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One-and-a-half Cheers for German Unification

- Abstract

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, a German Jewish journalist poured it all out. A “unified Germany,” this son of Holocaust survivors warned, “may grow into everything the world abhorred in the Germany of the early part of the century: a powerful country never content to accept limits on its political or economic strength, a self-centered society . . . whose rulers remain happily oblivious to foreigners’ concerns.” The new Germany might resemble the “bizarre monarchy that was the Reich around the turn of the century.” World War I followed, and then the doomed Weimar Republic, paving the “way for the rise of the Nazi party [and for a] government that made mass murder a main goal of its agenda.” Soon, we might be watching the replay. “The peaceful and moderately dull Federal Republic of Germany . . . is leaving the stage. Its replacement, a rich and mighty entity, . . . may become a strange and eerie place—perhaps even the source of a new wave of darkness spreading over the earth.”

This is the archetypal horror scenario that has haunted observers around the world since the Berlin Wall fell last November—Jews and non-Jews, Americans, Frenchmen, Britons, Russians, even Germans themselves. Nor is it so strange that people should be oppressed by such dark visions of Germany rediviva. Though Auschwitz and Hitler are now forty-five years in the past, our memory still is haunted by both—and the 55 million dead of the war. No event in human history has been “larger” than World War II; no evil has been greater than that inflicted by Nazi Germany on itself and on the rest of the world. Was not Germany’s unification in 1871 the root of it all? And are we not about to witness the remake today? Certainly by reasoning backward, we are quick to discover a tidy chain of historical necessity which leads from German unification to global disaster.

About the Author

Josef Jaffe is the editor of the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit and an associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard.