I AM AN American and a Jew. My thoughts about a unified Germany, however, are not representative of either group. Indeed, as I have learned in many heated arguments, they diverge sharply from the many who, in varying degrees and with different shadings of anger, resignation and apprehension, take a dim view of a unified Germany.
I see a unified Germany as a positive development. That is considered almost aberrational among friends, and even within my family. My parents were immigrants from czarist Russia, my wife and her family refugees from Nazi Germany. Their view of Germany, once again united and powerful, is reflexive and laden with a bitter collective memory.
Why do I think differently? I am not a Germanophile. I do not, on the whole, feel comfortable with Germans in the way that I do with the Dutch, Italians and Danes.
As CBS bureau chief in West Germany in the 1960s, I established good professional relationships and made some friendships with Germans in, among other places, Bonn and especially in Berlin, where the Wall, the Soviet threat and the visit of President Kennedy gave one a feeling of being comrades in arms.
I could admire democratic developments in the Federal Republic, the effort to come to terms with the past, the emergence of a younger generation of Germans striving to be European and ashamed of what their parents had done -- or not done -- in the Hitler time. In 1962, a delegation of American Jewish leaders came to West Germany, alarmed about reports of desecration of Jewish cemeteries and ready to inquire into whether the Germans were reverting to their past. One of the visitors asked me how serious I thought anti-semitism was in Germany, and I shocked her by saying that it was probably less serious than in the United States.
I subordinated -- even repressed -- sentiments that might have stemmed from my own heritage, having assured CBS that, as a professional journalist, I thought I could be objective. But Germany and I remained at arm's length from each other. As the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, I found myself a widespread tendency to project into the future by analogy with the past.
I have never liked the "history repeats itself" approach to new situations. As evidence, I offer the example of what the sloganeering of "No more Munichs" did to lead us into the Cold War, and then to the Vietnam War.
The idea of a unified Germany has made many Americans ask whether all we have to look forward to is a Fourth Reich -- an evidence of fear inspired by analogy. The emotions that lie behind such thinking are quite powerful. One can find a nagging sense of fear even among those who say that the Federal Republic has acted well and earned respect in the past 40 years. Now that we see Germany standing astride Europe, dealing almost as an equal with superpowers which, apart from nuclear weapons, are not so powerful any more, should we quake with alarm at where this will all lead?
Many do. Britain's minister of trade, Nicholas Ridley, was obliged to resign after telling an interviewer that Germany was trying to do by economic power what it had not succeeded in doing by military power -- "taking over the whole of Europe." Even before that, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher held a secret seminar of British and American scholars whose views, as summarized in a memorandum, were that optimism about a unified Germany is "not free from discomfort . . . not about the present or the near term, but about a more distant time." The scholars advised Thatcher to pursue a policy designed to keep Germany firmly in the Western alliance, to place limits on German military power and to help stabilize the Soviet Union as a counterweight to German dominance of Europe.
One could hear in this echoes from the pre-war days of the East-West anti-Hitler coalition. But such thinking is short-sighted because (1) if Germans are made to feel like a pariah nation again, then a return to a hostile Germany could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and (2) no country has a greater capacity and interest in contributing to the stability of the Soviet Union than Germany.
If one looks for deeper analogies, one should ask: Where do conditions exist today most comparable to the conditions in Weimar Germany that set the stage for Hitler? Not in the Germany of today. Where does one find inflation, devalued currency that chases too few goods, a government that does little to inspire confidence, a lack of sound democratic institutions and rising animosities seeking outlets by turning against scapegoat minorities?
Those criteria generally fit the Soviet Union and some countries of Eastern Europe, where ethnic tensions and antisemitism have reached dangerous proportions. All that is lacking to complete the Weimar analogy is the memory of a recent defeat in war and a harsh peace settlement -- the "stab in the back." The closest one comes to that in the Soviet Union is the defeat in the Cold War and the question raised by nationalists of "Who lost Eastern Europe?" In the Europe that I foresee, Germany will play a stabilizing role, not a threatening role. As communism collapses in Eastern Europe, old hatreds awaken and irredentism revives, and a new pattern of Balkanization -- the breakup of larger states into smaller entities -- is discernible across the region. Germany's stabilizing influence can moderate this phenomenon, taking many forms.
For example, Germany could well play in the East the role once played almost exclusively by America in many parts of the world -- lending its economic strength and employing political and diplomatic resources to support human rights and avoid chaos. There are early intimations of Germany as an island of stability in a stormy sea. It struck me as a great irony when several hundred Soviet Jews, fleeing antisemitism and fear of pogroms, were offered haven in East Germany. Once it was Jewish refugees from Germany. Now, Jewish refugees to Germany? How the world has changed!
This new role will not come easily to Germany, which must overcome a deep sense of insecurity as the onetime villain of Europe.
On recent visits to Germany, I have sensed insecurity or defensiveness. It strikes me that the ardor of Germans for European integration partly reflects a wish to have German military and economic strength contained in some larger whole because Germans do not yet trust their own strength. Except where its own interests are involved, Germany seems still reluctant to undertake diplomatic initiatives commensurate with its influence.
Like America, Germany will not achieve its full stature without addressing some internal problems. Large among these are ethnic tensions -- prejudice and discrimination against Turks and other non-Germans. No American is justified in preaching to Germany about ethnic problems, but no German is justified in ignoring these problems.
If one can put aside analogies and see that there is nothing in the Germans' soul, genes or stars that will oblige them to revert to previous behavior, then one can welcome a united Germany on the European and world stage. History plays strange tricks. The Germany of tomorrow will not be like the Kaiser's Germany, or Weimar Germany or Hitler's Germany. What it will be cannot be foretold, but the superpowers' declining influence and the demise of the Soviet bloc virtually create a mandate for Germany to cast off its lingering doubts about itself and become a respected leader among nations.
Nothing makes my relatives so angry as when I say, "One day, when a large part of Europe is swept by hatred and violence, we may be saying: Thank God for Germany!"
Daniel Schorr, who reported from the Soviet Union, Germany and Eastern Europe for CBS in the 1950s and '60s, is senior news analyst for National Public Radio in Washington. This article is adapted from "Divided Views on a United Germany," an essay collection published recently in Germany.