Germany

A Healthy German Nationalism

Germans have earned the right to pride in country.

|

On a recent visit to Shanghai, I stopped along the grand riverfront promenade that runs through the city's downtown and, from that single vantage point, counted 31 Chinese flags visible at various places. The Chinese love their national flag, a handsome red rectangle with one large gold star and four smaller ones.

They're not alone in patriotic enthusiasm, as Americans prove on the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Flag Day and every other day. Israelis are keen on displaying their banner. Mexicans, ditto. Even the modest Canadians are not averse to flying the Maple Leaf.

There is one country I've been, though, where flag displays seemed to be regarded as undesirable: Germany. I spent six weeks in Berlin in early 2006, and each time I saw the tricolor of black, red and gold, I was surprised, because it happened so rarely. Aside from government buildings, in fact, the flag was practically invisible.

It's no secret why. Flags are associated with nationalism, and Adolf Hitler gave German nationalism a bad name that still lingers. The burden of historical guilt tends to discourage Germans from taking pride in their country, much less expressing that pride overtly.

I visited Seoul when my kids were in grade school and brought them back shirts adorned with the South Korean flag. When I went to Germany a couple of years later, I found other sorts of gifts. It seemed to me that wearing a shirt with a German flag on it in the United States was just asking for trouble.

During my stay, several Germans told me they felt no great pride in being German. "I feel more European than German" was a common sentiment. They had internalized that the key to Germany's postwar success has been de-emphasizing its Germanness.

But that inclination may be changing. In the European debt crisis, Germans have been willing to demand their way far more than they customarily do. A couple of weeks ago, we all saw a photo of Chancellor Angela Merkel at a soccer match in Poland, wildly cheering the Germans' defeat of Greece, whose government she had rescued only with great reluctance.

Merkel has been called a Nazi in Greece, but she didn't let that inhibit her. Nor did it silence the German fans, who jeered at the Greeks, "Without Angie, you wouldn't be here!"

Apparently, their fiscal restraint and economic health have imbued Germans with a bit more pride and even assertiveness. The flag is no longer invisible. In a spectacle brought on by the European soccer championship, reports The Economist magazine, "the entire country is swathed in black, red and gold."

This trend began in 2006, when the World Cup was held there, giving Germans a chance to discover the joys of patriotic face paint. By 2009, a survey found, twice as many people were proud to be German as in 2001. At the time, University of Hohenheim sociologist Eugen Buss said, "The German soul, bruised and discredited by the Nazi era, has to a large degree been healed."

That's something to welcome, because it has come about the right way: not by forgetting or excusing the horrors of the past but by coming to grips with them. It's hard to think of any people who have gone to greater lengths to acknowledge the crimes committed by their forebears or to remember the victims.

It's not unusual to stumble across plaques and signs noting awful events from Hitler's time. There is a Holocaust monument in the middle of Berlin. But it's not called the Holocaust monument. It's called, with unsparing candor, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Germans have earned the right to pride in country. Since the destruction of the Third Reich, they have established a prosperous market economy, a robust democracy and a tradition of cooperation with their neighbors.

They have not only left Nazism behind but also overcome communism, which for more than 50 years ruled in the eastern portion of the country. They reunited a country divided by the Cold War—and they did it without going bankrupt, suffering political upheaval or inducing panic in countries they had once occupied.

As Germans become more comfortable with patriotic expression, they will disturb some people in Europe and beyond. But flying one's flag is normal behavior. And if we know anything about the German-caused catastrophes of the 20th century, it's that normal behavior was not the problem.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.

Advertisement

NEXT: Wrecking Ball

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. You know who else was swathed in black, red and whitegold?

    1. Campbell’s soup?

    2. Starfleet officers?

    3. Iron Man?

    4. The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers?

  2. Well, good.

  3. Angela Merkel has been called a Nazi in Greece,

    Was it intended as praise, or condemnation?

    1. Well, it wasn’t in the context of Merkel beating up women and minorities or confiscating wealth, so it was probably meant as derogatory.

  4. Someone might want to give Poland a little heads up.

  5. Is there a little trembling in neighboring countries with Deutschland Erwacht?

  6. Imagine that picture of Merkel, with black hair and a toothbrush mustache……

  7. I could wish that the Japanese had faced up to the realities of their conduct during WWI and in particular in China one half as well as the Germans have come to grips with the truth of their Nazi past.

    1. The Japanese have a lot to answer for regarding the Rape of Nanking, to be sure.

      But Germany has banned all manner of Nazi symbology. That’s not a country trying to learn from its past, it’s a country trying to forget it.

      1. it’s a country whose past is constantly being used as a cudgel to extort more and more from it. At some point, it is reasonable to conclude that a generation or more of Germans who had nothing to do with the Nazis might say enough.

    2. Ditto. Was there three years in the navy and have had several long vacations there, speak just enough to ask directions and look up train schedules. Pretty neat place in a lot of ways.

      But they almost pretend the war didn’t even happen, that it was everybody else’s fault, etc. Granted, western racism and colonial expansion was a big incentive and model, but they were the ones who exaggerated as they copied, and a bad role model is a pretty sorry rationalization for being worse.

  8. WWII, not WWI.

  9. What a strange article to find in a libertarian magazine!

    1. Well, Reason’s only psuedo-libertarian, so they publish leftist hacks like Chapman. Not that in favor of rightist (?) hacks. The basis of libertarianism here seems to more social tolerance and civil liberties, than the NAP.

      1. Wow need to better edit myself. Please fill in the grammatical omissions.

  10. Meh, a day after dismissing American nationalism this seems a bit eye-rolling.

    1. I think there is a valid reason for that. Here in America, although we have a great deal to be proud of in terms of our founding values, our population’s willingness to fully embrace American jingoism sometimes causes us to be blind to American excesses, abuses, and deviations from our founding values. That’s not to say we can’t be proud of the Madisonian model upon which we’re founded, but that we should always hold that model as the ideal that we struggle to live up to on a daily basis. Namely, we need to temper our patriotism to align with that which gives right to our patriotism to begin with. Meanwhile, the Germans have every right to be proud considering how far they’ve come in 60 years. Sure, they should still be vigilant guardians of this newly acquired success in defense of basic humanity, but they have a right to be proud of being the glue holding Europa together.

  11. It’s halftime in the Weimarer Republik.

  12. Learn how to make money using Google. You can monetize your searching skills and earn up to $375 per hour working for this billion dollar company. You can choose your working hours. For more info visit surl.hu/financialfreedom

  13. Learn how to make money using Google. You can monetize your searching skills and earn up to $375 per hour working for this billion dollar company. You can choose your working hours. For more info visit surl.hu/financialfreedom

    1. Dood! Are you saying I can double my money?!?

  14. Sometimes, I feel a tad ashamed that we (the United States) didn’t go to bat for the liberation of the East German sector before the Soviets completely enslaved those people.

    Had the USSR even detonated Joe-1 before the Berlin Blockade?

    1. The greater shame is that we didn’t go to bat for the liberation of Poland. The great irony of World War II is that the original aims of the allies were never achieved. The UK and France declared war on Germany because it invaded Poland, but then not only did nothing to kick the USSR out of Poland, but let the USSR take and keep land that had been culturally Polish (or Jewish) for centuries – including Lwow and Wilno (Vilnius).

  15. I will never forgive them for firing Homer and the Scorpions.

  16. That is, for exporting the rock band.

  17. Can someone correct me here? Aren’t libertarians allergic to “nationalism?”

    For me, there’s only one kind of nationalism: Bad nationalism. Liberals believe it can be healthy.

    1. I also know that many libertarians are against a “hose it all down” strategy of getting things done.

      Nationalism is irrational, and it would be great if we could do away with it starting right now. But, since we live in a world of nationalistic tendencies, it’s better to support the most free of the world’s nationalisms. Certainly, Germany’s is high on that list.

  18. Can pride be extracted and seperate from nationalism? If so, I’ve always found pride does just fine in getting things done in the absence of nationalism.

  19. You know who else was in favor of German nationalism, healthy or otherwise?

    1. Beethoven.

  20. Chapman is actually right for once, but the irony is palpable considering that Gillespie just took a shit on my 4th of July yesterday taking us 150 years back in history to remind us of America’s slave-owning past. I think both America and Germany are both sufficiently historically separated from, and have sufficiently atoned for, slavery and the Holocaust, respectively, that they can each safely take pride in themselves without asking the world for permission.

  21. They have not only left Nazism behind but also overcome communism, which for more than 50 years ruled in the eastern portion of the country. They http://www.ceinturesfr.com/ceinture-lee-c-28.html reunited a country divided by the Cold War — and they did it without going bankrupt, suffering political upheaval or inducing panic in countries they had once occupied.

  22. There is one country I’ve been, though, where flag displays seemed to be regarded as undesirable: Germany. I spent six weeks in Berlin in early 2006, and each time I saw the tricolor of black, red and gold, I was surprised, because it happened so rarely. Aside from government buildings, in fact, the flag was practically invisible.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.