On November 9th thousands of Germans celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the epic event which precipitated the reunification of East and West Germany on October 3rd 1990. Sadly, the conditions for agreeing to Germany reunification imposed by Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the U.S were almost identical to those of the Versailles Treaty (1919), which most historians agreed facilitated the rise of Adolf Hitler. Thus, despite Versailles and WWII, the Four Powers felt the restrictions on the sovereignty of the new Germany may work this time around, even though any diplomat would agree that Treaties, as a rule, do not survive geopolitical realignment and are not binding on future generations. Needless to say some old ideas never lost their appeal despite the fact they never worked.
In the aftermath of WWII, Germany not only became a country divided by two independent entities, East and West, but also lost all its territories east of the Oder-Neisse River: East Brandenburg, East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia, roughly one-third of its pre-war area. As a condition to the reunification of the two halves of Germany in 1990, the Germans were required to forgo their irredentist claims on these lost territories. Given the history of the German nation from 1870 to 1945, the fear of a bellicose Germany was warranted but the response to it may not guarantee everlasting peace. Those, who believed that the German question was put to rest on October 3rd 1990, either misunderstood history or overrated the staying power of the geopolitical reality in place since 1945. One guarantor of the Accord: the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991; Russia, its successor, does not carry the same weight. Moreover, what if, the U.S, which is facing huge economic problems, experiences a wave of isolationist sentiment that jeopardizes its commitment to intra-European security?
While the atrocities committed by the Germans in WWII could not have remained unpunished, their forced expulsions from Germania irredentia create a lasting resentment that time could not erase since nations are defined by sacrosanct geographical boundaries. Accordingly, future generations of Germans may choose not to remember or atone for the atrocities of Nazi Germany while their existence remains linked with the ignominies suffered by their forebears. The fact that many young Germans are openly flaunting their sympathy or adherence to Adolf Hitler’s doomed philosophy of Aryan superiority proves that the Third Reich’s ephemeral grandeur is more appealing to them than remorse over the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Thus, the longing for a powerful Reich, the suppressed resentment over the lost territories and the patronizing and duplicitous attitude of France and Britain toward Germany may provide the impetus for a revival of German nationalism. France and the Britain, both members of the Four Allies Powers that occupied Germany at the end of WWII, not only opposed the reunification but tried to scuttle the process before bowing to the inevitable. As Germany is demanding to be included in the exclusive club of permanent members of the U.N Security Council, would its admission (possible but uncertain) be conditioned to more or less restrictions on its political and military power?
In actuality German militarism evolved from historic attempts at containing Germany rather than a German predilection to subjugate their European neighbors. Aptly, The Versailles Treaty (1919) and the Allied Powers Accord on Germany reunification (1990) reiterate the latter viewpoint, although the history of military conflicts in Europe indicates that it is France with its mission civilizatrice which has been the traditional warmonger on the Old Continent. Unfortunately, successive generations of Germans would need to prove to the world that they are a peaceful nation, because words such as gas chambers, final solution, mass deportations and concentration and extermination camps would forever be associated with Germany.
Incidentally, the Holocaust could have been conceived in any European nation, with the possible exemption of Britain and France, given the fact that pogroms and other dehumanizing treatments of Jews (beating, expropriations and exclusions) were common throughout the Old Continent. The Holocaust, which remains a testament to human folly or barbarity, should therefore be evaluated within the historical context of anti-Semitism in Europe rather than a singular act that could have been conceived by Germans only. How the systematic extermination of the European Jews escaped the attention of the world for so long remains the must puzzling aspect of WWII. Future historians would agree that the Holocaust could have been stopped the day after Kristallnacht (Nov 9-10, 1938) but the political will was simply not there or the fate of the condemned Jews did not matter.
Clearly, the foundation upon which the containment of the Germans is based is as shallow as its guiding principle, which holds that a democratic Germany, firmly anchored into Europe, would never go back to its militaristic past. Ironically, Germany, minus the forbidden weapons of mass destruction i.e. biological, chemical and nuclear, is the most powerful country in Europe. How that power or lack thereof affects Germany’s rightful place among the great nations would determine the Germans’ political thinking. With the economically less powerful but nuclear-armed France practically running the European Union, Germany may find itself facing an identity crisis that could affects the current European order and, once more, pre-conceived notions or misconceptions, which always helped formulate bad policies, would be the overriding factor.
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