My friend Steven is studying abroad in Berlin. In the past few weeks, Germany has been noticeably absent from the Libyan dilemma and Steve gives a pretty good explanation as to why:
“Germans are actually a rather insular bunch of people who prefer to think about how to preserve their own community rather than exporting their values to the rest of the world. This is because Germany is still struggling to understand its own values. This may be kind of surprising, since the war ended a while ago. But Germans still view the world through the lens of their own insecurities and this is partly why Germany is now out of step with their western friends over Libya.
While America patted itself on the back when Germany joined NATO, East Germans didn’t give a damn about their new important role in the world. Lots of them still don’t care. I’ve asked former East Germans about this, from cab drivers to teachers, and their response is almost always a variation on the same theme. They didn’t care about the new international role they were given. They saw re-unification as basically a good thing with one caveat: They missed an opportunity to mix the best parts of the East Germany with West Germany. That is, they missed a chance to build a greater German community with all the benefits of capitalism, but with the feeling of some close-knit German society. So during a moment that ought to have made them feel powerful, some still felt vulnerable. These people still prefer to lick their wounds rather than discuss Germany’s role on the world stage.
Okay, but that’s just old East Germans. What about today’s German youth? In the 60’s, Germany seemed to be ripping itself apart in anger over third world plight. The entire 68er movement was full of Marxists trying to bring about liberation from fascism across the globe. So where is that energy today in the case of Libya?
Well, the German 68ers were different from their other western comrades. The German 68ers took positions primarily for the purpose of distancing themselves from the Nazi crimes of their parents. Thus, they defined themselves by their parents ideological opposite and proclaimed themselves Marxists. At that time, Marxism was aligned with third world liberation movements, but it was also a great way of giving the finger to mom and dad. Now Germany’s youth have moved on from hating their parents for being Nazis and are free to hate them for the usual reasons. As a result, the 68er fury has subsided and today’s German youth are more likely to protest the continuation of their country’s nuclear policy than they are the Libyan genocide.
My point is that many parts of German society are still frustrated by their past. Unified Germany may be the biggest power in Europe today, but it is still plagued with questions about identity.”