Where Did Germany Go Wrong?
To answer that, we have to analyze centuries, not just a few years
What do we mean by Germany?
Proto-humans populated the part of the world we now call Germany at least 600,000 years ago. The first non-modern human Neanderthal fossil was discovered in the Neander Valley. Similarly dated evidence of modern humans has been found in the Swabian Jura, including 42,000-year-old flutes (the oldest musical instruments ever found), the 40,000-year-old Lion Man, and the 35,000-year-old Venus of Hohle Fels. Archaeologists attribute the Nebra sky disk, created during the European Bronze Age, to a German site.
Germany has been a geographic/linguistic idea much longer than it has been a united political entity. The English word Germany derives from the Latin Germania, Julius Caesar's term for the peoples east of the Rhine. Linguists derive the German word Deutschland (the German lands) from deutsch, which is from the Old High German diutisc (of the people) used to distinguish the region's language from Latin and its Romance descendants. Diutisc descends from proto-German þiudiskaz, which comes from þeudo, from the proto-Indo-European word tewtéh (people), from which the word Teutons also originates. The Romans first called the Eastern Franks Germans in the 1st Century BC. There were Germans before there was a Germany.
Geography and the Spread of Christianity
The geographic idea that we call Germany has always lacked significant geographic barriers, like mountains or oceans, on either its eastern or western frontiers. Because it is at the edge of the vast grassland that stretches from the Pacific to the North Sea, central Europe has been subject to invasion after invasion for much of its history. Not every invasion was armed; indeed, most weren't. Most of Germany's invasions were mass migrations, driven by other mass migrations, crop failures, plagues, and pestilence.
History brings us together; memory divides us.
One invasion that seemed benign was the "invasion" of Romanized Christianity, which reached Germany in the 4th century AD. It spread slowly but certainly from the Rhine to the Bug River, reaching modern Poland by about the 7th century, and was soon joined by the rapid spread of Christianity in the Scandinavian world starting in about the 8th century. Resistance to this new faith was spotty, but it was persistent. Much to the irritation of many evangelistic preachers, Germans along the Baltic Sea frequently continued to practice their older animistic religions alongside Christianity, seeing no contradictions. Those Germans were to become, in time, Prussians.
We need to distinguish between religion, churches, and faith.
Religion is a practice, a dogma, defined by a series of rituals and prescribed beliefs. As the Catechism suggests, religion is a life to be lived.
Churches are organizations that construct buildings and can include those who attend religious rituals in these or other buildings. They are often the buildings themselves.
Faith is an un-falsifiable belief in deities, people (like leaders), organizations (like churches), and movements...like religions.
One can have one, two, or all three at once; they are mutually exclusive, but none require the other two. This is how Germany—often dominated by Prussia—continued to practice pre-Christian rituals and believe in their old gods (Norse and not) before and after the Mass. It should be a small wonder that the Protestant movements started in Germany. Germans could see corruption in one practice while keeping faith with another. Luther was just the most vocal. And Luther's heresy triggered other Protestant movements and begat conflicts worldwide between Christians who believed this doctrine, but not that one. Human violence backed by religious leaders has been consistently more violent, more destructive than those driven by other motivations.
The First Reich
The Holy Roman Empire (Latin: Sacrum Imperium Romanum; German: Heiliges Römisches Reich, a term not used until the 15th century) was a multi-ethnic complex of quasi-independent territories in Western and Central Europe—with the German states at the core. Pope Leo II officially proclaimed the Empire on 25 December 800, when he crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne (literally, "Charles the Great") and declared him the Emperor. The Eastern Franks (what Charlemagne really was; not German) had little of what we'd consider political organization until Charlemagne's time, and even then, it had a habit of dividing and being conquered a great deal. The Empire survived as a political entity based only on the strength of its emperor, elected from among the monarchs of the most powerful states. At its greatest extent in the 10th century, the Empire stretched from central Italy to the North Sea and held alliances by either marriage or politics from Ireland to Russia. By the 18th century, the Empire had shrunk to half of what it had been. Voltaire is said to have quipped that the remnants of the old Empire were neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The fact was that central Europe had been imperfectly Romanized—brought into the Christian/Catholic faith.
The Doormat of Europe
For most of its history, despite grandiose titles, Germany and the Empire were overrun, fought over, ransacked and pillaged once every generation or so because there were no natural boundaries to slow anyone down. The last straw came when the Prussians—despite being the soldiers-to-have for most of two centuries—had their heads handed to them by Napoleon, spreading his notions of “freedom” throughout Europe. The Emperor of the French abolished the crumbling old relic in 1806. To compensate for this, the Prussians developed their staff system that formalized military excellence by training all staff officers in the same, methodical way. This, combined with the German Way of War: sudden, tightly coordinated flanking-to-encirclement movements designed to intimidate the opposition. This way of war was the reason everyone wanted reliable-well-drilled Prussians to anchor their armies. The Hohenzollerns of Prussia, despite having been defeated by the French, presided over the most unified and powerful of the German states.
The Second Reich
The irritable and mercurial Otto von Bismarck was the architect of what we now call modern Germany. He made the four major German states in the Hohenzollern orbit—Prussia, Wittenberg, Bavaria, and Saxony—and dozens of principalities, bishoprics, electorates, and other leftovers from the old Empire into a single unified empire. He engineered wars with Denmark, Austria and France before proclaiming the German Empire in 1871, with Wilhelm I its first Emperor. After the French defeat, Bismarck began a series of diplomatic maneuvers that built what he called the Concert of Europe—everyone depending on everyone else to play their instrument so that the music was clean. But Wilhelm died, and his son, Frederick III, died of cancer after less than 100 days of his reign. That left Wilhelm II, who sacked Bismarck. Bismarck might have taught Wilhelm some things about the purpose of the concert of Europe that he organized—especially the idea that so many treaties would make any major conflagration too risky, but the concert was too complex to work.
The Failure of the Concert of Europe
Wilhelm II was the third and last emperor of the German Empire. His father, Frederick III, Wilhelm, though nearly thirty by then, was not temperamentally ready to be emperor. He wanted to rule and reign, where his father and grandfather were happy to let Otto von Bismarck do most of the day-to-day work and the details of policy-making. After firing/retiring Bismarck (who, ironically, threatened to resign from his post many times before), Wilhelm II set about building a navy to rival his grandmother's—Victoria I of Great Britain. The result was a naval race with Britain that Germany could never win, spending resources that Germany could barely afford—especially manpower. The result was a "risk fleet" that Germany hoped would deter Britain from going to war at all. While Bismarck could not have survived to 1914, a different chancellor might have persuaded Wilhelm to brake the runaway train that was the German Empire and Europe. A man with a spine might have been able to stop him from writing the notorious "blank check" he wrote to support Austria-Hungary's desire to crush Serbia in 1914. If nothing else,
The Disaster of WWI
The German defeat in 1945, some say, had its beginnings in 1919, when France, England, and the United States shoved the Treaty of Peace Between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany (commonly called the Versailles Treaty) down the German's throat in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The timing of the signing—the fifth anniversary of the death of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia—was coincidental. However, the place—where Wilhelm I's chancellor Otto von Bismarck proclaimed a second German Empire in 1871—was not. France, especially, wanted Germany humiliated, disarmed, stripped of their overseas empire, forced to pay heavy reparations, had their borders readjusted, and for select Germans to stand trial for war crimes (not like the trials 20 years later). After losing 1,5 million soldiers—25% of their men between 18 and 30—between 1914 and 1918, the French were in a bad mood, and no one argued with them. Germany had trouble finding someone in authority to sign the document: one German leader resigned rather than sign.
Though the fighting had stopped in November 1918, France and Britain would have gone back to war if the Germans didn't sign.
Germany, though not occupied, could not fight again. The army had collapsed for several reasons, starvation being among them. Sapped morale was another. The High Seas Fleet had mutinied rather than go out for a death ride in October 1918—one of several events that triggered the collapse of the Hohenzollern throne. Going back to the trenches was literally unthinkable since the German Army had demobilized itself and large elements of it were brawling in the streets...
There was, as far as they could see, no German state to fight for after the abdication of Wilhelm II.
Many historians and other blowhards say that the Götterdämmerung of 1945 was only the fault of the National Socialist German Workers Party—NSDAP in German, Nazis in the vernacular—and not of Germany as a nation or of Germans as a people. While this has been the common refrain since the Cold War started and the West needed German help to resist the Awful Red Things From Eastern Europe, it doesn't ring true. The Nazis originated in post-WWI Germany; the movement didn't come from elsewhere. It did sort of catch on elsewhere, but nowhere enough to take control of public affairs. To suggest that "Europe didn't know what the Germans were going to do" or that "the Germans didn't know what the Nazis were going to do" ignores the text of Mein Kampf, a best-seller in Germany for years before 1939. And before? That's a little trickier, but let's face it: Germany was a petri dish for any loudmouth who came along selling his "vision" for Germany... and the Germans bought it because they had become accustomed to following loudmouths. Germany didn't “go wrong” as much as geography and their own history trapped them.
Are Some Historical Topics Forbidden?
Why Can’t You Roller-Skate In A Buffalo Herd?
On 1 October:
1815: The Congress of Vienna began meeting. Less a “congress” since the principals never met in a plenary session, the series of meetings were to hammer out the political structure of Europe after the ravages of the French Wars.
1943: The US Women’s Army Corps was established in Washington, DC. Though many saw the WAC as an emergency measure that would simply atrophy after the end of the war, by 1945 the Army recognized the women had become important parts of administration.
And 1 October is NATIONAL HOMEMADE COOKIES DAY. Go bake a batch to celebrate.