- Paperback: 896 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New Ed edition (September 27, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140137084
- ISBN-13: 978-0140137088
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.3 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,845,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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History of Germany Since 1789 Paperback – Import, September 27, 1990
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This is not as bad as it sounds. There is value in taking the less common POV in an effort to produce a more balanced opinion among your readers. The approach assumes that this is not the reader’s only knowledge of these times and places. I came to The History of Germany in part because of the lack of depth in this area and because Mann as a German, with an American Education should have been able to give me a POV more from the German perspective. And so my read, and his writing became a matter of how much and how reasonable was this application of the matter of perspective.
Late in the book, (it is over 500 pages) it occurred to me that unlike most countries, Germany is a concept as much as a geography. Prof Mann never makes clear what exactly or approximately what he means by Germany or Germans. What most of us think of as a single color on the map had no unified existence much before 1789 and the boundaries of that map did not mean the same as it might mean to an American until sometime in the mid 1800’s. My wording is cautious because Germany is also a concept and people who have varying amounts of shared identity. It is common for Germans to talk of a set of traditions and a culture and culture going back 1000 years, but theirs is hardly as coherent of an identity as might be the case among the peoples of, for example, Italy, another country that became a single unified political existence at about the same time.
The History begins in 1789 as the beginnings of Germany as a single political entity is associated with the Napoleon. Mann describes how a cluster of city-states, principalities and barely associated feudal heavily agricultural entities had a proto-national identity thrust upon them by the rest of Europe as a balance against the threat of post Napoleonic France. In making the boundaries, there was little appreciation for the relative size and power of the historic princelings, Protestant and Catholic divisions and local tendencies to defer to the Junker class.
Austria and or the Austria Hungarian Empire is described as being out there somewhere. Austria and Poland will be a shadow in and out of the next hundred and fifty years of history. The History was published in 1968. Never made clear was the degree to which Austria Germans and the German Germans shared history, geography, economics and cultural history. It would seem that absorption of the one by the other would have been an obvious outcome but Mann never clearly distinguishes what about these people never made for more than alliances. Geography could have been the barrier but Mann specifically states that German national history defies the primacy of the topological map.
As for Poland, The Professor also keeps them just on the periphery. Some portions are earmarked y Mann as properly German, such that these areas will always be a casus belli, but he would also have us understand that Russia will never have Poland as other than a satrap and buffer state.
The book begs for several grand views of central Europe laying out themes and issues from the Balkans to the Rhine to the North Sea. That is it could have benefited from another 200 pages.
Across the first third of the book one of the running themes is the role imposed upon some kind of German state as a balance of power. Across this time Germany would have its own reasons to favor France. Given that France is usually described as the historic enemy of Germany, this is an important counter argument. Politic within the evolving state would be based on a loose federation of semi-independent states with no shared method for electing national representatives and head of state powers shifting between a more or less recognized king, one or another elected or appointed chancellors. On-going national need would ultimately be described as a need for a constitution, independent courts freedom of speech and other minimal features of a late 20th century nation state. Perhaps the more fundamental disagreement are those who desire a larger or a smaller Germany.
Returning to the stated goal of proving that ‘it’ was not Germany’s fault. Mann tends to grant himself a lot of contradictions. The Nation of Germany is not the outcome of the militaristic Prussians. The Prussians were very nice people and not at all militaristic. Perhaps, but with the rise of Bismarck, it is the Prussian Army that backs him as he creates his version of a smaller distinctly Imperial Germany. Not mentioned by Mann is that Bismarck’s Germany is also heavily Protestant.
Mann denies the importance of the Junker class. Yet it is the Junkers and a tradition of deference to the Junkers that gives them at least 100 years of disproportional political influence.
Anti-Semitism receives many mentions. It is the one common notion of people from Poland and Russia into France. Until WW II it had its native believers across the white world and indeed they have found new expression in 21st Century America. Meaning heavily so among Germans. Mann never attempts to analyze the history of Anti-Semitism nor why Germany would be such a long standing practitioner of this prejudice and a violent practitioner at that. Jumping ahead to the holocaust; he has no problem explaining that violent Anti-Semitism was part of Hitler’s sickness. He making the case that Jews did find defenders among that generation of Germany’s religious. Understated is the fact that it was every day Germans who participated in all aspect of what he admits was pointless horrific murderer. Further is raises admittedly pointless question of how many were murdered. Mann is not among the Holocaust deniers, but it is not to his credit that he raises the question of the actual count of the innocent dead.
Rather than return to the Bismarck years and the end of the 19th century, there are the two world wars that must be discussed.
By the dictated treaty of the victors, Germany is labeled as the singular cause of World War I. Professor Mann makes a muddle of arguement that technically Germany did fire the first shots, but the first aggressive actions of the war were not German. All of this hypper legality aside, The History of Germany adds little to the notion that the underlying, causes of World War I make no sense to a modern reader. Once again we read of several nations filled with people ready to and willing to fight for; something or other. Honor? Because they can? Jingoism? Neither here nor elsewhere have I found a case that says World War I was about anything or that one side was necessarily better, cleaner or more moral in its purposes than the other. Professor Mann, was aware of written proof that a victorious Germany would not have been good for Europe. Further proof of Germany’s lack of compassion as a victor can be found in the treaty they dictated to Russians. His point is that none of the documents can be offered as evidence that German went into the war with these particular aims. They evolved as the war became more deadly and costly. His argument is that in 1919, victors wanted something to give back to the population at home. Something that would pay for and somehow make the case for the victorious dead. From a German Point of View the Treaty they were forced to sign was hardly proof of allied commitment to the Wilson's peace without victory.
In relating German history preceding the Rise of Adolph Hitler, Mann makes clear that Hitler rose at a time when: German politics were severely unstable, when nationalistic resentments were at a peak and the beginnings of economic growth had been reversed by the world wide depression. Mann is of the belief that Hitler’s party was never more than Hitler himself. That under him, the political situation stabilized. Be a Nazi , be passive or be dead is a pretty definite way to achieve stability. The body politic stabilized. Be a Nazi or do not exist as a political party…. By massive spending he did create work, most likely the single most important reason why he could get away with enforced stability.
Mann points a finger at the rest of Europe as also being at fault. No one else forced Germany to have rational politics. By what mechanism or why they would want to confront another otherwise independent nation is not explained. Without going into a point for point discussion, this argument is infuriating. Every nation had its own issues and none of them were spoiling to go back into the known meat grinder of industrial warfare. German failed to be responsible for Germany. Germany wanted, or allowed itself to wage war, in a time and place when others had no desire or taste for war.
Allowing for Professor Man case at the highest, most theoretical level. Ther is much that explains, and almost excused Germany in World War II. However beneath some arguable discussions The History reveals some serious failures. Mann repeated argues that Nazism was never more than Hitler. That once he died it went away. No the loyal party followers learned to change their uniforms and deny and disavow. Not the same thing.
Further Mann has a tendency to slide over suffering by the nationals over run by the German Army. Hitler, Mann tells us had no intention of merely occupying nations. Hitler’s goal was to subordinate the losers as is the absolute right of the winners. Superior human rights belong only to superior humans, and superior humans win. The failed European states would have their entire culture subordinated to Hitler’s Germany. Note it is always Hitler’s will not the intentions or actions of the German Nation, or Army.
Faced with infamous German depredations he often write that these things are well known; there is no need to detail them here. Once the revenge of the Russian Army presses on Germany, we suddenly hear about roads filled with suffering women and children.
As a book of history there are observations that stay with me relative to The History of Germany since 1789.
1. I have little use for book reviews that tell me the reviewer is not going to review the book because the reader can read that where. It is your review in front of me, tell me about the book. Likewise a history that repeatedly says, go read about this elsewhere is hardly being definitive.
2. Professor Mann has a tendency to pronounce grand generalities about all humans, or diplomacy or philosophers and assume they are true because he says so. This is a typical lecture technique but becomes intrusive and distracting on the page. The reader is or should be asking, are these things true or are they just taking up space?
3. There are too many inconsistencies and contradictions.
This is a style of history writing that is hard to typify. It has the feel of a very learned discussion, but a personal conversation. More like a fireside post prandial presentation worthy of close attention and consideration.
The History of Germany since 1789, sets out to prove that the usual history of Europe is unfairly, unsympathetic towards Germany. I garnered a much better understanding of that POV, but I also came away wondering what does it mean to be German?