What Is a West German?
Plain Truth Magazine
September 1985
Volume: Vol 50, No.7
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What Is a West German?

Despite their phenomenal success, West Germans suffer from an identity crisis. The display of patriotism is still an acute problem. Some experts say Germany can recover its soul only within the context of a larger, united Europe.

   WHAT is a West German? A strange sounding question, perhaps, to Americans, Britons and Frenchmen — all who know in their innermost being what it means to be personally part of the march of history of their nations.
   The same cannot be said of citizens in the Federal Republic of Germany.
   The visit of U.S. President Ronald Reagan to a war cemetery in West Germany earlier this year made West Germans painfully aware that their nation still bears a heavy burden of the recent past.
   Among citizens of the Federal, Republic President Reagan's personal standing rose considerably for hanging tough" on the visit to Bitburg. (Among the 2,000 dead in the cemetery are the remains of 49 Waffen-SS soldiers, mostly young, end-of-the-war draftees.)
   Yet, at the same time, there was considerable disappointment and disillusionment that there should have been such an outcry in the United States. After all, every U.S. Memorial Day since 1959, the commander of the nearby U.S. air base, joined by the mayor of Bitburg, had laid down a wreath at the very spot the President did.
   So, for more than 25 years, no one had complained about the presence of the SS grave markers. Not a few observers felt the incident had been blown out of proportion by the President's critics in order to cast a cloud over his entire European trip.
   The American President's sincere intention had been to enact, along with his host, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a ceremony of national reconciliation, 40 years after the conclusion of World War II.

Germany's Transformation

   West Germany's transformation into a liberalized democratic state, one anchored in the West, has not been fully appreciated by the general public in the United States. Those in the position to know view it as an extraordinary achievement. Arthur Burns, retiring U.S. ambassador to the Federal Republic, said that "the transformation of Germany is one of the miracles of the modern age."
   Looking back to the early postwar period, it was by no means certain that Germany's third attempt at democracy (the first in the 1830s, the second after World War I) would indeed "take." But Germany — and Japan as well — have changed their previous courses to such an astonishing degree that their former enemies and now allies tend to take their altered states for granted.
   For the past 11 years, for example, economic summits have taken place among the Free World's leading industrial powers. The seven nations involved — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Italy and West Germany comprise four Allied and three Axis powers of World War II. No wonder a generalized German reaction to the Bitburg controversy was, "Have these past 40 different years all been in vain?" Alfred Dregger, one of the most senior members of the Christian Democratic Party, said, "Bitburg raises the question of whether the American people really consider us to be allies, despite 40 years."

The Past Is Open

   It would be a grave mistake to believe, as apparently some still do, that the events of the time of national socialism are still not adequately examined in today's Germany — at least in the western Federal Republic.
   The author was in Germany covering this year's economic summit and the events of President Reagan's state visit. During this period of time, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, West German television networks presented many programs detailing the events at the close of World War II. I observed a fascinating panorama of photographs in the Hamburg city — state office in the nation's capital, Bonn. These represented a detailed account of the slave labor system employed by certain German industries during the war.
   And in France, at the time of President Reagan's May 8 address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, I visited the only German concentration camp on French soil. It was built at Struthof, across the Alsatian plain from Strasbourg, on a peak high in the Vosges mountains.
   The small but grim Struthof facility is one of the better preserved camps. What struck me most, however, was that near the end of the day, a bus load of elderly German tourists, most of them women, came to tour the facility. They were of the very generation that lived through the grim days of the 1930s and '40s. They came to Struthof to see for themselves what had transpired under Nazi rule.

With Prosperity, Confusion

   Not long ago a book was written entitled The Fourth and Richest Reich. Its pages chronicled the rise of the Federal Republic — which constitutes only the Western half of prewar Germany — to the level of an economic superpower.
   Still, despite unprecedented prosperity, many West Germans have a sense of national unfulfillment. They have had to shed patriotic feelings that would be normal in other countries simply because patriotism and nationalism had been so abused under national socialism.
   German news sources acknowledge this sense of national ennui. A 1983 commentary in the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit reported: "The Federal Republic is, all things considered, not a bad country, perhaps even the best ever to rise from German soil. But who likes to feel themselves as Federal Republicans?" Since coming to power in 1982, Chancellor Kohl has cautiously tried to stimulate feelings of national pride and patriotism. He is the first West German chancellor to display the national flag in his office. He has even resuscitated previously tainted words such as Vaterland.
   So far, response by his countrymen to the chancellor's pride — building efforts has been lukewarm.
   Julian Crandall Hollick, a writer and frequent visitor to West Germany, took note in the August 8, 1984, Christian Science Monitor of what he called West Germany's "midlife identity crisis."
   "Ask a young American what being an American means and you will most likely receive a clear and confident reply. Ask a young West German and the answer will be at best unclear, at worst an embarrassed refusal.... What does being West German mean? Who are its heroes? What is the Federal Republic's history?"

Generation Gap

   With West Germany's maturing there has also developed a generation gap peculiar to the country.
   Older generation Germans vividly recall the early grim postwar years, the stimulus to the rebuilding of the country provided by the U.S Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift that defeated the Soviet attempt to force the Western powers out of the city.
   They lived through the period of time when Chancellor Konrad Adenauer anchored the fledgling Federal Republic in the Western Alliance system, resisting the siren call of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who offered German reunification in return for neutrality.
   Through the 1950s and '60s West Germany was rebuilt a good deal along the at-that-time highly favored American model.
   Younger West Germans today, especially those politically left-of-center, increasingly resent the Americanization of their society. They are searching out their pre-Nazi era national roots for something more authentic. Increasingly they find, on trips to East Germany, that the German Democratic Republic (DDR) seems more traditionally German. This is especially true in recent years as the authorities in the DDR have cautiously restored public monuments and statues of selected great figures of Germany's past, such as Frederick the Great and even the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

European Community Not Enough

   With patriotism and pure nationalism so highly suspect, West Germans have sought elsewhere for their outlets. Franz Josef Strauss once said that "we must have patriotism in an entirely new understanding of the word."
   For a long while it was believed by Germans as well as their neighbors that the construction of the European Community in democratic Europe would sufficiently occupy the talents and energies of the German people.
   The European Community, more commonly referred to by its economic component, the Common Market, did engage the Germans as long as it was "core Europe," essentially the six original members — Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux nations.
   The EC now has become too unwieldy, however. Member states such as Britain and Denmark act more as brakes, throttling the dream of creating a truly confederated European power. Greece remains an enigma. Incoming new member states such as Spain and Portugal create new problems, from agricultural surpluses to the burdens of requiring all EC documents to be translated into two more official tongues.
   American journalist William Pfaff vividly explained the German frustration with the European Community: "To create Europe was an appropriate task for Germans. But that opportunity has now been taken away from Germany .... Now that the Community has ceased to be core Europe, the serious political potential of 'Europe' has been lost, and Germany has thereby been deprived of the possibility of transcending its nationalism and its history by becoming a part of a whole."
   Thus, West Germany is approaching a crossroads. "America is no longer the answer," adds Mr. Pfaff. "At the same time, the European Community steadily diminishes in moral importance for the Germans — a mere mercantile arrangement."

Mr. Reagan's Appeal

   Another fundamental reason for the decline in the attractiveness of the European Community is that it has so far left unresolved the age-old German Question — how the Germans are to be reunited as one folk — an issue that older Germans have generally left to the distant future, but that younger Germans today are increasingly interested in seeing settled in their lifetime.
   In light of the above, one of President Reagan's least dramatized stops on his state visit to West Germany may prove one day to be the most significant.
   He delivered an inspirational speech to several thousand young Germans who had gathered to hear him on the grounds of the historic Schloss Hambach, the cradle of German democracy in the 1830s.
   The President declared that the "new Europe" was not yet complete because it was "divided by concrete walls, by electrified barbed wire and by mined fields... killing fields."
   To loud applause of the students — he was interrupted. 40 times! — he continued: "Nothing could make our hearts more glad than to see the day when there will be no more walls, no more guns to keep loved ones apart."
   Calling for the unification of Germany within the framework of a united Europe, the President declared that "democracy will only be complete, Europe will only be united when all Germans and all Europeans are finally free."
   Two days later, speaking to the European Parliament assembled in Strasbourg, the President returned to the theme of a united Europe:
   "It is my hope, our hope, that in the 21st century — which is only 15 years away — all Europeans, from Moscow to Lisbon, will be able to travel without a passport and the free flow of people and ideas will include the other half of Europe. It is my fervent wish that in the next century there will be one, free Europe."
   Earlier that same day, European Parliament President Pierre Pflimlin eloquently spoke of the dream of a united Europe — one incorporating the great cities of Dresden (in East Germany), Warsaw, Prague and Budapest.
   Dreaming of such a union may seem now to be a "vain hope," said Mr. Pflimlin, "but no one can stop us of dreaming of a complete Europe united in peace."

The Heart of Europe

   Partly because of its geographic location, equally so because of the dynamic nature of its people, Germany, divided or united, remains at the heart of Europe. And Europe's future will once again, as so often in the past, be decided by Germany's decisions.
   In the year 962, Otto the Great revived the Roman Empire in the West, which became the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
   William I, who became German emperor in 1871, spearheaded a "Second Reich." He had wanted to be crowned with what he called the true crown — the Holy Roman crown dating back to Otto's time — reposing in Vienna. Being Protestant, he was denied this request.
   That newly united Germany did not claim the Holy Roman succession. And Hitler's Third Reich was essentially a summoning up of Teutonic warrior gods, a time of what author George Bailey calls "Germany's strongest and most harmful illusion."
   But, Mr. Bailey emphasizes in his book, Germans, "the dream of the Holy Roman Empire has remained. It has bemused every generation of Germans since Charlemagne."
   Moreover, the Empire was always bound with the fortunes of the Church in Europe — Emperor and Pope, secular and religious authority intertwined.
   And as author Bailey asks, in a most intriguing manner: "Can we be sure that history has written finis to what was perhaps the grandest design ever conceived by man: the Holy Roman Empire?"
   Exactly how the union of Europe will come about, is not yet clear. Many events must yet transpire. A new leadership in the Soviet Union as well as declining economic fortunes of the entire East bloc are factors to consider. A split between Western Europe and the United States, leading to a withdrawal of American forces, must certainly also occur along the way.
   The Bible clearly reveals there will be a 10-nation end-time revival of the Roman system in Europe. It would seem at this moment that the vital ingredients essential to give life to a largely apathetic Western Europe are still frozen inside Eastern Europe.
   With regard to religion, the flames of religious zeal still burn bright in Poland, whereas the lights are dim in the secularized Western societies. Pope John Paul II's rude reception in the Netherlands earlier this year made this point abundantly clear.
   In the secular field, German patriotism will not be revitalized until the Federal Republic can be linked with what some call the fossilized German state in the East.
   Thus, in a roundabout manner, German disillusionment with its American "big brother," plus its inability to recover a sense of purely national pride and patriotism, could rebound into a greater German zeal for a Europe united politically and religiously. This in turn could lead to the biggest dream of all: a reunited German nation in the heart of Europe, one Germans would feel proud of again.

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Plain Truth MagazineSeptember 1985Vol 50, No.7