The old German prob­lem

Past im­pe­rial chau­vin­ism has been re­placed by a post­mod­ern va­ri­ety

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son

Ger­mans do not seem too friendly to Amer­i­cans these days.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Har­vard Kennedy School study of global me­dia, 98 per­cent of German pub­lic tele­vi­sion news por­trays Pres­i­dent Trump neg­a­tively, mak­ing it by far the most anti-Trump me­dia in the world.

Yet the dis­dain pre­dates the elec­tion of Mr. Trump, who is roundly de­spised here for his un­apolo­getic anti-Euro­pean Union views.

In a 2015 Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey of Euro­pean coun­tries, Ger­many had the least fa­vor­able im­pres­sion of Amer­ica. Only about 50 per­cent of Ger­mans ex­pressed pos­i­tive feel­ings to­ward the for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama, who vis­ited here last week to lec­ture the world on di­ver­sity and tol­er­ance, never changed neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes much from the un­pop­u­lar Ge­orge W. Bush years.

Ger­mans ap­par­ently do not ap­pre­ci­ate that fel­low NATO mem­ber Amer­ica still sub­si­dizes their de­fense. Nor do they seem ap­pre­cia­tive of their huge trade sur­plus ($65 bil­lion) with the United States.

Ger­mans seem to have for­got­ten that Amer­i­can troops for 45 years kept the Sovi­ets from ab­sorb­ing all of Ger­many. The Berlin Air­lift is now pre­mod­ern his­tory.

Why, then, do con­fi­dent Ger­mans in­creas­ingly dis­like the United States?

It is com­pli­cated.

Since 1989, Ger­many has worked hard on its pos­tu­ni­fi­ca­tion im­age as a largely paci­fistic coun­try. It is ea­ger to teach other na­tions how to con­duct them­selves peace­fully and to pur­sue shared global goals such as re­duc­ing global warm­ing or open­ing na­tional bor­ders to the world’s refugees.

Im­plicit in Ger­many’s utopian mes­sage is that post­mod­ern Ger­mans know best what not to do — given their ter­ri­ble 20th cen­tury past, with the ag­gres­sions of im­pe­rial Ger­many and later the sav­agery and Holo­caust per­pet­u­ated by Hitler’s Third Re­ich.

Yet be­ing guilt-rid­den does not equate to be­ing hum­ble (never a German strong suit).

The same con­ceit of an eth­ni­cally, lin­guis­ti­cally and cul­tur­ally uni­form state that drew Ger­many into con­flict with the United States (whose late en­try into both World War I and World War II helped en­sure German de­feats) has never quite dis­ap­peared.

In­stead, German con­de­scen­sion merely has been up­dated.

In in­ter­na­tional fi­nance, Ger­many de facto runs the Euro­pean Union on a mer­can­tile sys­tem. It ma­nip­u­lates the euro as a weaker cur­rency to swarm ex­port mar­kets in a way that would have been dif­fi­cult with the older and higher-val­ued Deutsche mark.

When poorer south­ern Euro­pean coun­tries bought too many German goods on easy credit only to de­fault on pay­ing for them, the Ger­mans gave them in­formed but self-im­por­tant lec­tures on their need for Ger­manic thrift and in­dus­tri­ous­ness.

A sim­i­lar German hubris was true of re­cent im­mi­gra­tion into Europe.

Berlin of­ten virtue-sig­nals the world how morally su­pe­rior it now is, while also search­ing for ways to im­port cheap la­bor. One re­sult is German Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s dis­as­trous open­door pol­icy of wel­com­ing in mil­lions of un­vet­ted im­mi­grants from the war-rav­aged Mid­dle East at a time of height­ened wor­ries over ji­hadist ter­ror­ism.

But Ger­many did not just flood its own coun­try with im­pov­er­ished, hard-to-as­sim­i­late new­com­ers. It also dic­tated that other Euro­pean coun­tries do the same — whether they wished to or not.

In mat­ters of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and trade, Ger­many’s sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity oc­ca­sion­ally re­sulted in old-style cheat­ing. To in­crease im­ports of Volk­swa­gens into the U.S., the com­pany tried to cheat emis­sion tests and skirt ex­pen­sive reg­u­la­tions. Ger­many’s Deutsche Bank was caught money-laun­der­ing the prof­its of Rus­sians in Vladimir Putin’s crony ca­bal. And re­ports in­di­cate that to con­vince soc­cer’s in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ing body, FIFA, to award Ger­many the 2006 World Cup, German of­fi­cials re­sorted to bribery.

Ger­mans brag about their gen­er­ous so­cial wel­fare state and of­ten com­pare it to a sup­pos­edly cut­throat cap­i­tal­ist Amer­ica. But it is qui­eter about shirk­ing its NATO mem­ber­ship re­quire­ments for de­fense spend­ing to free up cash for its own cit­i­zens — and mak­ing mega-prof­its from ex­port­ing pricey lux­ury cars to a hy­per-cap­i­tal­ist Amer­i­can elite.

We should all feel grat­i­tude to Ger­many for turn­ing its un­de­ni­able tal­ent and en­er­gies from war to peace. Its huge econ­omy un­der­stand­ably makes Berlin in­flu­en­tial in the Euro­pean Union.

Yet if German haugh­ti­ness works on a de­pen­dent Europe, it cer­tainly does not al­ways im­press a wary Amer­ica.

The United States is still far larger, wealth­ier and more pow­er­ful, just as it was in 1918, 1945 and 1989. It does not nec­es­sar­ily lis­ten to German sanc­ti­mo­nious­ness on cli­mate change, im­mi­gra­tion, trade or the oc­ca­sional need for the use of force.

In­stead, Amer­ica more or less does what it believes to be in the best in­ter­ests of it­self and its al­lies.

Ger­mans find such Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dence cow­boy­ish and in­sub­or­di­nate — and be­lieve they can teach Amer­i­cans about the dan­gers of such mis­placed chau­vin­ism.

Amer­i­cans usu­ally ig­nore these weary ser­mons. In­stead, many of them be­lieve that when­ever Ger­many sticks to wor­ry­ing only about Ger­many, the world is a far safer place — both now and in the past.


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