The Great Divide

Working at our listening posts in West Berlin in the late ‘60s, we had a great opportunity to listen in on the private telephone calls of East German officials in the Central Committee. Granted the majority of the calls were the kind one would hear in any office environment: who’s sleeping with whom, what’s for dinner, meet you in the mountains this weekend, those kinds of things. Once in a while, however, we would pick up on some serious conversations from which we garnered our best intelligence and, as a side, we learned how fiercely the East German leadership believed in their socialist state.

There were those of us who felt that the differences between those Germans living in the East and those in the West would never be reconciled. There were also some among us who wondered aloud if that wouldn’t be a good thing. Keep in mind, we were working in Berlin only two decades after the second major worldwide conflagration precipitated by German actions had come to a conclusion. We weren’t so sure we wanted them to unite once again as they had after World War I.

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Otto von Bismarck

The militarist nature of Germany dates back to Otto von Bismarck, who spent most of the 19th Century uniting Germany into a powerful empire and building its military into a feared machine. It was during this period that Carl von Clausewitz rose to prominence as a German military theorist. He is probably best known for changing the definition of war for the leaders of the “new” Germany: “War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means.” This theory guided many of their actions through the first half of the 20th Century – with, obviously, devastating consequences.

Anyone who has read McCurry’s War will recognize this conversation on whether and how Germany should reunite once again plays a major role in the novel. Serving as a German linguist and living on the economy I met all too many Germans who longed for the “stability” of life under Hitler and felt that Germany had only lost the war because Hitler had gone mad. If the military had held sway, these people theorized, my German would serve me well in a Germanic Europe. McCurry ultimately came to the conclusion that reunification was a worthy goal. I was never very sure.

The book ends with the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989. Only time will tell whether this was a good thing. Keep in mind that the current Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has risen to the point where she is seen as the de facto leader of the European Union and is currently ranked as the world’s second most powerful person by the Forbes magazine. As we have seen in recent years, she isn’t afraid to flex her muscles.

While a citizen of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, Merkel was a member of the official, Socialist-led youth movement Free German Youth, and cut her teeth on politics in the East German government.

Merkel is wildly popular among the German people; according to The National, “more popular than any German chancellor since the Second World War.” A little disconcerting, huh? I’m only sayin…

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