Indeed, the transformation of Europe since 1945 is a result of circumstances which cannot be duplicated easily elsewhere around the globe. Yet, this transformation is also due to leadership and the commitment of those leaders to pursue the Europe that would not repeat the mistakes of it’s very troubled and bloody past.
Reminders of how difficult that process can be emerged in the Balkan wars of the 90s, with simmering fires remaining in that region to this day. All of the accomplishments in Europe today cannot and should not be taken for granted as permanent. It may do well to remember that in 2014 we will mark the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. During the run-up to that catastrophe there was much talk of the globalization of the world in its early 20th century environment, as trade and communication networks seemed to be binding Europe and the U.S closer together. The opening pages of the famous book by Barbara Tuchman entitled The Guns of August seem to paint a picture of Europe that was interconnected until it bumbled into a war that killed millions and laid the foundation for its even more horrific second act twenty years later. The vast majority of Europe today is populated by people born after 1945. The scars of World War II are now played out more in history books and museums then in the personal experiences of a declining minority of people who carry the pain of that period.
It is all the more reason to have celebrations like those in Ludwigsburg last week to remind us of how far we have come, even if there is a long and difficult road ahead in sustaining the accomplishments. For Germany, the relationship with France is in an important testimony, as are relations with Poland and with many other countries with whom the first half of the 20th century saw so much pain and suffering.
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt this week once again reminded his fellow Germans about their special responsibility for keeping Europe on a course that will lead to a greater European Union. He also urged Germans to remember the help it received in the past from Europe as it struggles with the current difficulties of the euro. There are always plenty of moments to remember all these milestones. But it will take an equally important appeal to keep in mind why those milestones not only call people to look back, but also to look forward.
This past weekend in Berlin, a ceremony was held to mark the opening of an exhibition to illustrate the future of a so-called Cold War Museum. The purpose of that museum will be to demonstrate how the conflict was part of a much larger framework that was global in its reach, its impact and its solution. Berlin has done much to make the memory of the wall a permanent feature of its landscape. The division of Germany is captured in the checkpoint Charlie Museum, the Bernauer Strasse Museum, in the so-called Tränenpalast Museum, and also in the Allied Museum, all of which are part of the narrative of Germany as ground zero in the Cold War.