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The Iron Lady ❤s The Iron Curtain
September 10, 2009 6:04 PM   Subscribe

New Documents from the Soviet Archives reveal that as the Warsaw Pact was falling apart, Margaret Thatcher called Gorbachev to inform him that:
The reunification of Germany is not in the interests of Britain and Western Europe. It might look different from public pronouncements, in official communiqué at Nato meetings, but it is not worth paying ones attention to it. We do not want a united Germany. This would have led to a change to post-war borders and we can not allow that because such development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security. In the same way, a destabilisation of Eastern Europe and breakdown of the Warsaw Pact are also not in our interests.
This backs up assertions from former German Chancellor Kohl's new memoir that Thatcher put up obstacles to German Re-unification, fearing the rise of a Fourth Reich.
posted by empath (78 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thatcher's still alive, right? And so is HW Bush. Should be interesting to hear what they have to say about this.
posted by delmoi at 6:08 PM on September 10, 2009


There's blood on your hands, Mrs. Thatcher!
/Otto
posted by John of Michigan at 6:08 PM on September 10, 2009


She is still alive but suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's.

Not an unreasonable position for her to hold at that time, IMO.
posted by txvtchick at 6:12 PM on September 10, 2009


Thatcher was an enthusiastic proponent of Pinochet and other right-wing dictators who raped, murdered, and tortured their way to power. I'm not especially surprised she'd have no problem seeing, say, the Romainian people continue to suffer the brutal evils of their regime.
posted by rodgerd at 6:17 PM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


It can be argued that Reagan lifting the Carter Grain Embargo kept the Soviet Union from collapsing a couple years earlier, while re-energizing the 'Arms Race' had no real effect, because the Soviets had been arming themselves at full capacity even during the Perestroika period. Of course, if the USSR had fallen before Gorbachev, it's likely that Andropov or Chernenko would have done some genuinely disastrous acts to keep it together. So History works in weird ways.
posted by wendell at 6:19 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh Thatcher, Thatcher, Thatcher... and people wonder why half of Britain woke up every morning in the 80s semi-expecting killer robots patrolling the streets, crushing random passerby between giant metal fists.
posted by Kattullus at 6:20 PM on September 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Shorter Margaret Thatcher: "They bombed my chip shop!"
posted by grounded at 6:22 PM on September 10, 2009


She is still alive but suffering from dementia

Same as always, then?

(A cruel joke, yes, but so was the Falklands War.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:26 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Man, realpolitik is a cold, heartless bitch.
posted by Gilbert at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think Thatcher was always a bit more conservative (in the proper sense of that word) than Reagan. Thatcher wanted a nice, tidy world with the free folk on one side and the reds on the other, with a nice, tidy Western Europe without anymore messy World Wars and all that.

Ronnie, on the other hand, was more than willing to blow up the world if it meant getting rid of communism. And, hey, if getting rid of communism meant loosing the human race in the process, well, you've got to break a few continents to make an omelet.

A good example of Thatcher and Ronnie's differences can be seen in the invasion of Grenada. Ronnie didn't even bother to tell Thatcher that we were invading before it happened. With Grenada being a Commonwealth nation, you would think that he would have at least given her a heads-up.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm sure we're all glad the Sovs no longer exist, but at the time, I would say that Thatcher's conservatism probably made more sense than Ronnie's nuclear cowboy show.
posted by Avenger at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


In hindsight she looks like a fool. At the time I would have disagreed with her assessment, but it was not a completely lunatic assessment (unlike, say GWB's Iraq assessment say), I can remember there where a lot of fears of a reunited Germany, and not just from the conservative side of politics.
posted by edgeways at 6:31 PM on September 10, 2009


Am I missing the allusion to a fourth reich? What would that have required within Germany?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:40 PM on September 10, 2009


Ronnie didn't even bother to tell Thatcher that we were invading before it happened. With Grenada being a Commonwealth nation, you would think that he would have at least given her a heads-up.

SNL sketches aside, St Ronnie, while certainly not a dull blade at the time, wasn't really a details man. The same "fuck you reality" hubris that was present in the late administration was also operative in the 80s; Reagan himself was along for the ride, as evidenced by the arms deal with Iran / hostage swap / extra-constitutional funding of the Contras.

When we put a President into office we also plug in an entire power bloc into the governmental assembly. It is an interesting system.
posted by Palamedes at 6:44 PM on September 10, 2009


Dear Mr. Gorbachev,

Please do not let the imminent collapse of your empire interfere with your half of the "keeping Europe divided and troubled" equation. I do so hope to see Russian boots on Eastern European faces until the very last possible moment.

Ta! Your Frienemy,
UKoGBaNI
posted by fleacircus at 6:51 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know why a fear of a unified Germany was so crazy. They've kept their promises and modern Germany is a model for how to keep a country largely democratic but firmly anti-fascist. But given the antagonistic history of the German state, I'm a little amazed that Germany hasn't renamed itself "Nazichusetts" and occupied the Low Countries by now.

* I stole "Nazichusetts," but I can't remember the source to cite.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:52 PM on September 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Despite the "Tear Down This Wall" rhetoric, it's not really too hard to imagine why people who were already of adult age during WWII might actually prefer a divided Germany. Even though the FRG had managed to play well enough with the rest of the Western Alliance to be mostly "forgiven", those memories of German aggressiveness earlier in the century weren't so easily dispelled, especially in the more conservative corners, where there's always a little bit of war fever to be found.
posted by briank at 7:00 PM on September 10, 2009


Nazichusetts! ROFL!
posted by briank at 7:02 PM on September 10, 2009


Wouldn't the USSR, the US, Britain, France (and probably even Israel) each having enough nukes to turn Germany into a sheet of glass many times over have put a crimp in that whole fourth reich thing?
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:04 PM on September 10, 2009


Wouldn't the USSR, the US, Britain, France (and probably even Israel) each having enough nukes to turn Germany into a sheet of glass many times over have put a crimp in that whole fourth reich thing?

Shouldn't the Treaty of Versailles' stipulation that Germany not have a mobilized army or weapons stockpiles have stopped World War II from happening? It should have, yeah.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:12 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


<shock>
I'm shocked to hear that western nations engaged in duplicity during the cold war!
</shock>

How do we know Thatcher's words were sincere? Perhaps she was lulling Gorby into complacency while her massive army of commandos trained under the clever ruse of the "Summer of Love." Later, they were able to meet up with the German "Love Parade" (pretty thin disguise), sneak past the Iron Curtain, and tear down the wall.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:13 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the USSR, the US, Britain, France (and probably even Israel) each having enough nukes to turn Germany into a sheet of glass many times over have put a crimp in that whole fourth reich thing?

That's what every country thought about every other country right before WWI, and look how that turned out.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:15 PM on September 10, 2009


So History works in weird ways.

yeah, imagine what the world would be like today if the Supreme Court actually gave the election to that sociopath Bush in 2000, I heard they were this close to doing it too...
posted by any major dude at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2009


No one thought the entire nation of Germany could be wiped entire from the face of god's earth with the press of a button during either of the world wars, sorry.
posted by absalom at 7:29 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


It can be argued that Reagan lifting the Carter Grain Embargo kept the Soviet Union from collapsing a couple years earlier
The collapse ultimately was down to grain, but Reagan was so fixedly driven to bring down communism that I begin to wonder if his motive there wasn't to ensure an ultimately more catastrophic and fundamental collapse.

As for Thatcher, it's no surprise that she'd think like that. Considering how things have turned out, though, it's yet more evidence that our politicians are far too short-termist. Sure, problems arise, but we deal with them and in doing so become stronger for it. That said, from what little's left in her befuddled brain, doubtless her position on German unification seems vindicated by events, given that Germany has such a strong economic and political position in the EU (another Thatcher bete noire).
posted by fightorflight at 7:32 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


That said, from what little's left in her befuddled brain, doubtless her position on German unification seems vindicated by events, given that Germany has such a strong economic and political position in the EU (another Thatcher bete noire).

QFT. Thatcher was more about making Britain strong again, by whatever means necessary.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:40 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Nazichusetts"

Mass'o'fascists?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:48 PM on September 10, 2009


* I stole "Nazichusetts," but I can't remember the source to cite.

Google says it was a David Letterman top 10 list of the names for reunified Germany.
posted by delmoi at 7:49 PM on September 10, 2009


It's easy to pick and choose the faults of past politicians, but one should consider the environment that they operated in. It's not as easy to pigeonhole either Reagan or Thatcher as "self-serving evil" as seems to be implied by some of these comments here. Did they frequently make unwise home policy? Sure many times, and I'm not going to defend those decisions one bit.

Excuse the generalities, but I'm trying to keep this set-up as brief as possible.
As Reagan, Thatcher, and other heads-of-state-to-be grew up, the world was in the midst of the clashing of powers that had grown and expanded under mostly the same rules for about 200 years. The rules of the game were known, and things were done a proscribed way. Over these last 2 centuries., the practice of war was formalized with the Geneva Convention, embassy territorial agreements set, every 20 years the borders and flags of countries change with new wars, and diplomacy worked in it's many forms, from deception to honorable agreement.

The nukes changed all that, in both a psychological and practical aspect. The world where everyone played the great game, whether weak or strong, there was (mostly) a proscribed method for "playing" the game. Nobody really thought that "the game" they knew could just up and change rules. Until the prospect of nuclear war came, no one had the power to just have a shit-fit and wreck the world totally. Game over indeed.

The game changed with the "fall" of Stalinist communism. Nobody really planned it. Every moment of the west's political movements since the end of WWII had always factored in what the communists would do. No political strategy page would be written without thinking WWCRD (What Would Communist Russia Do?) All of the sudden, the rules and the situations they knew and depended on were faced with drastic change. Change that COULD mean the loss of western influence in the balance of power in Europe. That COULD lead to god knows what instability in any part of the world. Bush and Thatcher were not people who could deal with things moving this fast and unpredictably. The new rules were in play now, and the world of diplomacy, in all its forms, would have to figure them out as they went along.

The rules they knew were: Slow down. Slow and steady wins this. "The Reds" react badly to sudden movements. Push too hard and it'll be brinkmanship for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of the sudden they getting notice that the Berlin wall guards are going to fire on civilians, all hells breaking loose. Where will this go? They have been trained not to rely on "the better angels of our nature" when it comes to fluid situations like this. I can understand why they're so overly cautious and way of such a drastic change like reunification. They know the old way, the old way works (in as much as there was no WWIII), why do we have to destabilize everything we've worked for (i.e. "the Balance of Mutually Assured Destruction") now?

Was all this worry and stalling about reunification warranted? History has says no, as it turned out. But you really cant blame them for being worried about what COULD have happened. Their fault was not believing it CAN happen the way it did.

I apologize for jumping all over the place with that, I just think that it's not entirely fair to judge something without considering the surrounding environment at the time. Does this forgive bad decisions? Of course not, but at least it's better than just saying "getting rid of communism meant loosing the human race in the process, well, you've got to break a few continents to make an omelet."
posted by chambers at 7:53 PM on September 10, 2009 [12 favorites]


All of the sudden they getting notice that the Berlin wall guards are going to fire on civilians, all hells breaking loose.

I thought I should cite this, but got all wrapped up in analogies in my last post.

also:

Metafilter: Push too hard and it'll be brinkmanship for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
posted by chambers at 7:58 PM on September 10, 2009


I don't get it, what does a reunified Germany have to do with Massachusetts?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:59 PM on September 10, 2009


Wow, talk about the real message whooshing past overhead. It's in plain sight, right in the document:

[the US President] asked me directly to tell you that the United States would not do anything that might put at risk the security of the Soviet Union or perceived by the Soviet society as danger

This wasn't about Germany, this was about the nuclear-armed Soviet Union. We (NATO, basically) wanted to make sure they didn't do anything crazy as they fell apart. Making sure they understood that we weren't going to take advantage of their weakness was a critical factor in their largely peaceful collapse. That's very atypical for failing empires, and it's this kind of diplomacy that helped make it happen. (plus a very smart man in charge of the Soviets, thank goodness.)

To any sane Western leader at the time, the rebuilding of Germany was small potatoes. It had been divided for fifty years. There was no rush on putting it back together. Both countries were stable, not threatening anyone. There was just no reason to focus on it, other than in the sense of not scaring the disintegrating, nuclear-armed power to the east.

If we had pushed hard on this issue, Gorbachev could have lost power to the hardliners in the Soviet Union, and the outcome to that would have been a disaster. As is, we got most of what we wanted, Germany was reunified, and the armed conflicts were kept non-nuclear and internal to the former Soviet Empire. It could have been a lot worse.

This was not stupid. Not even a little bit. It's easy to be all shocked and horrified in our modern, multipolar world, but back then, there were two powers in the world that mattered. Making sure they didn't come to blows was absolutely at the top of all sane priority lists. The Germans could have been celebrating their reunification while the world died in nuclear fire.

In a very real way, this was the last gasp of the Cold War.

It's quite possible Thatcher didn't really care about Germany; she might simply have been throwing up the roadblocks to make sure the Soviets understood that we weren't trying to dismantle them by diplomacy. And yeah, she could have been afraid of the Fourth Reich, but she didn't have the twenty years of hindsight that we do. The thought of Angela Merkel at the head of goosetepping hordes is highly amusing, but Thatcher would have had no way to realize that Germany would be electing Merkel instead of a Mengele.
posted by Malor at 8:05 PM on September 10, 2009 [33 favorites]


I think she probably did oppose German reunification, but in any event, what should she have said? It might have started a third World War if the Soviet leadership thought it was being undermined by the West. The best way to discourage this, at a time of crisis and uncertainty when no real action could be taken, would have been to encourage the opposite belief.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2009


In posts like this it would be good if say Thatcher herself chimed in

"The OP is totally incorrect in his assertion that I was against German unification- and indeed if there was a fourth reich , I would have been its greatest supporter"

posted by IpwnedArthurSkargill at 11.25 PM on September 10 [+] [!]
posted by mattoxic at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not like "Margaret Thatcher is batshit crazy" was an unusual position during her tenure. A lot of people on both sides of the pond looked at her and went "oh, what the fuck".
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:12 PM on September 10, 2009


It's not like "Margaret Thatcher is batshit crazy" was an unusual position during her tenure. A lot of people on both sides of the pond looked at her and went "oh, what the fuck".

Madness is a means to an end sometimes.

Kinda worked, if you don't mind all the people killed, on both sides, to prove the point that you've gone mad.
posted by chambers at 8:18 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


As Winston Churchill observed, "The Hun is either at your feet -- or at your throat."

I don't see how a German patriot could not desire reunification. But conversely, it was arguably the duty of the First Minister of the United Kingdom to oppose it.
posted by orthogonality at 8:41 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


The game changed with the "fall" of Stalinist communism. Nobody really planned it. Every moment of the west's political movements since the end of WWII had always factored in what the communists would do. No political strategy page would be written without thinking WWCRD (What Would Communist Russia Do?) All of the sudden, the rules and the situations they knew and depended on were faced with drastic change. Change that COULD mean the loss of western influence in the balance of power in Europe.
posted by chambers at 10:53 PM on September 10 [2 favorites +] [!]

Whittaker? How's that pumpkin patch doing?
posted by orthogonality at 8:44 PM on September 10, 2009


Putting aside the realpolitick calculations that Thatcher was making about supporting or opposing reunification I personally think the reunification was a bad idea for the German peoples. East Germany had been ruled by an authoritarian one party state for over forty years with all the negative effects that had on the prosperity and social structure of the country. To suddenly reunite it with Western Germany in a big bang with monetary unification and free movement led to East Germany being hollowed out as production and talent fled west. These problems continue today.

Much better, in my opinion, to have kept them as two separate countries. Then East Germany could have developed much like Poland has, at its own pace and under its own aegis. With regards to Berlin, I would have suggested reunification there, but as a separate city state.
posted by Sitegeist at 8:45 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not as easy to pigeonhole either Reagan or Thatcher as "self-serving evil" as seems to be implied by some of these comments here.

HW Bush was president in 1989. We don't know what policy differences there were between Reagan and him. The only other comments on Reagan in this thread were these:
"It can be argued that Reagan lifting the Carter Grain Embargo kept the Soviet Union from collapsing a couple years earlier",

"The same "fuck you reality" hubris that was present in the late administration was also operative in the 80s; Reagan himself was along for the ride, as evidenced by the arms deal with Iran / hostage swap / extra-constitutional funding of the Contras.",

and "The collapse ultimately was down to grain, but Reagan was so fixedly driven to bring down communism that I begin to wonder if his motive there wasn't to ensure an ultimately more catastrophic and fundamental collapse."
seem to be saying he was a hard-core, idiological anti-commie.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 PM on September 10, 2009


Putting aside the realpolitick calculations that Thatcher was making about supporting or opposing reunification I personally think the reunification was a bad idea for the German peoples. East Germany had been ruled by an authoritarian one party state for over forty years with all the negative effects that had on the prosperity and social structure of the country. To suddenly reunite it with Western Germany in a big bang with monetary unification and free movement led to East Germany being hollowed out as production and talent fled west. These problems continue today.

I don't think that's very realistic. What would be the motivation for people to stay disunited? Poland has it's own language and history, whereas Germany had been Germany for a long time (either as an empire or a loose collection of affiliated kingdoms). I also doubt that poland today is much better off, development wise, then east Germany.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 PM on September 10, 2009


West, delmoi. Fled west.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:10 PM on September 10, 2009


What would be the motivation for people to stay disunited?

To keep Prussia separated from the Ruhr, per the Morgenthau Plan.
posted by Palamedes at 9:17 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


^ ah, that's external motivation. Nevermind.

I'm no Deutscher but the cost of unification wasn't that great in the scheme of things. German national debt is about 2/3rds the US on per-capita basis.
posted by Palamedes at 9:23 PM on September 10, 2009


I don't get it, what does a reunified Germany have to do with Massachusetts?

It just sounds good, and "Massachusetts" is already a funny name. No deeper meaning.

Google says it was a David Letterman top 10 list of the names for reunified Germany.

Twenty years old and two seconds long. And it resurfaced. My head's a junk drawer. Nice find.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:32 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


seem to be saying he was a hard-core, idiological anti-commie.

I guess I did come out swinging a bit, apologies. Every time I hear "Thatcher" and "Fascists" I think of Rick from the Young Ones. I don't defend their policies, but at least the wider strategy appears to have kept us from WWIII. Could it have been done better, by someone else of a different ideological stance? Absolutely.

I agree his ideology was absolutely anti-commie, but it's a matter of separating the off the cuff bluster with a strategic public face, that had to straddle a line to be a message to both the American people and the Russians. It'll be almost impossible to know which is which, as even the staff members still around have their own ideas about it, some wanting to keep some idealized version of Reagan, or have an axe to grind somewhere along the way. What was that thing from Patton? "It's not important that they know (when I'm acting), just that I know."

It's a proven tactic, as shown in my previous post that presentation like that was a big part of the cold war tit-for-tat press war. Though I do think Reagan's "Ladies and gentlemen, the Soviet Union has been declared an outlaw nation. The bombing starts in five minutes" was unbelievable and was probably the most stupid off-the-cuff remark in history.
posted by chambers at 10:17 PM on September 10, 2009


Many years ago, shortly after it was apparent that the fall of Communism and the revolutions in the Eastern Bloc weren't going to lead to World War 3, I read this phrase in an astute analysis of the situation.

"We are moving from an era of high-tension, high-stability to an era of low-tension, low-stability"

It gave me chills when I read it, and it has turned out to be absolutely correct.

Everybody was terrified of what would happen if and when the world went to shit. The East and the West worked hard to keep assholes like AlQaeda under their thumbs, because they were concerned about what the other side would do.

Now the world only needs to fear the United States. Thanks, W.
posted by Xoebe at 10:20 PM on September 10, 2009


Thatcher is a piece of shit.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 10:22 PM on September 10, 2009


Thatcher is a piece of shit.

Thanks for that interesting and insightful comment.
posted by armage at 10:43 PM on September 10, 2009


Thatcher is a piece of shit.

Thanks for that interesting and insightful comment.

Well, Thatcher is a piece of shit. This is quite an important point in the context of this post. Her motivation for trying to block German reunification wasn't realpolitik, or maintaining the post-war equilibrium. It was her being a paranoid jingoist who personally hates Germany and the Germans, who she thought would march back into Poland if given half a chance. Not that she cared much for Poles or other foreigners either (or even the Brits, for that matter), but she hugely enjoyed being boss, and thought that the Chancellor of a reunited Germany would put the PM of the UK slightly in the shadow (as is indeed the case). So, the fact that Thatcher is an unrepentant, slimy POS is quite a relevant point to make.
posted by Skeptic at 11:33 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


The world was never more peaceful than when we were at war with the USSR.
posted by joelf at 12:18 AM on September 11, 2009


...Germany had been Germany for a long time (either as an empire or a loose collection of affiliated kingdoms).

Well, there was the Holy Roman Empire, and later the German Confederation, but I think you're right to stress that those were very loosely affiliated. It's worth noting that both of those organizations included Austria, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Luxembourg, etc.

German culture and the German language are very old, but except for one brief period in the middle of the 20th century that cultural/linguistic identity didn't really didn't translate into any enduring political unity. When the German Empire was born (in 1871, a few years younger than Canada) it was a genuinely new idea.

What would be the motivation for people to stay disunited?

What reason could there be for keeping people who share a common linguistic/cultural/ethnic heritage politically disunited? Well, look at the converse of that. People who do not share in that heritage are in danger of not being thought of as fully deserving of the rights pertaining to citizens. Tying a political identity and personal identity together seems to me to have been the great mistake of 20th century politics.

Perhaps the best argument for reunification was that East and West Germans wanted a chance to prove that they could live together without trying to take over the world.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:21 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is a good case-in-point for how politicians are ruled by the mindsets they established in their 20s and 30s. And for the inability of the right to understand the true beneficial consequences of the EU.
posted by athenian at 12:25 AM on September 11, 2009



As Winston Churchill observed, "The Hun is either at your feet -- or at your throat."

I don't see how a German patriot could not desire reunification. But conversely, it was arguably the duty of the First Minister of the United Kingdom to oppose it.


Jesus fucking Christ. What the fuck is this, bigotville? Shel Silverstein gets hauled over the coals for a 50 year old faggot crack, but we're down with racist shit like this? You arseholes ought to be ashamed of yourselves. What next, posting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
posted by rodgerd at 12:35 AM on September 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is a fascinating, great post. But the emphasis on Thatcher seems a little misplaced:
The French especially were horrified. Why had Moscow not done anything to prevent the prospect of a united Germany? Mitterrand and the French Establishment, Mr Gorbachev’s colleagues reported, were having nightmares. One, Jacques Attali, even said that he would go and live on Mars if unification occurred.
From the recollection of the Thatcher statement:
I can say that the President of the United States is of the same position. He sent me a telegram to Tokyo in which he asked me directly to tell you that the United States would not do anything that might put at risk the security of the Soviet Union or perceived by the Soviet society as danger. I am fulfilling his request.
I don't think anyone except (some of?) the Germans wanted a united Germany.

Apart from stability issues, it doesn't make sense in terms of power politics. The united Germany is economically and by population the most powerful nation in Europe. It's much more advantageous to Britain and France to have Germany divided and weak. Whether it's a Reich or not, containing and counterbalancing Germany has been the biggest European diplomatic priority ever since 1871.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:29 AM on September 11, 2009


I can't find the Noam Chomsky quote; I think it's somewhere in Understanding Power. As I recall, he just says that, in the post WWII period, the U.S. and the U.K. made a big fuss about the partition of Germany but that it was just for show. They were actually in favor of it, or at least apathetic towards it, figuring it would prevent Germany from becoming a major power again.

None of this had anything to do with opposing fascism. In the eyes of US and UK leaders, a vaguely socialist, primarily democratic Germany with a booming steel industry or a large air force would be just as big a problem as a neo-fascist Germany with a booming steel industry or a large air force. The point was that the US - with their loyal canine companion, the UK - wanted to rule the world and weren't going to allow another rival onto the playing field if they could help it.
posted by Clay201 at 2:06 AM on September 11, 2009


Not only that, but Mitterrand was considering a Franco-Soviet military alliance, under the guise of "fighting natural disasters", to reinforce the Iron Curtain.
posted by acb at 2:09 AM on September 11, 2009


people wonder why half of Britain woke up every morning in the 80s semi-expecting killer robots patrolling the streets, crushing random passerby between giant metal fists.

These exist! Not quite robots though. More like Mechs.

The term for them is automobiles.
posted by srboisvert at 3:07 AM on September 11, 2009


Who is M. S.?
posted by chillmost at 3:23 AM on September 11, 2009


Thatcher's views on German reunification have been on record for a long time, and although these new documents are quite interesting, they don't add much to the story we already know.

In March 1990, Thatcher held a meeting at Chequers (the Prime Minister's country residence) and invited a group of historians, including Hugh Trevor-Roper, Timothy Garton Ash and Norman Stone, to give their views on German reunification. The minutes of the meeting were leaked to the press a few months later, and were officially declassified in 2007. They make interesting reading. The meeting started with a discussion of German national characteristics:

Like other nations, they had certain characteristics, which you could identify from the past and expect to find in the future .. [including] their insensitivity to the feelings of others, their obsession with themselves, a strong inclination to self-pity, and a longing to be liked. Some even less flattering attributes were also mentioned as an abiding part of the German character: in alphabetical order, angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complex, sentimentality.

However: 'there was a strong school of thought among those present that today's Germans were very different from their predecessors .. There was an innocence of and about the past on the part of the new generation of Germans. We should have no real worries about them.'

Norman Stone's recollections of the occasion, though possibly unreliable, are also interesting. He says that the anti-German sentiments mostly came from Thatcher herself, and that the other participants were trying to argue her round to a more positive view of German unification. Later, the meeting moved on to a discussion of policy objectives for the future, and here again the minutes make very interesting reading:

To an extent Soviet and East European interests paralleled those of Western Europe. We wanted Germany to be constrained within a security framework which had the best chance of avoiding a resurgence of German militarism. We wanted a continuing American military presence in Europe as a balance to Germany's power. We would want to see limits, preferably self-imposed, on the size of Germany's armed forces .. We would want to involve the Soviet Union institutionally in discussions of Europe's future security, not least because in the long term (and assuming continued development in the direction of democracy) the Soviet Union would be the only European power capable of balancing Germany.

The diary of Horst Teltschik, Helmut Kohl's foreign policy adviser, has also been published and gives a very useful summary of Thatcher's views on German reunification, which fits in with what we know from other sources:

Charles Powell, my counterpart in No. 10 Downing Street, completely explains to me Thatcher's attitude to Germany in a three-hour conversation. She belongs to a different generation from himself and is still marked by the time when there was a 'cultural gap' between Great Britain and Germany. She feels uneasy at the thought of a big strong Germany.

Malor's comment above, 'It's quite possible Thatcher didn't really care about Germany', is quite wrong. She obviously cared a lot. One of the key concerns for her was to ensure that a reunited Germany didn't lead to the breakup of NATO and the withdrawal of American troops from Europe. Note that sentence from the minutes: 'We wanted a continuing American military presence in Europe as a balance to Germany's power.' The aim was to keep America firmly locked into European politics.

It's worth remembering that some British politicians of the time were far less inhibited about expressing anti-German sentiments in public. Nicholas Ridley, for example, had to resign from the Cabinet in July 1990 after a newspaper interview in which he compared Helmut Kohl to Hitler and described European union as 'a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe'. We owe a lot to the historians, diplomats and foreign policy advisers who successfully prevented Thatcher from giving her anti-German instincts full play. (It didn't stop the Conservative Party tearing itself apart over the issue of European union .. but that's another story, and by that time German reunification was a done deal.)
posted by verstegan at 3:28 AM on September 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Wouldn't the USSR, the US, Britain, France (and probably even Israel) each having enough nukes to turn Germany into a sheet of glass many times over have put a crimp in that whole fourth reich thing?

That's what every country thought about every other country right before WWI, and look how that turned out.


It's odd - in none of the many history courses I took in school or in college did anyone mention that there were nuclear weapons around before the First World War. I should sue somebody.

===============================

I personally think the reunification was a bad idea for the German peoples.

I bet you don't know anyone from the former East Germany. If you did, you might ask them how they feel about this opinion of yours.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:43 AM on September 11, 2009


Replace "East Germany" with "North Korea" and you'll see much the same realpolitikal arguments today for China and South Korea to prop up and reinforce the miserable dictatorship in the North, because opening the borders would be too expensive.
posted by acb at 4:54 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thatcher's views on German reunification have been on record for a long time

Yes, that's right - she was quite open about her opposition at the time. But I think it is still remarkable that she would actually ask Gorbachev to help stop it. It's also somewhat enlightening that she actually thought she could prevent unification (a better politician would have recognised the inevitable and taken steps to ensure they were seen to be on the right side of history) - but Margaret Thatcher the deluded megalomaniac is an altogether less newsworthy figure than Margaret Thatcher the stalwart friend of soviet communist domination in Eastern Europe.
posted by Phanx at 5:45 AM on September 11, 2009


Kirth, yes it's an opinion I have formed myself, but actually you are wrong, I do know a few people from the former East Germany and when I have (delicately) introduced my ideas on the subject they have recognised it as an argument presented in their own country (of course - it's a broad populace with a broad range of views) and have often found them sympathetic to at least the tenor of the argument. None of them (to my knowledge) have taken offence at what I have had to say.
posted by Sitegeist at 6:36 AM on September 11, 2009


Just to add some weight to my comment above about it being a view shared by some former East Germans here's a paper written early after the reunification from which the below is excerpted:
"Many of our people believed the vision of German brothers and sisters reuniting, and many believed the promises of Chancellor Kohl. But all that has failed, and today the gap between East Germans and West Germans is deeper than ever."

This bitter feeling of disappointment is a result of two basic problems: the accelerating rates of unemployment and the total collapse of East Germany's self-identity, Bortfeldt said.
posted by Sitegeist at 6:48 AM on September 11, 2009


Here is an interesting comment about the Mitterand / Thatcher dynamic over the period from yesterday's FT:

There are indications, meanwhile, that Mitterrand may have been playing a wily game, baiting Mrs Thatcher into making increasingly hostile public statements on reunification that marginalised Britain.

Mitterrand himself had other aims. While he may have been concerned about reunification, his real ambition was to steer a wider Germany into the project of European Monetary Union and a united Europe.

Also, the British Foreign and Commonwealth office released a ton of documents related to this issue yesterday and I was going to post a link to the inevitable free pdf the government would produce, but it seems you have to buy it from Routledge. Do UK subjects find this odd? Didnt you guys pay for this already with your taxes?
posted by shothotbot at 7:39 AM on September 11, 2009


Sitegeist, OK - I'm wrong about your knowing anyone from E. Germany. BTW, I did not say they would be offended by your opinion, and you do not say they agreed with same. The only people I know from EG are in the US now, a condition they would have had a great deal of trouble effecting under the E.German government. For those people, at least, reunification is an improvement. Also, the quote in your last comment does not say reunification was a bad idea. It says it didn't turn out well.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:54 AM on September 11, 2009


Do UK subjects find this odd? Didnt you guys pay for this already with your taxes?
Doesn't especially bother me. We paid for Buckingham Palace too, but I don't get to sleep there. More seriously, I also pay for good stuff from the National Archives, and of course the BBC.

On the other hand, I get the money sink that is the NHS free, so it strikes me as a fair swop.
posted by fightorflight at 8:25 AM on September 11, 2009


The Thatcher-Mitterrand rivalry goes back a long way. During the Falklands War, when Argentina had French-designed Exocet missiles, Thatcher reportedly coerced Mitterrand into handing over codes for disabling the missiles or else have the nuclear bombing of Buenos Aires on his conscience. Mitterrand, who once described Mrs Thatcher as "the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe", got his own back later by eroding Britain's separation from the Continent by building the Channel Tunnel ("I'll build a tunnel under the Channel. I'll succeed where Napoleon III failed. And do you know why she'll accept my tunnel? I'll flatter her shopkeeper's spirit. I'll tell her it won't cost the Crown a penny.")
posted by acb at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doesn't especially bother me. We paid for Buckingham Palace too, but I don't get to sleep there. More seriously, I also pay for good stuff from the National Archives, and of course the BBC.

The problem is that the British state is quite meager in what it gives back to its subjects compared to the US. Case in point: the US Geological Survey's mapping data, which, by statute, is in the public domain, versus the Ordnance Survey's data, which is under Crown Copyright, expensive and restrictively licensed, despite having been collected at taxpayer's expense. Or, indeed, the fact that databases of facts can be copyrighted in the UK, leading to things such as the national rail monopoly giving exclusive rights to its timetable data to one iPhone app developer, who charge £5 for anyone wanting to look at UK rail timetables on their phone. (In America, that sort of thing would, I believe, be unconstitutional.)
posted by acb at 9:03 AM on September 11, 2009


Thanks for the link. Mrs Thatcher's views on German reunification have always been known, now we have some conclusive historical evidence.
posted by Matthias Rascher at 9:36 AM on September 11, 2009


All these comments, and not one reference to Tom Lehrer?

Once all the Germans were warlike, and mean, but that couldn't happen again/
We taught them a lesson in 1918, and they've hardly bothered us since then....

posted by jokeefe at 11:22 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the British state is quite meager in what it gives back to its subjects compared to the US.

Erm.... universal health care?
posted by jokeefe at 11:23 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seems to me Capitalism, for all it's hypocrisy before the Berlin wall fell at least was a bit better behaved and needed to at least put on the face of "we're the good guys." Afterwards Capitalism became as near as a religion as anything else. It no longer had any ideological competition, the free market was sainted and deified and its true ugly greedy irresponsible face showed itself as ultimately self-devouring, will to destroy healthy tissue for the sake of the bottom line. We're living in that post hyper-capitalistic time period. It just goes to show, that even economic system need a healthy dose of competing in the free market of economic ideologies.

To wit, the soon to be most successful capitalistic nation in the world, China, is a totalitarian state with no freedom of speech or religion. The Right-wing needs to explain how they shout commie this and socialist that without explaining how we're in debt up to our eyeballs to a communist nation with an abhorrent human rights record.

Anyhow Maggie was a Cold War soldier. Not much was going to change that no matter what happened.
posted by Skygazer at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sitegeist I'd say that you are profoundly wrong when you think that Eastern Germany at least would have been better off without reunification (or with reunification at a later date). For starters, the East German exodus towards Western Germany would have taken place with or without reunification. Indeed, it was one of the main practical reasons for reunification: from the moment the Iron Curtain fell, East Germany began losing citizens by their tens of thousands. If anything, reunification somewhat stemmed the bleeding by removing some of the motivation for moving west. But nothing short from rebuilding the Iron Curtain would have stopped them.
Secondly, the thought that East Germany would have been better off "developing at its own pace, like Poland" is also ridiculous. While there's no doubt that some border areas in East Germany suffer from higher unemployment because they have higher wage costs than their close Eastern neighbours, there are many ways, economical and otherwise, in which Eastern Germany has benefited from reunification. For example, the treatment of the Stasi files has been close to exemplary, something which was certainly helped by the oversight of "Wessis" without implication in the former regime. Compare it with the Augias' stables that are the Polish and Czech intelligence service archives, and the political mudslinging which has gone on around them.
To claim that the gap between East and West is "deeper than ever", apart from obviously wrong, is also in contradiction with the complain that "there is a loss of East German identity".
Finally, I'm sure that many, if not East Germans may occasionally have fits of "Ostalgie". Still, this is something that usually fades quite quickly once reality sets in.
posted by Skeptic at 11:43 AM on September 11, 2009


To claim that the gap between East and West is "deeper than ever", apart from obviously wrong, is also in contradiction with the complain that "there is a loss of East German identity".

Skeptic, I didn't claim that. I was quoting a political scientist from the former East Germany, Heinrich Bortfeldt, in the paper I linked to. But I don't agree that it's contradicting - it's entirely possible for a smaller party to become more marginalised inside a union than it was outside it.

I do concede that your point about the Stasi files is a good one. There were of course many things deeply wrong about the former East Germany, including the fact that they did not go through a period of self-examination about their recent past as West Germany started doing in the late 60's (and has continued since). But that is also a problem in that they have had now had virtue forced upon them as the previously erring party. To quote the same person from that same paper:
"The East is supposed to change everything, and the West is not ready to change anything, because everybody knows that the West was a success and the East was a failure. As a West German colleague once told me: 'we won and you lost, and now we're marching in.' "
After the opening of part of the wall in late '89 free elections were held in early 1990 with the authoritarian regime losing its majority in the parliament soon after. Their grip on power had already been weakening before the wall came down. Yes, the muck (both political and industrial) may not have been cleaned up so rapidly if they had continued on under their own reforming self-rule, but in the long run I think the change would have been deeper and healthier, for being self-driven rather than being bestowed upon them by their more virtuous big brother.

In the same way, I think it would have been healthier for the southern states of the US to have given up slavery themselves rather than have it forced upon them. (But I say that just to show I come from a consistent political viewpoint and not to derail this thread.)
posted by Sitegeist at 1:45 PM on September 11, 2009


German media coverage (in English) on the release of the Thatcher documents.

Spiegel Online also has a bundled selection of articles under the heading 20 Years After the Wall.
posted by Sitegeist at 4:01 PM on September 11, 2009


I must also say that, having lived in Germany through that time, it's difficult to exaggerate the enthusiasm for reunification that there was on both sides. It would have happened anyway, whether the superpowers (never mind France or Britain) agreed or not. The main difference between Mitterrand and Thatcher was that the first recognised this and used it to his advantage, and the second didn't, which ultimately resulted in her political demise.

It's clear that many in the French establishment were appalled at the idea of German reunification. What Mitterrand himself thought, though, is more difficult to guess: nobody ever accused the wiley old bastard of having firm convictions anyway. But he certainly allowed French official disquiet about reunification to be known, and even encouraged it. He then turned it into a bargaining chip with Germany, cleverly requesting in exchange something that he knew Kohl was personally quite eager to give: European Monetary Union.

Thatcher, on the other hand, only accepted reunification when it was already definitely unstoppable. As a result, not only was she outmaneuvered by Mitterrand, she also generated a great deal of ill will in Germany, further cementing the Franco-German alliance. Their subsequent push for European integration left Thatcher and Britain in the margins of European politics, and ultimately caused Michael Heseltine's fateful leadership challenge. Neither Britain's European standing, nor the Conservative Party recovered from this until this day.
posted by Skeptic at 5:38 PM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Reagan was so fixedly driven to bring down communism that I begin to wonder if his motive there wasn't to ensure an ultimately more catastrophic and fundamental collapse."

Where is the *REAL* evidence that Reagan was actually driven to bring down communism, as opposed to something easier and more basic, such as using fear and rhetoric to encourage US arms sales and production, while bleeding the Soviets where he could, in order to... yes... sell more weapons and shift the balance-of-power even further in the U.S.' favor?

Are we supposed to assume that he *didn't* know our closest ally's position regarding a united Germany, and that he intentionally tried to go against the British Government's wishes?

I think a fair argument can be made that Reagan didn't cause the collapse of the Soviet Union, and didn't believe that those things he did do would lead to its collapse.

Reagan's first Sec. of State Al Haig specifically talked of two extremes "that have distorted American foriegn policy over the postwar period: First, the expressions of American goodwill and readiness to negotiate . . . Second, that a posture of confrontation, a refusal to negotiate would somehow lead to capitulation by the other superpower."

Let's examine Reagan's ties to the military-industrial complex...

The Committee on the Present Danger, the organization perhaps most closely linked to overblown threat assessments of Soviet capabilities, provided 33 officials of the Reagan administration, including:

Reagan himself
VP George H.W. Bush
Sec. of State George Schultz
Director of Central Intelligence William Casey
National Security Advisor Richard V. Allen
Foriegn Policy Advisor / Ambassador to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatrick
Secretary of the Navy John Lehman
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle
State Dept. Director of Policy Planning Paul Wolfowitz

Reagan's first Defense Sec. Caspar Weinberger, was the VP / general counsel at Bechtel before taking his job. Schultz, who followed him as Sec. Def., was Bechtel's President. During the Reagan Administration, Bechtel worked extensively on DoD contracts, including Star Wars. They were also supposed to work on an aborted plan for a pipeline through Iraq to Jordan, and in building a chemical manufactory for Saddam Hussein.

John Lehman, Reagan's Navy Secretary and his military and foreign policy adviser in the 1980 Presidential campaign, served as president of the Abington Corporation, a defense lobbying and consulting firm that received subcontracts from large defense contractors such as Northrop, Boeing, and TRW. One of those Lehman hired was Richard Perle, who Lehman brought with him into the Reagan administration. (Lehman also intervened when Richard V. Allen initially rejected Paul Wolfowitz' appointment, and brought him into the government as well.) Perle got himself in a bit of a scandal back in '83 for taking money from Israeli arms manufacturers while serving as Assistant Sec. Def. $50K was pocketed by Perle, with the remainder going to Lehman.

Sure, Reagan didn't like the Soviets, but I see absolutely no reason to assume that he, too, didn't want to see Germany remain divided.
posted by markkraft at 2:33 AM on September 12, 2009


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