Angela Merkel at Harvard
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It’s hard to imagine that even Harvard University could have foreseen what apt timing it was when, six months ago, it chose as speaker at the university’s commencement Thursday the chancellor of Free Germany. Angela Merkel, it turns out, couldn’t be speaking at a more newsworthy juncture in what, in Europe, certainly is one of the great epics of our time — and perfect for the hallowed ground of Harvard Yard.
This is not just because it is the same ground, a tree-dotted lawn known as the Tercentenary Theatre, where, 72 years ago, Secretary of State Marshall unveiled America’s plan to back the reconstruction of Europe. Marshall spoke at a moment of triumph for his country. Frau Merkel will speak at a time when Germany, just starting to rebuild when she was a girl, is the leading economy in Europe and she is being called the most powerful woman in the world.
Yet the story is better than that. For at what might have been a moment of triumph, the political center, of which Frau Merkel is a tribune, turns out to be collapsing in Europe. This is partly owing to errors of her own making. No one can say for sure where this drama is headed. It’s not hard to say, though, that it’s a whale of a story. When the chancellor stands up to make her address tomorrow, the world will be all ears.
It may be that Frau Merkel will use her appearance at Harvard to carp about President Trump. The European elites, we don’t doubt, like him even less than he likes them. And there’s no reason why Frau Merkel shouldn’t speak truth to power, so to speak, if that’s how she feels. Yet any complaints about Mr. Trump would be lost in the din of them on our news. If she’s selling complaints about Mr. Trump, it’s a buyers’ market.
Anyhow, why kvetch in the lee of Memorial Church? Its walls hold the rolls of Harvard men who gave their lives to liberate her country. Shortly before her speech, Harvard will have handed up for commissioning a new class of reserve officers it helped train. In their honor, she could announce the end of Germany’s appeasement of the Iranian regime. Or declare that Germany will follow our lead in respect of Jerusalem.
Those are, alas, unlikely. We, for one, would like to hear the chancellor talk to Harvard’s graduates about communism. We met Frau Merkel only once, in January 2003 over breakfast in Berlin. She was soon to accede to the leadership of her country. We were with our wife and colleague (and guide to Germany), Amity Shlaes. There were only four of us at the table. What most impressed us about her, we said to Amity afterward, was that Mrs. Merkel understood communism.
And no wonder. She had spent much of her life in East Germany, and has the mind of a scientist. Very, very smart. It’d be nice to hear what she makes of the new socialists coming up, including in our own Democratic Party. No doubt she’ll speak of Europe’s problems on the illiberal right. What, though, about the problems on the illiberal, neo-Marxist left? Why do extremists on both ends converge on anti-Semitism? It could be a speech to remember.