This past week, the German Democratic Republic formally merged into the Federal Republic of Germany. The population of the Federal Republic jumped from 62 million to 79 million, and the territory grew by more than 44 percent.
Given the size of this new, united Germany and our terrible history, it is not surprising that many people have mixed feelings about this reunification. Can the Germans be trusted not to repeat the past? Is democracy rooted deeply enough to prevent return to a totalitarian regime? Will the Germans fall back into excessive nationalism and try to dominate Europe?I don't believe so. The experiences of my generation of Germans, those of us born during and immediately following World War II, offer reassurance.
My first lesson in the evils of a totalitarian state began early in life. I was born in Trautenau in the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland May 7, 1944. On that day, my father, a member of Hitler's Reichswehr (armed forces) was steering an army truck 1,000 miles to the east in the Ukraine.
Father and son did not see each other for 12 years; within months of my birth my father was taken prisoner by the Soviets, sentenced to 25 years in a labor camp and sent to Vorkuta in the northern Ural Mountains.
As the war ended, my mother, my three sisters and I, then a year old, became part of the long westward trek of 12 million German refugees from the eastern provinces. With only the clothes on our backs, we were sent to Weissandt in newly created East Germany, a region now infamous for decades of environmental neglect.
We lived in one room of a farmhouse, refugees in an impoverished land. Walter Ulbricht's East German government classified prisoners of war held by "our Soviet friends" as criminals, rendering families such as mine ineligible for financial support, public housing or access to higher education.
As a result of Konrad Adenauer's efforts, all German prisoners were to be released from the Soviet Union in late 1955. Leaving my sisters behind in East Germany, my mother and I hurried to the expected reunion with my father in Herleshausen, West Germany.
We stayed several weeks, watching each transport arrive and unload. But my father was not among the men released. Six months later, we learned that those classified as war criminals had been sent to Bautzen, in East Germany. After another month, in May 1956, my father finally joined my mother and me in the West; several months later, the East German authorities allowed my sisters to join us.
Millions of other German families endured similarly long separations, loss and grinding poverty after the defeat of Hitler. I do not compare our sufferings with the millions of victims of the Third Reich. But I know that my generation of Germans has personal knowledge of the horrible consequences of an aggressive war and of totalitarian regimes.
If my childhood education in the evils of aggressive nationalism is not unique, my career as a political scientist in the field of international relations has given me an unusual opportunity to observe the political lessons our democratic government has learned over 40 years.
Like my career, my country's fate is linked to the European Community, an institution that has proved that excessive nationalism can be held in check by regional integration and self-restraint.
Germany is an integral part of this community of states; we have not tolerated territorial expansion by force or coercion. We know that the Wirtschaftswunder (German economic miracle) was no wonder, but hard work in a democratic environment guaranteed by a strong Western alliance.
Mine is the generation, born in the 1940s and 1950s, that will run a united Germany well into the next century. We have witnessed the catastrophic results of aggressive war and subsequent authoritarian regimes and will not jeopardize the advantages of our democracy.
Our task will not be an easy one; unification will test our new stability in many ways. Can we develop a society open to immigration? Can we lead the process of European economic unification without dominating it? Can we shoulder global security responsibilities without sliding into power politics? Can we do these things while absorbing 17 million new citizens and a host of new environmental, social and economic problems?
In the past 40 years. German democracy has survived many tests: the massive immigration from the East in the late 1940s, rearmament in the 1950s, the emergency laws in the 1960s, terrorism in the late 1970s, severe economic recession in the early 1980s.
It is now my generation's turn to accept a new set of challenges. We face them well-schooled in the advantages of democracy. We embrace them, not as a means of building a more powerful Germany, but as a way to play a constructive, peaceful role in a new and more dynamic Europe. We deserve the benefit of the doubt.