THE CASE FOR A DIVI DED GERMANY
IN THE PAST DOZEN YEARS the Western alliance has painted itself into a very tight corner in Germany.
On the one hand we are solemnly pledged, by treaty, to try by all peaceful means for the unification of Germany. On the other hand the unification of Germany by peaceful means is impossible, now or in the foreseeable future. Nobody pretends that the Communist regime in East Germany will allow itself to be peacefully voted out of existence, and nobody has suggested any other way to get rid of it short of nuclear war. Thus we are left with deadlock. The urgent practical question is not what to do about German unification, but what to do about the deadlock.
The orthodox answer is nothing—just stand firm, maintain the status quo indefinitely, and all will come right in the end. Let West Berlin stand forever as “an island of freedom in the Communist sea,” cut off by more than a hundred miles from the free Germany of which it feels itself (but must not call itself) a part. Let the American, British and French garrisons remain forever, nominally the rulers of a defeated enemy with whom they have not made peace, actually the protectors of a friendly people who are ruling themselves. The arrangement may look crazy, but it has lasted for thirteen years; why can't it just go on lasting?
This question is not as plausible as it sounds. The present arrangement in Berlin doesn’t merely look crazy, it is crazy. It can't last because it doesn't make sense. But if we let it alone until it breaks down, instead of trying to dismantle it by agreement, there's an increasing danger that we may stumble into a war that nobody wants. That's why the question is urgent.
THE MYTH OF FREE ELECTIONS
The West German case against recognizing East Germany (or, as they rather ominously call it. Central Germany) is that no such nation exists or can exist. The German Democratic Republic, they say, is neither German nor democratic nor a republic. Its so-called government is a Soviet puppet without status or authority of its own, kept in office only by the twenty Red Army divisions that are stationed on East-German territory. To recognize it as a sovereign government, they say, would be not realism but the acceptance of a wicked fabrication.
But the unhappy fact is that the German Democratic Republic does exist, and does exercise authority. No doubt the West Germans are right that a free election would abolish the Communist government and quite probably the state itself, but there isn't going to be a free
election. Unless we have a war and our side wins it, the Communist government will remain in power with whatever support may be necessary from the twenty Soviet divisions (as well as from six divisions of its own, and its police ).
It is dangerous wishful thinking to doubt that the Communist regime will have less and less need of this armed support as time goes on. East Germans under thirty can't remember much else than this regime — childhood recollections of war and increasing terror, then a time of hunger and general anarchy, then the gradual restoration of order and reasonable comfort under this government’s rule.
True, some three million East Germans ran away to the freedom and ease of West Germany, which proves that not everybody was convinced by the Communist line. But we tend to overlook the fact that the seventeen million now in East Germany are the ones who stayed behind, though many of them could have gone. Why didn't they?
HOW WEST GERMANY BURIES HITLER
Some, of course, wish they had, and a few are still escaping at the risk of their lives. But many more, almost certainly a majority of the seventeen million, stayed behind because for one reason or another they preferred staying to going. Every one of them must feel that he made a personal decision, just as every Canadian feels he has made a decision not to go to the United States, and having made such a judgment every man likes to justify it. He didn't stay home because he was too lazy or too timid, he tells himself; he stayed because it's really better here.
In East Germany, this preference is not as outlandish a» West German propaganda makes it out to be. I talked to one man in his early thirties who was born in West Germany and lived there until 1959, but who came over to the Communist side three years ago and says he has no regrets.
Admittedly, he didn’t come for ideological but for personal reasons — his fiancée wanted to come back, and he came with her. But he told me why it was that she, who had already escaped to the “Golden West,” decided not to stay.
“She is a teacher,” he said, “and she was absolutely horrified by the history and the geography she had to teach the children. No mention of what Hitler did to Germany and the world, no mention of concentration camps or gas chambers for Jews, and worst of all, no acceptance of Germany’s present frontiers. She had to teach that western Poland, the former provinces of Silesia and East Prussia, really belong to Germany still and that it was our
duty and our destiny to get them back again.”
This version of the West German school curriculum may be exaggerated, but in essence it is true. West Germany’s maps show Germany divided not in two parts, but in three. The Soviet zone is not “East” Germany but “Central” Germany — “East” Germany is the land lying beyond the rivers Oder and Neisse, marked “under Polish administration” or, in the case of East Prussia, “under Soviet administration.”
These are the lands from which all German residents were expelled at the end of the war
— nine million of them now live in West Germany, and with the three million refugees from the Soviet Zone they make up about a fifth of the electorate. They raise a terrific fuss whenever any German politician suggests that the 1945 frontier might ever be accepted as final. Many German politicians, including members of the Adenauer cabinet, appeal to this refugee vote with emotional speeches about the recovery of the lost homelands, the certainty of return.
Now there is only one way in which these eastern provinces can be recovered, and that is by reconquering them in war. It is remotely conceivable, perhaps, that somehow some day the two Germanies might be peacefully reunited, but peaceful recapture of the territory lost to Poland and Russia is quite out of the question. People who talk about recovering those provinces are talking about war, nuclear war.
Nobody knows this better than the people of Communist East Germany. They know it without being told, but in addition to that they are told constantly, day after day, that the “capitalist imperialist warmongers” of “neoNazi” West Germany are “preparing a new war.”
These charges are documented by a great many facts that are perfectly true. It’s true the West German army is led by “Hitler’s generals”
— this is also true of the East German army, but East Germans are not told about that. It’s true the West German government has never accepted the eastern frontier. It's true the West German army is equipped with nuclear weapons — East Germans are not told that the nuclear warheads remain under American control, and I doubt that they'd be much impressed by this distinction even if they did know it.
THEY AREN’T ALL CHEERING US
Like everyone else, but perhaps more than anyone else, the people of East Germany are afraid of war. They may not like their own government much, but they'd rather have it than have a war — we know that, because if East Germans were willing to risk a war they'd be giving their own Communist authorities a lot more trouble than in fact they are doing.
Maclean’s overseas editor
We Westerners are taught to think that everybody in East Germany is silently cheering us on, like prisoners of war exulting in the raids of their own aircraft on the land where they are held captive. I think we are fooling ourselves. The steady pressure of Communist propaganda is too constant, and too convincing, for this to remain true.
ANOTHER VIEW FROM THE WALL
People can’t do what the East Germans have done in the past ten years and not feel some pride in it. At great effort and sacrifice they have built one of the world’s leading industrial plants, built it from nothing. Life in their country may still be hard, but it's easier every year — and a rising standard of living does more for morale than a higher one that isn't rising. They have an excellent welfare system — free medical care, free education to university level. Students, at least, are much better off in East than in West Germany — a recent survey showed that only one West German student in seven gets as much financial help, from any source, as all East German students get from the state. It’s true they have no political freedom, no freedom of speech or thought, but Germany has no rooted tradition of freedom anyway.
My point is that we can’t assume, as Western policy-makers do assume, that the people of East Germany feel no loyalty whatever to their present government. Of course the refugees who have escaped to West Germany do not — if they did, they wouldn't be refugees. But it seems to me increasingly unsafe to take it for granted that all the rest of the seventeen million East Germans feel the same.
Unsafe, because unless they are all implacable enemies of their own government, it is easy enough to make them think we Westerners are threatening them. It is easy to make the Western position look to them utterly indefensible, incomprehensible except as a prelude to war. Equally easy to make the East German position, or rather the Soviet position, look a model of patience-for-peace.
SUPPOSE CASTRO RAN MANHATTAN
Viewed from their side of The Wall, it is the West that looks aggressive and implacable. Berlin, they say, is their national capital, and the West insists on making it a “NAtO base" with a garrison of twelve thousand foreign troops. If you point out that the foreign troops are helpless hostages, no military threat to anybody but themselves, the East German is entirely unimpressed: “In that case," he says,
“why is it so all-important to keep them there?”
West Berlin is an “espionage centre" — and this, of course, is perfectly true. West Berlin is also an escape hatch, and to those who accept the law that makes "flight from the republic" a crime, this is another valid point against it.
But above all, the present situation in Berlin is an affront to the sovereignty and dignity of the German Democratic Republic, which declares that Berlin is its capital.
The affront in fact is intolerable. No government on earth could resign itself to endure such a thing indefinitely. As one traveled East Berliner said to me: "How would the Americans feel if Castro were in charge of Manhattan Island?” The analogy is not farfetched — that's precisely how it looks to an East German who accepts his present government as a real one. So long as the situation in Berlin remains as it is, so long will the humiliation of East Germany be manifest. All too apparently it is not a truly sovereign government, whatever it may pretend.
This was all very well so long as East Germany really did consist of seventeen million sullen captives, and its government of Soviet puppets protected by Soviet arms. But if, as I believe, this is no longer true, if the people are beginning to accept the government and feel indignant on its behalf, then the Communist authorities will have to do something soon.
KHRUSHCHOV CAN’T WAIT FOREVER
What they will do has already been announced. Khrushchov has promised that he will end the deadlock by signing a separate peace treaty with the German Democratic Republic, thus repudiating the four-power Occupation Agreement on which the Western allies’ rights in Berlin depend. The West will not, of course, accept this treaty as valid, nor admit that their rights have been erased, but they can't just go on as if nothing had happened. Once the treaty is signed, the Soviet authorities will no longer be there to deal with the Western allies on the access routes to Berlin. The allies will have to deal with the East German authorities, or with nobody. That means either some form of de facto recognition, or else we will face acute danger of war at any moment.
Khrushchov made his promise four years ago, and he still has not carried it out. Obviously, the reason he hasn't is that signing a separate peace with East Germany would create a new and dangerous situation, which might lead to the nuclear war that nobody wants. But it is dangerous, wishful thinking on our part to suppose that because Khrushchov has waited four years, he will wait forever. He not only
can't wait forever, he can't wait much longer. His personal prestige was obviously impaired by his backdown in Cuba, where he is vulnerable and the United States is not. Sooner or later, he will have to take some kind of action in Berlin or begin to look like the coward the Chinese say he is.
In the month of January, 1963, the Communist - dominated Socialist Unity Party is meeting in East Berlin. The question of signing a peace treaty is on its agenda. Can the Communist authorities get by without any news at all on this vital subject, neither progress nor the hope of progress, neither action nor the threat of action? It seems unlikely.
HOW FAR CAN WE GO?
Let's not fool ourselves — there is no quick easy solution to the German problem, no settlement that could easily be reached if we do sit down to negotiate. In particular, there’s no settlement that would give the Western alliance quite as much as we have now in West Berlin, because what we have now is not a tolerable situation for the other side. We must settle for much less without going back on our plighted word.
But as President James Monroe said a hundred and forty years ago. and as President John Kennedy repeated last October, there are times and places when it is less dangerous to act than not to act. Surely the Berlin powderkeg is one such?
If we continue year after year to do nothing, we do not merely leave the initiative to Khrushchov, we force it on him. Westerners who talk as if Khrushchov turns on the Berlin crisis from time to time, just to suit his whim, are not using much imagination. The status quo in Berlin, uncomfortable to us, is intolerable to him — he simply cannot ignore it indefinitely. And if by our inaction we force Khrushchov to act, we put ourselves on the defensive.
How far can we go without breaking faith? The West has repeatedly declared three fundamentals to be nonnegotiable—continued Western presence in Berlin, continued right of access, and freedom for the people of West Berlin to choose their own form of government. We cannot go back on this triple pledge, but we can find in it a lot more room to manoeuvre than the West Germans or even the Western allies seem ready to admit.
WE TALK LIKE AN ENEMY
First and perhaps most important, we could put a stop to the venomous cold war propaganda that is now beamed out of West Berlin at the East German people day and night. Personally I believe this propaganda defeats itself and does the Western cause harm rather than good. When I walked into my hotelroom in East Berlin not long ago my interpreter turned on the radio and the program we got was the American Forces network from West Berlin. We listened to the news; he made no comment except to say the American Forces program was much milder and less slanted than the German-language news given by RIAS (Radio in American Sector). However, I was embarrassed by it — not by any particular distortions but by the vulgarly hostile language used in every reference to East Germany. This was the voice of a self-proclaimed enemy. Communist authorities need no other proof that West Berlin is what they say it is, a frontline outpost in the cold war. Surely the first step toward making peace is to sound as if we wanted to make it. This means adopting a policy of minimum provocation in Berlin instead of the maximum provocation that has been our policy up to now'.
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“We not only admit, we insist that the allied troops in Berlin have no military value at all"
Second, we could apply the same
principle of nonprovocation to the Western presence which means Western garrison in Berlin. We not only admit, we insist that these twelve thousand allied troops have no military value. They are outnumbered eight to one by East German troops alone, and about thirty to one when Red Army divisions are included. In a war, either nuclear or conventional, they would be wiped out in a matter of hours. Therefore the size of the allied garrison is of no military importance. We could negotiate a reduction in their numbers without running an additional military risk. We could not now accept the East German demand of complete withdrawal and replacement by so-called neutral troops, but we could make a gesture in that direction to prove our will to peace. Maybe in ten years' time, if we keep moving toward peace instead of away from it, the whole question of a garrison in Berlin will have become academic.
Third, we could, and many people even in West Germany believe we must, talk about these things with the authorities in actual control of East Germany. This does not have to mean formal de jure recognition — there are fifty-seven varieties of contact between states and on this point the Communists have been able to appear more flexible and reasonable than the West has. The two Germanics are already in contact on a wide range of
technical matters and maintain a massive mutual trade. There is no reason why these contacts should not be expanded into some kind of an interim peace between the tw'o Germanics which would stanch the running sore in Berlin.
Such a peace might be more welcome to the people of West Berlin than their own officials admit. One of the less publicized of the many kinds of subsidy paid by West Germany to West Berlin is what Berliners rather cynically call their zitierpraemium — literally "jitters bonus.” This is an annual cash payment of one hundred marks (twenty-five dollars) apiece to each person in West Berlin to cover the approximate cost of a trip out to West Germany. The theory is that confinement in West Berlin is unbearably hard on the nerves and this annual excursion to freedom is supposed to relieve the tension. Surely a cheaper and sounder way would be to reach an accommodation with the East German authorities.
And what about our promise to seek by all peaceful means the reunification of Germany? We don’t forget the promise — a Germany united in peace is still our goal. But if unification in peace is at least one lifetime away, then not only the best but the only peaceful means of moving toward it is to accept the fact that two Germanies exist, and deal with both in a longterm effort to bring them together. ★