Victor Davis Hanson: Obama's Rendezvous with History

Roundup: Talking About History

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a classicist and an expert on the history of war. 

What seems sometimes incomprehensible in the contemporary world makes perfect sense—if we pause and study a little history.
In November 1918, had anyone in a starving Berlin predicted that, in twenty-two years, an ascendant Germany would control most of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Soviet border, he would have been considered unhinged. And if, in 1945, amid the ashes of the Ruhr, anyone had guessed that in sixty-five years, Germany would once more determine the future of Europe from the Atlantic to the Russian frontier, he would again have been written off as delusional. Yet today, cash-flush German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds the fate of the European Union in her palm—but in a far more secure fashion than an Adolf Hitler ever did.
Two inexplicable aspects of Germany’s current financial hegemony confuse us. One, how exactly has a once ruined Germany found itself back atop of Europe? Two, why are Germany’s debtors so angry at the country who is bailing them out, while Germans are privately incensed that they are being had —even as the German government publicly assures the indebted southern Europeans that they may be eligible for even more lines of credit? What sort of Kabuki dance is all that?
History again answers those questions.  We are witnessing only the latest manifestation of a centuries-old “German problem:” That German preeminence cannot be quite explained by rich natural resources or an exceptionally large population or territory. In Roman times, German tribes were never conquered by advancing legions. The Romans wisely stopped their northward encroachment at the Rhine and Danube rivers. Over centuries, the unassimilated Volk to the east and north claimed they were exceptional—and wary neighbors worried that they might be.
Since the 1871 political unification of German-speaking peoples, the German nation has been able to produce abundant goods and services at a clip not explicable by either population or resources. Only a hazier cultural notion of “German-ness” seems to explain the dynamism.
Other Europeans were always fearful and apprehensive of Germany’s energy. That anxiety was natural when German economic power so often translated into military aggression in the service of continental ambitions, as it did in 1870, 1914, and 1939.  Yet, because Germany suffered a series of self-induced disasters in the twentieth century—millions dead in World War I and II, Europe wrecked, the shame of engineering the Holocaust, the near-half-century division into two rival German states—Berlin remains wary about reacting to provocations that might alienate it from the world community. And that fact is equally well known to its apprehensive, but calculating neighbors.
Add all that complex history up, and it becomes understandable why Germany both can afford to subsidize Europe’s future, while accepting levels of criticism from its dependents that few other nations would endure—at least for now...

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