President Emeritus James B. Conant '14 declared last night that the people of free Germany have turned their backs on their Nazi past and retain no military ambitions.
Conant, former High Commissioner and Ambassador to West Germany, delivered the first of his three Godkin lectures, a series entitled "Germany and Freedom--A Personal Appraisal" to a Sanders Theater crowd thinned by heavy snow storms.
In last night's lecture, "Free Germany Reviews Its Past," Conant stated his reason for his choice of subject thus: "Just because of the fact that we are allied with a free Germany, I believe we need to make an unemotional exploration of that period when criminal madness held Germany in chains."
Conant concentrated his attention on "how free Germany reveals its past." He explained that most Germans viewed the period from 1933 to 1945 as one of dismay and horror and that consequently, "for all except writers and historians, modern Germany history begins in 1945. ...An outsider is demanding a great deal if he expects those who experienced the terrible Hitler years to speak frankly."
Break With Past
This break with the Nazi past, Conant maintained, "is to a considerable degree the result of the attitude of the two major parties--the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party." The greatest service of Chancellor Adenauer, Conant believes, is "that he and his associates have restored the moral worth of Germany in the eyes of the free world."
The influence of the die-hard Nazis in Germany today, Conant declared, is negligible. "The myth of the Third Reich has been destroyed. If there should be another right radical movement of any significance in free Germany, it would in no way associate itself with the Hitler past. It is my judgement that, barring widespread unemployment or a run-away inflation, there will be no significant right radical movement in Germany as long as the N.A.T.O. alliance remains strong."
Conant said that the questions, "How did it happen? Why did it happen? and Will it happen again?" must be answered about the rise and reign of Hitler. After nothing the importance of the school-master in German life, Conant asked, "How did this phenomenon (Hitler) arise in such a highly educated nation?"
In examining free Germany's seeming current lack of intellectual and cultural production, Conant emphasized that three things must be remembered: 1) the nostalgia with which the activities during the Weimar Republic are viewed; 2) the intense human and material construction taking place in Germany today; and, 3) the period that followed the Weimar Republic.
Change in Spirit
Conant noted the differences between his visit to Germany in 1925 and his arrival as U.S. High Commissioner in 1953. Germany today is tragically divided, he said, but it is a geographical rather than an internal division, as it was in the days of the Weimar Republic. He pointed out the spirit of cooperation among men of differing cultures and ideas in modern Germany. "One can say today that the difficulties faced by the Weimar Republic have been surmounted," he stated.
Conant prefaced his lecture by describing it as "an extremely personal viewpoint for which my only qualification is a knowledge of human nature." In the latter part of the talk, he discussed the importance of Germany's schools in determining the way educated Germans think about the past and envision the future of their land.
"I predict that the enthusiasms now generated in Germany are not the wrong ones. In the next two lectures I will try to substantiate this," Conant concluded.