Every generation has a perception of what era it is living in. Until recently the end of World War II defined the beginning of the present era. You can hear this in every statement that ends with “since the Second World War”: The deepest recession since the Second World War; the highest batting average since …; the highest stock market return …; etc. It makes sense because the world really was transformed by WWII. The end of the war did mark the beginning of a new era. But now the present era is increasingly defined in terms of the new century. This change has happened at the beginning of each new century in Western Europe and a new millennium makes an especially sharp break. “In this century” is replacing “since WWII”.
This change is unimportant for most us, but it is important for Germany. In an era that begins with the end of WWII German people are reminded nearly every day of their total national disgrace. Every instance of “since WWII” is a reminder. A new frame for the current era — beginning with the new century — will change Germany’s perception of itself.
Since WWII, Germany has felt the need: to be the model citizen within the EU; to pay more than its share of financing of Europe; to not send its armed forces into action and to generally tread lightly in all international settings despite its obvious heavyweight status. The self-imposed need to tread softly may be diminishing now that history has moved on one frame.
We can see this in the current sovereign debt crisis in Europe. If this crisis was playing out even 10 years ago German public opinion would be resigned to bearing much more than their share of the burden of bailing out Greece. This would be seen as another act of contrition and penance for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers. In 2011 their is less contrition, less shame. This would happen regardless of framing as WWII moves further and further back in the rear vision mirror. But the change of frame will significantly accelerate the process.
Germany will become a lot more dominant in Europe as time goes on. The ECB had its way with Germany last week. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted all Greek Government creditors to extend their debt to either 5 or 7 years maturity before German agreed to a new bailout package. The ECB insisted that no requirements be placed on creditors before another rescue package be funded. In 2011 the ECB gets its way, but that won’t last for long.