Mellow octogenarian Arthur Burns is of course not retiring when he leaves his ambassador's post here in May. That would be preposterous for this one-time economics professor, outspoken chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, and latter-day diplomat. Instead, Mr. Burns is proceeding to a desk at the American Enterprise Institute, where he will write his views about such pet subjects as the dollar (a gradual descent, he predicts) and competitiveness (the thing that makes America more dynamic than Europe, he says).
Ambassador Burns will leave behind a West Germany he regards as a good ally and a ``stable democracy,'' but a nation perhaps still too uncertain of itself.
In a farewell chat with the American press corps here, Burns hoped for more German patriotism -- and he described reunification of East and West Germany as ``inevitable.''
``You know the German word Angst,'' Burns began in the folksy tone he has used in dozens of living-room seminars with young Germans during his four years here. ``The Germans are anxious about their own future. . . . When I ask university students, `How do you feel about the future of your country?' there I find skepticism, a good deal of skepticism and uncertainty.''
He attributed part of this unease to the fact that Germany was divided after losing World War II. ``Many Germans, particularly young people'' were distressed by Hitler's Germany and ``thought they did not want to be Germans any longer.'' Their postwar dream of a united Europe failed to materialize, however, and they were further disillusioned by the nuclear threat, unemployment -- and damage to the environment in a nation that has always revered nature.
Emphasizing the division of the country as a prime source of malaise, Burns observed, ``I think there is a yearning in the German soul for reunification -- not often articulated clearly, but the yearning is there. In the US we have always been a patriotic people, and there has been a strong revival of patriotism in America in recent years. This last summer, going back to my farm in Vermont, in a small village, there were more American flags flying than I have seen at any time in the past 50 years.
``Where are the flags flying from German homes?'' he asked rhetorically. There is ``a certain loss of identity on the part of the German people. Well, that causes anguish to the soul.''
Burns doesn't share the fears of some, however, that this lack of identity might prove dangerous politically. He thinks that democracy is solidly rooted in West Germany and that ``the transformation of Germany that has occurred in the past 40 years is one of the political miracles of this world. German citizens are all subject to the rule of law. Human rights are respected in this country.''
He would like to see more of a feeling of patriotism, though -- not nationalism, he stresses, but patriotism. He regards eventual reunification of Germany as ``inevitable,'' even if only in the distant future, possibly within the framework of a united Europe.
He declared himself more confident about US-German relations than when he arrived in Bonn. The protest movement against deployment of new NATO missiles has ``calmed down very considerably,'' he noted. ``The German government made its decision, and concern about that has quieted down. It has been accepted by the people, and even by very many, a large fraction of those who are involved in the peace movement.''