The German Shapeshifter
In Greek mythology, Proteus was a sea god with the power to assume different forms.
The character of the Germanic peoples has been described as Proteus-like. Italian author and journalist Luigi Barzini described Germany as “the strangely malleable country.”
Truly, each nation has its own innate strengths and weaknesses. It has been said that in a perfect world the Jew would be the economist, the American the businessman, and the Briton the policeman.
What of the German? Does the German have a particular strength that would place him in a school of his own in terms of a unique national character trait?
Study the history of the Germanic peoples. They are descendents of Asshur, son of Shem, son of Noah, who built the ancient capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh. Ancient Austrian chronicles even catalogue the fact of Noah appointing Shem ruler over the area generally occupied today by Austria and Germany following the population explosion within the first century and a half of the ark landing on Mount Ararat. These ancient documents also give account of the visit by Abraham to the region of the upper reaches of the Danube River, in particular to the area we presently know as the nation-state of Austria.
From the time of ancient Nineveh, the peoples descended from Asshur—known to historians as Assyria—had a tendency for collectivism. They were a living paradox. Always outward-reaching in efforts for territorial gain, they yet remained insular in that their true comfort zone was among themselves. For this reason, they did not make successful colonists. Unlike Rome, or much later Britain, the kingdom of Nineveh failed for its inability to effectively integrate the peoples it conquered in its ever-continuing quest for Lebensraum—living space!
A particular strength of the German people is a highly developed sense of organization. Fly over Germany and notice the precision and orderliness you observe on the ground in buildings, farmyards, fencing, roads and infrastructure. There’s a form and symmetry to it all that is unique to this country.
Attend a symphony concert in Vienna or Berlin. The discipline of the musicians is superb, the quality of the music unsurpassable, the decor within the concert hall ornate in a display of impeccable taste. Then you realize that even the music itself was scored by a famous Teutonic composer—Brahms, Beethoven, Strauss, Mendelssohn, Handel or any number of the highly talented authors of high musicianship who so richly populated later German history, leaving Western civilization a lasting legacy for the inspiration and uplifting of all.
Whether it be an art gallery or one of these nations’ wonderfully organized libraries, Germanic high culture is powerful in its presence within Austro-Germany. Their artists of renown, great authors, thinkers and philosophers are all represented here—the walls and the shelves replete with examples of unique Teutonic creativity.
Attend a German social function: The geniality is plentiful; the music made to dance to; the reverie abundant. Here is a fun-loving people—yet it is all still highly organized … and herein lies the conundrum.
The German can be innately cultured, excessively friendly, exuding real warmth and ready to share his abundance with all, until his organized life is disturbed by some event, influence or loss that encroaches on that innate need for a highly organized, controllable lifestyle. Then, watch out. For it is then that the most profound weakness of these wonderful people rises dramatically to the fore. That’s when we see a Protean change in the national mood of the German people.
At such times we ought to take warning! “What is the German mood?” Barzini asked. “Are they happy, as happy as human beings can reasonably be? (It is when they are disconcerted and fretful that they can be most dangerous.)”
Today the German economy is in recession. Today the Teutonic dream of a pan-European federation appears to be in tatters. Today the Germans pine for their beloved deutsche mark as they watch their economy negatively impacted by a sliding euro and escalating prices. Today the German people feel their territory increasingly encroached upon by the foreigner. Today the Germans feel a gnawing hunger for a moral anchor to lift their flagging national spirit. Today the Germans yearn for a real, powerful leader to rescue them from their collective woes! A leader who will allow the German character to revive and once again gain the respect of the world as a genuine power to be reckoned with! The Germans will not again be “happy” until that is achieved.
History has constantly demonstrated that the Germans—once given a certain type of leadership—are capable of “obeying orders like automatons.” Barzini said it’s “as if each German refused to raise his head to look where he was being led and diligently concentrated his attention on the small job entrusted to him” (The Europeans).
This trait has led to an unfortunately repetitious history through the ages, such that when the Germans are at war—which they have been too often—“they do the job, as they do it in peacetime, as thoroughly, efficiently and expediently as possible, without looking left or right, like the good obedient workmen they are. They never bother about what the rest of the world will think. Scruples and doubts might slow them down” (ibid.).
The unsettled mood within Germany today is awakening a renewed spirit of nationalism. The segment of German population most prone to be influenced by this spirit is the nation’s youth. They seek a cause and an authority to give certainty and real direction to their young lives in times of uncertainty and destabilization within the continent of Europe, and, indeed, the whole globe.
For this reason, the Trumpet believes that the annual conference of Catholic youth—due to be held in Cologne, Germany, in August; just one month before a probable federal election—should be carefully watched.
Pope Benedict xvi will address this annual conference of Catholic youth. He is expected to draw an audience of over 2 million in Cologne. This is the first time that a German pope will address such a conference—a reality to which both the pope and his audience will be highly sensitized. Benedict’s message to the youth will have particular appeal to a segment of the German population that presently hungers for inspired leadership in times most unsettled and unsettling.
Should this German pope find a powerful following within the country’s current generation, he may be instrumental in igniting a political force that will clamor for a more conservative leader at the upcoming German elections in September.
We have no axe to grind concerning the German people. They are richly talented and have much to offer this world. Indeed, history records that they are the only nation to have ever repented, as an entire nation, and turned to God in response to a grave warning from one of His prophets (Jonah 3:5-10).
But in times like these we do need to be cognizant of one particular aspect of their character. “Which is the shape of the German Proteus this morning? Which will be its shape tomorrow? … [T]he day may come when someone lifts the mask. … [T]he face that appears may be less full-cheeked and rosy than today’s. … Is the German, as Nietzsche wrote, still ‘acquainted with the hidden paths to chaos?’” (ibid.).
It is this changeable nature of the Germans, together with their efficiency (specifically in warfare), that God will in fact use for His purpose: to chasten the rebellious nation of biblical Israel—primarily America and the other English-speaking countries today. In Isaiah 10:5-7, God describes Assyria (Germany today) as “the rod of mine anger” against a “hypocritical nation.” But, in verse 7, He says, “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.” In Habakkuk 1:6-12, God again says that He will “raise up” the Germans to correct the nations of Israel, and in this context refers to a “mind change” of the German leadership (verse 11).
It is in this context that we watch closely the changing moods of Germany. God will soon use that nation to punish America and the British peoples for their hypocrisy and rebellion—in hopes of turning them to Him.
Germany will not give up on its dream of a pan-European federation. We would do well to remember ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl’s warning via a 1994 paper produced by the Christian Democratic Union’s Parliamentary Committee on European Affairs: “Never again must there be a destabilizing vacuum of power in central Europe. If European integration were not to progress, Germany might be called upon, or tempted by its own security constraints, to try to effect the stabilization on its own and in the traditional way.”
The apparent fracturing of the dream of obtaining a united Europe by multiple edicts and endless treaties issued by a faceless bureaucracy in Brussels appears, on the surface, to be doomed. But Germany has made its case quite clear: It will not retreat from its determination to lead the unification of Europe.
We have thus reached a time when, as Barzini said, “The future of Europe appears largely to depend today once again, for good or evil, whether we like it or not, as it did for many centuries, on the future of Germany. … It is therefore once again essential for everybody … to keep an eye across the Rhine and the Alps and the Elbe in order to figure out, as our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, the ancient Romans, and remote ancestors had to do, who the Germans are, who they think they are, what they are doing, and where they will go next, wittingly or unwittingly.”