Although for 1500 years the Germans were the most numerous and prosperous nation in Europe, politics never reflected that dominance. Leaders like Metternich never wanted it to do so. The reality is that until 1866, Germany was an underpowered collection of small states. The way in which Bismarck then restructured them shaped their ambitions for three generations. It gave the Germans delusions of grandeur which flattered to deceive and which diverged from their national history.
Historians are still trying to analyse the reasons for this ruinous aberration. As a result, by 1945 Germany was shattered and divided into four zones of occupation. Post-war Germany might well have become demoralised by military defeat. Instead it reverted to its traditional values of hard work and high standards, and under a series of pragmatic Chancellors from Adenauer to Merkel, established a different but enigmatic identity during the Cold War and post-Soviet eras. “Soft power” did not come naturally to all those who had once wielded military pre-eminence.
Is the current rejection of militarism permanent or is it a temporary phase of quiescence?
Please note: this lecture series will close to enrolments at 23:59 BST on 15 October 2023.