Friday, April 27, 2012

Opposition to German Reunification

The reunification of Germany in 1990 is seen as one of the momentous events in German history, but to some at the time it was not as welcomed as one may have imagined. As we have seen in the Carstens-Wickham's article, Gender in Cartons of German Unification , some in East Germany were not particularly looking forward to reuniting with West Germany. They instead looked to reforming the Communist Government already in place in the East with one that might allow for more liberties, while still keeping the socialist ideals alive.  Looking back, such reaction should not be so surprising considering the differences between East and West Germany, both in economic and ideological terms. People in East Germany had been taught all their lives that West Germany and their western allies were the Capitalist aggressors seeking to destroy their way of life either militarily or economically. Also while in East Germany, the luxuries were many times more expensive than in West Germany, the necessary goods (i.e food) were cheaper in East Germany due to being heavily subsidized by the Government. Thus after Reunification, people in East Germany all of sudden found themselves paying more for the basic good that used to get really cheap. As mentioned by Carstens-Wickham's,  all of these factors helped to contribute to what was known ostologia(combination of east in German and nostalgia) in which some in the former DDR wished they were back in the times when the DDR actually existed.  Also opposition against reunification existed among some people in both East and West Germany, based on the point of view which stated that since West Germany was so much stronger economically that it was basically exploiting  East Germany by  reuniting as quickly as it did. West Germany thus was the only who would profit from such an arrangement since it would take over the former DDR economy and keeping much of the benefits for themselves.

     Not only were some Germans skeptical of a reunified German, outsiders too mounted some opposition against a reunified Germany. Most notably France and Great Britain were slightly weary that a unified Germany would once again rise to shake the balance of Power in Europe and it would eventually seek to regain some of its losses from both World Wars. The French, however realized their goals of eventually creating a  more united European economy with a common currency (the eventual European Union) would be better served by allowing a strong Unified Germany to prosper once more. Great Britain eventually gave in since they saw that their fears were based on more historic facts, then actual modern politics, since it seem very unlikely Germany would harbor such ambitions anymore.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Creation of Two Germanies

        After Germany's loss in the Second great War, the nation stood in its own ruins, its future uncertain. The victorious allies divided the country among themselves into occupation zones. The western Allies took the western part of Germany, dividing it into the American, British and French Zones, while the Soviets took the Eastern half of the country. The former German Capital, Berlin, was partitioned in a similar manner. The unified Germany  Bismarck had worked so hard to unite just 70 years earlier was no more. In 1949 the American, British and French Zones would unite and become the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the soviet zone becoming the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). With the creation of these two new German States, the hopes of those Germans who wished to see Germany reunited were dashed for the next 40 years. Each Germany had a different type of Government on two different sides of the political system. One was more democratic and its citizens enjoyed more freedoms economically and in daily life. The other was staunchly communist, with its citizens living a more repressed existence under the state police (Statsi) and their Government. However different these two Germanys might have been,  they both claimed to be the rightful and legitimate German State.

             Who though is to blame for the division of Germany? The answer may be provided by several different factors. The first factor is the Soviet Union's desire to form a German State that would be friendly to them and have no desire to invade their country once more. This combined with  the Soviet Union's belief that they had fought and defeated the brunt of the German Wehrmacht and thus deserved to be rewarded with greater reparations from their eastern occupation zone assured that Germany was to become divided in the immediate aftermath of the war. Politicians within the two Germanies also responsible for the division of Germany as each considered the other to be "illegitimate" and each had no intentions of reaching a common ground in which would allow for Germany to unified under a single government. The last and arguably the most important factor that kept the two Germanies divided is what West and East Germany represented to the two opposing sides in the Cold War. It was essentially a microcosm of the cold war, with West Germany representing capitalism, democracy and other ideals of the Western World, and East Germany representing the communist ideals of the Soviet Union and its Allies. At times during the division of Germany did both sides often come close to war, including the Soviet blockade of Berlin and the subsequent Airlift by the Western Allies, and the 1961 Berlin Crisis where American Tanks and Soviets Tanks literally faced off in Berlin but no shots were fired. Neither side wanted or though they could afford to lose the whole of Germany to other side and as a result Germany was to remain divided

Friday, March 30, 2012

Neighbor's betrayal

To the modern observer it may seem mind-boggling how a nation's population may have turned a blind eye towards atrocities being committed against members of their own, but that's what ended up happening for 12 years in Nazi Germany. Great numbers of the Germans agreed and helped contribute to the prosecution of their Jewish neighbors by the Nazis. The Gestapo was a relatively small force, with only about 50 to 100 agents in major cities like Düsseldorf and Hamburg. They relied heavily on denunciations by the local population to arrest those people who were deemed undesirable.  Why though, would the average citizens of a modern and "civilized" nation have contributed to the eradication of a segment of their own population? The answer, as we discussed in class, is more complex than what is normally perceived. The most accepted perception is that those Germans who did denounce their Jewish neighbors to the authorities were doing so because they believed in the Nazi ideology of Anti-Semitism. Certainly, it is possible that the majority of Germans did have anti-Semitic views and thus had no trouble denouncing other Jews they knew.  However a great portion of the denouncements were because of a vendetta and/or personal gain. In this case the denouncer could be a disgruntled business owner upset over the threat of competition that a Jewish business may provide.
Nazi Prosecution of a Jewish Business 
            Did the denouncer know what was going to happen to their Jewish neighbor they denounced? It is almost certain they knew the denounced was in for a nightmarish experienced and may even have faced death at the hands of the Nazis. However they refused to believe this reality and instead convinced themselves of ideas such as that their Jewish neighbors were being relocated to other places outside the Reich where they would not be a “threat” to them.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Rise of National Socialism

Towards the end of the 1920's, just when it seemed the German economy had begun to recover from mass hyper-inflation earlier in the decade, financial disaster struck once more as the American Stock Market Crashed. Germany felt the repercussions of Stock Market Crash especially hard because its economy well-being depended on short-term loans from the United States. Once these loans were recalled, Germany was devastated. Unemployment went from 8.5 percent in 1929 to 14 percent in 1930, to 21.9 percent in 1931, and, at its peak, to 29.9 percent in 1932. It was these conditions in which the Nazis were able to exploit for their own advantage. Skilled Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels launched an intensive media campaign that ceaselessly expounded a few simple notions until even the dullest voter knew Hitler's basic program. The party's program was broad and general enough to appeal to many unemployed people, farmers, white-collar workers, members of the middle class who had been hurt by the Depression or had lost status since the end of World War I, and young people eager to dedicate themselves to nationalist ideals. The party blamed the Treaty of Versailles and reparations for the developing crisis. Nazi propaganda attacked the Weimar political system, the "November criminals," Marxists, internationalists, and Jews. Besides promising a solution to the economic crisis, the Nazi offered the German people a sense of national pride and the promise of restored order.
Nazi Rally 
    Such tactics by the Nazis yield great results in the elections that were to come in the first part of the 1930's. Three elections (in September 1930, in July 1932, and in November 1932) were held between the onset of the Depression and Hitler's appointment as chancellor in January 1933.In each the Nazis were able to gain a greater share of Reichstag seats, reaching a point where they outnumber any other party. However it must be noted that the ideas the Nazis put out the German public such as restoring German Prestige in the World Stage,  and their hatred of communists, Jews, and other Untermenschen was not by any means new to German Society, as these ideas began to surface before the turn of the 20th century and earlier. It was the masterful job of the Nazis to exploit and magnify these issues to an eager and desperate German population which arguably had gone through more hardships than a couple of previous generations combined that led to votes for the Nazis. Of course it did not hurt the Nazis that they had as Hitler as Führer, the most charismatic and strongest leader since von Bismarck. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who is to Blame for the Great War?

As David Kaiser points out in his article Germany and the Origins of the First World War, some historians such as Fritz Fischer assign blame for the start of World War I squarely on Germany. According to this argument Germany had designed to start a war because it would quell the domestic social unrest that was going on back home. But as Kaiser points out this is a misconception because most of the German leadership (as disunified as they may have been in other issues) preferred  to keep Germany out of War if they could because they knew that a war would only cause more internal social problems than it actually would solve. The conservatives in Germany especially realized this because they knew that the conclusion of a war tends to bring on domestic progressive changes, no matter if it results in victory or defeat. However that does not mean that such groups as the conservatives and even the central party did not see the need for Germany to try to expand its colonial reach, and build up its military, specifically the navy, all in the name of German prestige. But even then, those in command such as Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz( who is credit with the massive buildup of the German Imperial Navy) did not believe that Germany should go to war to achieve the prestige it so desired. As chancellor Bernhard von Bülow viewed it, Germany was well off as long as there was a perception that it was doing something to be a major world power. The problem with Bülow's view is that other world power such as Great Britain took this perception of Germany as increasing world power as a major threat to their interests. Germany's growing and increasingly more powerful Imperial Navy posed to the British the greatest threat of all to their superiority of the world's seas. This in turn would cause an arms race between the two navies which was also partially to blame for the start of the war. 
    This being said, I would like to add to Kaiser's argument that Germany did not start the war intentionally to quell internal social unrest because to propose such an argument ignores the fact that the First World war was culmination of different events that were not just concentrated in Germany or in western Europe. World War I had been ignited by Austria-Hungry's diverse empire crumbling apart, and Russia casting an eye towards the Balkan territories as the Ottoman empire slowly disintegrated just as much as it had been ignited by Germany's rise in militarism and world power. In other words to say Germany had caused World War I is to forget that the war was truly global and more than just a western Europe conflict.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bielefeld's Interpretation of German history.

Reading the different interpretations of how German history progressed through the 19th century and early 20th century, I find that some interpretations in my mind are over simplistic in their approach. The one that sticks out to me the most is the Bielefeld interpretation by Hans- Ulrich Wehler. While I do agree with the assessment that  the autocrats in Germany still held the majority of the political power and did everything to uphold  this poltical system, I do think that it fails to take into account the mass poltics equation that Blackbourn and Eley describe. I also feel that by making no mention of the geographical situation that Germany faced after becoming a unified State in 1871, the Bielefeld interpretation misses the fact that Bismarck had it in his best interest that Germany not go to war, because he understood better than most that a two front war would prove devastating to Germany. Wehler makes the argument that Bismarck would be willing to stir up conflict as his foreign policy if it meant that he would keep the masses distracted from any domestic issues at hand. Obviously these two theories contradict each other and to me the geographical theory makes more sense since Bismarck had actively sought to make treaties to prevent this two war front. Bismarck had earlier sought out trouble with other nations such as France and Austria, but most of this was before he helped unify Germany, and even then it was only done to create a unity among the various German States.
                The Point that the Bielefeld that I am the most skeptical though, is about how he says that the failure of the liberals in the 1948 revolution and beyond is at least partially to blame for why the Nazis were able to rise to power in the 1930’s. This is oversimplifying history and especially the causes of the rise of the Nazis in Germany.   It is interesting to ask the question of had the Germans won the First World War and Germany not have suffered through the economic hardships of the 1920s on top of being humiliated by the victorious Allied Powers, would the population been so willing to accept a call to the return of the past glories the Nazi’s offered? Saying yes, would mean that liberalism in Germany had indeed failed during the crucial period after Germany had become unified.  Depending on what your answer maybe, it will help to define if you agree with the Bielefeld theory or not. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bismark and German Unification

Proclamation of the German Empire in the Palace of Versailles.

von Bismarck

After the 1848 revolution, it appeared as if German Unification was reached when the Frankfurt Parliament offered the crown to the King of Prussia, but Frederick William's refusal delayed such dreams. Prussia had a number of significant advantages. Prussia, thanks to the Zollverein had achieved economic preeminence over the other member states. Prussia also achieved a significant measure of Industrialization. Most importantly, Prussia had one of the most remarkable statesmen of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck. When William I took the throne of Prussia in 1861, he made the most important decision for German unification when he named Bismarck as his Prime Minister. Bismarck was a member of Junker who was known for his arch-conservative views. Bismarck delivered his famous "Blood and Iron" speech . According to Bismarck, “Germany is not looking to Prussia's liberalism but to her power. The great questions of our time will not be decided by speeches and majority resolutions, that was the mistake of 1848-9, but by Iron and Blood." Bismarck needed to modernize the Prussian army by giving them the latest weapons. In 1864, he entered an alliance with Austria against Denmark, over the territories of Schleswig and Holstein. Schleswig came under Prussian control, while Holstein came under Austrian Control. His first stage of the plan was to start a war with Austria. In 1866 after securing an alliance with Italy and securing a promise of non-participation from the French , Prussia then under the orders of the Bismark declared war on Austria, citing disputes over Holstein as a reason for the attack. Prussian forces brought upon the defeat of Austria in a matter of 7 weeks. Bismarck wisely treated Austria with leniency to keep them out of the next stage of his plan, war with France. After the defeat of Austria he annexed the small German states in the north that supported Austria. Other German states were convinced to join Prussia in the creation of the North German Confederation. The states of southern Germany concluded a military alliance with Prussia in case of French aggression. In 1870, Bismarck provoked war with France. Bismarck made it to seem as if France was the outward aggressor in a conflict that began when a prince, who was a kinsman of the Prussian King (Hohenzollern) was invited to take the throne of Spain. To Napoleon III, the thought of having Hohenzollerns on two fronts was too much to bear. Napoleon III thought he had won when he removed the name of his cousin for heir apparent to the Spanish throne. Yet Bismarck who wanted war, rewrote the "Ems Dispatch" a telegram sent by the Prussian King to Bismarck informing him of what had happened between the King and the French ambassador, to make it look like as if the King had insulted France. The French were so angered that Napoleon III declared war on Prussia. At Sedan, France, the "finest army in the world" was defeated by Prussia. On January 18,1871, William I was proclaimed German Emperor in the Palace of Versailles and thus German  Unification was complete.