Book Discussion: The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany and the United States in the Global Sixties
Martin Klimke, Research Fellow, German Historical Institute, Author; Michael Kazin, Professor of History, Georgetown University; Jeremy Varon, Associate Professor of History, The New School for Social Research
Martin Klimke began working on The Other Alliance more than ten years ago. He describes the book as a story about a transnational alliance of activists that challenged the hegemony of the Cold War partnership between the American and German governments. Pointing to common characteristics of the youth movements in Germany and the United States, he argued that both New Left groups maintained Marxist leanings and dissatisfaction with the Cold War and Vietnam, along with an overarching condemnation of apathy, materialism, and capitalism.
In exploring the connections between the activist populations in both countries, Klimke realized that "the most effective explanation might be the simplest": namely, that the two groups had actual face-to-face contact. Interviews that he conducted, along with previously classified documents, confirmed that this was facilitated by the institutional infrastructure of the Inter-Agency Youth Committee and extensive monitoring of demonstrations on opposite sides of the by both the German and American governments. Although the "other alliance" ultimately fell short of its objective, namely to construct networks against global imperialism, Klimke speculates that the social movements did lead to adjustments in U.S. foreign policy.
Michael Kazin began his comment by noting two highlights of the book: the chapter linking the Black Panthers to the German New Left, and Klimke's comprehensive analysis of the transatlantic partnership between the German and American governments. In acknowledging the international threads, however, he also questioned whether the global movement had much influence on national sentiments and events.
Kazin drew attention to important differences between the German and American movements, notably the distinctive historical contexts and sheer size of the New Left populations (the American movement was much larger than the German one). Kazin also distinguished between American romance with the third world and German romance with theory. Finally, acknowledging his own autobiographical biases, he discussed his participation in the American New Left movement and described his sense that Americans were rather apathetic towards what was happening in Europe.
Jeremy Varon prefaced his presentation by praising Klimke for his continued efforts to facilitate international dialogue and promote transational understanding. He then outlined how The Other Alliance contributes to the scholarship about the global 60s. On a broad level, he said, Klimke's work underscores the notion that anti-authoritarian movements were happening everywhere, particularly in response to global events. The book suggests that "dissidents developed systematic analyses of global power" and that foreign radicals maintained a sense of common identity. Klimke, Varon noted, also explained how Vietnam became a source of inspiration for the New Left by demonstrating that a relatively weak population could ward off the greatest super power in the world. Finally, according to Varon, The Other Alliance illuminated the common moral undertone of the activist movements in Germany and the United States.
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