Victor Davis Hanson

In other words, serially hurt pride and a loss of deterrence seemed to have been keys to the outbreak of three German wars. And now? The very thought of an armed, powerful -- and increasingly exasperated -- Germany, furious at its neighbors for a fourth time, seems silly, especially given its success and security.

But Germans certainly believe that they have played by all the postwar rules. They paid $2 trillion for their own reunification without asking for handouts. The European Union turned into a Ponzi racket in which poorer southern members cooked their books to get German cash -- only when caught to blame their indebtedness on German mercantilism and callous, export-driven profit mongering. Perpetual war guilt decreed that Germans must be apologetic about their own success and discreet about the reasons for others' failures.

Beneath the recent election of a socialist president in France and the rise of various extremists in southern Europe is a common theme. After four years of austerity, no poor European country still believes that it can -- or should -- sacrifice to pay back much of what it borrowed from a far wealthier Germany, which supposedly undermined the European Union by not spending and borrowing more.

Of course, the EU always claims it will survive. Of course, all 21st-century Europeans know that nationalism and military preparedness are the fossilized notions of more primitive peoples.

But let's wait and see what happens when Europeans not only default on lots of German-backed loans, but also defiantly announce that they should not have been given them in the first place -- and thus should not have to them back at all. Injury for Germany is one thing; insult on top of it might be quite another.

History is quietly whispering to us in our age of amnesia: "I would not keep poking the Germans unless you are able to deal with them when they wake up."

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.