gulf War, according to Michael Mazarr writing for The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, coalition forces are believed to have killed some 25,000 to 100,000 Iraqi combatants, but to have lost not more than 200 of their own, and a quarter of those to inadvertence. But what a grotesque disproportion! That it could occur at all was a result of the weapons the coalition forces, especially the Americans, had at their command. These were not weapons' systems developed to bring to heel an exposed, middle-eastern despot. They were developed to stave off the nuclear threat of the Soviet Union to central Europe. Once again, in the Persian Gulf example, coalition intelligence, being state-of-the-art and global, outclassed the Iraqis' totally, and coalition strategic and tactical knowledge had by far the greater depth. …

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