Friday, January 23, 2015

Udi Greenberg's "The Weimar Century"

Udi Greenberg is assistant professor of history at Dartmouth College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Weimar Century: German Emigres and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War, and reported the following:
As it happens, Page 99 provides a snapshot of The Weimar Century’s broader story: how ideas and political traditions from Germany’s Weimar Republic (1918-1933) became integral to American thought, institutions, and diplomacy in the early Cold War. The book charts the remarkable influence that German émigrés, who fled the Nazis to the United States and then became members of the American intellectual and diplomatic establishment, exerted on the construction of American global hegemony after World War II.

The page is part of a section that tells the surprising story of Ernst Fraenkel, a renowned Socialist émigré who (almost by accident) became a top official in the U.S. occupation of Southern Korea after World War II. In interwar Germany, Fraenkel had been a rising star in the Socialist Party who sought to bolster democratic institutions and welfare policies. Drawing on this experience as he surveyed Korea after the war, Fraenkel was profoundly convinced that a stable democracy could only flourish if it developed through broad government programs for social and economic development. He therefore utilized his influence in the U.S. embassy in Seoul to promote massive American investments in Korean agriculture, industry, labor organization, and education. Ironically, at the very time that growing American panic over perceived “subversive” Communism led to purge of liberals and Socialists at home, figures such as Fraenkel were able to promote Socialist agendas abroad.

Equally important, Fraenkel’s story shows how political traditions from Weimar also had dark and tragic consequences in the early Cold War. Like almost all Weimar Socialists, Fraenkel was fiercely anti-Communist, and he believed the Soviet Union to be the source of overwhelming evil. In the Korean peninsula, this long-standing anti-Communist phobia translated into energetic advocacy to terminate U.S.-Soviet cooperation, ultimately resulting in the formation of two hostile states and the division of the Korean peninsula. Indeed, Fraenkel’s belief in the impossibility of coexistence between democracy and global Communism was so intense that he never pondered the high price of Korea’s division—the breaking of families, the enshrinement of tension, and the permanent destruction of Korean unity. Page 99 thus encapsulates how German ideas helped both expand and harshly limit the postwar political imagination.
Learn more about The Weimar Century at Udi Greenberg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue