Leo Baeck 2


Nov 2002 Journal

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A two-way bet on Haider

National character is far from immutable. The Irish, once considered feckless, currently operate one of the most successful economies in Western Europe. Poland, now a staunchly Catholic nation, flirted with Protestantism in the seventeenth century. England, the so-called Land ohne Musik, gave the world the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Sweden, whose armies once stormed through half of Europe, has not fired a shot in anger for nigh on two centuries.

But the greatest change has surely occurred in Germany. In the eighteenth century Count Mirabeau quipped: ‘Whereas other countries have an army, in Prussia the army has the country.’ In the nineteenth century Bismarck launched three wars on the trot, and in the twentieth the Kaiser and Hitler ignited two global conflagrations. And now, breaking the habit of several lifetimes, the Germans have embraced pacifism. For the first decades after 1945 such a Damascene conversion was to be welcomed, not least because of the Wehrmacht’s co-responsibility for Nazi crimes. Gradually, however, as the country, in its new incarnation as the Bundesrepublik, re-entered the comity of nations, it also incurred certain military obligations specified by NATO.

It was the military strength of the West, underpinned by economic muscle, which caused Soviet power to implode in 1989, and Germany to be reunited. Not that the end of the Cold War inaugurated a period of global peace. Bloody conflicts flared up in the Balkans, the Gulf and Africa. Many of these conflicts were ended, or at least defused, by the despatch of troops from NATO countries. As a member of NATO Germany participated in the Kosovo campaign, enabling Serb propagandists to claim that German pilots were dropping bombs on Belgrade – just as their Luftwaffe predecessors had done in 1940. Running alongside Germany’s participation in NATO was a counter current: the rise of the Greens, a party voicing neo-Luddite sentiments in tandem with equally unrealistic pacifist notions.

The current crisis over Iraq has seen German politicians – from Social Democrat cabinet ministers to flimsily disguised communists – manipulate anti-American pacifism for electoral advantage. In an effort to cling to power, even if it is only by his fingertips, Chancellor Schröder has recklessly undermined the international order. He has pledged his country to permanent neutrality over Iraq, not merely in defiance of Washington, but also with flagrant regard to whatever joint policy the United Nations – or his own EU partners - might eventually arrive at. Worse still, by giving aid and comfort to Saddam Hussein, he has disadvantaged Israel, to which Germany owes an indefeasible moral obligation.

Thanks to Schröder and the Greens, German electors still pay heed to the cosily archaic Biedermeier injunction ‘Put on your nightcaps, crawl into your feather beds and pull the blanket over your heads!’

Schröder’s name will go down in infamy. In the manner of the American isolationists of the 1930s, he has counselled voters to contract out of world affairs and offload on to others the burden of dismantling the ticking timebomb that is Iraq. But we live in an interdependent world, and a country of 80 million which is the economic powerhouse of Europe is light years away from the Goethean backwater whose burghers enjoyed the distant ‘Kriegsgeschrei, wenn irgendwo in der Türkei die Völker aneinander schlagen’ (the sound of war when somewhere in the back-of-beyond nations clash).

It is a sad story. The only crumb of comfort to be derived from it is that an election victory by Edmund Stoiber, the Catholic conservative who banged the anti-immigrant drum, would have been marginally even worse. Since Schröder, however indirectly, sustains Haider’s buddy Saddam, and Stoiber employed Haider-style xenophobic rhetoric, the Austrian would-be Führer can actually be declared the winner of the German election.
Richard Grunberger

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