Three new books on World War One have been selling like hotcakes in Germany— suggesting a growing consensus among Germans that their country is not the main country to blame for the war. The FT reports that The Sleepwalkers by Cambridge historian Christopher Clark, 1913 by Florian Illies, and Der Grosse Krieg by German political scientist Herfried Münkler have all questioned a German-centric account of the blame for WWI—and they’ve sold very well accordingly. These sales match up with public opinion polls that show only 19 percent of Germans believing their country was “chiefly responsible” for WWI.The question of guilt in WWI is complex, but this shift in German sentiment has more to do with underlying cultural changes in the united Berlin Republic than with millions of Germans flocking to the historical archives to make deep studies in early twentieth century history. Both Germany and Japan are becoming ‘normal countries’ again, reasserting their right to define and act on their national interest. Nationalists in Japan still welcome their close US alliance given their concerns about China. In Germany, the situation is different. Russia is a nuisance rather than a threat in the eyes of most Germans, and it is harder to make a compelling case for a US alliance to younger Germans than to older ones. The wave of German adulation over Obama temporarily patched things over, but the NSA revelations have damaged Brand US more in Germany than just about anywhere else.A new generation of Germans is looking at the world and at German history and is likely to see things in different ways than their parents and grandparents. There have always been tensions in US-German relations, but elites on both sides generally worked to smooth them over (Gerhard Schroeder and George W. Bush excepted). The US and Germany have good reasons for putting up with each other still, but foreign policy types are going to have to work harder in both countries to make the case to the public at large.
The Rebirth of NationalismGermans Increasingly Rejecting Blame for WWI