CPH Director Jeffrey Engel recently received the Bernath Lecture Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. Engel’s lecture, “Bush, Germany, and the Power of Time: How History Makes History,” has now been published in the prestigious journal Diplomatic History.
George H.W. Bush backed German reunification with a puzzling degree of enthusiasm. His strategic reasoning was clear and not in dispute, as he desired to keep a unified Germany enmeshed within NATO. Less obvious, however, is his general forgiveness of Germany’s past, for which he was pilloried. Yet history was much on Bush’s mind in reaching these decisions. Germans had learned from the past, he argued. Europeans had not. They could not keep the peace no matter their ongoing political consolidation, his administration concluded by reading European history, without Americans in their midst. Bush backed unification, therefore, to ensure NATO’s survival and thus an ongoing American presence on the continent. By studying Bush’s sense of history, and a policymaker’s historical sensibility more broadly, historians can thus gain greater insight into this decision and how strategic decisions are more generally formed.