World War II has ended. This happened yesterday, 65 years after the war erupted, 60 years after the invasion of Normandy, and 59 years after the Nazi surrender.
This, at least, is how history appears to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. When he took office six years ago, Schroeder promised to turn his country into a "normal" state. His participation yesterday at the ceremony, which marked the 60th anniversary of "the Longest Day," conferred new meaning to "normality." When Germany takes part in the Allies' celebration, when it celebrates with its former enemies the liberation from the Nazi juggernaut, when the descendants of the executioners and of the victims mingle together, and when distinctions between surrender and victory are diluted and supplanted by grandiose words about common values such as democracy, human rights and liberty - when all this happens, can anyone presume to define the meaning of the concept "normality"?
"Ten years ago, this event would have stirred controversy," wrote Der Spiegel. "Twenty years ago it would have been a provocation, and 30 years ago it would have been inconceivable. Now it's possible."
The ostracized Germans, who until recently were forced to celebrate July 20 alone (marking the attempt of a group of German army officers to assassinate Hitler) as their day of glory, have now joined the company of the good guys, of the liberators.
The first German chancellor who does not have direct memories of the war has bestowed upon his country the stamp of normality. "Germany," as he has put it, "has managed to confront its past; today it is an esteemed, responsible partner." Evidence of this rehabilitation can be culled from a number of recent surveys. According to Le Figaro, for instance, 88 percent of French respondents to a survey supported German participation at D-Day celebrations. According to the BBC Internet site, more than two-thirds of surfers said they favored German participation in the remembrance events.
Schroeder cannot, of course, be considered the sole reason for such expressions of support - Germany's rehabilitation has been built up through arduous labors over many years. But he has proven adept at harnessing sympathetic public feeling to free his country from the chains of its past. By relying precisely on history, Schroeder has converted the extreme, coerced pacifism of his country into a policy of increasing involvement on the global stage. Schroeder was the leader who broke Germany's most formidable post-war taboo when he decided in 1999 to send troops on a mission outside of the country, to Kosovo. Today, Germany deploys more troops in world flash points that any country other than the United States.
Such successful report cards, Schroeder believes, are likely to grant Germany access to the highest grade: permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Germany is likely to have to overcome several more hurdles en route to this vaunted position. Nevertheless, there are those today who aren't comfortable with this new, strong Germany, which is located in the geographic, economic and strategic heartland of an expanded Europe. There are those who worry that Germany's participation in the D-Day events yesterday in Normandy signal the end of a process whereby the country has shed its internal fears, and its feelings of guilt and responsibility for the war. Germany no longer relies automatically on the U.S. - or so Schroeder's display of independence during the U.S. war in Iraq seemed to indicate. And who knows how Germany's revived feelings of self-confidence will impinge on its "special relations" with Israel.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, for their part, are not worried about the "head held high with pride" attitude that Schroeder described, en route to Normandy: Germany today is the friendliest European state to Israel. Repeatedly it has stood out in the European Union as the one country that is willing to back Israel, in times of stress. When Europe votes unanimously against Israel, Germany abstains, even when doing so punctures the united front of EU foreign policy. Germany initiated the Essen declaration that gave Israel "special status" in the EU. It also spearheaded an unusual policy of including Israel in the EU's research and development program; it was the first country to stand by Israel's side during the first Persian Gulf War; it built submarines and gave them to Israel without getting anything in return.
Germany's criticism of policies enacted by Israel's government is not different qualitatively from that of other EU members. Yet the skeletons in its closet stop it from expressing its criticism. The strengthening of Germany's status in the international arena is not likely to release those skeletons. In the final analysis, the process of Germany's liberation from its past does not mean that it has forgotten its past; and it certainly does not deny its history. A strengthened Germany is thus likely to turn out to be in Israel's interest.
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