Hans Koning's article in this issue, "Germania Irredenta," about a lingering German desire for lost properties and territories, offers a reminder of the constancy of German preoccupations--and of why so much of the rest of the world has for so long been preoccupied with those preoccupations.
The evolution of the modern German state out of a clutch of principalities occurred entirely within the lifetime of The Atlantic Monthly, and writers in our pages have closely followed the consequences. The first issue appeared in 1857, the year Prussia's King Friedrich Wilhelm IV lost his mind--an event that fatefully shifted the succession (to the Kaiser Wilhelm I and II branch) and heralded the rise of Bismarck. An Atlantic correspondent reported in 1861, "The unity of Germany as one nation has never stood a better chance of being realized than now." The Reich came into being in 1871. Within a few decades the articles became distinctly more ominous, with celebrations of Germany's growing scientific, cultural, and industrial might giving way to admonitory explorations of "The German Mind." A few years after Germany's defeat in the First World War the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr published a prophetic essay titled "Germany and Modern Civilization," in which he urged the study of Germany upon those seeking to understand contemporary civilization: "Nowhere will they discover the forces which contend for mastery in a modern state more clearly defined or the moral impotence of modern industrial civilization more obviously revealed."
A year after German armies overran the Netherlands, in 1940, Hans Koning, who had been born in Amsterdam and was then aged seventeen, escaped to England by means of an underground network through France and neutral Spain. He served with the Royal Artillery and as a commando in the British Army in France, in the Netherlands, and in the British zone in occupied Germany. Later, with some years of university (Zurich, the Sorbonne) behind him, he worked as the editor of a weekly newspaper in Amsterdam and as a radio producer in Indonesia. From Indonesia he traveled on a Dutch freighter to the United States, where he published his first novel, The Affair (1958). He has since published about twenty books, some of them growing out of his work during the 1960s as a reporter for The New Yorker. Among his best-known novels are A Walk With Love and Death (1961) and The Kleber Flight (1981). Koning is an inveterate traveler who has reported from China, Russia, Cuba, Mexico, and Egypt, and from all over Europe, frequently including Germany. All his work--novels, journalism, and travel writing alike--is informed by political sensitivity and a strong moral edge.
The Atlantic Monthly; July 1996; 745 Boylston Street; Volume 278, No. 1; page 6.