From blitzkrieg to geldkrieg: A German tale of power

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During the late 1930s, leading up to the first couple of years of the World War II, around the time when Adolf Hitler was giving Neville Chamberlain, Charles de Gaulle et al a continuum of sleepless nights, German militaristic wherewithal was there for all to see, accept and fear. Hitler had all the strings of Europe firmly in his grasp, and was possibly a second thought on his Russian manoeuvre away from fulfilling his desire of cementing German hegemony over the continent. There are scores of arguments that can be put forward to try and pinpoint the causes of Hitler’s downfall in the Second World War, but regardless of the rationale the fact was that Germany had failed in its quest to overpower Europe – again – despite having the most daunting martial repertoire in Europe.
Germany, and Prussia before it, always had the most intimidating warring arsenal in Europe, but despite all the menace within its ranks, the nation was outdone by its adversaries, and forestalled en route to continental supremacy. What Germany had hankered after, but failed to realise in 1945, the current crop has conjured up – with a similarly scary cult figure at the helm. Angela Merkel has those very strings that were snatched from Hitler’s grasps by The Allies, but present day Germany has not achieved its current position by unrelenting warfare, but by diplomacy and fiscal management that the rest of Europe can only envy. While they had failed to win the battle of blitzkriegs at the time, the Germans are in the driving seat in the geldkrieg – the money war.
Berlin is now the nerve centre of Europe; and the future of the continent lies in German hands – there are no two ways about either fact. They alone can bailout Greece, while the rest of the Who’s Who in the eurozone – including France – have lost their triple-A rating. The new rules that David Cameron vetoed in December, but could not stop, connote that Germany would be checking the budgets of 16 fellow eurozone members – like ‘a teacher marking the homework of students’. Even so, in spite of this rise and the ever so conspicuous presence at the helm of European matters, there is no palpable feel of festivity brimming out of Germany with regards to this turnaround in fortunes. Like Jonathan Freedland pointed out in his column a couple of days back, if it would’ve had been Nicolas Sarkozy in Merkel’s position, we’d never hear the end of it. And imagining Cameron in a similar scenario is a terrifying prospect for anyone who has even the slightest of acquaintances with the British media’s tendency of waxing lyrical centered round an ever-so-obvious bias, with logic exhaustively thrown out of the window. Hence, one begs the question: where are the German trumpets?
One possible reason for Berlin downplaying its position could be the immediate ‘responsibility’ that is the logical corollary of this dominance – the task of bailing out Greece. Considering the fact that the Greek economy is about the volume of Hessen, it is quite a manageable exercise. The other, and the more plausible, reason for this relative hush, as expounded by quite a few noises in the country and in the continent, is the shadow of the German past. The history of a nation that has blown its lead, so to speak throughout the past, by over-the-top displays of might and by showcasing war as their go-to play whenever the prospect of power looms. The Germans might just have qualms over misusing this new found clout.
Horst Kohler, famously – or infamously if you will – had to resign from the presidency for a statement, that for many countries is a daily Presidential House rhetoric, when he stated that sometimes ‘military force is needed to protect the country’s economic interest’. Similarly a German defence minister’s refusal to use the word ‘war’ for German exploits in Afghanistan, was another awkward manifestation of the nation frowning upon the possibility of being lured into aggression. And a domineering position connotes the possibility of hostility – few nations understand the concept better than Germany.
This wariness regarding its own might is what ensures that Berlin is at an intriguing crossroads. The overwhelming popularity of Merkel – a prudent, low-key figure – is the vindication of what the Germans want: stability, durability and not an iota of conflict. They want a united Europe, not merely for trade reasons or for fiscal prosperity; but the Germans need a European identity to ensure that they steer clear of aggression of all kith and kin. Maybe it’s best for the zone that it’s the country that needs continental togetherness the most, which is in the most commanding position. For it is impossible to know the menace of a powerful Germany that does not give a rabbit about Europe’s unity; and it’s pretty clear that the Germans don’t want to find that out.

The writer is Sub-Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be reached at [email protected]

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