Sunday, November 15, 2015


"Of the six chancellors who led West Germany between the end of the second world war and reunification with the east in 1990, none wore the mantle of statesmanship at home and abroad with more poise and more trenchant professionalism than Helmut Schmidt, who has died at the age of 96. When he succeeded Willy Brandt in 1974 as the country’s second Social Democrat chancellor, Schmidt — a former defence and finance minister — brought a wealth of experience to his office and quickly developed authority on the world stage. His leadership qualities, like his principles, were turned to the best advantage of his country and of Europe. Schmidt’s straight-talking, sometimes moralistic, political style was influenced by his conviction that his country had to draw the most stringent lessons from the catastrophe of the war. His view was that the shadow of Hitler and Auschwitz obliged Germany to promote European integration and international stability. Before, during and after his eight-year chancellorship, Schmidt devoted considerable energy to these precepts and, to a large degree, he succeeded in living up to them. By underpinning the Federal Republic’s relations with the US and the European Community, especially France, he extended the policies of the first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, who wanted to anchor the country firmly in the western community. Schmidt also maintained, though in more cautious vein, Brandt’s Ostpolitik extending West Germany’s relations with the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. This twin-track policy of confirming Germany as a solid partner for neighbours in east and west helped pave the way for the breakthrough of unification achieved by his successor, the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl. Together with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, president of France between 1974 and 1981, Schmidt was the main political architect of the European Monetary System, launched in 1979. He saw this mechanism to limit currency movements as a central element in his effort to “bind” the Federal Republic to the west. Schmidt also used his leverage to bring Moscow and Washington to the negotiating table in 1981 on the issue of intermediate-range nuclear weaponry. It was Mr Kohl — a man regarded by his predecessor with contempt — who pushed through Schmidt’s unpopular policy of deploying US Pershing and cruise missiles. Yet without Schmidt’s initial firmness in identifying the threat to Nato from Soviet SS-20s, the superpowers’ 1987 agreement to dismantle medium-range nuclear weapons, a milestone in disarmament history, would not have been possible. Schmidt’s reputation as a Macher (man of action) was well entrenched. In office, he liked to describe himself as West Germany’s chief executive. In his appetite for detail and love of grand strategy, neither his four predecessors as chancellor nor (in particular) his successor could match him. He had few equals in his quick-tongued ability to sum up complex arguments and, in political debate, to rip his opponents’ to shreds".
David Marsh, Haig Simonian and Gordon Cramb, "Helmut Schmidt, German statesman, 1918-2015". The Financial Times. 10 November 2015, in
"History played a dirty trick on Helmut Schmidt. With his interest in architecture, music, and political economy, Schmidt was the most erudite of Germany's postwar leaders. In addition, he had that special quality marking the great leader of being able to grow with the challenge. But, to achieve greatness, a statesman must possess not only knowledge and character; he needs leo to be blessed with the opportunity for a heroic response. Schmidt had the intrinsic attributes, but history did not vouchsafe him the opportunity to fulfil ultimate tasks. Among his predecessors, Konrad Adenauer will be remembered for having brought a defeated Germany from unconditional surrender into full membership in the Western Alliance; Willy Brandt for reconciling it with the countries of the east; Helmut Kohl for bringing about German unification. Schmidt never had comparable opportunities. He conducted the affairs of his country with intelligence and skill, even flair. But it was not given him to repeat the drama of Brandt or to carry out the fulfilment of Kohl".
Henry A. Kissinger. Years of Renewal. (1999), p. 610.
"I talked about this with Helmut Schmidt who, in personality, was the exact opposite to his predecessor as Chancellor, Willy Brandt. Whereas Brandt retained a bear-like hold on the affections of the mass of the German people, Schmidt had won nationwide respect for his intellectual ability, courage and capacity for decision. He was also noted for his supreme self-confidence. This was felt acutely in Bonn where to the question 'What is the difference between God and Schmidt' the answer was, 'God knows everything, but Schmidt knows it better'".
Sir Nicholas Henderson. Mandarin: The Diaries of an Ambassador, 1969-1982. Quoting a despatch written circa August 1975.(1994). p. 144.
A 'safe pair of hands', that in a nutshell describes the Chancellorship of Helmut Schmidt. Not mind you the quality of the man himself. The Financial Times obituary was quite accurate in describing the former West German leader as being intellectually brilliant and not one to suffer fools gladly. As not only his successor as Chancellor, Helmut Kohl but both Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan learned to know quite well 1. Given the unsettled circumstances of his succession to the Chancellorship in 1974, after the forced resignation of his predecessor Willy Brandt, Schmidt represented both a necessary soupcon of continuity and at the very same time, a reassuring sense of competence and as the FT so accurately characterized it, 'professionalism'. The 'Chief Executive Officer' as Chancellor, more or less fits the bill. And given the semi-chaotic surface of West German, nay Western life in the period of his Chancellorship, it would be true to say that Schmidt was quite successful for the first five to six years of his chancellorship. Up to say the winter of 1979-1980, when the revival of the 'new' or 'second Cold War', in conjunction with the less than rosy economic situation in the Federal Republic (due of course to the inflation caused by the oil prices raise beginning in early 1979), Schmidt's domestic political position in his own SPD became difficult. The irony of the situation being that Schmidt who was probably along with Ludwig Erhard the two most experienced Chancellors in German history, were politically undermined and then ousted due to not being able to manage economic expectations and inter & intra party difficulties at the same time 2. Similarly, I would surmise and that it was the intellectual mediocrity Helmut Kohl and not Schmidt who would handle best the politics of German reunification. Why one may ask? Simply put: because the quickest and best means of German reunification depended upon an emotional and not an intellectual reading of the situation on the ground in the former DDR in November and December 1989. And it was history shows, Kohl and not Schmidt who was able intuitively to read correctly the popular will in the former DDR and how to transform that popular will into a diplomatic and political programme of action. In short, it was Kohl and not Schmidt who became the Hegelian 'man of the hour':
Great men have worked for their own satisfaction and not that of others. Whatever prudent designs and well-meant counsels they might have gotten from others would have been limited and inappropriate under the circumstances. For it is they who knew best and from whom the others eventually learned and with whom they agreed or, at least, complied. 3.
In short, the Hegelian thesis quoted above shows us clearly not only why Helmut Schmidt, while a statesman of the first-rank, cannot be considered a 'great man' in the world-historical sense `a la Furst von Bismarck, Konrad Adenauer and to a lesser extent Kohl; not merely pace Kissinger's statement that he was in office at the wrong time, but because even if he had been at the helm of West Germany in 1989, he most likely would have coped ineptly with the politics of the downfall of the DDR. Not despite, but because all of his manifold intellectual and other gifts.
1. See Marsh, op. cit. See also: George Walden, "Helmut Schmidt, 1918 – 2015: Germany’s man of balance". The Spectator. 2 February 1985. In See also the following from Sir Nicholas Henderson as per Schmidt's attitude towards American President Carter: 'Helmut Schmidt has never been n admirer of Carter and takes little trouble to conceal it'. Henderson, op. cit., p. 325.
2. By employing the phrase: 'in German history', I mean going back to the founding of the Kleindeutschland by Bismarck in 1871.
3. G. W. F. Hegel. Reason In History, a general introduction to the Philosophy of History.(1830).


Post a Comment

<< Home