Support our mission

The full text of "The United States, Germany and Europe: A Historian's Perspective," a commencement address delivered by Dr. Detlef Junker at University of Maryland University College — Europe on May 29, 2005:

Regent Pevenstein, Regent Acosta, President Heeger, Director Golembe, distinguished representatives of the U.S. military community, honored guests and friends, and most of all, Members of the Class of 2005.

I am deeply moved by the distinction awarded to me by the University of Maryland, a great institution which has left its marks on every continent. I have to confess: When I heard the exciting news about the conferring of an honorary doctorate, I discovered that I am not completely free from vanity — yet.

This award is an encouragement for me to continue doing what I have done in the last thirty-five years: fostering understanding and cooperation between the United States and Germany, both as a citizen and as a scholar. I feel revitalized at a moment in world history when I am deeply concerned about the current state of American-European and American-German relations, about the growing transatlantic divide, the growing anti-Europeanism in the United States, the growing anti-Americanism in Europe and in Germany, and the almost free fall of the reputation of the U.S., especially in Old Europe documented repeatedly in public opinion polls.

The trademark of historians is the long-range perspective. Therefore, I would like to place my current concerns in a historical perspective. Only then do we understand the origin and significance of the current transatlantic drift.

Don't worry. In spite of this historical perspective I'll try to be brief because I know there's nothing more agonizing than a long speech by a German history professor.

From a geo-strategic perspective, containing the power of the German nation-state in the center of Europe had been a leitmotif of American policy in Europe since the age of imperialism, when Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany and an imperial America outgrew their status as regional powers to become competing world powers. Germany did not become a problem for the United States until it threatened to rise to the level of hegemonic power or oppressor of Europe.

Unlike Germany's European neighbors, the distant United States never feared the German nation-state created in 1871, but always the rival world power. That is why the United States not only fought the Germany of Wilhelm and the Nazis in two world wars, but also sought to contain and stabilize the Weimar Republic and since 1949 the Federal Republic. European stability and German containment belonged to the strategic objectives of American foreign policy in the twentieth century, from Woodrow Wilson to George Bush.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to argue that in our massive two-volume handbook "The United States and Germany in the Era of the Cold War, 19451990" we documented one of the biggest success stories of U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century and a shining example of democratic nation building. The American military has been a vital part of this success story as has been the University of Maryland University College-Europe. Including their families, about 14 million Americans were stationed in Germany from 1945-1990. This was one of the biggest military operations of this kind in history.

After 1945 the pacification and democratization of Germany was among the central goals of American foreign policy. Under the influence of the Cold War, the United States incorporated the Western part of Germany into an Atlantic community — of security, values, production, consumption, information, leisure, travel, and entertainment — under American hegemony. Berlin, which had been the headquarters of evil from 1933 to 1945, became not only a symbol of the Cold War and a divided world but also an outpost of freedom, the "city upon the hill" on which the eyes of the world were focused.

In 1989/90 the unification of Germany under Western conditions produced nearly the best possible Germany: a medium-sized democratic country in Europe with limited political influence and international economic significance, a Germany which lacked any vital conflicts of interest with the United States, was integrated into and contained by European and Atlantic institutions, incapable of and uninterested in threatening its European neighbors.

It is largely because of the United States that the citizens of the "old" Federal Republic enjoyed freedom, democracy, prosperity, consumption, modernity, and mobility like no other generation of Germans before them. On a personal level, my own privileged life would not have been possible without the United States and the many friendships with Americans. On an even more existential level, security or destruction — the physical survival of the Germans or their potential extermination in a nuclear holocaust — depended on the decisions of American presidents. Ultimately, all Germans owe their unity, on the one hand, to Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, and, on the other, to the determined and consistent support of the United States. It was these two superpowers who divided and united Germany. Its European neighbors played a considerable role in both processes, but not a decisive one.

In 1989/90 the future of American-German relations looked bright when President Bush and Chancellor Kohl proclaimed that the two nations would become "partners in leadership". Most contemporaries agreed with their optimism. In spite of growing differences and minor conflicts between the United States and a united Germany during the two administrations of President Clinton, the importance of the transatlantic alliance was still taken for granted. President Clinton and Chancellor Helmut Kohl got along quite well.

Even after 9/11, after the terrorist attacks, the European continent overflowed with spontaneous symbols of what the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at that time called "unconditional solidarity". Millions held vigils, rallies and prayer services. In Berlin 200,000 gathered at the site of the fallen Berlin Wall to express their grief. Recalling President Kennedy's famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner", they shouted "We are New Yorkers". In France Le Monde ran a banner headline declaring "Nous sommes tous Americains."

And then, contrary to all expectations, three years and four months ago came the turning point in transatlantic relations clearly caused, in European eyes, by the 2002 State of the Union Address of President George W. Bush.

Since January 2002, the historian of American-European and American-German relations has become a messenger of bad news. Let me, therefore, remind you of the most basic tradition in diplomacy: messengers should neither be beheaded nor hanged. I trust that I will be able to leave this room alive.

The problems with the Europeans and other parts of the world started the moment President George W. Bush opened the Pandora's Box by unilaterally and single-mindedly broadening America's mission after 9/11. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush did not focus on Al Qaeda and the work which remained to be done in Afghanistan, but rather on the so-called "Axis of Evil", singling out North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

The next step of escalation was to link the threat of weapons of mass destruction with the threat of terrorism.

When the Bush administration published its famous National Security Strategy in September 2002, it even went one step further. From the European perspective the Bush administration destroyed the very basis of International Law by openly making pre-emptive strikes — or anticipatory self-defense — the new centerpiece of its national security policy. From September 2002 to this day, the unilateral self-empowerment of the United States through the doctrine of pre-emptive strike has, perhaps more than anything else, darkened the Bush administration's reputation in Europe and the world.

A second issue closely related to the doctrine of pre-emptive strike became a bone off contention between U.S. and European governments and spilled over into a heated European debate leading to massive criticism of the U.S. in the European and German media. Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction represented a "clear and present danger" to the security of the United States and that somehow Saddam Hussein was, as a part of the Al Qaeda network, co-responsible for 9/11. Every educated American and European knew, however, that Saddam Hussein was a secular tyrant and dictator. Therefore, cooperation with Bin Laden was extremely unlikely.

The majority of Europeans together with a majority of the U.N. Security Council demanded reasonable proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction before they would vote for a war message against Iraq.

Of course, we now know that the Bush administration either misled or deceived the American people and its allies into this war. We now know that the Iraqi dictator had been reduced to a toothless tiger by the first Gulf War and by the United Nations weapons inspectors. Iraq's weapons programs had been shut down, Saddam had no threatening weapons stockpile. There was no "clear and present danger" to the security of the United States.

This brings me to an even more disturbing part of my address. The following reasons for the massive loss of American reputation and legitimacy of U.S. foreign affairs might indeed be labeled anti-American because they go beyond the criticism of the Bush administration and aim at the heart of what the United States represents today.

First: There is an ever increasing European concern about this uncontrollable Goliath called the United States of America. It seems that the U.S. is about to repeat the sad old story of the hubris of power. Since January 2002, the European public gradually discovered that the pre-emptive strike doctrine, the exaggeration of threats and the blatant disregard of international law were all parts and parcel of a new superpower design, based on an extreme version of U.S. unilateralism, exceptionalism and moralism; a superpower version, almost impossible to digest for Europe, not to speak of Latin America, East Asia and of the Muslim world.

A group of revolutionary conservatives persuaded the president that he not only has the power but also the mission to tell the rest of the world: either you are with us or against us; that allies are useful only insofar as they unequivocally do what the U.S. wants; indeed, that the United Nations and NATO are merely toolboxes to be used whenever the president and the Pentagon see fit to do so. Diplomats have called this attitude unilateralism.

On September 15, 2001 President Bush told his advisors in Camp David: "At some point, we may be the only ones left. That's okay with me. We are America". In the present Iraq, the U.S. is indeed almost the only one left.

Second: The almost universal criticism in Europe of President Bush also derives from the fact that the predominantly secular Europeans are simply unable to understand the values and the belief system of this President twice reborn. Only very few Europeans know that the President is the latest incarnation of America's missionary impulse, of Wilsonian universalism, of the civil religion so specific to America, of that unmistakable mixture of Christian republicanism and democratic faith which created a nation with the soul of a church.

The Europeans were baffled when Bush told the American people and the world in his 2003 State of the Union Address: "The liberty we praise is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity". Indirectly equating America's resolve to go to war against Iraq with God's will did not only anger the Pope and scores of Protestant Church leaders, but was also seen by a lot of Christians as a gross violation of the Third Commandment: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

Third: The mishandling of the relationship between Freedom and Security in the United States. For the first time in American history, American citizens and non-citizens alike have been seized by the executive branch of government and put into prison without being charged with a crime, without having the right to a trial, without being able to see a lawyer, and without even being able to contact their families. These gross and unnecessary violations of human rights have severely damaged U.S. moral authority and goodwill not only in Europe, but in the entire world. In fact, these violations have undermined U.S. authority and have made U.S. efforts to continue promoting human rights around the world illegitimate. The mistreatment and torture of prisoners in U.S. installations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq reinforces this European perspective; notwithstanding the fact that these reports are clearly instrumentalized by a number of governments to start and manipulate hate campaigns against the U.S.

Ladies and Gentlemen, to explain the current transatlantic drift fully, of course, I would have to shift the perspective around and analyze the American perspective of Europe, especially of liberal and democratic Old Europe. That would clearly transcend the time limit of my commencement address. Let me, therefore, only add on sentence: While the European criticism of the U.S. can be summed up as "Arrogance of Power", Americans criticize the Europeans as having "Arrogance without Power".

Members of the class of 2005, due to your study and stay in Europe, you have enriched your life through a transatlantic dimension, which cannot be taken for granted. Transatlantic cooperation and understanding is a precious thing and should be an option for future generations as well. 1 am deeply convinced that a further deterioration of the American-European relations, in general, and of the American-German relations, in particular, would be a loss of historic proportion.

I still believe that virtually no major problem in today's globalized world can be solved without a forceful cooperation between the old and the new world. We do not need a new U.S. Declaration of Independence from Europe or a European Declaration of Independence from the United States. What we need is a new transatlantic Declaration of Interdependence.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up