How could this happen? Rejecting pages of material, I still don’t feel close to finishing my AHA paper (see panel abstracts here). I have ten single-spaced pages with more to write, too much for the allotted time. If you don’t know, I’m looking at Adenauer’s role in defining regional memory of the Rhineland and its implementation in Germany’s western orientation (Westbindung or Westintegration). How local or regional history becomes national memory is a favorite topic of mine, and here is an opportunity to discuss how this transaction becomes problematic in the long run. At least on part of the paper is giving me some trouble. Here is what I’m asserting:

  1. Adenauer offered a vision of the West in which Germany looked like the Rhineland.
  2. Immediately after WWII, not only did people refuse to remember the past, they were incapable of remembering. This extended beyond Nazi crimes to the imagination of a unified German history.
  3. Germany was difficult to imagine as a physical or geographic entity.
  4. German memory was pliant.
  5. The regional memory of the Rhineland may not have been consistent with German memory.
  6. The dissonance between regional and national memory was less important in the short term.
  7. What regional memory provided was a paradigm of an alternative Germany, one positioned within western European religious (Catholic) and political (Enlightenment) values.
  8. Reconciling united Germany with Germany of the West would wait for later generations.

I feel comfortable with all these assertions, except #2, 3, and 4. It’s true that Germans had difficulty relating to their history, it may be a conceptual jump to claim that they were truly open to anything. On the one hand, this attempts to describe the mass psychology of Germans. On the other, it flies in the face of critical interpretations of the western integration. Like many on the left, Habermas believes Adenauer wished to contain socialist influence in his Germany, subsequently pandering to a desire among Germans to avoid confronting their participation in Nazism. (Heinrich Böll did him one better: a fellow Cologner, he felt Adenauer betrayed Germany by founding democracy on Nazi institutions.) On both left and right, there has been a tendency to overemphasize Adenauer’s pragmatism, seeing western integration only in terms of strategic and economic alliance with the United States in the Atlantic system.  In both instances, the state of German memory following the war is only given partial consideration.

These politicized conclusions have become less important in recent years. Robert Möller and Jay Gellar have put more emphasis on dispersed guilt helped move Germans along in developing democracy. Möller, in particular, points out that the discussion about guilt and memory was actually quite lively in the ten years following the war. Moreover, Germans did not resent defeat as they did following WWI (Dolchstoss). Time provided opportunity to reconsider the past more thoroughly. Ronald Granieri has put the western orientation into a different light, noting that it always meant two things: the Atlantic system, which was strategic, and the European, which was moral.

How could, then, this alternative Germany that looked like the Rhineland temporarily find a place in the German imagination only to be rejected? Was it self-deception or self-confidence? Am I depending too much on the notion of pliancy?

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