The Problem of Germany

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The Problem of Germany  (1917) 
by Maynard M. Metcalf

This letter, refused publication by The New Republic, appeared in The New York Times, Sunday, Sept. 16, 1917. To the Editor of The New York Times: The New Republic proposes to weaken and overthrow German Junkerism by announcing moderate peace terms which will remove all fear of any destruction of the Ger- man nation and thus allow her more liberal elements to assert themselves and take control of the German gov- ernment. This has, of course, much in its favor. As a war measure it might prove effective. But would it reach the real core of the problem? In all their discussion of the war and its issues, both immediate and ulti- mate, the advocates of this proposal have assumed that the German peo- ple, the real German people, if freed from militaristic bureaucratic con- trol, are ready for world citizenship. This assumption seems to beg the question which is the crux of the whole matter. Are the German peo- ple ready for world citizenship? Freed from their present govern- mental shackles and able to express their real character without hind- rance, would they be livable neigh- bors in the brotherhood of nations? The great world problem is not to overthrow Teuton militarism. That is only its most immediate aspect. The real problem is the regeneration of the German people, a problem be- side which that of Russia is simple and easy. Why do I say that Russia is the simpler, easier problem? Because the Russian people are spiritually minded, are idealistic, have a genius for justice and altruism, and, in spite of a certain impracticality, are sure to win through to whole- some social relations both intrana- tional and international. But with sorrow one must say that the German people are not spirit- ually minded. "Efficiency" looms larger to them than altruism, and one must even doubt if justice itself makes so strong an .appeal to the inner feeling of the truly representa- tive German. Of all the peoples of Northern Europe the Germans have been most nearly immune to infection by the gospel of altruism which Jesus em- bodied, and an invincible sense for justice is less characteristic of them than of their neighbors. Germany has never had a Carlyle or an Emer- son or a Lincoln, and this lack is no accident. John Knox, Carlyle, and Lloyd George are the product and the sign of tho Britsh fighting sense for justice. Bismarck and Goethe, with their marked lack of interest in the moral aspects of statecraft and phil- osophy, seem as truly characteristic of the German people. There are two questions underly- ing the problem of German regener- ation: First, the question of the na- ture of the German stock itself; and, second, the puzzling question of the education of this stock to fit it for life in the modern world. A race, a nation, makes itself; is never made or molded chiefly by out- side influences. Nations are what they have made themselves. Ger- many is unmoral as a nation because she is so as a people. Britain is democratic in government because her people are so. The inception and conduct of this war by Germany has been such as would have been utter- ly impossible to any other European nation, for no other people has a character that would allow such a period of evil self-education as has led to Germany's undoing. It is really doubtful if the North German stock can ever furnish the best type of world citizen. It seems certain that no thorough- going, sudden change toward more human quality can be wrought in the German people in connection with the present war. Ail one can see is the hope that the less brutal South Ger- man people and her social-democratic classes will be able to assume control and that there may thus be inaugu- rated the period of slow and painful education of the German nation back from barbarism to wholesome, liv- able neighborliness. The real prob- lem at the root of the whole matter seems to be how best to aid in Ger- many those factors, far from satis- factory at the best, which may in time leaven the mass and bring Ger- many truly into the brotherhood of nations. There are those, whose judgment is not to be despised, who believe that the task is an impossible one and that the German stock has shown itself hopelessly worthless as building material for world society. And they are right, unless some way can be found to quicken the German moral sense and place it in control. Thus far God Himself has failed in this task, so who can have any con- fidence in our poor efforts? Yet we must make the endeavor. Hold Germany impotent for furth- er world destruction and meanwhile affiliate with and encourage every- thing among her people which tends towards her moral regeneration. Is not this the only course which gives any hope? And through it all do not be misled by unjustified optimism. We have learned to our astounding and stupefaction that a whole nation can support with united front a course which is brutal and vile be- yond belief. Let no shallow optim- ism block us in our thoroughgoing endeavor to see this thing through to the point where Germany can effect- ively be controlled while she is giv- en the long years in which she may endeavor to grow into a radically dif- ferent character with real human Quality. Will you allow me to say, before putting my signature to this letter, that I base my feeling about Ger- many net only upon the phenomena of the present war, but even more upon data gathered during two years' recent residence in German univer- sity towns, and that among those I most care for are some of the friends I made in those two years? MAYNARD M. METCALF, The Orchard Laboratory. Oberlin, Ohio, Sept. 1, 1917.