Why Germany should be proud

25th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

Germany's history once meant that Germans saying they were proud of their country was somehow linked to the nation's disastrous nationalist past. But Andrew McCathie argues that Iraq and a younger generation are breaking that taboo.

For decades following World War II Germans rarely expressed pride in their country, such was their sense of guilt and misgiving over the kind of fatal nationalism which had led them into two horrific wars.

But the emergence of a new generation in positions of power and the steady stream of distressing news out of Iraq appear to be helping to break what had become one of the country's post-war taboos.

Indeed, in the wake of the Germany’s staunch opposition to the reckless war in Iraq, its commitment to human rights, its rejection of nuclear testing in the Pacific, its deep sense of pacifism and strong environmental convictions, means it has become almost fashionable for Germans to say they are proud of their nation.

The result has been a change in how Germany sees its role in world affairs. Germans might be prone to bouts of negativism and self-criticism, but if there is a sense of gloom about how Germany's economy is fairing and the need to roll back its once generous welfare state, this does not seem to extend to the nation's current stance on international issues. Germans think they have as much to offer in dealing with global questions as other nations.

It should also be said that whatever the worries about how the current round of welfare changes will impact on Germany's social state, Germans should also be proud of the relatively classless and stable society they have created since the end of the Second World War.  

Of course, Germans are quite open-minded and fair - and have been for years. They tend not to push their weight around, as the British tabloid press, for example, often tries to claim.

*quote1*But it was only a few years ago, when Germans were still very anxious about being seeing to play a prominent role on the world stage, that the nation preferred to try to influence global affairs either behind the scenes or through leading international institutions such as the United Nations or the European Union.

As recently as the mid-1990’s former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had to remind ex-US President Bill Clinton of Germany’s reluctance to take a prominent position in international affairs when Washington sought to promote Germany as the bridge between Moscow and the west. 
But the Iraq war appears to be helping to shape a new-found confidence in Germany. It has also triggered a change in the German view of transatlantic alliance, with the German government and Germans much more prepared to take the US to task and to criticise Washington.  

There is now also widespread acceptance of the campaign launched by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for Germany to be given a seat on the United Nations' Security Council, so as to give Berlin more of a chance to place its stamp on key international issues.

This has coincided with others changes which have helped to mould the Germans' view of their nation's international position. German troops have now been dispatched to non-NATO conflict zones, consequently breaking another post-war taboo about sending the nation's soldiers to other parts of the world.

*quote2*It was once said that Germany's past meant that it could never become involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer helped to spearhead a greater role for the European Union in the search for peace in the Middle East. Moreover, Berlin is now considered to be a key European ally of Israel.  

As is often the case, there is also a monetary factor.

The enormous cost involved in sweeping away more than four decades of Stalinism in the nation's former communist eastern half, combined with the constraints imposed on Germany's finances by its membership of the eurozone's fiscal pact, means that Berlin can no longer simply buy its way out of taking a stance, as was the case in the Gulf War of 14 years ago.

But other forces have been at work. It is now also most six decades since the horrors of Hitler's 1,000 year Reich and Second World War came to an end, and a new generation is emerging to take on leading positions in the country.

There is no question that Germany is backing away from its sense of guilt about the war and the Third Reich.
However, the length of the time since Nazism collapsed and the war ended - along with Germany's official recognition of its wartime crimes - means that many Germans, especially younger ones, feel that the kind of attacks levelled at their country in the past are no longer valid.

Also marking out these changes, as the country prepares for the run-up to the 60th anniversary of end of war and the liberation of Hitler's concentration camps, is a growing tendency for Germans to question a whole range of aspects of the war and the nation's Nazi past.

Indeed, part of the country's new sense of confidence about its position on the world stage has been accompanied by an interest in seeing the war and all its misery from a German perceptive, rather than from an exclusively British or US standpoint.

25 November 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: German news, Germany and Iraq, German history

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