Could Germany spark another war? I fear it’s all too possible

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By  Dominic Sandbrook

PUBLISHED: 18:56 EST, 12  March 2013 |  UPDATED: 03:53 EST, 13 March 2013

The world is at  a crossroads in  history. Vast, untameable economic forces are remaking the landscape of  international affairs.

In Britain, a dithering Prime Minister is  buffeted by crisis after crisis. Abroad, from the heart of Europe to the fringes  of Asia, economic powers are rising. And there is talk of a new German empire,  bigger and more powerful than ever.

ver more citizens in the Mediterranean countries of the eurozone in particular argue that for the third time in less than 100 years Germany is trying to take control of Europe.
Ever more citizens in the Mediterranean countries of the  eurozone in particular argue that for the third time in less than 100 years  Germany is trying to take control of Europe

It sounds like something ripped from today’s  newspapers. But this was the state of the planet in 1913, 100 years  ago.

At first glance, the Britain of 1913 appears  impossibly different from the Britain of today. Our imperial dominion stretched  across the globe, while our bankers and manufacturers were widely regarded as  the best in the world.

And in a society rigidly divided by class,  the Tories were in the wilderness, Labour was merely a minority third party and  the Liberals — led by Herbert Asquith — were entering their eighth successive  year of government.

Chilling

New Statesman described Merkel as 'the most dangerous German leader since Hitler'
New Statesman described Merkel as ‘the most dangerous  German leader since Hitler’

Beneath the surface, however, the problems  that confronted our forebears back then were uncannily similar to those facing  us today, particularly in the changing balance of power in Europe.

This week, the faultlines that run ever  deeper across the Continent were the subject of an extraordinary speech by a  long-time president of the European Council, who insisted there are indeed  chilling parallels between 2013 and the eve of World War I a century  ago.

Jean Claude Juncker said that resentment  against Germany is running high because its imposition of austerity — in a bid  to shore up the euro — has exposed long-running tensions between  nations.

‘The demons haven’t been banished; they are  merely sleeping,’ he warned, adding that ‘anyone who believes the eternal issue  of war and peace in Europe has been permanently laid to rest could be making a  monumental error’.

Perhaps a decade ago he would have been  dismissed as a scaremonger. But today, the political mood is shifting across  Europe more dramatically than for many years. As the legendary American investor  George Soros said last year, if the German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued in  her economic demands on the rest of Europe, ‘the result will be a Europe in  which Germany is seen as an imperial power that will not be loved or admired by  the rest, but hated and resisted, because it will be perceived as an oppressive  power.’

The Left-leaning magazine the New Statesman  simply labelled Merkel ‘the most dangerous German leader since Hitler’. The  language may seem inflammatory, but ever more citizens in the Mediterranean  countries of the eurozone in particular argue that for the third time in less  than 100 years Germany is trying to take control of Europe.

The close relationship Merkel enjoyed with the Right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy of France has been banished by the socialist Francois Hollande
The close relationship Merkel enjoyed with the  Right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy of France has been banished by the election of  socialist Francois Hollande

Of course, the Germans would say they’re  simply trying to maintain economic stability in nations which for years spent  far beyond their means.

But if they continue to impose brutal  economic strictures on Europe’s peoples, the consequences in terms of social  alienation, international disputes and the rise of political extremism could be  dramatic.

Already we have seen bloody protests against  the German economic yoke in Athens, Rome and Madrid.

It is a situation tailor-made for  ultra-nationalist, Right-wing parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece, which is  acting with increasing violence and impunity against foreigners with every  passing week.

At the heart of the crisis is the great euro  project, an economic regime created in hubris — but now threatened with ruinous  collapse.

Divide

In the past year, the close relationship  Merkel enjoyed with the Right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy of France has been banished  by the socialist Francois Hollande, who came to office on the promise of massive  new state spending to reinvigorate the economy. Thus, a deep ideological divide  now exists between the two nations.

The agonies of Greece, where effigies of  Angela Merkel dressed as a Nazi were burned, have been well documented, but  Portugal has been cruelly hit, too. After a 78 billion-euro bailout in 2011, its  people have seen welfare spending cut and taxes raised. Even several public  holidays have been abolished.

In Spain, meanwhile, cities have seen rioting  as unemployment has soared to 25 per cent and anti-German sentiment has  grown.

In the recent general election in Italy, Prime Minister Mario Monti - who sought to impose Brussels' austerity measures - polled just 9 per cent of the vote
In the recent general election in Italy, Prime Minister  Mario Monti – who sought to impose Brussels’ austerity measures – polled just 9  per cent of the vote
Demonstrators dressed as Nazis and waving a swastika flag as they ride in an open-top car in Syntagma Square in Athens as they protest against Merkel's visit in 2012
Demonstrators dressed as Nazis and waving a swastika  flag as they ride in an open-top car in Syntagma Square in Athens as they  protest against Merkel’s visit in 2012

Last year, hundreds gathered to protest in  central Madrid after the German Chancellor had left the capital, waving banners  and saying ‘Merkel go home’ and ‘No to a German Europe’. One Spanish economist  who took part in the protest said: ‘The German financial mafia is taking  Spaniards hostage . . . Merkel belongs to a political class that serves German  oligarchies.’

The same sense of outrage is driving a  massive protest movement in Italy, where the Right-wing newspaper Il Giornale  published a front page picture of Merkel under the headline ‘Fourth  Reich’.

In the recent general election, the  technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti — who sought to impose Brussels’ austerity  measures — polled just  9 per cent of the vote.

Instead, the headlines were seized by the  anti-establishment party led by stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo, who could yet  prove to be kingmaker in a coalition government.

Thanks to this seemingly endless political  crisis, Germany is increasingly being seen not as Europe’s economic saviour but  its oppressor.

Of course, back in 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s  German Empire had more nakedly militaristic ambitions. Frustrated that his newly  unified country had missed out on colonising Africa and Asia, he had embarked on  a vastly expensive arms race with Britain, symbolised by the production of vast  naval dreadnoughts.

Even at the time, many people warned that war  was coming. As early as 1906, the Daily Mail — then just ten years old — had  serialised a bestselling book by William Le Queux, who predicted that the  inevitable war with Germany might lead to a Teutonic invasion of southern  England.

Far-sighted observers of the global situation  could see that behind all the domestic arguments about female suffrage, the  popularity of gramophones and bicycles and all the celebrity gossip about  high-society hostesses, the world was entering a new and extremely dangerous  phase.

On the edge of Europe, the Ottoman Empire was  breaking up, destabilising the alliances that had hitherto kept the Continent at  peace.

In the First Balkan War of 1912, Bulgaria,  Serbia, Greece and Montenegro had defeated the Ottomans and were busily carving  up the Balkans for themselves.

In June 1913, the victors fell out over the  spoils, with the Bulgarians fighting the rest for the disputed territory of  Macedonia. And even now, a century on, that conflict is a reminder of the  potential of ethnic passions and national resentments to unleash devastating  violence on the peoples of Europe.

Superficially, of course, our own situation  looks very different. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has even declared  that the very existence of the euro is a guarantee the Continent will never  again descend into bloodshed.  Only by such means, she said, could we be  sure to enjoy ‘another half century of peace in Europe’.

Yet the truth is that lashing together the  economies of nations as disparate as Portugal, Greece, France, Italy and Germany  has served only to inflame old enmities.

Bloodiest

And if keeping the euro project alive means  condemning the more impoverished nations to years of penury, with the  Mediterranean economies in ruins, neo-Nazis marching on the streets of Athens  and resentment building against Berlin and Brussels, it would take a brave man  to predict that violence will never return to the cities of Europe.

So could war again haunt the cities of the  Continent?

Alas, it is never easy to draw simple lessons  from history. In 1913, few people in Britain realised that the bloodiest war in  human history was just around the corner. Like most of us, they had known  nothing but peace and prosperity, and assumed the golden age would continue for  ever.

Germany's imposition of austerity - in a bid to shore up the euro - has exposed long-running tensions between nations, so could we actually face war in Europe?
Germany’s imposition of austerity – in a bid to shore up  the euro – has exposed long-running tensions between nations, so could we  actually face war in Europe?

Abroad, too, few could imagine the storm that  was coming. Without realising it, Europe had been dancing on the edge of a  precipice.

We, too, have been living the high life,  enjoying comforts our predecessors could never have imagined. And if the story  of 1913 does offer a lesson, it is that, even in these financially straitened  times, we should count our blessings.

We often imagine that things can only get  better. But as the events of a century ago so tragically and devastatingly  proved, they can, in fact, get an awful lot worse.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2292401/Could-Germany-spark-war-I-fear-possible-says-Dominic-Sandbrook.html#ixzz2NTx29cvO Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook



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