Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Old German Problem

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

Germany’s negative attitude toward the U.S. long predates the rise of Trump.

Berlin — Germans do not seem too friendly to Americans these days.

According to a recent Harvard Kennedy School study of global media, 98 percent of German public television news portrays President Donald Trump negatively, making it by far the most anti-Trump media in the world.

Yet the disdain predates the election of Trump, who is roundly despised here for his unapologetic anti–European Union views.

In a 2015 Pew Research Center survey of European countries, Germany had the least favorable impression of America. Only about 50 percent of Germans expressed positive feelings toward the U.S. Former president Barack Obama, who visited here last week to lecture the world on diversity and tolerance, never changed negative attitudes much from the unpopular George W. Bush years.

Germans apparently do not appreciate that fellow NATO member America still subsidizes their defense. Nor do they seem appreciative of their huge trade surplus ($65 billion) with the United States.

Germans seem to have forgotten that American troops for 45 years kept the Soviets from absorbing all of Germany. The Berlin Airlift is now premodern history.

Why, then, do confident Germans increasingly dislike the United States?

It is complicated.

Since 1989, Germany has worked hard on its post-unification image as a largely pacifistic country. It is eager to teach other nations how to conduct themselves peacefully and to pursue shared global goals such as reducing global warming or opening national borders to the world’s refugees.

Implicit in Germany’s utopian message is that postmodern Germans know best what not to do — given their terrible 20th-century past, with the aggressions of imperial Germany and later the savagery and Holocaust perpetuated by Hitler’s Third Reich.

Yet being guilt-ridden does not equate to being humble (never a German strong suit).

The same conceit of an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally uniform state that drew Germany into conflict with the U.S. (whose late entry into both World War I and World War II helped ensure German defeats) has never quite disappeared.

Instead, German condescension merely has been updated.

In international finance, Germany de facto runs the European Union on a mercantile system. It manipulates the euro as a weaker currency to swarm export markets in a way that would have been difficult with the older and higher-valued Deutsche mark.

When poorer southern European countries bought too many German goods on easy credit only to default on paying for them, the Germans gave them informed but self-important lectures on their need for Germanic thrift and industriousness.

A similar German hubris was true of recent immigration into Europe.

Berlin often virtue-signals the world how morally superior it now is, while also searching for ways to import cheap labor. One result is German chancellor Angela Merkel’s disastrous open-door policy of welcoming in millions of unvetted immigrants from the war-ravaged Middle East at a time of heightened worries over jihadist terrorism.

But Germany did not just flood its own country with impoverished, hard-to-assimilate newcomers. It also dictated that other European countries do the same — whether they wished to or not.

In matters of international relations and trade, Germany’s sense of superiority occasionally resulted in old-style cheating. To increase imports of Volkswagens into the U.S., the company tried to cheat emission tests to skirt expensive regulations. Germany’s Deutsche Bank was caught money-laundering the profits of Russians in Vladimir Putin’s crony cabal. And reports indicate that to convince soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, to award Germany the 2006 World Cup, German officials resorted to bribery.

Germans brag about their generous social-welfare state and often compare it to a supposedly cutthroat capitalist America. But it is quieter about shirking its NATO membership requirements for defense spending to free up cash for its own citizens — and making mega-profits from exporting pricey luxury cars to a hyper-capitalist American elite.

We should all feel gratitude to Germany for turning its undeniable talent and energies from war to peace. Its huge economy understandably makes Berlin influential in the European Union.

Yet if German haughtiness works on a dependent Europe, it certainly does not always impress a wary America.

The United States is still far larger, wealthier, and more powerful, just as it was in 1918, 1945, and 1989. It does not necessarily listen to German sanctimoniousness on climate change, immigration, trade, or the occasional need for the use of force.

Instead, America more or less does what it believes to be in the best interests of itself and its allies.

Germans find such American independence cowboyish and insubordinate — and believe they can teach Americans about the dangers of such misplaced chauvinism. Americans usually ignore these weary sermons.

Instead, many of them believe that whenever Germany sticks to worrying only about Germany, the world is a far safer place — both now and in the past.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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