“Daredevil” is not a word that many people associate with Germany these days; certainly not the nation’s military. And that’s probably a blessing, even if its allies long for less hesitant support. The history of Germans acting boldly took a wrong turn shortly after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door. Does anybody want to risk urging them to act now and think later?
Still, at a time when traditional powers like Britain and France are stretched thin, and the United States has practically become diaphanous, the temptation to ask Germany for more is hard to resist. Proponents of Realpolitik have been doing just that with both Germany and Japan. But whereas Shinzo Abe has responded vigorously to the call, making military gestures sure to annoy China, Merkel and her cabinet have largely been content to let their nation’s economic clout do the talking.
Germany’s increasing dominance of the European Union’s financial affairs falls a long way short of “daredevil” status, though. If anything, the nation has been content to let inertia clear its path to hegemony, rather than taking pro-active measures to speed up the process. Critics of what goes on in Brussels have lamented this state of affairs, fearing that this reluctance to acting rashly could ultimately prove more damaging than the risks it seeks to avoid. Think Hamlet in international relations.
What, then, are we to make of these soldiers at Berlin’s Tegel Airport behaving an awful lot like American frat boys? Is their insouciance a sign that the next generation of German leaders won’t be so worried about stirring up bad memories? And what does its vaguely anti-Semitic character — the penis nose looks an awful lot like the stereotype the Nazis promulgated — suggest about the way that these young men relate to their national past?
It’s worth recalling that Der Draufgänger (“The Daredevil”) was an American-style detective film from 1931, whose hard-boiled hero Hans Röder served as an unwitting role model for audience members acquainted with the politicized street brawls of the failing Weimar Republic. The Man of Action played differently in Germany than he did in the United States, even though the two nations shared in the misery of the Great Depression. Private or public, the dick who sticks his nose where it doesn’t really belong has not been a dominant figure in postwar German life. But it’s worth asking whether this solider who has transformed his nose into a dick portends the return of a world power that will no longer be so careful about minding its own business.
Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.