Monday, November 02, 2009

The German Question

An interesting item in the Times Literary Supplement about Margaret Thatcher and her concerns about German reunification. It includes the interesting observation that she used to carry a map of Germany's 1937 borders to describe the "German problem".

It is perhaps hard from the perspective of the early twentieth century to understand this, but political leaders twenty years ago were still a generation who remembered WWII as a personal experience, even if only through contemporary news, the agony of the injured and wouded, and the devastation of bombed cities.

The build up to that war can be ascribed entirely to the "German problem", being the issue that emerges once unification of the German people in one nation state became both a goal and reality. It is easy to believe that the partition of Germany after WWII between East and West was very much a concious decision by the victors to ensure that German ambition was thwarted, and that consigning many peoples of East Germany and Eastern Europe to Russian (and hence Communist) dominance was a small price to pay for that stability.

In hindsight it seems clear that the West German engagement in the European Union made reunification less a threat, Germany no longer has the ability to pursue an independent course from its European colleagues. A Secondary concern was wether the contagion of the East German economy could have sufficiently damaged overall German economic performance and hence the whole EU.

Thatcher's final concern was the impact of reunification on Russia. She foresaw correctly that it would bring Gorbachov down, but the reaction was one of seeking more aggressive reform, whereas the concern was a return to a more hard line communist stance.

The German question is an interesting read. Two books I've read recently put it in perspective. The first of these was E O Lorimer's What Hitler Wants (published as a Penguin special just before 1939). The second was A J P Taylor's The Course of German History, published just before the end of the war.

These two books make an interesting pair, the latter providing a historical analysis for the interpretation of Lorimer's book. As a school student I read Mein Kampf as a background in history, but did not realise that the book itself only appeared in English translation after the war. Hitler refused to authorise an English translation and very few English could read German.

While these two together create the image of a German problem that had stretched for two hundred years, a standard interpretation that lasted till at least when I was young, more recent studies suggest an alternative.

Niall Fergusson's The War of the World builds the theme that there was in fact one war that ran from 1914 to 1990. Fergusson's theme is that the world just before this was a master of globalisation with international trade and travel on an almost seemless basis, and poses the question what went wrong.

The same theme starts Phillip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles, in which he describes the Long War as being between the contending "constitutional orders" of fascism, communism and parliamentarianism. Bobbitt builds a theory of history that links changes in constitutional order to changes in military capability and foretells a more terrifying future.

I haven't yet finished reading either book. I'm indebted to my friend Mathew for suggesting I read Bobbitt's Terror and Consent in which he argues "we need to reforge links that previous societies have made between law and strategy; to realize how the evolution of modern states has now produced a globally networked terrorism that will change as fast as we can identify it." I stopped reading after a few pages because the book makes so many references to the earlier work I thought I should put it in sequence.

I will return to it.

1 comment:

Vic N said...

Having both read and watched the Fergusson (and I'm a huge fan of his masterwork "The Pity of War"), I'd say watch the TV series........extraordinarily up-to-date!!