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Germans and Americans Agree That They’re Allies, Disagree On Why

A new survey shows differing opinions on foreign policy and the importance of historical events

(Chris Melzer/dpa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

After World War II ended, a new age in German-American relations began. It’s been a productive 70 years: American presidents have called Germany “one of [America’s] strongest allies” and the two nations are known for their regular collaboration and cooperation on foreign policy issues. But why are the two nations so closely aligned today? New research reveals that despite their close ties, Germans and Americans can’t agree on the reason behind their alliance.

When the Pew Research Center conducted 1,966 phone interviews with Americans and Germans this year, they found that 72 percent of Americans find Germany to be “a reliable ally.” (62 percent of Germans agreed.) But the agreements ended soon after that, when respondents were asked about the most important events in U.S.-German relations: while 47 percent of Americans thought World War II and the Holocaust were most important, their assessment was matched by only 20 percent of Germans.

In contrast, 34 percent of Germans found the fall of the Berlin Wall to be the most prominent event, compared to 28 percent of Americans. While only three percent of Americans noted the Marshall Plan as significant for U.S.-German relations, 20 percent of Germans thought it was most important.

There were other points of contention, too. Where 54 percent of Americans surveyed felt that Germans should play a more active military role on the international stage, just 25 percent of Germans agreed. And while 59 percent of American respondents feel that the EU is not tough enough with Russia on Ukraine, only 26 percent of German respondents agree. 

Though the survey reveals fundamental differences in the ways each country views the other on the international stage, it also showed one moment of perfect symmetry. 50 percent of respondents in both the United States and Germany feel that their country should “deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems.”

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