Brief History of European Germany

A British scholar, who is not a professional historian, has produced the most  comprehensive and confident summary of recorded German history I have come across.

James Hawes makes the case that the fortunes of West Germany and Europe were tied since Roman times.  From medieval times colonization of territories east, beyond the river Elbe by Teutonic knights and the emergence of Prussia as a militaristic feudal state, co-opted the rest of Germany to a disastrous struggle with Russia and the Slavic peoples of Poland and the Ukraine.  The emergence of Prussia is credited to its endowment with Ruhr industrial power after the Napoleonic wars.  Decisions at the Congress of Vienna are therefore at the core of 20th century conflict.  Prussia’s gradual annexation of the rest of Germany through extreme militarism, sheer luck and the folly of others is instructive.  While Prussian domination of the administration and the officer corps of the emerging German empire explain many decisions during the two world wars.

This brief book is entertaining, authoritative and provocative.  It makes the strong case that European and German history are interwoven for at least two millennia.  It also points to the conservatism and divergent political beliefs in the East of the country.  Its overwhelming support for Nazi ascendancy 80 years ago and its current support for extreme parties in the left and right.  I was not aware that the only significant predictor of whether someone would vote for the Nazis in 1932 is whether they were Protestant.  While only 17% of Nazi voters came from Catholic regions.  Hawes draws the comparison with 150 years ago, when resources from the South and West of Germany funded the Prussian state’s militarism. Since reunification in 1990 there have been substantial welfare transfers to East Germany.  This has failed to quell xenophobia and extremism in that part of the country, with the bleak political implications for the future of Germany (and Europe) this entails.

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