Thursday, June 26, 1986

KB00 26 June 1986

If some European Rip Van Winkle were to awake today he would be amazed by something most of us, if we even think about it, take for granted. Particularly if he had been asleep not twenty years as in the case of Washington Irving’s character but forty or fifty.

I am speaking of today’s friendship between French and Germans, indeed the close economic, political, and social ties between the nations of France and Germany. For them to go to war now would be out of the question. Yet between 1870 and 1945 there were three major wars between them and young Europeans of the time were brought up to believe that enmity between these two continental powers was an immutable fact of history and an inevitable ingredient of their common future.

Much of what we associate with the new Europe and the unguarded bridges across the Rhine is inseparable from the name of a great European, a great Frenchman, whose centenary we celebrate this Sunday — Robert Schuman.

Schuman’s own life embodied much of the problem of Europe as well as the answer. He was born in 1886 in Luxembourg and was brought up in Lorraine as a German even serving in the German army. When Lorraine returned to France he became a Frenchman and served in the French army. When France was occupied by the Germans in World War 11 he was arrested by the Gestapo. Escaping in 1942 he joined the Resistance. After the war he became French Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice and Prime Minister and for five years Foreign Minister.

So it was with some justification he could say of France and Germany, ‘I know the problems and the mentality of both countries.’ And could add in conversation with friends of mine soon after the war, ‘I have known for a long time that I have a big part in ending the hatred between us.’

He had talked over this conviction with another of the great figures of post-war Europe, De Gasperi, of Italy, who had lived through parallel experiences. De Gasperi had been first Austrian, serving in the Austrian army, and then Italian, becoming eventually Prime Minister. Perhaps one of the most remarkable developments in Europe at the time was the emergence to leadership in Italy and France and Germany, in the person of Konrad Adenauer, of statesmen who were prepared for a new way of doing things.

At the heart of today’s new Europe is the coal and steel community whose amalgamation will go down in history as the Schuman Plan. Since the 1920s Schuman had believed in the need to bring France and Germany together in some such way just as at the same time and as far back as 1923 Adenauer was considering the possibility of linking the steel industries of the two countries. Schuman believed that if the two steel and coal industries could be integrated, war between the countries would forever be impossible. Only four years after World War II one of Europe’s leading papers, ‘Neue Zuercher Zeitung’, was able to write of the heartland of German industry, ‘The Ruhr, instead of being the apple of discord for Europe, has become the growing point of international agreement.’

Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer were all men of faith, devout Catholics and at the heart of the creation of the Christian Democratic parties of their respective countries. Schuman had once seriously thought of entering the priesthood but, in his own words, ‘chose to aid atheists to live rather than Christians to die.’ Some of his friends regarded him as a ‘saint in a jacket.’ But he thought of himself as ‘a very imperfect instrument of a Providence which makes use of us in accomplishing designs which go far beyond ourselves,’ One of his political colleagues said of him, ‘ Often he tacked about, delayed a decision, tried to dodge the call which was making itself heard in the depths of his conscience. Then when he was sure what the inner voice was demanding, he took the boldest initiative and pushed it to its conclusion, equally oblivious of attacks as of threats. ‘

On the historic day in 1950 when the details of the plan for the integrartion of the German and French steel lindustries, secretly worked out by Jean Monnet and his team, were to be presented to the French cabinet, Schuman sent them also to Adenauer with a call for the elimination of the age-old opposition between the two countries. Adenauer received the mesaage in a German cabinet meeting and within an hour replied with agreement on the basic concept. The plan was, he recognized, ‘a magnanimous step of extraordinary importance for the peace of Eurpe and the entire world,’ The French cabinet then gave its support,

Schuman’s association in these years with Moral Re-Armament helped him move forward when he felt discouraged and also provided him with links with the postwar German leadership, according to the newly published biography ‘Frank Buhman: A Life.’ by Garth Lean. Schuman felt that Moral Re-Armament could help give an ideological content and direction that would help former enemies unite. He knew the depths of feeing on both sides which would make it difficult. ‘We all need to reach a deep inner change,’ he said, He wrote the foreword to the collected speeches of Buchman, who was initiator of Moral Re-Armament, and later had his government decorate him, as did the German government for his assistance in bringing the two them together.

In 1953 I heard Schuman speak at the Moral Rearmament conference center in Caux, Switzerland, which this summer celebrates its 40th anniversaary, Thousands of Germans and French came there and got to know each other, the first international conference after the war to which Germans were welcomed as equals. Schuman told us that in his experience international conferences often ended in great disappointments but at Caux he had found a great hopr. He ended with the words, ‘I will never give up.’

And he never did.