February 9, 2003

Germans and the American War

According to The Telegraph, Donald Rumsfeld's family in Germany has disowned him. "The Rumsfelds of Weyhe-Sudweyhe, an unremarkable red-brick suburb of Bremen, were once proud of their long-lost cousin, America's secretary of state for defence," says the Independent, "but no longer."

The article continues: "Like many Germans, they are appalled by Donald Rumsfeld's hawkish attitude to military action against Saddam Hussein. About 18,000 anti-war demonstrators marched through Munich yesterday to protest at his presence at an international security conference - chanting slogans such as 'No room for Rumsfeld!'"

Yesterday a German called into a radio show on WBAI in New York. He wanted to comment on the disparagement of Germans in the US media because of their opposition to the war against Iraq. He said that Germans are very upset by the hostility toward Germans. He said, "You have to understand that to Germans who lived through the second World War, the effect the sound of the word 'war' has on us. In German the word is 'krieg'."

The Germans, it should be remembered, began World War II as the invincible conquerer. And though Americans may downplay it in hindsight, the Germans really were invincible at that time, quite comparable to how the US is now. Their military technology and industrial capacity were something new on earth. There wasn't any country that could touch them. They took over the entire continent of Europe in a matter of weeks with their Blitzkrieg. And they ruled it for years.

They came very close to taking over England. Many historians believe that if Hitler hadn't decided to break his alliance with Stalin and attack Russia while the war with Britain was still in progress, he would have taken over Britain. The Nazis were within an inch of defeating the British resistance when Hitler turned, incomprehensibly, to attack Russia.

As Churchill explained in a letter to Roosevelt, if the Nazis overcame Britain the British Navy would have fallen into their hands. It was by far the most powerful navy in the world. The US had little military apparatus at the time. The Nazis, with the British navy and resources at their command, with their rocket technology that is still the backbone of US missile technology, and with their nuclear science ahead of that in the US, could have defeated America too.

And yet Hitler misjudged, backed off from Britain and gave the allies time to regroup, put Stalin on the side of the allies, and gradually the German war machine was worn down as the US industrial capacity turned toward war. In the end the German people suffered far more devastation and more casualties than any other country in the war.

Hence the deep anxiety of the German people in regard to a new world war. Americans should look beyond the war propaganda that disparages the German reluctance and see that they can learn something from it. America is a naive culture that has experienced little of war's devastation since its own Civil War. America's leaders now think they are invincible, and they are, in pretty much the same way Germany was in 1939. But they are not absolutely invincible and their flagrant abuse of their power is an indication that they too will misjudge their situation, and continue to overstep until their invincibility is deteriorated. It is historically a virtual certainty that these empire-builders, like so many before them, will push relentlessly until they eventually reach their Waterloo.

"It distresses us to hear this from Americans," said the German on WBAI. "We love Americans. If it weren't for the Americans many of us would not be here. But you have to understand that this war means something very different to Germans. We love Americans. We just don't love your fuhrer."

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