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Berlin Bulletin by Victor Grossman

Contrary creatures

Berlin Bulletin No. 158, February 14, 2019

As a preschooler I liked some stories about Dr. Dolittle, who could speak with animals, and especially his pushmi-pullyu, a “gazelle/unicorn cross” with two heads, one at each end, pulling in opposite directions. And that resembles Germany’s current politics.

Take the multi-lane Autobahn network. On much of it there is no speed limit. Those with Porsches, Mercedes or their Italian rivals can, if they wish, tool along at 120 mph or more. The ecology folk now demand a limit, perhaps 70 or 80. Masses of indignant speed demons, even with slower Opels, shout angrily, “They want to curb our freedom!” It’s not hard to guess who’s pulling this unicorn.

Much larger issues are affected in the push-pull situation involving Nord Stream 2, a second Russian gas pipeline extending 760 miles through the Baltic Sea to northeast Germany. It is to brace up the energy supply while renewable energy phases out dirty lignite coal. But ecology hardly matters here; what matters are relations with Russia and the U.S..

The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, sent letters to German companies, threatening: “We emphasize that companies involved in Russian energy exports are taking part in something that could prompt a significant risk of sanctions.”

There was a loud outcry at this defiance of all diplomatic etiquette and conventions. A foreign policy spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democrats stated that “the U.S. ambassador’s turning to German companies with direct threats is a new and unacceptable one-sided tightening of the tone in the transatlantic relationship. If the U.S. president thinks he has to publicly show he is getting tough on Russia in view of the many question marks regarding his relationship with Moscow, he should not thereby impair the relationship with his most important ally.”

The U.S. Embassy, trying to calm the waters, said the letters were simply a clear message conveying Washington’s sanctions policy. Most of the media, finding little difference, spoke of an unprecedented threat to the conduct of private business.

This wasn’t Grenell’s first bit of nastiness. Once a Fox News commentator, then George W. Bush’s spokesperson at the UN embassy and a free-lance contributor to Breitbart News, he has meddled in German affairs from the start, warning against abiding by the treaty with Iran and openly supporting the far-right racist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Did this signal a pull away from a hitherto timeless German-U.S. alliance? It almost seemed so; Angela Merkel asserted Germany’s right to make its own decisions. But then the two sides compromised; the huge but peaceful pipe-laying ship “Solitaire” can keep moving ahead through the Baltic, doing, it insists, no damage to the underwater environment. But two German sea ports will also be constructed to welcome icy American fluid gas imports, derived mostly from fracking.

The differences remain. Gruff tones continue to urge not less but more confrontation, aiming eastward in an old, bloody tradition. Among the toughest, though always with smiles and well-chosen words, is the bellicose Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen. Faced with a nasty corruption scandal—claims that buddy-buddy private firms were paid huge sums for unnecessary consultation on arms purchases—she responds with demands for ever newer, deadlier and more aggressive weaponry, at a cost of 43 billion euros in 2019, 4.7 billion more than in 2018.

American weapons stationed in Germany are belligerent enough, one might think, since they make it one of the most heavily nuclearized countries in the world, with bases in Büchel and Ramstein. The number stationed there now is secret but they can store up to 150 thermonuclear B61 “bunker-buster” bombs, always ready to wreck and kill at the first clash—or perhaps a German or American maneuver missile erroneously crossing the Russian border near St. Petersburg, Murmansk or Kerch. Germany has no A-bombs of its own (yet?) but does produce nuclear warheads for the French Navy.

The push-pull situation is between Hurrah-Washington “Atlanticists”, including the armament giants, and those who prefer to do business, selling cars, chemicals, machinery and agricultural produce to Russia. Now Donald Trump’s disparaging words about NATO, especially Germany, have boosted plans for a powerful new army of the European Union, led of course by Germany, its strongest member.

Whether for NATO or an EU army, there are always budget demands for more weapons “to defend German security”—as if it were in some way threatened! So Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Krupp and Rheinmetall can rub their hands and head over to the bank; there are billions enough for all of them! And let school buildings crumble, apartment rents soar and cities gentrify!

Eurofighters and Tornados, built to attack, can fly quickly to hot spots. So can new drones, which spare pilots and gunners while zapping assumed “terrorists” and any women and children standing near them. But how do you get tanks eastward in a hurry, U.S. Abrams or Germany’s new sixth battalion of Leopard 2 tanks, now being set up in western Hardheim? We’re back to the Autobahn!

Frau von der Leyen has answers: “If tension or crises require quick long distance troop movements then you must have exact planning to achieve that with great speed and efficiency.” Together with the relevant EU Commission, plans are moving ahead to widen and strengthen roads, bridges and rail lines and eliminate red tape at border crossings. Let those tanks roll eastward!

A bit of research recalled these words: “In development and planning the possibility of rapid troop transportation, the creation of additional march routes, facilitating the railways and moving of troops without public observation is required. The armed forces should therefore be involved in every phase of planning and construction.”

Those were part of the plans for construction of Hitler’s famous Autobahn network, still good for speeding but once clearing the way for Nazi panzers in blitzkrieg actions—but then to the three-digit tank losses in the giant Battle of Kursk which ended all dreams of any new offensives.

Has nothing been learned from the past? The U.S. has over 700 bases in a ring around Russia and an armament budget higher than China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, India and Turkey combined. In 2017 the 29 NATO members spent $881 billion on arms, almost 16 times as much as Russia, which can hardly plan any aggression. But what could a single spark mean in the present confrontation, one false move in Estonia, the Ukraine, Syria? One blunder? In August 1945 two bombs—in one minute apiece—killed over 200,000 human beings, almost none of them soldiers. Russia and the U.S. now have thousands of bombs which are far, far more satanic than the two in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We can hate or despise Trump, Putin or both all we want. But despite any of their sins or evils, don’t even the awful evils of racism, misogyny, immigration misery, yes, even the menace of ecological disaster pale next to the constant danger of a total obliteration of our world and all who live in it?

The German peace movement, fighting many odds for years, is leading a petition campaign called “Abrüsten statt Aufrüsten” (Don’t Arm but Disarm). 140,000 have signed thus far, not so many, but among them the heads of three major unions and many large protest groups. They hope for a growing campaign leading to a major demonstration on September 1st, the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s first shots in World War Two.

A majority of Germans want peaceful relations with Russia (and in general), despite the media, politicians and big biz groups pulling toward catastrophe. The pulls within most parties vary; the Social Democrats seek to stem their depletion with demands, taken from the LINKE (Left), for better pensions. The Christians, also slipping, are trying to repair the seemingly too humanitarian image left by its departing leader Angela Merkel. The Greens, now with big gains, are balancing ecology with good business ties and anti-Russian diatribes which out-do even von der Leyen. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is licking its chops in hopes of new power in East Germany.

Only the LINKE has consistently and unanimously demanded a policy of peace. But it too has been torn this past year by opposing pulls, seriously depleting any effectivity in needed action. Its congress meets next week in Bonn. Can it overcome pulls by opposing leaders? And defy the media’s dirty tricks? Maybe as a child I didn’t ask about one item at least lacking in a two-headed animal. Today, in most TV debates and news reports I see, in human costume, that missing anatomical element.

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