Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.
Before Germany’s reunification in 1871, the central German foreign policy debate was how to achieve it — what was called the “German question.” Leftists and revolutionaries favored a republican Großdeutschland including Catholic Austria. Liberals and conservatives pointed out that its Habsburg monarchy, which would likely have endured, even in a limited, constitutional role, also ruled over non-Germans, including Croats, Hungarians, Italians, Romanians and Slovaks. Such a “Greater Germany” would not be a nation state and inherently unstable. They favored a Kleindeutschland instead, one that was dominated by Protestant Prussia.
Under the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the “Lesser German solution” was pursued. Bismarck was a hardened aristocrat with little regard for democracy and a proponent of realpolitik. He alternately allied with Austria, waged war on Austria, waged war on France, allied again with Austria as well as Russia, broke with Russia, allied with Italy and mended fences with Russia to preserve a favorable balance of power in Europe and prevent a Franco-Russian alliance from rising against Germany.
The country’s third and last emperor, Wilhelm II, abandoned Bismarck’s balance of power policies in favor of expansionism. He fired the “Iron Chancellor” and failed to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia that had guaranteed neutrality in case either side would engage in a war with a third party. Like Hitler later, Wilhelm favored an alliance with Britain instead to prepare for a civilization struggle he foresaw between Teutons and Slavs. Read more “Between East and West: Germany’s Foreign Policy Traditions”
German foreign policy has long been rather subdued and passive compared to other countries of similar economic power. Germany even drew open criticism and ridicule when it refused to support a NATO military intervention in Libya in 2011. Part of this obviously stems from the country’s history, especially the Second World War. After more than three generations, Germans still usually do not display patriotism like other peoples do, if at all. There are no military parades on October 3, when Germany celebrates its reunification, and the display of German flags during sports celebrations is something that has only occurred on a large scale since the 2006 FIFA World Cup. But this has less to do with German history by now and more with the fact that Germans alive today have simply never known things to be different.
Some of the people born in the late 1980s and later by now also have children and they grew up in a unified Germany, know the Berlin Wall only from the history books and to most of them “Nazi” means “skinhead,” not “Hitler.”
Yet they could hardly imagine German armed forces going out on a large combat mission like the American and British did in Afghanistan or the French in Africa. It’s something Germany simply does not do.
The habit formed and ingrained itself over generations. After World War II, Germany did not want to be perceived as a warmonger. Foreign policy, and indeed domestic policy, was made according to pacifistic standards. It was primarily geared toward peaceful relations, especially trade relations, with other European Union and NATO member states.
This attitude is also reflected in Germany’s military spending. Equivalent to 1.4 percent of the gross domestic product, it is significantly lower than that of other G7 states. France spends the equivalent of 2.3 percent of its annual economic output on defense; Britain 2.5 percent and the United States 4.4 percent.
Anti-militarism is so prevalent in Germany that Germans who look to the armed forces as a career opportunity often have to cope with ridicule and sometimes even hostility from their peers. The army is not a part of everyday life but rather shunned and hidden away. While this has not degraded the quality of military hardware produced in Germany, it has sapped the fighting spirit of the Bundeswehr. Military leaders also complain about a lack of moral support from the population for soldiers’ efforts.
But these are just symptoms of the problem. Today’s political leaders are of a generation that grew up with the shame of Nazism in the West and the specter of Stalinism and constant government surveillance in the East. Neither side was allowed to do anything decisive without approval from either Washington or Moscow.
Youngers Germans are beginning to shed these old habits and have at least started to celebrate football and other national events with massive flag displays. But political power still rests with the generation of their parents and grandparents and they are reluctant, to say the least, to play a prominent role in world affairs, even alongside their NATO allies.
Also, and this should also not be underestimated, enough of the Nazi specter remains to remind those who grew up in postwar Germany that the “Once a Nazi, always a Nazi” card can and will still be played against them. A British publication famously proclaimed after a German pope was elected, “From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi.” And during negotiations with Greece at the height of the European sovereign debt crisis, when Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed her heavy handed austerity policies, Greek publications were rife with Hitler comparisons. Whenever Germany shows a sign of strength or leadership, someone, somewhere will play on old anti-German sentiments.
So in order for Germany to change its foreign policy, three things have to change.
The political leadership has to be willing to act decisively and provide adequate funding for missions the Bundeswehr is now simply not equipped to carry out.
Germany’s attitude toward its armed forces has to come closer to the one displayed by its European neighbors, in particular Britain and France.
And the playing of the Nazi card by popular news outlets in allied countries has to stop. As long as they are regularly reminded that even their closest allies still harbor resentments — when those same allies urge them to shoulder more of the responsibility for keeping the world safe — Germans will be very reluctant to deviate from the save and successful path they have trotted for the last seventy years.
Europe had been overrun by Hitler’s war machine; Hideki Tōjō’s Japan was like a wild bull running over Asia while the American economy remain mired in recession. The year was 1941 and the only two men able to stop the Nazi advance in Europe were Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Together, they would not have been able to get anywhere near Berlin, however.
In Asia, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong reconciled to fight the Japanese while Mahatma Gandhi in India supported the British colonial government morally but not with arms. The Axis powers, in short, were on the march and we would be living in a very different world today if it weren’t for one Japanese admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto. Read more “The Day the Sleeping Giant Was Awakened”
How to kill two birds with a single stone? Nearly all policymakers are once faced with this dilemma and United States President Barack Obama is no exception. With war and recession looming, he may look up to one of his predecessors whom he particularly admires. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democratic Party monument, was also a master political strategist. His never say die attitude allowed Roosevelt to launch one of the most successful political careers in American history despite a long and personal struggle with polio.
Seventy years ago, FDR’s master strategy was in full display. Roosevelt was a pragmatist as well as a realist. He understood, unlike one of his heroes, Woodrow Wilson, that the average American was not particularly inclined to sacrifice his or her life fighting wars overseas in Asia or Europe, separated from the United States by the vast Pacific and Atlantic Oceans which had served to shelter the young nation from foreign aggression. He needed a master strategy to convince his people that their fate and prosperity was linked to conflict on other continents.
Today, 69 years ago today, the Chicago Tribune carried a front page story about the American military’s Rainbow 5 plan. It envisaged attacks against German occupied Europe with up to ten million American troops as well action in the Pacific against the Empire of Japan. Rainbow 5 was one of several plans devised for American involvement in what would become World War II. It was leaked a mere four days ahead of the Japanese attack on the American naval station in Hawaii under the title “FDR’s War Plans.”
Many years before the Rainbow 5 plans were drafted, American strategists understood that their country would one day have to play a greater role in international relations, including Europe and colonized Asia. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 was a major push in this direction. The United States have since been able to organize swift naval action in both the Atlantic and the Pacific and from its bases in the Philippines, the US Navy can operate in the Indian Ocean region as well.
On the eve of World War II however support for American involvement in what was largely considered to be a European war was scarce. Many opposition lawmakers favored isolationism instead of engagement. War plans as Rainbow 5 would never have been ratified by Congress if it weren’t for the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. Pearl Harbor changed world history — and some suggest that it wasn’t by accident.
Robert Stinnett, a former US sailor, claims in Day of Deceit (1999) that the Roosevelt Administration provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, possibly in order to distract attention from its failure to end the Great Depression. If the White House knew that an attack against the United States was imminent, might it have been responsible for the leak of Rainbow 5?
The Chicago Tribune was a strong Republican newspaper at the time, funded by anti-war activists. FDR had to try to win their support to secure his third term as president in 1940. He famously promised not to send American “boys” to fight in “any foreign war” but if America itself was under attack, that would certainly have changed the public sentiment.
From what we know of Obama so far, he certainly resembles Roosevelt’s cool and stress free demeanor. Is there a chance that WikiLeaks’ release of confidential American embassy cables was organized just as the release of FDR’s war plans was? Only history will tell us.
In the meantime, the bigger lesson one needs to learn is never to count out the Yankees. And let us not forget the words of the late Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom who observed that Americans “can always be counted on to do the right thing — after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”