Germans as bulwarks of borderlands

The German relationship to space on the North American continent serves as a metaphor for its self-appointed role in Europe.

After World War I, German geopolitical discourse is permeated with the idea that Germany and Europe are threatened by elements that originate in the East and exert westward pressure: the ‘Slavic flood’, the ‘yellow peril’, etc. Such depictions generate mental maps in which Germans on the eastern border provide a last line of defense, serving as the bulwark of the continent. This ‘bulwark’-identity was an important component of postwar border-revisionism, which argued for an eastward expansion of German territory.

Ross incorporates elements of this bulwark-identity in writing his history of Germans in the United States. As he narrates it, Germans who arrived on the North American continent were forced by the British to settle in undesirable areas on the borders beyond which resided hostile native tribes. The Pennsylvania Dutch complained bitterly of the losses they suffered in Indian raids, but their cries went unheeded until they marched on the state capital to display the scalped corpses of their loved ones lost in one such attack. Later, when British space was under attack by the French, Germans defended it and protected the British from the French-Indian alliance. In certain cases, this protection was not martial, but diplomatic: Germans were able to use their superior ethnographic skills to forge ties with the Indians, convincing them to relinquish their alliances with the French and refrain from attacking the British.

Thus, as in Europe, Germans served as a bulwark that protected European space against the flood of marauding elements that threatened to wash over it. As a “people of the Central European space, for whom restriction and delimitation were elements of fate” (203), the enactment of this bulwark-identity was a natural expression of their German Weltanschauung.

Kristin Kopp

Colin Ross. Die Verteidigung der Grenze. In: Unser Amerika: Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 103-108.

Topic: Auslandsdeutsche
Case: Geopolitics

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