World leaders recall the fall of the Berlin Wall
Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, and Francois Mitterrand give their account of 1989.
(Page 3 of 6)
Bush: To be very frank, we had our differences with Lady Thatcher and Francois Mitterrand. Perhaps it was because I didn't share their concerns based on the histories of the two world wars. Maybe it is because America is removed and separated.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But I felt that German unification would be in the fundamental interest of the West. I felt the time had come to trust the Germans more, given what they had done since the end of World War II.
I was convinced, also, that Helmut Kohl would not take a united Germany out of NATO. I was convinced he would opt for the West and not neutrality between NATO and the Warsaw Pact as Mr. Gorbachev wanted. The whole process moved faster than any of us thought, including Chancellor Kohl. President Mitterrand was in the middle of all this...
Mitterrand: The issue was whether unification was a certainty, or could it be prevented?
Permit me to paint a short historical frame for my thinking at the time:
Through the centuries, French leaders, and the rest of Europe's leaders, thought it was appropriate to maintain a division of the German people among kings, princes, bishoprics, divergent interests, Prussia, the Rhineland, Bavaria. But history went through and the Reich built itself a nation. This people without borders who were looking for boundaries for such a long time found them.
The first Reich became strong between 1870 and 1919. Then there was a second Reich which was victorious and then defeated. Millions died. The destruction of Germany itself was extraordinary. But the search for boundaries wasn't over.
The initial objective of Hitler in "Mein Kampf" was to gather all the Germans, scattered as they were from the Sudetenland to Austria and as ethnic concentrations all across Europe. He originally thought it would be a mistake to make war with England because there was no land for a Reich there. But there was land available east of the Ukraine. So, Hitler thought then, there should be no move westward. Yet in power he did the opposite. And then is when they began to lose. Germany was destroyed and divided again.
So, the Germans themselves had a century of memories of horrible destruction from whenever they tried to get together. It thus was possible after WWII to realistically dream that you could divide Germany even further. Charles de Gaulle wanted to split Germany into five components. He knew that if you go back through the last centuries of history, the Germans were divided into many more parts – Hannover, Wurtemberg, Batavia, and a few others dominated by Prussia for only a short time after the Battle of Sadowa in 1866. The links were not really very strong, historically speaking.