The rise of a German Europe began in 1914, failed twice, and has now ended in the victory of German power almost a century later. The Europe that Kaiser Wilhelm lost in 1918, and that Adolf Hitler destroyed in 1945, has at last been won by Chancellor Angela Merkel without firing a shot.
Or so it seems from European newspapers, which now refer bitterly to a “Fourth Reich” and arrogant new Nazi “Gauleiters” who dictate terms to their European subordinates. Popular cartoons depict Germans with stiff-arm salutes and swastikas, establishing new rules of behavior for supposedly inferior peoples.
Millions of terrified Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese, and other Europeans are pouring their savings into German banks at the rate of $15 billion a month. A thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the euro-rich Merkel now determines whether European countries will limp ahead with new German-backed loans or default and see their standard of living regress to that of a half-century ago.
A worried neighbor, France, as so often in the past, in schizophrenic fashion alternately lashes out at Britain for abandoning it and fawns on Germany to appease it. The worries in 1989 of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president François Mitterrand over German unification — that neither a new European Union nor an old NATO could quite rein in German power — have proved true.
How did the grand dream of a “new Europe” end just 20 years later in a German protectorate — especially given the not-so-subtle aim of the European Union to diffuse German ambitions through a continent-wide superstate?
Not by arms. Britain fights in wars all over the globe, from Libya to Iraq. France has the bomb. But Germany mostly stays within its borders — without a nuke, a single aircraft carrier, or a military base abroad.
Not by handouts. Germany poured almost $2 trillion of its own money into rebuilding an East Germany ruined by Communism — without help from others. To drive through southern Europe is to see new freeways, bridges, rail lines, stadiums, and airports financed by German banks or subsidized by the German government.
Not by population size. Somehow, 120 million Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese are begging some 80 million Germans to bail them out.
And not because of good fortune. Just 65 years ago, Berlin was flattened, Hamburg incinerated, and Munich a shell — in ways even Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, and Rome were not.
In truth, German character — so admired and feared in some 500 years of European literature and history — led to the present Germanization of Europe. These days we recoil at terms like “national character” that seem tainted by the nightmares of the past. But no politically correct exegesis offers better reasons why Detroit, booming in 1945, today looks as if it were bombed, and a bombed-out Berlin of 1945 now is booming.