Overcoming its prosaic title, IN EUROPE’S NAME: GERMANY AND THE DIVIDED CONTINENT is a fascinating and yet carefully documented account of the diplomatic and political triumph that put an emphatic end to the Cold War. An eminently qualified witness to history in the making, Ash applied his European expertise to the German scene as he watched the revolutionary movement spread from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia into East Germany. The book draws on a myriad of the most diverse research materials. For example, Ash had access to the personal papers or interviewed, among others, the architects of Ostpolitik Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr, Chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, and Foreign Ministers Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Eduard Shevardnadze. With James Baker, George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, these European statesmen helped heal the wounds from the long and painful division of Europe. While former East German leader Erich Honecker was in prison, Ash interviewed him and heard the other side of the story from the disgraced party boss.
Diplomatic histories of the post World War II era must weigh the respective contributions detente/Ostpolitik and containment ultimately made to, in Ash’s words, “overcoming the ’Yalta’ division of Europe and Germany.” It is a difficult task. Countless careers were burnished by defending one of these positions. Four years after German unification, many historians, policy advisers and pundits remain as divided as ever. Seeing in the entire period a great degree of ambiguity and complexity, Ash’s study finds merit and efficacy in both sets of policies.
History will judge whether Ash’s observations strike the mark as accurately as did those of the famous de Tocqueville with whom he has been compared. For now it can be said that he cast an astute eye on the people, places and historic events that improbably brought two radically different Germanies together again in peace, after forty years of angst-ridden separation.