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Charles Krauthammer on International Fears of Unification (March 26, 1990)

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One cannot definitively disprove this fear. How does one prove the negative proposition that Germans do not suffer from some peculiar character defect that inclines them toward expansion and aggression? One can only say that invoking national character as an explanatory principle or predictive device should always be cause for skepticism. The psychological interpretation of nations is even more unreliable than the psychological interpretation of individuals, itself a notoriously unreliable enterprise. By this reckoning, how do we account for the fact that the French disposition toward romantic expansionism, which took them all the way to Moscow in 1812, was abruptly banished in 1815?

We account for it as the triumph of history over “character.” As Daniel Pipes says, there is no cure for total ambition quite like total defeat. Before there was a German problem, there was the French problem. Waterloo was its solution. Who worries about French national character now? There is no certainty, of course, that the German problem was solved in 1945 as surely as the French problem was solved in 1815. But the last forty years of German history cannot be so easily dismissed. (And security guarantees, such as a continued American presence on the continent, should provide sufficient reassurance until the new Germany has the time to demonstrate that it is indeed heir to the Federal Republic and not to more archaic German forms.)


The more realistic fear of the new Germany is economic and, as a result, cultural. As Rita Klimová, the new Czech ambassador to the United States, said recently, “The German-speaking world” – by which she meant the two Germanys and Austria – “will now achieve what the Hapsburgs, Bismarck, and Hitler failed to achieve: the Germanization of Central Europe.” She added, “Through peaceful and laudable means, of course. And by the logic of commerce rather than conquest.” Her point was clear. The dynamism of German commerce is already being felt in the weak economies of Eastern Europe. Czech schools, she explained, had just abolished Russian as the second language. The only question now was whether the new second language would be English or German. She urged the United States to send English teachers.

Eastern Europe fears outright domination by the German dynamo. Western Europe – Britain and France in particular – fear eclipse. This will be an economy of 80 million people producing fully forty percent of the European Community’s gross domestic product. As the economic powerhouse of the continent, it will dictate policy to its neighbors even more powerfully than it does today.

One can understand the origin of these fears without granting them undue respect. The fear of being outcompeted by a peaceful commercial republic operating on fairly equal terms is a fear of which a nation ought not be proud. It characterizes, for example, the rather hysterical and occasionally racist American hostility toward Japan. German economic domination of the continent may be an injury to the pride of the British and the French. And the spread of German automobile manuals may be unwelcome to Czechs and Poles. But neither development constitutes a menace to anyone’s standard of living (in market systems, prosperity is not a zero-sum game), or a threat to anyone’s national existence, or an argument against German reunification.

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