Remarks at Day of German Unity

John J. Sullivan
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
October 4, 2018

Foreign Minister Maas, Ambassador Haber, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the United States of America, congratulations to the people of Germany and all of you here this evening as we celebrate the Day of German Unity. I’d like to begin by thanking the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador for inviting me to be here tonight. I’m honored to join you to celebrate German unity and to remember the spirit of unity and strength that Germany demonstrated 29 years ago when that wall that the Foreign Minister referred to was brought down. Brought down by Germans. Not as President Regan had invited Mr. Gorbachev to do but brought down nonetheless. Germany is one of our closest allies, and there is no obstacle we cannot overcome together. The United States and Germany form the bedrock of the transatlantic relationship and the NATO alliance. A relationship built on shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The friendship between the German people and the people of the United States is also strong and pre-dates American independence. Today there are more than 45 million Americans of German heritage who make up the United States’ largest ancestry group.

And if you’ll allow me a slight digression from my prepared remarks as I was thinking about speaking here tonight, I have a personal interest in the history of the American civil war. And the percentage of Union soldiers who were born in another country is very high. It was well over 30 percent, maybe even closer to 40 percent. And of that percentage of foreign-born soldiers, wearing blue, fighting for the Union army, for the survival of this republic. By far, the largest number were from Germany – hundreds of thousands of German-born Americans fought for what has now become the United States. And as we say, before the war the common saying was, “The United States are” and after the civil war, the proper usage was, “The United States is.” It was really the defining moment of our becoming a nation. What group of foreign-born Americans was most responsible? German-Americans, who fought that war wearing the blue cloth of the United States of America.

The friendship of the United States and the German people is also strong. Germany sends over 10,000 students to the United States each year, and over 11,000 American students study in Germany. The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange is in its 35th year and has provided scholarships to more than 26,000 German and U.S. students and young professionals since 1983. Similarly, the German American Partnership Program enables 9,000 German and U.S. high school students to participate in an exchange every year. In fact, the very way we conduct education in the United States – through kindergartens, physical education, and vocational training – is a direct result of German influence. And if you’ll again allow me a moment to add a personal note to this, my grandparents were born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States to what is thought now in common culture to be an Irish-American community in south Boston, Massachusetts. In fact, the Irish were and still are maybe close to a majority. But they are almost rivaled in number by the number of German-Americans who lived and prospered in south Boston. Across the street from the house that my grandparents bought in 1926 was a school run by a convent of German nuns, and I remember as a child in the 1960s playing at what we knew then as the German Sister School. It was the German Sister School that educated those German-Americans in south Boston who later grew up and became proud and productive Americans. Continuing with my historical references to the Irish and the Germans and going back to the Civil War – those hundreds of thousands of Germans who served in the Union Army under, for example, General Franz Sigel who was a core commander in the Army of the Potomac. The historians after the war described the German soldiers as very disciplined and outstanding soldiers who contributed so much to the Union Army and as prevailing in the Civil War. The Irish Brigade, on the other hand, were not quite as disciplined as the German soldiers. This was reflected in part by the comments of one of the organizers of the Irish Brigade, General Meagher, who observed that if he needed to get the Brigade to march an extra ten miles beyond what they had scheduled to march that day, they had to make sure that they had a few extra barrels of whiskey to motivate the members of the Irish Brigade to continue that march. But again, the contributions of German-Americans to the country we have today can’t be overstated.

The United States and Germany also share a deep trade and investment relationship. German companies today employ almost 700,000 Americans in the United States. Germany also provides over $300 billion of foreign direct investment to this country. But perhaps the most important aspect of our bilateral bond is our invaluable partnership and strength in facing threats to our alliance. Since 2014, Germany has pledged over $1.5 billion for humanitarian assistance, stabilization support, and development cooperation in Iraq. German forces are some of the most active participants in the Defeat ISIS coalition, providing support troops as well as manned reconnaissance and aerial refueling aircraft. Since 2012, Germany has pledged more than $6 billion in assistance related to the Syria crisis, including money for de-mining, and has helped lead the drive for European sanctions against the Assad regime.

Our friendship, based on shared values, shared history, and deep people-to-people ties, is unshakable. Even when we differ on matters of policy or in respective approaches to global challenges, our relationship is deep enough and strong enough to discuss differences directly and honestly knowing that our futures are bound together. Though strong, the U.S.-Germany relationship still has new heights to reach. We must remember that our most pressing challenges must be faced together.

My German friends, I am delighted that the launch of your public diplomacy campaign Wunderbar Together takes us yet another step forward in deepening our bilateral ties and in growing America’s understanding and appreciation of your amazing country. President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and I look forward to the success of your efforts throughout 2019.

Thank you again and congratulations.