Germany and the United States

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

The American Foreign Policy Library, edited by Edwin O. Reischauer, has a series of books with such titles as The United States and Canada, The United States and Italy, The United States and Japan, and so forth. This volume was originally designed to be “The United States and Germany,” but in the hands of Hans W. Gatzke, a highly respected Yale historian, it developed a somewhat different shape, emphasizing Germany itself. The relationship between Americans and Germans has been volatile and sometimes violent. Until the Bismarckian unification of 1866-1871, there was no single German government with which the United States government could be involved, but rather a collection of thirty-five or more German states, large and small. If history is “past politics” and “past diplomacy” then there is little enough to be said on the period. Professor Gatzke stresses politics and diplomacy, and thus is able to deal with the pre-1914 period in a single twenty-five page chapter. The post-1945 period, on the other hand, takes up about half the book. This present-mindedness doubtless reflects the thrust of the series of which the book is a part.

Connections between Germans and Americans have long been close. One need not go back to Viking days to establish the significance of the many interrelationships, although Gatzke gives a sidelong glance at the amusing claim that Leif Ericsson’s “German foster father” helped discover America in the first place. Eventually, large numbers of German-speaking people settled and helped to develop the new land which became the United States of America. By 1900, more than one fourth of Americans were of German stock. Although nearly all of them had left their original fatherland because of their discouragement over its limited economic opportunities, limited political freedom, and limited religious liberty, they generally retained some cultural affinity with their German origins, even while successfully assimilating into the English-speaking American social order.

Like Gatzke himself, many German-born Americans have played significant roles in the United States and have done much to shape the multitude of interrelationships. Indeed, if Gatzke had chosen to give social, economic, and cultural history more than a perfunctory nod, the role of German-Americans would have loomed much larger in his story. General von Steuben and Carl Schurz are widely honored, and everyone has heard of Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Henry Kissinger, and a few of the other émigrés from Nazi Germany. These individuals Gatzke mentions, but their impact is little assessed or analyzed. Freidrich List, an influential German political economist who developed many of his ideas while living in the United States and while serving in the American consular service, is ignored.

When one considers the broader masses of humanity who form the fabric of German-American relationships, the omissions are rather regrettable. Thousands upon thousands of peasants, artisans, war brides, and working intellectuals have migrated to America, making a significant impact upon German-American relations. One can hardly travel a few days in Germany without stumbling across a German who has a relative in the United States, and teachers of German history here are often beseiged by students who have urgent questions inspired by geneological research for their own roots. When one adds to these connections the millions of personal experiences of Americans who have lived in Germany as soldiers or scholars, not to mention the many who have visited the country on brief pleasure or business trips, one gains an appreciation of the ways in which the two countries are inextricably linked. The author could have done a great deal more with this aspect of the American-German story. Furthermore, the Americanization of the contemporary West Germany, symbolized by the now ubiquitous fast food restaurants, is related to the international business ties which developed rapidly after the Marshall Plan. This process is mentioned by Gatzke, but it is not seriously analyzed. In sum, one must recognize that Gatzke’s book, so useful in many ways, could have been a great deal better.

The relationships between Germany and the United States have, of course, not always been happy ones. In spite of the United States’ hopes to remain clear of both World Wars I and II, it entered each and, as Gatzke puts it rather patriotically, “sealed Germany’s defeat.” Americans came to know Germany, therefore, as a diplomatic adversary, as a military enemy, and as a defeated and occupied country. Soon after each defeat, nevertheless, the United States and...

(The entire section is 1901 words.)