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Pacifism in the Federal Republic (January 2003)

By the time the U.S. was preparing to invade Iraq, pacifism was no longer primarily a concern of the Left, as it had been in the 1980s. Rather, pacifism, as a basic stance, enjoyed the support of a broad segment of German society, as became exceedingly clear in the debate over the war in Iraq. At the same time, however, there was no general public resistance to foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr, since these deployments were not understood as combat operations but rather as “police missions” in support of spreading peace.

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“Then there’s only one option: Never again!”

War against Saddam? Not with us! German pacifism, born of guilt and fear, has long since reached the bourgeois middle. At the same time, the Left is getting used to armed struggle for human rights: A journey through the emotional world of the Federal Republic.

How would, how will the German public react to an attack on Iraq? In the Gulf War of 1991 the mood bordered on hysterical, with white sheets hanging from windows and people glued to the television news reports every morning at breakfast – although the Federal Republic wasn’t even involved militarily. German soldiers participated in the [military] intervention in Kosovo in 1998, but things remained calm on the streets because that operation, the first war deployment since the Second World War, was morally shielded, as it were, by a liberal government. The public was at its most agitated when no shots were fired at all, namely, during the arms race of the early 1980s: fear that the world would come to an end in the shadow of intermediate-range nuclear missiles, of the Pershing and the SS-20. So how do things look this time around?

It’s hard to speak reasonably about peace, the longing for peace, the peace movement, peace policies. For some, in fact for many, this is the quintessential untouchable, a moral no-go area, a virtual, or even literal, religious taboo. Others, on the other hand, especially when dealing with the peace issue, experience a particularly unpalatable do-goodism, the bad taste of political kitsch. Sometimes the meek-hearted actually do seem like caricatures of themselves. The first public comments at a recent discussion on Iraq in the Market Church in Hanover were sent via email from “Dahad, Southern Sinai, Egypt” by Pastor Tina Hülsebus, who passed harsh judgment on the un-Christian arrogance of the United States. If a satirist had written a skit like this, he would have been criticized as silly and cheap. But that’s exactly how it happened: Ms. Pastor was directing world events from Mount Sinai. So this milieu really does still exist.

Nonetheless, the church pacifism of the early 1980s is no longer the key to West German peace sensibilities. The Hanover event had no inherent apocalypticism or fanaticism about it. It was a talk show with tolerably professional moderation and was broadcast a few days later on Phoenix, with Christian Ströbele and Peter Scholl-Latour as guest stars. Opponents of the arms race had never navigated the mainstream media so smoothly. But above all it was beneficial for viewers to get a closer look, and their concern about an attack on Iraq had brought them out in such numbers that many of them didn’t even get into the studio. It was a decidedly middle-class audience, well-dressed and coupled up, evenly distributed in age between forty and seventy. That is the heart of German society, and anyone who saw them sitting there knew immediately that Gerhard Schröder really did win the Bundestag election with the slogan “War? Not with us!” It is no longer leftist, no longer alternative, and no longer radical to be against bombs, missiles, tanks, and especially against the Americans; it is the basic underlying mood and majority sentiment among Germans.

This is about being able to win a majority, also among voters and in the cosmos of CDU/CSU values. That is new. Wolfgang Schäuble felt it when, as the person responsible for foreign policy in the Stoiber campaign, he did not want to rule out the war option entirely. The [chancellor] candidate [Edmund Stoiber] and his strategists wanted nothing to do with this unpopular realism. More letters of protest were sent to the Adenauer House* than when the unmarried mother Katherina Reiche was nominated to be the future minister of family affairs, a move that apparently agitated the soul of the party to a considerable extent. As Schäuble observed, it is precisely the older people who continue to see war as the greatest evil. In a certain way, that was always the case for the generation that experienced Stalingrad and Dresden. But at the time, anticommunism and fear of the Soviet Union also ran deep. Now that we no longer have to fear the Russians, the war trauma has free rein so to speak. And the United States isn’t so urgently needed anymore either.

* The Konrad Adenauer House is the CDU party headquarters in Berlin – trans.

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