Washington -- EVERY DAY seems to bury us in the tragedies of the world. Serbia is bitterly attacking "brother" Croatia. Tribal warfare savages countries and peoples from South Africa to Soviet Georgia and the vastness of India.
Then, once in a while, a voice of sanity, truth and even joy emerges. So it was with the visit here this week of the eloquent German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who came to thank the United States on the first anniversary of German unification.
"My belief is that we now are facing a third period in modern European history," the ebullient and charming minister told a small group of us before he was off to see Secretary of State Jim Baker.
"The first was a destroyed Europe after World War II. We faced the hope that Stalin cherished, which was to build a communist system upon a ruined Europe. The U.S. solved that by introducing the Marshall Plan, which was probably the most important decision the United States took in this century and which created a stable Western Europe.
"The second period revolved around the attempt to get Western Europe away from America as a military force. The U.S. responded by creating NATO. Our political existence today is linked to NATO.
"Now we are facing the third major challenge," he summed up. "Communism has killed itself, but we need to avoid the creation of a vacuum. (Eastern Europe cannot live in a political vacuum.) We need now to create structures for all of Europe, for an economy that will be sound and stable. Politics today will be measured against the same criteria as those when we created the Marshall Plan . . .
"Now, all of us must meet the third challenge, which is to create a genuinely stable Europe linked to the United States. Secretary Baker's vision of a unity from Vancouver to Vladivostok? I share his vision."
Most often these days, I am writing about human corruption, knavery or nastiness; sometimes I am writing about pure horror. In between, I drag myself around to monitor the tiresome and destructive play of human hubris and resentment against the United States, from Fidel Castro's Cuba, to Yitzhak Shamir's Israel, to Corazon Aquino's Philippines.
Then, suddenly, human and national maturity bursts suddenly upon my gray reverie like one of these shimmering fall days.
First, let me repeat something. Minister Genscher, a big, confident, elegant man, repeatedly said in his few days here that he had come -- on the occasion of the first anniversary of German unification as well as President Bush's proclamation of German-American Day, both on Oct. 3 -- to thank America.
Read the above paragraph a second time, bitte schoen! While doing that, try hard neither to snicker with cynicism nor to faint in astonishment.
Yes, I will swear on today's faith in "the market" that Minister Genscher actually did use the words, "Thank you." You thought they were archaic in world affairs? Well, here you have at least one example of modern usage.
Then consider that, in addition to his splendid manners and collegial spirit, he also brought with him on the brief visit high officials from Saxony-Anhalt, one of the former East German states and now one of the new all-German "lander" (roughly, lands).
What better way for the struggling areas of what was East Germany to meet the new world they now inhabit?
While one is tempted to get carried away by all this simple courtesy and decency -- while one would just like to enjoy this moment of couth -- one must, because one is a pundit, analyze it in terms of some bigger scheme. And, as just so happens, there is one.
Minister Genscher's respectful and collegial attitude -- basically Germany's and Europe's attitude today -- is an attitude that has worked, spectacularly, since World War II. If the same principles adhered to since World War II are now applied to Eastern Europe, that area will "work," too.
On the other hand, the countries where diplomacy, foreign policy and general outlook are governed by arrogant, resentful and non-cooperative values will never be successful. Not only do these attitudes create enemies, but they also fail utterly to bring into play the expansion of ideas, trade and relations that today so successfully govern most of Europe and most of its relations ** with the United States.
And our thanks to you, Mr. Genscher!