What you need to know
Germany must live up to its claims of moral superiority in its dealings with China.
By Yu Jie
After World War II, the Allies attempted to carry out denazification in West Germany, but the efforts were cut short by the Cold War.
Post-war democratization was much less thorough in West Germany than in Japan. The United States occupied post-war Japan under General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw structural reforms to the country’s constitution. Meanwhile, West Germany was occupied by the U.S., Britain, and France, each with varying policies in its occupation zone. The absence of a strong commander like MacArthur, along with the overriding concern to counter the Soviet Union, ensured that democratization efforts were half-baked. The work of denazification in West Germany was thus at best sloppy.
In 1946, 57 percent of residents in the American Zone of Occupation approved of the transitional justice work. But by 1949, the approval rate had dropped to only 17 percent. The work of cultural and political renewal had been originally entrusted to Karl Jaspers, a philosopher from the University of Heidelberg. But he lost hope that the task could be completed, and left Germany to take up a teaching position at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Jaspers left Germany in disappointment, thinking he was being used as a figurehead of the
“Good German.” Meanwhile, Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, two of the most famous Nazi-affiliated scholars, were restored to their elite academic posts.
Many German intellectuals have a sense of superiority over Japan in terms of transitional justice. The most commonly cited incidents of German reconciliation with its past are nothing to scoff at — West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s kneeling at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, the government’s billions in compensation to Jewish Holocaust survivors — but these efforts have been overshadowed by a national sense of accomplishment.
In his book The German Risk, Japanese journalist Norihide Miyoshi pointed out that Germany wanted to cleanse its “only sin” during the Nazi era by taking an absolute stance on bidding farewell to its history. Completely discarding its dark past, Germany returned to the center of the international stage “with pride in overcoming its sins.”
In contrast to Japan’s reluctance to admit its wartime atrocities, Germany developed a sense of moral superiority as if Japan provided the perfect negative example for the world. German politicians have continued to criticize Japan’s attitude towards its war crimes, but that’s exactly, as Miyoshi wrote, “a proud display of a twisted nationalism.”
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunified Germany became the leader of the European Union. Through advocating for the European single market and a deeper level of European integration and exporting its social market economy, Germany is revealing its ambitions. Although Germany may not be able to amplify its military force in the foreseeable future, its geopolitical ambitions over Eastern Europe remain. The EU’s eastward expansion has benefited the German economy as a whole and gave Germany more control over most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Germany’s fate is inextricable from the EU. The EU’s political and economic system is in large part a product of German bureaucracy. It is an undemocratic, supranational body that has no direct accountability to the voters. Since the EU cannot be systematically reformed to be more democratic, it’s essentially an enlarged Prussian-model state.
As the U.S. and China are entering a new cold war, Merkel chose China’s side in the Huawei controversy. Surveys have also shown Germans trust China more than the U.S. despite being aware of China’s authoritarian regime. When China forced through the national security legislation in Hong Kong, turning the city into a police state, Merkel’s administration has remained silent about China’s tyranny.
German manufacturers like Siemens collaborated with the Nazis and relied on concentration camp labor to an extent that still hasn’t been fully investigated. Today, Siemens is advising China Electronics Technology Group on “intelligent manufacturing solutions” that monitor Uyghurs, facilitating the internment camps in Xinjiang.
Andreas Fulda, a senior fellow at the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute, launched a petition to urge Merkel to abandon her “failed China policy of 'change through trade.'”
“German governments, both past and present, have consistently prioritized trade with China over other enlightened German national interests, for example democracy and human rights,” Fulda wrote.
As the U.S.-China tensions escalate, every country will have to pick a side. Standing with China would be disastrous for Germany’s diplomatic credibility and influence. As the de facto leader of the EU, as a self-proclaimed bastion of human rights and democracy, it is all the more important for Germany to stop appeasing China.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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