The purpose of history is not to explain the past. It matters little what the Romans did or did not do. The purpose is to explain the present.
The key date in European history is 1870. The key place is Ems. If you understand this you understand everything not so much about then or there, but about here and now.
Modern European history turns on the German question. It explains what is happening in Germany, France and the EU generally and it also explains what just happened in Britain.
Germans have been united and divided for centuries and it has never been quite clear where Germany was. They were united first into the Holy Roman Empire. But this loose collection of places that were neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire included people who were not Germans and didn’t unify those Germans that it did include. This was our problem.
Napoleon humiliated Prussia at Jena–Auerstedt (1806) and Austria at Austerlitz (1805). France with the help of many who were not French became the dominant European power, requiring the combined forces of almost everyone else to defeat it twice at Leipzig (1814) and Waterloo (1815). France since then has been trying to relive the glory days rather like Greece has been trying to relive the days of Alexander and Aristotle. Both have failed.
Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, but this just left the question of how Germans could unite again into a second Reich. They spent until 1870 trying to find a way. Should Germany include all German peoples (Großdeutschland) or should it leave out Austria (Kleindeutschland). The problem was that Austria had its own Empire, much of which wasn’t German at all. How could you include Austria in Germany without splitting up its Empire thereby turning Austria into Ruritania?
Napoleon really was a second Alexander, but just as Alexander wasn’t Greek, but rather Macedonian, so too Napoleon wasn’t really French but rather Italian.
But the French delusion that Napoleon could be repeated regularly, and that French greatness could return caused it to declare war on Germany three times in 1870, 1914 and 1939. On each occasion disaster and humiliation was repeated rather than the reincarnation of Napoleon.
The causes of the Franco-Prussian war (1870) are among the most absurd in history. An argument over who should be King of Spain and a perceived insult to the French at Bad Ems turned out very badly indeed for France.
Helmuth von Moltke had built on the Prussian reforms and lessons learned since 1806. He had defeated Denmark and solved the Schleswig-Holstein Question in 1864 and thereby prepared the ground first for a grudge and second for a defeat of Austria and Saxony at Königgrätz in 1866. Moltke was efficient. He understood supplies and he understood strategy. The Prussian army converged at just the right moment trapping the Austrians in a barely remembered battle involving nearly half a million men. But the best was yet to come.
The French had learned nothing since 1815 and with red trousers, arrogance and without a plan took on a Prussian army in the process of turning itself into Germany. The Germans got behind the French at Mars-La-Tour and a 30,000 man Prussian corps took on and withstood an 160,000 man French Army. In perhaps the most heroic act in all military history von Bredow’s cavalry brigade charged the whole French army, lost half its strength but triumphed over death itself by sealing the doom of hundreds of times its own number.
|Von Bredow’s few suffered 50% casualties, but effectively won the war|
Next at Gravelotte (a far bigger battle than Gettysburg) the French army ended up besieged, impotent and divided. The mopping up at Sedan not long after was a mere formality. Napoleon III himself was captured. Later Paris was besieged and experimented with revolutionary communism before the final collapse.
It was as Zola described it La Débâcle. The French should never have started the war in the first place and were outthought and outfought during it. The modern German Army became the greatest force in Europe from 1870 until 1945 and not merely the French, but all of us would suffer the consequences of French folly and ineptitude.
Since 1870 Germany has been too strong for Europe and the issue has been how to contain Germany within Europe while preventing it taking over everywhere. The German population outnumbered anyone else. The German Army perfected by Moltke with a uniquely effective staff structure and training regime could not be defeated either by France, Britain or even Russia on its own. A system of alliances grew up therefore between 1870 and 1914, which turned European diplomacy into a game of dominoes triggering each other into eventual mobilisation and war.
But these alliances barely contained a Germany capable of very nearly defeating Britain France and Russia in both 1914, 1940 and 1941. Sedan was repeated in 1941 and if anything, 1941 was a worse humiliation than 1870. Only miracles saved Britain and Russia from defeat at Dunkirk and the gates of Moscow.
It is in this context that we must understand the EU.
German war aims in the Septemberprogramm 1914 were to create a Mitteleuropa economic association and for buffer states around Germany to be under German hegemony or sovereignty. In essence therefore Germany won the First World War. It just took it rather longer than four years. It took two catastrophic defeats to get there, but in the penalty shoot out the Germans always win in the end.
Germany’s defeat in 1945 was surely the most decisive in history. The Allies set out to teach Germany the folly of waging war. Nearly every city was destroyed. In parts of Germany nearly every woman was raped. Land that had been German for centuries became Russian or Polish or Czech. Germany itself was partitioned and occupied for half a century. Yet Germany triumphed.
How to unite Germany and Austria had baffled Germans in the nineteenth century but the EU provided the answer. It was Großdeutschland only a little grosser than anyone thought possible. The EU includes everything “Von der Maas bis an die Memel” [From the Meuse to the Memel, i.e. from Belgium to Lithuania]. It includes all of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. It included the Burgundians and for the first time since the days described in the Nibelungenlied these people would be under German suzerainty. All this has been achieved not by German force, but by German soft power. Once you are in “ever closer union” and especially once you are in Euroland there is no escape.
From the ashes of the 1945 Götterdämmerung, with the Burgundians of SS Charlemagne (französische Nr. 1) fighting on to the last against the new Atilla, arose a new Reich. “Meine Ehre heißt Treue” [My honour is called loyalty] has been the German tragic flaw since the Nibelung. It leads to exaggeration. It leads to the whole flaming roof falling in. It is what has made Germany great, efficient and wonderful, the peak of European culture, with the best philosophers, the best composers. But it also has given us something terrible. Something worse than anything else in history.
The EU exists because of the combination of German greatness, strength and efficiency and French decline and weakness. The French language declined from literally the Lingua Franca, spoken by Russian nobles in 1812 better than they spoke Russian. French is now a subject that is not worth studying. It is spoken hardly anywhere you would want to go except perhaps France. But French pride and nostalgia for what has been lost won’t admit this. So, the EU remains a Babel using someone else’s language to unite what therefore cannot be united.
The model of protectionism and living beyond your means required to protect French inefficiency, plus the need to subsidise the French unwillingness to work means that both Germany and France get what they wanted from the EU. France gets German reparations in perpetuity and gets to take the whole of August off, gets to retire before it has earned its pension and gets to go on strike endlessly while maintaining a living standard it doesn’t deserve. But the price is that France remains Vichy. German soft power dominates it just as hard power dominated it from 1940 to 1944.
The price of the EU is that Europeans no longer give birth to enough European babies. It is too expensive to give birth. It is too painful and tiresome, and it stops European women having careers and doing what they want to do. The European Welfare model plus feminism, plus open borders and mass migration means that gradually the rather arbitrary continent of Europe will cease to have any meaning. The planks of the ship Europa will be replaced until there is no wood from the original left. The EU will welcome this and celebrate it and commission someone to carve a monument to a diversity that includes the whole world. For today the EU belongs to us. And tomorrow the whole world. Or is it the other way around?
There is no European identity and nothing to hold the EU together but force. It’s not so much a European Army that will do this, but the realisation that soft power is a far more powerful force than soldiers. This was the lesson Germany learned in defeat, that the rest of us ignored in victory.
But the European Union has an incoherent unity. It is the equivalent of the Holy Roman Empire. Some wit will eventually write that the EU is neither European nor a Union.
Unfortunately, we await a new EU Götterdämmerung. The Burgundians are Germans once more, because the whole of Europe has become German vassals. But the loyalty is thin. Like “lost honor among thieves.” The EU wants us to give up the “meum-teum sense”. What’s Greek is German, what’s German is Greek. We are all just Europeans. But they resist paying reparations to anyone but the French. Greek debts are Greek.
|Götterdämmerung [Twilight of the Idols] based on the German ur-myth the Nibelungenlied|
The French will continue to accept the bargain they made out of necessity. The only French foreign policy goal is to avoid being invaded for a fourth time. But the French are still French. The once dominant German language was driven out of Elsaß-Lothringen and Gallicization imposed on the lands that were lost between 1871 and 1919.
There is no common language that will unite Europe because the French refuse to allow it. This is the tragic flaw at the heart of “ever closer union”. But the EU will beat, on boats against the current dreaming of Charlemagne and hoping that it will be fourth time lucky. But it will be borne back ceaselessly into the past doomed to repeat one last twilight once again. Let us hope that the end of the EU empire when it comes will be neither like 1806, 1918 nor 1945.
Now do you see why it mattered that just like in 1870 the British could watch from afar and not take part? It’s not about 1870. It’s about now and the years stretching ahead of us.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/02/neither-european-nor-union.html