Two World Wars
Everyone with some level of education is well aware that Germany got itself involved in two world wars during the 20th century. Germany also lost both times, since both wars ended up being more or less everyone against Germany. But how did Germany manage to get itself in a two-front war, not once, but twice within a century?
Germany is located right in the middle of the Great European Plain. [ Click here to read more on the Great European Plain ] It has no natural borders beyond the Alps in the south, and the seas in the north. And despite those natural borders, there is still Denmark in the north, and Austria in the south.
Nevertheless, the greatest danger to Germany has been France in the west and Russia in the east. Yet, during the world wars Germany managed to get the United Kingdom as well as the United States involved in the war as well. The lack of military vision that could have prevented that is almost stunning. In a way, it comes down to a problem of dual personality that Germany has had since its unification.
The Holy Roman Empire was the predecessor to modern Germany. It was abolished after Napoleon wrecked through its lands, sweeping eastwards towards Russia. After the Napeolonic era, Austria and Prussia, the two great German speaking powers, started a battle for dominance.
Austria was the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg empire. It had expanded its territory eastwards, conquering the Balkans, the Huns, and the Slavic inhabitants in those areas. Prussia was a country formed by Teutonic knights that had conquered Slavic lands, converted to Protestantism and created their own nation. Prussia literally came into existence by Germans conquering the Slavs and settling the lands in the east. This might sound familiar, if you are aware of Hitler’s plans for eastern Europe.
In the end, the Prussians win and form a great German league. They solidify their new-formed German empire during the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. That is the moment where Otto von Bismarck gained his fame, his scheming created the empire. The Prussians gained all the German speaking areas, apart from Austria. They had united the Catholic west and south, with the Protestant-Prussian north-east.
Catholic West versus Prussian East
Germany was unified on the grounds that it spoke German, and Bismarck’s scheming was successful. There was no further geopolitical grounds on which the country should be united as one. No natural barriers, no mutual and complementing interest politically. The west, the Catholics, were industrial. The Rhineland, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Cologne, Frankfurt, this was the economic powerhouse of Germany. The provinces in the east were agricultural. The west was democratic and modernized. The east relied on a Prussian elite: the Junkers. The Junkers were a form of nobility; they owned great estates, where poor peasants worked for them. Although the Junkers were Germans, the peasants were often Slavs.
East and west Germany were opposites. That difference translated into opposite geopolitical interests.
Pulled in Two Directions
And so Germany embarks on its journey to world dominance. What to do? The industrial west was envious of the colonies of England and France. They too could use international trade to allow their industries to grow, for this purpose Germany would need a navy. The agricultural east ruled by the Junkers, all they wanted was to expand their agricultural lands. A massive land army would allow them to conquer the Slavic lands from Russia in the east, and populate them with Germans.
Suddenly Germany has angered the United Kingdom and France, by building a navy aimed at taking away their colonies. Moreover, Russia is well aware of the threat Germany forms with regards to taking lands in the east. And of course, they decide to team up against their common enemy, and Germany is defeated.
Round Two: National-Socialism
Germany, apparently not the smartest kid in class, decides to try the same thing again. In World War Two they launch a massive submarine war on the Atlantic, to keep their trade routes open and block those of the enemy. They sink enough ships to anger the Americans a bit sooner this time, since America is all about its overseas trade. Simultaneously, Hitler finds allies among the Junkers. After the first war many have ended up impoverished and landless, their eastern lands were handed to the revived Poland. And here comes Hitler, promising to invade the Slavic lands in the east and settle them with Germans. A full repetition of what the Teutonic knights and Prussians have been doing for centuries.
Again, in round two, it becomes apparent that having such a mixed geopolitical strategy does not benefit the country as a whole. Germany was humiliated once more.
Bigger is Not Always Better
At least when it comes to nations, bigger is not always better. Yes, Germany does suffer from occupying a difficult location on the map, lacking strong natural borders on the great European plain. However, it also suffers from a dual personality. Without matching goals, east and west are constantly at odds with each other. Since neither was far superior to the other, they ended up trying to pursue the interests of both, and failed in achieving any. The current Germany is more stable only because most of the Prussian lands were given to Poland and the class of Junkers lost its land and influence.
It would be a happy ending, almost… Germany has placed its focus on the European Union. The EU, due to all its geographical differences, has wildly varying interests. The east is afraid of Russia and mostly wants to be defended against the Russian bear after decades of submission. The Netherlands and western Germany are focused on expanding trade. For Greece, the EU forms a support against Turkey. For Italy and Spain, their geopolitical interest lies in the Mediterranean and North-Africa.
Looking back at Germany, will the EU become another case of ”trying to win it all, but end up with nothing”? The euro is the first sign of the EU’s ‘one size fits none’ approach. Click here to read more about the currency’s failure.