To the Editor:
David Gress’s “What the West Should Know About German Neutralism” [January] is a learned academic exercise of small or minor relevance to the issue of neutralism in Germany today. The main reason for growing German neutralism is not even mentioned: the reluctance of both Germanys (East and West) to become the battleground for two superpowers. The conventional and nuclear arsenals of both superpowers would find their first, and perhaps final, annihilating jousting grounds there. Of this, nary a word in Mr. Gress’s article.
New York City
To the Editor:
To compare Thomas Mann with “some of the adherents of nationalist neutralism in recent decades,” as David Gress does, not only seems, it indeed is, offensive. Moreover, this comparison is not borne out by Mann’s thoughts or actions. . . .
But first a few corrections of the “facts” on which David Gress based his asumptions.
Item: Thomas Mann did not, repeat not, sign the Appeal of 93 German professors, poets, and artists in October 1914.
Item: He returned to Europe (Switzerland) not in 1948 but in 1952, three years before his death.
Item: Thomas Mann was not “disgusted with American materialism.” He never underestimated creature comforts and the amenities of being wealthy. He did long, especially in his last years, for the ambience of a German language culture, “where I understood and was understood.” But even that would not have sufficed to change his plan to live out his life in the United States where he had gained citizenship in 1944, had not McCarthyism (“mindless” anti-Communism) reminded him painfully and embarrassingly of the beginnings of Nazism in Germany.
Item: Mr. Gress says that in 1955 Mann delivered two speeches on Schiller, “given demonstratively at Frankfurt in the West and Weimar in the East.” But his visit to Weimar was already the second and thus hardly a demonstration anymore. In 1949 he went to Weimar where he delivered the same speech on Goethe’s 200th birthday that he had given in Frankfurt. Moreover, in 1955 he spoke on Schiller’s 150th birthday in Stuttgart not in Frankfurt. . . .
To be sure, in the long and involved public life of Thomas Mann, in his work, and even in his simplest utterances one can find enough quotes to bolster almost any kind of ideology. From conservatism, monarchism, chauvinism, even anti-Semitism, to liberalism, cosmopolitanism, pacifism, even pro-Communism—one might find anything. Fortunately the gods have put sweat before success: you have to read Thomas Mann’s works, his novels, his essays, his letters, his diaries to claim him as one of your own. I have grave doubts that even Mr. Gress’s “more intellectual supporters of neutralism” have undergone this task. The “less intellectual” certainly have not, because they do not read at all. But even if they did, I doubt that they would find much joy. . . .
When Thomas Mann first went to East Germany (in July 1949, still the Soviet occupation zone), he expected the political invectives that were showered on him in West Germany. They came from the same people who had resented his emigration in 1933 and his uncompromising stand toward Nazism in the first place. Yes, he could not help being impressed by the attention the Communists in the Eastern Zone showed him. Taken to Weimar, to the national theater, he and his wife passed—totally by chance of course—through Thomas Mann Street and heard—equally by sheer chance—the choir of the Thomas Mann School. (The organizers bragged to this writer about their cleverness.) But he knew also that by coming to the Germans who had not voluntarily chosen the Soviets as their occupiers he showed them a modicum of freedom, the freedom of speech.
For seventy of the eighty years Thomas Mann lived, he had known only one Germany, “indivisible under God.” Why should his visit not be devoted to “Germany as a whole and not to zones of occupation”? His “real home country was after all the free German language untouched by occupation forces.”
Before anyone says, “you see,” here is what he added in his Weimar speech: “Despite all differences between East and West, certain hard-fought-for and inalienable achievements of mankind, like freedom, justice, and dignity, should not be lost but should be held dearly and sacredly for the future. . . .” And note his letter to East German dictator Walter Ulbricht asking for justice for the political prisoners in notorious Waldheim in Saxony—and his “dedication to the Western world” in 1952—and, and, and.
In all of this I find very little consolation for those who want to claim Thomas Mann as an ancestor of leftist nationalism. “Man goenne mir mein Weltdeutschtum,” he said in a New Year’s broadcast in 1945 on the BBC. “Let me have my German cosmopolitanism” would be a highly inadequate translation. I do not think he asked too much.
New York City
To the Editor:
“What the West Should Know About German Neutralism” by David Gress is tendentious and based on insufficient information about West Germany. . . . Mr. Gress seems to have little interest in concrete facts about political attitudes in West Germany; most of the article is devoted to a marginally persuasive version of German intellectual history. Where is the evidence from studies of political values in today’s Germany, and where is the evidence from a study of the basic moderation of the political system?
Mr. Gress seeks to associate “bad” history with current political trends by using vague phrases such as “ideas returning to prominence and influence” or “obtaining intellectual respectability” (whatever that means). As one who has done research on German intellectual history, and on the “conservative revolution” of the 20′s in particular, I am aware of what the author terms “national-neutralist nonsense” and of the fact that some of this exists in West Germany, not to speak of other countries. But it is entirely inaccurate and unfair . . . to argue in a determinist way from Germany’s “fundamental position” (again, whatever that is) that today’s politicians reflect a notion of “der deutsche Sonderweg” [“the German way,” the idea, popular in the 20's, of a specific German social and economic order superior to Western capitalism]. More precisely: it is very shabby research and writing.
George K. Romoser
University of Mannheim
Mannheim, West Germany
To the Editor:
The article by David Gress is timely. As has been the pattern in the past, German nationalism follows other nationalisms in a belated fashion. The immediate reasons for its emergence today are the failure of Western European political unification—which was supposed to preempt Germany’s seeking a different way for its aspirations—and the recognition of East Germany on an international scale in the wake of détente. . . .
The question remains as to what the West, and the United States in particular, should do about this development, which will not abate. It is important to recognize that although Russia does not mention the reunification of Germany now, it may push for it if it realizes that a Germany estranged from the West would be to its advantage. Such a Germany would be neutral but grateful to Russia for helping it to attain reunification. In the pursuit of this goal, Russia may well agree to all-German elections which would, in any case, lead either to a Socialist victory or to an unstable leftist coalition with the pro-Western parties in a minority. Stalin made an offer of this kind in 1953.
In the 1950′s, the United States came up with proposals for German unity which were based on free elections and a pro-Western Germany. . . . The United States should rethink the issue and come up with new plans. If Germans feel that the West is not interested in their aspirations, they will, if present conditions persist, look for “other ways”—and there is always a partner in the East with whom a deal can be struck.
A. von Graevenitz
University of Zurich
To the Editor:
In recent years one has read many articles on U.S.-German differences, most of them partisan and not terribly imaginative, but the concise essay on German neutralism by David Gress stands out from the rest. He argues that there has been . . . a rebirth of a deeply rooted anti-Western nationalism in West Germany which might persist even under a CDU-led government. This is an intriguing and alarming thesis: attitudinal surveys conducted in West Germany would seem to confirm it to some degree. But even if it were theoretically permissible to homogenize Right and Left in a new anti-Western mood, one must not derive it too quickly from the ideological rubble of political romanticism or from apparent instabilities in the German character. It would be a misunderstanding of the nature and appeal of the new nationalism if one looked only at its familiar temperamental manifestations. Its true intellectual temptation lies not so much in fantastic images of neutrality or even of Prussian-Russian collusion but in a skeptical perception of U.S. political will.
. . . Today’s nationalists expect that the U.S. would not risk its substance to guarantee the physical integrity of its political protégés. However, they also believe that in the long run U.S. international interests command it to test Soviet will on European soil (Europe being the price rather than the prize of contest). But they fear that the U.S. . . . will fail to impose the outcome it prefers. . . . They point out that U.S. military policies only . . . destabilize the regions the U.S. ought to protect. The psychological effect of all this is that U.S. prestige continues to lose authority and its political will loses persuasiveness.
The same nationalists sense with apprehension an almost haphazard transformation of Soviet power from revolutionary totalitarianism to conservative militarism and believe that its military threat is nervous and its political will irritable. . . . One can hardly say that the new nationalism has yet matured into an intelligent doctrine. However, when and if it does one should expect it to be independent both of the psychology of resentment and of party philosophy. . . .
Tantallon, Nova Scotia
David Gress writes:
Harold Mager claims that “the main reason for growing German neutralism” is “the reluctance of both Germanys . . . to become the battleground for two superpowers.” I thank Mr. Mager for providing me with such a clear expression of the basic argument of the new neutralism. Its premises, however, are wholly wrong. First of all, it assumes that the “two superpowers” are similar in their desire for hegemony, their respect for other countries or lack thereof, and their political aims and strategies. Second, it speaks casually of “the two Germanys,” as though one can compare the democratic West where the formulation of public opinion and policy is free, and the totalitarian East, where the desires, wishes, and hopes of the people matter not a whit because the regime consists of Quislings introduced and maintained in power by a combination of force and ideological indoctrination.
On the first count, I should remind Mr. Mager that West Germany is a member of the North Atlantic Alliance which came into existence to preserve Western Europe from Soviet domination. In this purpose it has been so far largely successful, but only because its will to self-defense was backed by a military deterrent credible both to the Soviets and to the Western countries themselves. Germany will become a battlefield only if, for some reason, the Soviets should decide that they have more to gain by military conquest than by a policy of “peaceful coexistence.” One way this might happen is if neutralist tendencies in West Germany continue to the point where they seriously impair either West Germany’s own military preparedness or, as a consequence, the credibility of NATO as a whole. That is why I offered my excursion into the intellectual ancestry of opinions whose current popularity is more a function of wishful thinking and romantic illusions than of a serious commitment either to peace or to the true interest of all Germans, whether East or West.
I also thank Gitta Bauer for her illuminating comments and hasten to state that nothing was further from my mind than any wish to insult the memory or reputation of the man I consider the greatest writer of our century. If Thomas Mann did not in fact sign the Appeal of 1914, I stand corrected; I had my information from a statement by Hans Mayer, whose attitude to Mann was ambiguous, to say the least. And Mann’s return to Europe was decided upon in 1948, as can be gathered from remarks in Die Entstehung des Dr. Faustus (“The Origin of Dr. Faustus”). I consider that the key year for his final change in attitude to America.
As for Mann’s visits to the East, the later one was the more important because in 1949 he was only visiting the Soviet occupation zone and so did not inadvertently give prestige to a regime of native Quislings, as he did in 1955 when he was the honored, and exploited, guest of the East German government. While sympathizing deeply with his feelings and desires, I must maintain—and Miss Bauer’s own report bears me out—that lending his moral and intellectual authority, however inadvertently, to a regime that was the equivalent of the one that had forced him out in 1933 was extremely unfortunate, allowing himself to be exploited in its corruption of what was left of German culture.
George K. Romoser’s outburst provides me with another example of what is wrong with political discussion in West Germany. I was not arguing that any influential politicians today assert a “deutscher Sonderweg,” nor was I asserting that the ideas whose history I sketched were (as yet) common fare. But neither, on the other hand, do I think the victory of the Kohl government in the recent elections refutes my thesis. Indeed, if Mr. Romoser is familiar with recent studies of political values in West Germany, he ought to reconsider his somewhat nervous assertion of the “basic moderation” of the system; so should those many other official or semi-official spokesmen who seemingly never tire of assuring anxious friends and allies that all is well, that the peace movement is marginal and insignificant, and that national-neutralist illusions are found only on the lunatic fringe. Is it insignificant, for example, that according to the very detailed opinion survey carried out by the Federal Chancellery in Bonn (almost 7,000 two-hour interviews), minorities of 30-40 percent and sometimes more have no fear of Soviet intentions, believe that American policies endanger peace, believe that West Germany’s interests differ from those of the United States, think national unification possible if West Germany would adopt a more neutral foreign policy, feel alienated from the political process, and as a result fear the future and indeed have little faith in the reality or relevance of the democratic process? Furthermore, this distrust of the West and these national longings are predominant among the young and highly educated.
Apart from horror at the thought of what the “education” of these people must have consisted of, I think the appropriate reaction from the perspective of Western security and, yes, peace, is worry—because these are precisely the people who are going to be running the country, in government, media, and business, within the next ten to fifteen years. There is a good German word for what Mr. Romoser is trying to do: Verharmlosung, trivialization of danger when one knows better. At a moment when elements in the official German world seem to be moving from a position of claiming that the ideas I have mentioned are unimportant to one of concern, even respect for them (see Foreign Minister Genscher’s talk of a “patriotism of peace”), such denials are far from helpful.
A. von Graevenitz argues that the Soviet Union might offer German unification in exchange for neutrality. That is, indeed, what some new neutralists like to think, but I disagree. Stalin’s offer existed mainly in the minds of national neutralists then and since, as recent scholarship has shown. The Russians have certainly played the “unification card” whenever it has served their interests, but those interests most emphatically do not include a unified Germany, Socialist or otherwise. There are reports that in 1981 they tried to threaten Solidarity in Poland with rumors that they were going to give back Silesia, Pomerania, etc. to Germany and perhaps even allow unification. Similarly, there is no doubt that the combination of the new “soft” nationalism and neutralism is very gratifying to them—but only as a tool. All the more reason for the West, especially the U.S., to heed Mr. von Graevenitz’s advice and address the problem before it is too late.
I can only agree with Florian Bail’s summary of the moderate neutralist position, based on fear that misconceived U.S. strategies without the means to carry them out, combined with ill-informed and weak political leadership, can lead to war, and on the assumption that the Soviet Union is a status-quo and not an expansionist power. The latter assumption is also characteristic, of course, of the dominant school of American Kremlinologists. Given these beliefs, the idea, as expressed by official West German spokesmen, that the chief source of danger is Western rhetoric that might scare the Russians, or Western actions that might destabilize the Soviet empire, is reasonable. However, to come full circle to the national issue, the contradiction between this exaggerated concern for the stability of the Soviet empire and the national interests of Germans West or East is, to me at least, glaring, and rings particularly false when coming from West German Social Democrats who absolutely reject American arguments about the need sometimes to assist right-wing regimes to prevent chaos and violence.