Commentary Magazine

The German Interest

To the Editor:

I do not know what university David Gress attended, or what subjects he chose to study, but obviously he chose too many. What he dishes out in his article, “What the West Should Know About German Neutralism” [January], does not give evidence of any knowledge one might acquire through studies. Rather, it gives evidence of exactly those prejudices which are so dear to so many Americans, and which do not explain but add further confusion to the treacherous term, “German neutralism.” Let’s start with the past.

Bismarck by no means considered the Western countries of England and France a threat to his Reich. It just so happened that when he set out to create the German Reich, Russia was his natural ally. To a certain extent the same was true of England; in any case, England was not his enemy.

Of France, on the other hand, Bismarck had made an eternal enemy through the unwise amputation of Alsace and Lorraine after the war of 1870-71. The purpose of the so-called “double-assurance treaty” of 1887 was not to prevent war with France and Russia but to give the German Reich an additional six weeks in case of war. Both Bismarcks, the old man as well as his son Herbert, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, did not just know this, they also stated it. It takes quite a bit of ignorance even to use the catchword phrase “double-assurance treaty” in connection with German neutralism, as Mr. Gress does. If the German chiefs of staff had had their say, there would have been a war in 1888—but it would have been with Russia, not with France and England.

Mr. Gress’s ignorance also shows in his contention that there was very little anti-Russian propaganda in Germany during World War I. Let us not talk of German writers and authors of 1914, let us talk only of the man then in charge, Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg: he demonized czarist Russia as the real warmonger in order to draw the Social Democrats—who were traditionally ill-disposed toward Russia—into his war. And he succeeded. We really should not overestimate the influence of chameleon-like writers like Thomas Mann—they hardly ever had any influence on policy. Mann in particular never did.

It is undoubtedly true that the German chiefs of staff wanted to weaken Russia by permitting Lenin to travel to Petrograd in 1917. But this is what upsets us Germans: whenever the Americans, the British, the French conduct their kind of Realpolitik, it’s fine, it’s for the benefit of the country, of Christian culture, or of Western civilization. Only the Germans are not permitted to think of their own interest or needs; if they do, they are either anti-Western or German neutralists. The insinuation that the German chiefs of staff sent Lenin to Petrograd because of their pro-Russian slant is pure nonsense and is not even worth arguing with. As a matter of fact, the German chiefs of staff wanted to seize the Russian empire’s most important provinces.

I could continue, but this should suffice, I think, to show that the author does not present historically substantiated facts, he just presents his own preconceptions about “German neutralism.”

There are several minor passages where he admits, though without actually saying so, that today’s Germans might think differently about their country’s situation from the way Americans, British, and French do. He talks, for example, of the “apparently insoluble East-West conflict,” of a “national question,” of the “need for a national identity.”

All right, these are historically documented facts. There is a German “national question.” But at the moment one sees little chance of finding an answer to this question (just as the Polish people face a “Communist question” which has no apparent answer).

It goes without saying that the author includes me as one of the main figures in his cast of characters advocating German neutralism. After all, my editorials are full of anti-American suspicions, full of sympathy for the Soviets, and full of poorly disguised anti-Semitism, as can be seen in the case of what the author calls the “Lebanon crisis.”

I do not want to respond to the last charge. But about the others let me say only this: I myself got my relatives out of Saxony and Thuringia when the Soviets marched in to replace the Americans; Der Spiegel owes its existence, as I do mine as a journalist, to the Americans and the British. (Although I am certainly not anti-youth, here I should like to inquire about the author’s age.)

Let me give a brief outline of my position.

Konrad Adenauer did not want reunification because, among other things, it could only have meant the reunification of a neutral Germany. (Incidentally, I was among the first who talked to him about the necessity of arming Germany against the Soviet Union; I was very young at the time.) Today I believe that, for lack of the necessary preconditions, there was no real possibility of a united Germany, armed but neutral. Adenauer, however, feared—and I know this from his special adviser Blankenhorn as well—that this is exactly what the Russians might have been prepared to concede.

I still believe that a neutral and moderately armed Germany would be of much greater service to world peace than that explosive bomb we are sitting on in Central Europe, not to mention vulnerable West Berlin. Such eminent people as Walter Lippmann and Sebastian Haffner also shared this opinion in those days.

It does not make much sense, however, to cry over spilled milk, particularly when the bottle might not have contained any at all. As it is today, a neutral and moderately armed Germany, i.e. a Germany consisting of the Federal Republic and the GDR, is inconceivable. And it is very doubtful whether it will ever become conceivable.

But why does a former German neutralist automatically have to be an enemy of the United States and the West? The July 12, 1955 U.S. government Intelligence Report No. 6933, made available only recently, dealt with “Problems and Policies of a Reunited Neutral Germany” and did not say anything different from what I said. Irrespective of the fact that this solution was already impossible even then, and that probably only Stalin could have carried it out, nevertheless, American experts on Germany held exactly the same opinion I voiced in 1952. Thus, the reunification of Germany was on President Eisenhower’s agenda when, on July 18, 1955, at the Geneva summit he met with Soviet Prime Minister Bulganin and also with Prime Minister Eden and Premier Faure, who certainly differed.

We won’t put up with anybody—we are too old and too rich—calling us anti-American simply because in 1952 we voiced an opinion which the Americans themselves voiced in 1955.

My sympathy for the Soviets goes so far that, in 1969, a mutual friendship conference in Leningrad almost failed because of my participation. Media from many countries have correspondents and offices in the GDR; Der Spiegel does not. Nevertheless people like David Gress ram the legend of Rapallo down our throats. A legend? Yes, a legend. That was the Germany of Gustav Stresemann, who based his politics on cooperating with the Western powers, being both a German patriot and a European liberal (unlike Stresemann, neither Der Spiegel nor I have ever advocated any change in Poland’s western border, created by war).

It is true, however, that unlike Adenauer, we recommended that one should at least talk about Stalin’s memorandum of 1952. But it was not talked about because of fear that it meant what it said. May-be it did, maybe it didn’t. Stalin in any case died.

Today, I cannot think of a neutralized and nuclear-free Germany, all the way to the Oder-Neisse border. What I can think of, however, is a war which would start just the same way previous wars started: “Si vis pacem para bellum” [If you want peace, prepare for war].

That’s why I strictly oppose the so-called Nachruestung [restoring the military balance]. Neither Pershing 2’s nor cruise missiles ought to be deployed in the Federal Republic. As things stand, this is obviously an anti-Western attitude, but I cannot help it.

As one can hear—and smell—at any defense colloquium in the West, Pershing 2’s on German soil do not serve the common interest of the Western countries. They serve—some say it, some don’t—to lower the risk for the United States, for Britain and France, and to raise our own risk. And should not a German be permitted to offer resistance?

I strictly oppose the idea that Germany not only should not achieve its national identity but, in the interest of America, Britain, and France, should not protect the security of its own people (for this I am called “nationalist”). Recently, we feel that we are being treated as a quasi-colony by the U. S. administration. It is not for us to decide whether our trade is harmful to the West—the U.S. administration wants to decide for us; it is not for us to decide which weapons are to be deployed on our small territory—although every single state in the U.S. is entitled to do this. If there really aren’t enough medium-range missiles, why not deploy them where they belong, i.e., at sea?

We should not forget that half of the politically interested Americans we know—and we know the whole spectrum of politically interested Americans—shares our opinion. Why, then, am I a “neutralist anti-American”? Why am I not permitted to be a patriot like Gustav Stresemann or John Wayne, so long as I am sensible, do not defend the Alamo, or start to massacre the Indians?

I should rather be a colonial American than somebody who has to live in Poland, or Russia, or even as a citizen of the GDR. But—and this the Americans should understand—this is a no-win alternative.

Rudolf Augstein
Publisher, Der Spiegel
Hamburg, West Germany



To the Editor:

The otherwise excellent and well-informed article by David Gress contains a minor error which I should like to correct. When it was run by Giselher Wirsing, the weekly Christ und Welt was not a Catholic but a conservative-leaning Protestant paper. It later changed its title to Deutsche Zeitung and a few years ago merged with the Catholic weekly Rheinischer Merkur, thus having to forgo a good deal of the more or less liberal (in the German meaning of the word), free-market, Atlantic, anti-clerical flair it once had. Pity, but the market sometimes swallows those who most strongly advocate its supremacy.

Gottfried Merz
Kiel, West Germany



David Gress writes:

The publisher of Der Spiegel is very exercised by what he considers evidence of my chaotic education and logical incoherence. In fact, he is so outraged by my charge against him of poorly disguised anti-Semitism that he “do[es] not want to respond.” Well, I will let the reader judge the political logic of a man who is capable of writing the following about the crisis in Lebanon: “The push toward Beirut is brutal, unjustifiable aggression”; the PLO’s terrorism is “no less justified” than was that of Begin in 1947; “in 1948 Israel was the aggressor”; Sharon is “the villain of the piece”; Major Haddad, Israel’s ally, is a “Quisling” (Der Spiegel, July 19, 1982). No mention is made of the murderous PLO shellings of Israeli settlements; no mention of the cynical exploitation by the PLO of Israeli attempts to limit the war by avoiding civilian targets—e.g., in the use by the PLO of UN schools and other installations as military command centers and ammunition dumps: no mention or attempted evaluation, in short, of the political and moral principles and practices of the two sides.

So far as Mr. Augstein’s attitude to East-West relations is concerned, let me cite only one example among many, notable less for its assertions than for its underlying assumptions: an editorial of January 31, 1983 which claims that the Soviets are “clearly weaker” than the West, that the Americans “don’t really want the zero solution” as an answer to the imbalance of theater nuclear forces, and that they want to “reduce their own risk” while increasing that of Germany, though for what purpose Mr. Augstein does not make clear. Two weeks earlier he had written that “no one in a position of responsibility in the U.S. government has any experience in foreign or security policy” and had poked fun at Kenneth Adelman for allegedly wanting “more missiles and fewer jobs” while denigrating his association with the “savage Kirkpatrick,” as he called her. The motif of these and other pieces is that the U.S. is defending a “policy driving toward nuclear war,” whereas “Soviet moves in the direction of sensible negotiated solutions” are routinely “rejected by Washington and, of course, by Bonn.”

With these views and the premises they imply, it is hardly relevant for Mr. Augstein to recall his undoubtedly creditable and courageous deeds in saving his family from the Soviet zone and protecting journalists in Eastern capitals filing stories inconvenient to the local despots. I am not questioning his personal courage, I am simply arguing that the consequences of his outlook are fatal to the very values that he, as a liberal, must profess.

As for his historical arguments: I fully agree that “for lack of the necessary preconditions, there was no real possibility of a united Germany, armed but neutral.” The relevant precondition, however, was not, as Mr. Augstein seems to believe, a different attitude on Adenauer’s part, but Western willingness to roll back Soviet power, which could most probably have been done in 1953-55. There was never any chance of the Soviet Union accepting a neutral Germany, despite Stalin’s famous “Note Campaign” of 1952. That campaign was designed, as we now know, precisely to create the myth in vulnerable West German circles that the Soviet Union would tolerate a neutral Germany and to create dissension on the issue of security—and in this aim it succeeded. Even a united socialist Germany would probably not have been acceptable to the Soviets, and certainly never a merely neutral Germany with democratic institutions and a free-market economy.

This brings me to the final question of national interest. I am sorry if my article gave the impression that I do not respect or support the German national interest. I believe absolutely that the division of Germany and Europe is a moral and political outrage and that no self-respecting politician or political commentator ought to accept it, much less rationalize it, as many have been doing now for over ten years. The reunification of Germany within a democratic constitutional state is the only legitimate German national interest. One force alone opposes this: the Soviet Union and its rag-tag of petty despots in the illegitimate and illegal regimes of Eastern Europe, including East Germany. Therefore, by strict political logic, defense of the German national interest implies resistance to Soviet power as well as the defense of the Federal Republic. There is, in fact, no German interest separate from that of Western security, and the argument that it is somehow “in the German interest” to reject the modernization of intermediate nuclear forces is either illogical or willfully dangerous. The modernization of those forces is both a symbolic and a material demonstration of the collective Western will to resist, and to redress, a situation in which the credibility of deterrence has become threatened; as such it is most certainly in the general Western as well as the specifically German interest to support it.

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