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Speech of Hope Set the Course for American-German Relations 60 Years Ago

September 6 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark "Speech of Hope" by James F. Byrnes, secretary of state under President Harry S. Truman. Gary Smith, executive director of the American Academy in Berlin, explains the importance of the speech at a time when Germans "faced disorientation and uncertainty":
The future of a devastated Germany was ambiguous at best; the French wished to partition off the Ruhr Valley and another plan envisioned a smaller, pastoral Germany of farmers and bed-and-breakfasts. But a year after Stunde Null, US Secretary of State James Byrnes took the train from Berlin to Stuttgart to deliver what became the defining speech of postwar transatlantic relations: the "Speech of Hope." Byrnes brought a simple, if unexpected, message: the US would provide massive support for Germany’s path to recovery. (…)
Some critics argue that there is a dearth of gratitude in Germany for America's monumental support for the country’s reconstruction. I think that gratitude is not only ubiquitous but a vital component of postwar German identity. Yet in recent years some Germans have forgotten what America is -- a land of diversity and debate, of writers and innovators, of checks and balances – and that it deserves a measure of confidence in turn.
Today there are more potential catastrophes facing the Western world than ever before; and no nation or organization is capable of effectively dealing with these alone. (…) Both Germans and Americans must question the current national preoccupations with inwardness and the day-to-day.
Read his entire editorial (in English or German), which was part of the American Academy's semi-annual supplement in German papers like Der Tagesspiegel and Das Handelsblatt. Anne Applebaum is one of the academy's fellows this year. Her essay on the Hungarian revolution -- quoted in the last post To Defeat the Beast, Don't Feed the Beast -- was published in that supplement as well, along with those by the other fellows.
The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg commemorates the speech on a special website and will hold a ceremony on October 4, 2006 (i.e. the day after the national holiday of reunification...) that will be attended by Chancellor Merkel and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Full text of the speech in English and in German and audio files of the speech and more.


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alec on :

I think the converse of this argument raises a significant point: because American provided so much aid to the Germans in the 1940's does not mean they are obligated to support us in the 21st century. I agree there should be some level of historical appreciation for the Marshall Plan, but in the spirit of compromise and multilateral decision making, criticism of the US should not be discounted or withdrawn because of historical circumstance. I feel for the Germans, for it feels like we at times force them to always live in the past. Should they be the victims and apologists for the crimes of their forefathers? While we can't ignore what occured in WW2, we cannot limit the present German state to the confines of the past.

Don on :

I might agree with you, Alec. But I would say in response that the fact that the US supported Germany and the other NATO allies in dealing with the Kosovo problem in 1999 DOES create an obligation - one which has not been met in turn over Iraq. That is the past also - the recent past. Two years after the US fought a war to stabilize the Balkans (very much in the German interest), the German delegation at the UN supported a plan whose effect was to remove the US from a number of key UN committees. I call that a short memory. An exceedingly short memory.....

Anonymous on :

Top News Article | Blair, U.S. President George W. Bush's closest ally in the so-called war on terror, said the world urgently needs the United States to help tackle the globe's most pressing problems. "The danger is if they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved," Blair said, spelling out his political vision in a pamphlet published by The Foreign Policy Center think-tank. "The strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in," he said.

Isolationist on :

I do not know the basis of PM Blair's fear of the drawbridge go up, but I can only hope that it is something real, deeply rooted and ever expanding until isolationism rules in Washington, D.C. once again.

mohamed on :

i wanna take acourse in american

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