Germany East and West

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

In the United States today it appears that consciousness of the post-World War II situation in Germany is low. There is surprisingly little written in English for the layman on the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)—our strongest partner in Europe. There is still less written on the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which seems, in the American imagination, to exist on the other side of never—except when the GDR’s athletes excel at Olympic contests every fourth year. Lawrence L. Whetten, a widely published scholar of recent and contemporary diplomacy and foreign affairs, has added a short but lucid volume to the relatively slim list of studies on recent “German affairs” available in English.

For readers interested in penetrating the social and cultural milieus of the two Germanys in comparative fashion, the title of Whetten’s book, Germany East and West, may prove misleading. Nowhere on Whetten’s agenda is there an attempt to try to get under the skin of these two remarkably different societies. Nor is there much to be found here regarding the strictly internal domestic political and economic relationships and processes within the FRG and the GDR respectively. Instead, he presents to his readers a sound and balanced treatment of the relationships between the two German states, and, by extension, the relationships of each to Moscow and Washington.

Whetten writes diplomatic history, and does so cleanly and neatly with what might be called a “bare bones” approach to his subject. That subject, in a nutshell, is the arduous process which has gone on in the German context for developing a new set of guidelines for the relationship of “two states within one nation.” Whetten stipulates correctly that the central issue for Germans in toto no longer is reunification but rather partition. For it is clear, circa 1980, that the tentative or provisional directions established during the years immediately following World War II have now become a fait accompli which define a stabilized situation with little likelihood of drastic alteration in it forthcoming.

In several respects Germany was the heart and soul of the “Cold War,” the locale in which the Soviets and the Americans (along with the French and the British) sparred, parried, and manipulated toward the division that led to founding two separate states in Germany. During the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s these maneuvers often escalated toward a brinksmanship right up to the building of the “Berlin Wall” in 1961. While Germany was then a field of battle for the superpower politics of intellectual and diplomatic chicanery for Moscow and Washington alike, in the last two decades, the German situation has become increasingly stabilized and comparatively unprovocative. Aside from a brief escalation in tensions betwen 1969 and 1971—over the status of West Berlin and characterized by annoyance behavior on the part of the GDR—that perennial problem of twentieth century history—the “German Question”—seems for the moment to be solved. Deep down, neither Washington nor Moscow desires any radical change in the present situation; nor do the other nations of Eastern Europe or of the Western European Common Market. “Divided Germany,” although the term itself still suggests otherwise, is neither a temporary anomology nor an aberration—it has become a historical given.

One point on which one might take slight exception to Whetten’s emphasis is that he makes such short shrift of the elements which give historic precedent for a divided Germany. Modern Germany after all was a united nation only from 1871 to 1945. After World War II, the partitioning of Germany into East and West as separate states (and the absorption of much of the old East Prussian...

(The entire section is 1554 words.)