"The ugly German," announced the title of a late evening news program here last week that went on to document, with reports from the United States, France and elsewhere in Bonn's western neighborhood, what has again become a discomforting fact for this country.
"We are being distrusted," said the program's moderator. And that was just for starters.
West Germany still considers itself America's most reliable European ally--"when the chips are down," as officials here say. In recent days, however, Bonn has been trying to understand why its Western partners responded so sharply to West Germany's reserved reaction to the Polish crackdown.
The experience has served to remind the Bonn government, at least for the moment, not to let its desire for an opening to the East get ahead of ties to the West. The reminder, however, has been none too gentle.
The attacks have been led by some of the most bitter media blasts at West Germany that senior Bonn aides say they can remember since the end of World War II.
The reasons offered for the allies' reaction vary. Some observers blame it on latent anti-Germanism or a reciprocation for the anti-American and anti-NATO demonstrations here during the past year.
In the case of France, West Germany's most courted European ally, the criticism, generally portraying the Germans as cowardly or calculating appeasers to the Soviets, has been excused as a sort of verbal cover to divert attention from what is pictured here as a lack of concrete action by Paris. It is also attributed to a revival of long-standing French fears that West Germany, France's security buffer against the Soviets, is becoming neutral.
The vehemence of the attacks stunned West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and his aides and persuaded the chancellor to speak out against the Soviet Union for its involvement in Poland's crackdown.
West German conservatives have been gloating that the West's censure of Schmidt will have clipped the chancellor's wings for a while, narrowing his independent maneuvering room in East-West relations.
"The chancellor is not the 'honest mediator' in the disarmament dialogue of the world powers," said the antisocialist daily Die Welt last week. "And he is not the teacher of the biggest Western allies. He has been reduced to size."
In speeches during the past few days, however, Schmidt has reasserted his government's intention not to waver on its decade-long policy of improving relations with the Soviet-led East Bloc.
In conversations, the chancellor's aides continue to stress the prospect of leverage over Moscow through sustained contacts and exchanges with the communists, and they argue that an alternative strategy of confrontation with the Soviets risks Europe's stability.
West German officials say they have been misunderstood and misinterpreted lately by Bonn's allies. It is one of the prices, they say, of going against the current American policy. It is also the price, they add--sounding somewhat victimized--of being a divided country on the East-West border and thus always subject to suspicions of being prone to a deal with the Soviets that would provide for a reunified Germany.
Schmidt has not shown any regret for the cautious position he took on Poland at the start. Officially, his government has even denied having changed its view of things. But privately, a source close to the chancellor acknowledged two miscalculations that were made.
One was that there would be more understanding among West Germany's allies for the reasoning behind Bonn's restraint toward Poland. The second was that France and Britain would respond to Warsaw's imposition of martial law less sharply than they did. Instead, their loud reproaches against both the Polish authorities and the Soviets left West Germany looking uncomfortably isolated.
"We have once more been reminded of the basic vulnerability of the German position," said a high-ranking member of the Bonn government, "although the chancellor himself has spoken of this often. Because of Germany's special situation, we have a basic need to have our priorities precisely clear. Only when we are anchored firmly in the West, can we do the next basic thing--which is talk to the East.
"We have been reminded again of this lesson of truth. We just hadn't expected it would come up with such viciousness."
Meanwhile, Bonn's conservative opposition party, the Christian Democrats, have sought to exploit the strain in relations between West Germany and its alliance partners. Party leader Helmut Kohl has charged Schmidt with sacrificing much of the credibility and confidence in the West that Bonn had painstakingly built during the past 30 years.
Significantly, the domestic political debate here seems less about what is right or wrong to do for Poland than about what is necessary to fulfill West Germany's allegiance to the United States.
There is, in fact, not much of a lobby here for sanctions or other steps that would upset the web of commercial, cultural and diplomatic ties that West Germany has woven with Eastern Europe during the past 10 years.
Industrialists and bankers oppose economic sanctions, arguing their futility. Bonn officials claim that the economic considerations of disrupting trade with the communists are really not an issue, since such business amounts to only about 6.5 percent of West Germany's total foreign trade. Even the bank loans outstanding--$4.5 billion to Poland alone--are just "peanuts," in the words of one Schmidt adviser. Nevertheless, an estimated 200,000 jobs and the life of several companies have come to depend on contracts with the East Bloc.
Also, Schmidt's Social Democratic Party, having launched the German detente and tilting leftward recently, has its pride and its philosophy at stake in sticking by its credo of dialogue and cooperation with the communists.
Schmidt's government is prepared to pay what one senior member termed "loyalty tributes" to the United States by taking some limited action against the Soviets if the situation in Poland continues unimproved, and provided other West European states also do something.
But beyond Bonn's commitment to detente, another factor, specific to Poland--namely, the Nazi destruction of that country and deeply ambivalent feelings by some here toward the Poles--continues to make it especially difficult for Schmidt to work out an active approach to the crisis there.
In public remarks, Schmidt has begun citing Germany's guilt for its past actions against Poland as a factor that restrained him from speaking out louder about the military crackdown. A word of outrage from the Germans, it is often feared here, can be turned by the Soviets into a pretext for something.
Such calculations are the stuff that explain, and sometimes paralyze, Bonn's foreign policy.
"The Germans can never act emotionally," said a U.S. official with long experience in German affairs. "They always have to think of the consequences."
There is another, less talked-about aspect historically to German-Polish relations, involving a bias held by some--just how many is hard to say--who see the Poles as a basically undisciplined, dreamy people bound to bring tragedy on themselves. Traces of this have shown up in the writings of two of West Germany's leading publicists--Henri Nannen of Stern magazine and Rudolf Augstein of the weekly Der Spiegel--who suggested that the independent trade union Solidarity brought the crackdown on itself.
Disputing the charge that Germans have been largely indifferent to Poland, officials point to a large number of private contributions, said to be running at 10,000 aid packages for Poland daily.
Lately, West German officials have begun sounding pessimistic that the Polish situation will improve. Their early optimism was a basis for them to counsel against a Western overreaction. Now their pessimism is also being used to this purpose.
The argument is this: If little can realistically be expected to change quickly in Poland, then why push the communists so hard as to invite an East-West blowup?
This cynicism about altering affairs in Eastern Europe contrasts with the optimism of the early days of Bonn's detente when the theme was "change through rapprochement." It also hides a fact about West Germany's approach to the East that causes considerable unease under the present circumstances: The Germans have not yet figured out what to do when the Soviets misbehave.
"We haven't learned," said Richard Loewenthal, a political scientist with close ties to the Social Democrats, "that detente doesn't mean ending the conflict, but rather a controlling of the forms of conflict. We must be more conscious that the conflict goes on."