After weeks of criticism for refusing to send its tanks to Ukraine, Germany relented. Chancellor Olaf Schultz had hesitated in approving shipments of the Leopard 2 battle tanks, although Germans citizens have steadfastly supported Ukraine in its war against Russia and despite the fact that Mr. Schultz’s government delivered more than $1 billion in aid and arms to Ukraine last year.
But the tank issue caused a rift in German politics over whether the country was going too far in its support for Ukraine in a war with no end in sight against a nuclear-armed foe. Germany, while not a pacifist nation, still has prominent pacifist or anti-interventionist voices in its politics who point to the country’s history as the reason for avoiding deep involvement in foreign wars.
In this episode of History As It Happens, historian Chris Browning brings his expertise on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to a discussion about the burden of the German past on current politics. The idea of fighting Russia, even indirectly, on the same territory where the Nazis waged war 80 years ago is enough to create a dilemma for the Schultz government – especially when considering the decades of reconciliation by Germans to confront the horrors of their past.
“The baseline for German historical memory is World War II, the Hitler regime and the catastrophic defeat. So, at a number of points, Germany has had to wrestle with that past,” said Mr. Browning, who pointed to earlier debates inside post-war Germany about joining NATO and rearming itself.
Critics of Mr. Shultz argued that Germany should not draw what they called the wrong lesson from its history of war and genocide. Rather than avoiding war at all costs, the new Germany has a responsibility to assist Ukraine against Russia’s war of aggression. Indeed, Mr. Schultz may have faced as much pressure inside Germany to send the tanks as he did to withhold them. For decades now, parties on the German left have called for a more interventionist foreign policy on humanitarian grounds.
Listen to Mr. Browning talk about Germany’s difficult journey from the Hitler era to its current position as continental Europe’s most important state, by downloading this episode of History As It Happens.