The ubiquitous signs of destruction left by the Second World War and the experience of a partitioned Germany (and Europe) made keeping the peace a vital element in the policies of both German states. Even so, their rhetoric and strategies differed radically. In East Germany, the SED regime created an official peace organization and adopted the cause of peace for its own propaganda purposes. In West Germany, demonstrations against the nuclear arms buildup – and later against the Vietnam War – became a central pillar of the 1960s protest movement. In 1969, the newly elected federal president Gustav Heinemann spoke of peace as an “emergency situation” and warned that it had to be maintained at all costs. The waning of the student movement and the end of the Vietnam War brought an ostensible end to the peace protests, but in the early 1980s the situation changed dramatically once again: independent peace movements gained strength and momentum in both German states. They goaded their respective governments and jointly emphasized the responsibility of all Germans to foster and preserve peace in Europe.
The deployment of new SS-20 rockets by the Warsaw Pact and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in late 1979 led to an acceleration of the arms race and spelled the end of the policy of détente between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Under the leadership of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, the foreign and defense ministers of NATO adopted the dual-track decision in December 1979, which foresaw the deployment of additional nuclear arms in the event that strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union did not produce results by 1983. It was above all the Federal Republic of Germany that was affected by this resolution, since all new Pershing II missiles and part of the cruise missile fleet were to be stationed on its territory while remaining under U.S. control.
The decision put NATO to a difficult test and triggered heated debates in West Germany. The rapidly growing peace movement not only brought together a large number of disparate groups but also mobilized millions of signatures and demonstrators, who agreed on common objectives, if not always tactics and methods. The Krefeld Appeal, signed by nearly four million West German citizens between 1980 and 1983, was meant to provide a common platform for the movement. A frequent criticism, even during the Easter Marches of the 1960s, was that the movement was infiltrated by Communist groups, and members of the SPD distanced themselves from such charges by signing a separate appeal. While Chancellor Helmut Schmidt became the target of sharp attacks (primarily from within his own party) and was forced to defend his policies, prominent SPD members such as Erhard Eppler marched in the front lines of a Bonn protest that proved the largest ever in the Federal Republic. Commentators attempted to explain the strength of the peace movement from a historical perspective and to assess its repercussions for West German foreign policy. Combined with tensions within the SPD, differences of opinion between the SPD and its coalition partner, the Free Democrats, caused the collapse of the SPD-FDP coalition in fall 1982 (Chapter 13). Protests against the NATO double-track decision continued, but there were also counter-demonstrations that emphasized its importance for preserving the peace. Following a heated debate, the SPD withdrew its approval of the NATO resolution in 1983, reversing a decision made just four years earlier. This resolution, however, was adopted in the Bundestag in November 1983 with the support of the parties then governing (the CDU/CSU and the FDP). The deployment of Pershing II missiles began immediately thereafter.
In the late 1970s, the East German peace movement, supported by the Protestant Church, drew a wave of new followers after the introduction of socialist military instruction as a mandatory school subject (Chapter 5). By the early 1980s, the peace movement had also grown into an independent force in society. With slogans like “Swords into Plowshares” and “Make Peace without Weapons,” it drew public attention in the East and West. Disputes over the role of the church in East Germany were triggered by the temporary imprisonment of Pastor Rainer Eppelmann, a co-initiator of the Berlin Appeal, and by his subsequent release on the condition that church leaders distance themselves from the appeal. The SED government increasingly responded with intimidation and repressive measures but could neither block joint initiatives between peace groups in East and West Germany nor prevent the development of an opposition movement galvanized by peace activists (see Chapter 16). In the end, the SED largely failed in its attempts to use its own demonstrations to support the West German peace movement and to influence peace work in East German churches according to its own interests.