Sunday, February 9, 2014

Second Thirty Years' War

This expression came up in a recent series of articles in DER SPIEGEL about the First World War. It is not clear who coined the unwieldy term first.

As early as 1941 De Gaulle talked in a radio broadcast from his exile in London about la nouvelle Guerre de Trente Ans. In 1947 the French Jesuit Albert Muller published a study: La seconde guerre de trente ans, 1914–1945. The first mention of the term in English is attributed to Winston Churchill. In his book The Second World War, published from 1948, he wrote that the war was simply the completion of a second Thirty Years' War.

The First Thirty Years' War, mostly fought by foreign troupes on German territory, started with the Second Defenestration of Prague on May 23, 1618, and ended with the Peace of Westphalia signed on October 24, 1848. It lasted thirty years and five months.

Europe's Second Thirty Years' War comprised the First World War that started with the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, and ended with the German surrender in the Second World War on May 8, 1945. The Second Thirty Years' War lasted thirty years and nine month.

For me the notion of a Second Thirty Years' War was difficult to understand until I saw a photo taken in 1941 with Hitler contemplating a memory plate for Gavrilo Princip in Sarajewo. In this place on August 28, 1914, the student had started it all in assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife. In 1941 the Austrian and naturalized German citizen had finally taken revenge. His Wehrmacht had occupied Serbia.

Sarajewo 1941 (©dpa)
Many intelligent books have been written about the First World War and here is not the place to enlarge the topic further although I shall surely come back to some special aspects of the event that shaped the history of the 20th century. Gavrilo Princip's bullets just were the trigger of a global conflict. Fact is that since 1871 Germany feared encirclement by France and Russia and later even more so by the Triple Alliance the two powers had concluded with Britain.

Following Germany's and Austria's* defeat in 1919 President Wilson had understood that future conflicts in Europe must be avoided. As DER SPIEGEL writes: With his Fourteen Points Wilson drafted a new world order, in which all nations were granted a right to self-determination. But when it came to stepping into America's new role as a hegemon, Congress withdrew its support by forcing the president to agree to a strict policy of nonintervention. The Europeans were on their own once again with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau pressing for, what was later termed, the Diktat-Frieden of Versailles.
*The multiethnic state being reduced to its German-speaking population excluding the Sudeten.

DER SPIEGEL continues: The resulting peace was one with conditions that were insufficiently draconian to permanently weaken the German Reich, and yet too severe not to give rise to a desire among the losers to reverse the peace when the next opportunity arose.

From Germany's perspective, the victors' demands were not only immoderate, but also served as a constant reminder of defeat. Germany's total war reparations, enforced with massive threats, amounted to 132 billion gold marks, payable in 66 annual installments, together with 26 percent of the value of its exports. Present-day Germany was still suffering the consequences until 2010, when Berlin made its last interest payment on foreign bonds it had issued after World War I to satisfy the Allies' demands for reparations. The most agonizing aspect of the war repayment was its duration.

While President Wilson in 1919 had been a man of good will President Roosevelt was fed up with those Germans in 1945: We have got to be tough with Germany. You either have to castrate the German people or you have got to treat them so they can't just go on reproducing people who want to continue as in the past. Henry Morgenthau cast Roosevelt's ideas in his well known plan throwing Germans back into the Middle Ages, i.e., transforming Germany into a country principally agricultural and pastoral in character. It was Winston Churchill who eventually came to the defense of the Germans when in Quebec in September 1944, he snapped at Morgenthau that he would not allow himself to be chained to a dead Germany.

Germans were eventually spared of Morgenthau's ideas thanks to a US public outcry over his plan and fear of the Russians. Instead West Germany profited from the Marshall Plan and the US taught us democracy and love for peace. However, before Franz Josef Strauß stated in 1949:  Wer noch einmal das Gewehr in die Hand nehmen will, dem soll die Hand abfallen (He who again wants to take a rifle in his hands should loose his hands) Churchill was already convinced in 1943: We mustn't weaken Germany too much -- we may need her against Russia, and I do not want to be left alone in Europe with the bear. According to the maxim: Was schert mich mein Geschwätz von gestern (I don't care what I said yesterday), Strauß became West Germany's minister of defense in October 1956.

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