Globe: The Last Cold Warrior
They called him “The Pear.” At 6’4 and more than 300 pounds at the height of his political career, he was physically awkward. In a profession that required gifted charisma, he stumbled into public relations blunders like a moth flying into the light. Regardless, he has done the impossible; he reunited a nation tyrannized by the geopolitical realities of the day. He spearheaded the development of a common currency in what was the most divided region in the world. He showed that one can be both a patriot and an internationalist. Last Friday, this man, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl died, aged 87.
Aside from “The Pear,” Helmut Kohl was also known as the “Chancellor of Unification.” He didn’t have the obvious talents of his fellow cold warriors Ronald Regan and Margret Thatcher; he lacked the fortitude and rhetorical swagger of the Gipper, and he didn’t radiate the will and determination of the Iron Lady. That didn’t stop from being at the helm of the end of mankind’s most tumulus century.
Following the Second World War, Germany was divided into the free West supported by the United States, and the communist East, supported by the Soviet Union. The outcome to the division seemed dire; ether Germany remains perpetually divided, or they are reunited by war. What happened, the peaceful reunification, was not expected.
Kohl supported the push against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. though open to negotiation with the East, Kohl followed Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s hardline towards the Soviet Union, which he made abundantly evident to both the Soviets and Western allies, despite reluctance in the USSR and the European allies to see the outcome of a reunification push.
Despite the superficial appearance of political talent, Helmut Kohl was the longest serving German Chancellor since Otto von Bismarck - a record that remains, unless he is surpassed by fellow CDU Chancellor and former protégé Angela Merkel, which is expected (for what that’s worth.) Helmut Kohl was born in 1930, where he grew up during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Due to his youth, he avoided having to fight in the Second World War.
Germany was the epicenter of the political turmoil that engulfed the 20th century. The First World War, which would set the stage for the following decades, was planned in Berlin. The Second World War, the bloodiest chapter in human history, was Berlin’s war. The Cold War, the greatest power conflict in history, revolved around Berlin.
It was in Berlin that the metaphysical Iron Curtain theorized by Winston Churchill manifested itself; an ugly, intimidating concrete wall divided the East, supported by the Soviet Union, and the West, supported by the United States. Eastern German and Eastern Europe was the base for Soviet military divisions. West Germany and Western Europe supported American divisions. It seemed inevitable that Berlin would be obliterated – again.
The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989, and the eventual reunification of Germany was symbolic, and would foreshadow the end of the Cold War and the 20th century. The East and the West did not launch a war of aggression against one another as many believed would happen; Berlin didn’t become the first battleground end what would have been the bloodiest war in history – and probably the end of history itself. The division of Germany was over. The wall was knocked down by popular will, and the nation reunified without conflict. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
Kohl insisted on reunification, despite the concerns of some European allies. Germany had been unified twice in the past century, the three have been two results; World War One and World War Two.
European heads of state, most notably Margaret Thatcher, were concerned of a third unification. When it happened, Helmut Kohl and Germany personified the commitment to the European experiment; a new world order was coming, but it would not resemble those of the past. Instead on capitalizing on decisions, Kohl focus on leading Europe and the European Union in a more united direction by introducing the European common currency, the Euro.
Germany has since been peaceful; in no way has its foreign policy resemble that during the era of Prussian hegemony. Since its reunification, Germany has only experienced one foreign expedition, when it and other NATO allies assisted the United States after the attack on 9/11.
His career ended much like the power struggle he fought in; a political scandal involving donations would eventually destroy his public reputation and undermine his ambitions for a 5th term in office. His protégé Angela Merkel would write an article that would be the final nail in his political coffin. He lost the election to a Social Democrat rival, and would rarely make appearance on TV. The unlikely political career of the Chancellor of Unification was over, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Most of the events of the twentieth century ended as violently as it begun. The Great War ended by an armistice that agreed to end the carnage on the 11th minute on the 11th day of the 11th month. There was killing up until the very last minute of that war. The Second World War ended by the dropping of the most horrible weapon mankind had ever created. And then there were the numerous other wars that ended in similar fashions – Saigon fell to the communist invaders in 1975, the Arab armies were devastated after an Israeli preemptive stake in 1967, and an exhausted stalemate was declared along the DMZ that still divides Korea today. There are many more.
The Cold War didn’t end in such a fashion. It had every reason to bring about the destruction of mankind; the two most powerful nations in the world – if not in history – surrounded by powerful allies pointed nuclear weapons at one another that made the bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like firecrackers. It wasn’t limited by geography as power struggles in the past have been; every corner of the planet (and parts outside) were battlefields of the conflict. It wasn't about pure territorial power like in the past – ideology it was made it so different, and so dangerous. If mankind was going to destroy themselves, the Cold War was going to be the vehicle of destruction. But Armageddon was averted, thanks to the work of the cold warriors
The Europe of the last few years would be unfathomable to Europeans a century ago. In a continent defined by its mastery of war, there have now been generations of Europeans that only know peace. In a continent plagued by territorial struggles, much of the European continent now share a common parliament and currency. In a continent in which Germany, in its former imperial leader Prussia, tore down the European peace of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries, Germany has now embodied the greatest success of the European experiment.
None of this was inevitable; people determine the future, and everyone plays a part; those bestowed by the divine, and those whom harbor their talents on the inside. Everyone contributes. We are seeing the last of the great Cold Warriors fade into history; President Regan died in 2004, and the world lost Margaret Thatcher in 2013. We have lost another crusader against the banalities of division.