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Pacifism in the Federal Republic (January 2003)

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How are people in the Federal Republic thinking and feeling about the subject of war and peace? Those who were burned on the campaign trail are trying to make sense of the massive mood of refusal that prevented any and all rational discussion on Iraq last summer and fall. Hans-Ulrich Klose, the Schäuble of the SPD on this point and just as isolated within his party, wouldn’t call it pacifism: “It’s more like an injured nation shrugging its shoulders; here we differ from the Americans and the British and are more like the Japanese.” In the collective memory of the Germans, war means guilt and defeat. And for the civilian population it means suffering – the sensational success of Jörg Friedrich’s recent book on the bombing of German cities* shows us just how much. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the Second World War, despite all the destruction wrought upon England, is thought of differently in the end – heroically, as the victory of a just cause. Guilt is also an issue, but not guilt for waging a war of aggression, rather for waiting and watching too long, for appeasement. The specter of history in Berlin is Hitler the criminal; in London it’s Chamberlain the limp-wristed failure.

But aside from the intense reluctance to engage in violence, isn’t there also a totally different countertrend at the same time? A few years ago, German Blue Helmets [i.e. peacekeeping forces] were still inconceivable; in the meantime, the Bundeswehr has participated in military operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan without mass protests or even a loss of support for the government in the arena of public opinion. For hard core antimilitarists, such as Green [Party] parliamentary representative Christian Ströbele, these are indeed sins and dangerous precedents, examples of the militarization of foreign policy. Likewise, every step by a German soldier somewhere in the world is viewed with profound mistrust within the more or less organized peace movement, among activists left over from the arms-race era, or, of late, within the milieu of ATTAC** globalization critics.

From this point of view, history since 1989 looks like a process of turning away from civil conflict resolution. War, in contrast to the days of the nuclear standoff, which now seem oddly idyllic, is once again possible, wageable, acceptable. Seen from that perspective, the Balkan interventions led straight to the threat of an attack on Iraq, straight to perdition. This catastrophe theory is not the exclusive privilege of the pacifist milieu, it can also be found in academic peace research. For example, Ernst-Otto Czempiel, the doyen of the discipline in Germany and a highly esteemed political scientist in the field of international relations, interprets developments in much the same way. Of course, he explains, the deployment of NATO bombers against Serbia in 1999 was a mistake, well-nigh a step backwards for civilization. And of course, just as the peace demonstrators say, war doesn’t solve any problems. Ever. It’s an anachronism, a remnant of a long out-dated “world of states” of Great Power ambitions. The future, or actually the present, belongs to the “world of society,” to global domestic policy in which affluence and democracy cause people to lose interest in fighting. The fact that the West never really disarmed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that it is has been involved in the meantime in ousting tyrants and protecting human rights through the use of force, that full-blown militarism reigns again in the United States under Bush Jr. – in Czempiel’s view these are all facets of a monumental failure to seize the moment in 1989-90 and finally shift from conflict resolution to conflict prevention.

Enough pure theory. That’s not what drove voters to support the chancellor in his rejection of military involvement in the matter of Iraq. As much as the peace movement and peace research might regret it, there is no general resistance to the “militarization of foreign policy.” What there is, however, is a deep, guilt-ridden and angst-filled aversion to war – but paradoxically that might precisely be why deployments in the Balkans and the first phase of the anti-terror struggle were so easy to push through. They are evidently perceived as police actions with military means, basically along the lines of Czempiel’s international domestic policy, albeit not free of violence. Even a police officer needs a pistol for emergencies. War, real war, between countries and possibly for naked interests, for energy resources or for power – that is something entirely different.

* Jörg Friedrich, Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Munich: Propyläen Verlag, 2002; available in English as: Jörg Friedrich, The Fire: The Bombing of Germany 1940-1945, translated by Allison Brown. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006 – trans.
** Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens; its members work on behalf of social and just globalization policies and against militarization – eds.

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