Despite the continuing corona-virus danger, and despite anger, loathing or fear about “that man”, some people may still have an eye or an ear for international relations. If so, and if they listen hard, they may just fancy hearing an unusual tearing sound. Could it be emanating from a recent development, not conclusive or complete and yet undeniable; the painful ripping apart of that eternal brotherhood between the German Federal Republic and its great patron, provider and protector, the USA, a seemingly indestructible alliance cemented after World War Two?
One key location in this process, however – in or under the Baltic Sea – is soundless. The chug-chug of the special Swiss ship which had laid over 1000 kilometers of the underwater gas pipeline from Russia to Germany – called Nord Stream 2 – is now silent. It had only a measly 150 km left to reach its goal when Washington made good on the very undiplomatic threats barked out by then US Ambassador Richard Grenell (once a commentator for Fox and Breitbart): any company helping with the pipeline would get slammed by sanctions as tight as those used against Russia or Cuba, Venezuela and Iran. To the surprise and anger of Angela Merkel and many German businessmen, that is just what happened. The imposed stranglehold was all too suffocating, the Swiss seamen shut down their engines and went home to the Alps, while the only Russian ship equipped for the job needs renovations and repairs and is docked in Vladivostok. Many commentators saw this Verbot as an insult to Germany and a blow, not for ecology but for selling more fracking gas from the USA while also damaging or wrecking the Russian economy.
Stationed in the small town of Büchel are about twenty American atomic bombs, next to a German base with Tornado planes ready to carry and fire them at a moment’s notice – each one far, far more horrendous than those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs are both doomsday weapons and likely targets. In 2010 a large majority in the Bundestag called on the government to “work effectively to achieve the removal of USA atomic weapons from Germany”. But the government did nothing of the sort and annual demonstrations in Büchel were largely ignored. Until May 2nd, that is, when a leading Social Democrat (whose party is in the government coalition) repeated this demand – and found surprising approval from the new leaders of his party. This too was a sign that the alliance was crumbling. Of course, it will take far more than that to close Büchel or the giant base at Ramstein, the European relay station for all US drone attacks (and the protests continue).
Then in June Trump announced plans to pull 9,500 US soldiers out of Germany, from a total 35,000. Was this to punish Germany for refusing to spend 2% of its Gross Domestic Product on armaments, as NATO (and Trump) demanded, but only 1.38%. That too is a huge pile of euros, but disobeyed the boss’s orders! Or was it a penalty by thin-skinned Mr. Trump after Ms. Merkel spurned his invitation to a G7 summit in Washington, spoiling a campaign device to show himself as a “world figure”?
Whatever the reasons, the “Atlanticists” in Berlin, who cherish Washington ties, were shocked and dismayed. One top adviser groaned: “This is completely unacceptable, especially since nobody in Washington thought about informing its NATO ally Germany in advance.”
Many would be glad to see them go; they love neither Trump nor having Pentagon troops in Germany since 1945, more than in any other country. But their pleasure was short-lived; Bückel and Ramstein would not be closed down and the troops would not fly home but to Poland, perilously close to the Russian border, even worsening the dangers of a tragic – if not final – global catastrophe.
Even for a junior partner there had been problems; majority opinion just before an election kept Germany out of the Iraq wars and the aerial bombardment of Libya. But it dutifully followed its leader in bombing Serbia, it joined in battering Afghanistan, obeyed the embargo-blockade of Cuba, Venezuela and Russia, bowed to pressure to bar Iran from the world trade market and supported the USA in nearly every UN controversy.
Where might a more independent path lead? Can some leaders break with the dangerous anti-Russia, anti-China campaigns in the USA and search for a new detente? Is that more than a dream?
Many with strong muscles and influence prefer to strive for Germany, the heavyweight in the European Union, to head up a continental military force, ready and willing to hit any overseas target area, just as in the Kaiser’s day, and more essentially, just as in the days of a later Führer, to aim straight eastward, where its warriors already join eagerly in NATO maneuvers along the Russian borders. Whatever the goal, Minister Kamp-Karrenbauer, chair of the leading Christian Democratic Union, keeps demanding ever more devastating bombers, tanks, armed drones and military robotry. The more the better! Worrisome recollections of events ending just 75 years ago are inescapable!
Such nightmares just got new steroid shots. One of those “damned whistleblowers”, a captain in the elite, top-secret Special Forces Command (KSK), leaked out that his company was jam-packed with Nazi memories – and hopes. Blind obedience was demanded during duty hours, but jolly after-duty parties almost required one to shout Sieg Heil and give a Hitler salute to avoid getting ostracized. Then it was found that one Hitler-loving noncom had hidden army weapons, ammunition and 62 kilos of explosives in his garden – and the scandal exploded. Kamp-Karrenbauer expressed her utter shock and published a list of 60 measures to remove such “aberrations” with “an iron broom”. Cynics recalled that her predecessor, Ursula von der Leyen (now head of the European Union), facing similar shocks, also wanted an “iron broom”. It seemed advisable to keep such a utensil close by at all times.
Cynical historians recalled that the Bundeswehr, the West German military force, was first headed by Adolf Heusinger, who as early as 1923 called Hitler “…the man sent by God to lead the Germans”. He helped plan strategy for almost every Nazi blitzkrieg and ordered the shooting of thousands of civilian hostages in Russia, Greece and Yugoslavia. When he was promoted to chair NATO’s Permanent Military Committee in Washington his successor was Friedrich Foertsch, who had ordered the destruction of the ancient cities of Pskov, Pushkin and Novgorod and joined in the genocidal siege of Leningrad. He was followed by Heinz Trettner, a squad captain in the Legion Condor bomber unit which destroyed the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. After the pensioning or death of the last Nazi generals, their successors maintained the traditions of the “patriotic” Nazi Wehrmacht, if possible without too openly alarming western patrons, providers or protectors.
But omens and signals have become too alarming, with racist and fascist attacks often ending in cold-blooded murder – of a Christian Democratic official who was too “immigrant friendly”, in the killing of nine people in a hookah bar, the shooting up of a synagogue, the burning of the car of an active anti-fascist, in constant attacks against people who look too “foreign”.
In case after case it proved strangely difficult for the police to find the culprits, or the courts to punish them, while mysterious threads led to the very authorities responsible for observing such fascist groups. That elite-unit non-com with the hidden explosives, and his background, had long been known to the military police. The car burning in Berlin was committed by a fascist group whose leader was seen chatting in a bar with a cop supposed to be hunting for clues. When an immigrant café owner was murdered in Hesse years ago – one in a series of nine such killings – a secret government spy was sitting at a nearby table. But all interrogation with him was barred by the Hessian government and evidence was shredded or locked away from investigation. The minister in charge of police later became the powerful prime minister of Hesse – and still is.
Last week, Hessians got into the headlines again. Janine Wissler, 39, state leader of DIE LINKE (and a vice-chair of the national party), received messages threatening her life, signed “NSU 2.0”. National Socialist Union, NSU, was the name used by the Nazi group which committed the nine murders mentioned above. Such threats are by no means uncommon for leading left-wingers, but the messages this time contained information about Wissler with only one possible source: the computer of the local police department in Wiesbaden. It has now been officially admitted that police and other institutions authorized to protect the citizenry are permeated by far-right networks. Federal Minister Seehofer, in charge of these institutions, finally admitted that they are more dangerous than the “left-wing extremists” which were always favored targets in the past. Strict measures will now be taken, he promised; the old “iron broom” is again to be taken out of the closet.
Meanwhile, untouched by the broom, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a legal party represented in all legislatures and the Bundestag, with members at work at all government levels, while maintaining personal ties to all the spider webs of semi-underground pro-Nazi groups. Happily, recent AfD blunders down-playing the corona virus plus personality quarrels between open pro-fascists and those who prefer a more dignified, democratic mien instead of overt rabble-rousing have caused the AfD’s decline with the voters – already down from 13% to about 10%. And that despite an amazing amount of “objective” talking time afforded by both the private and state-owned media.
Germany, which is weathering the corona pandemic better than most countries, will soon face giant economic problems, with disaster threatening many citizens. It also faces federal and many state elections in 2021. Will there be an effective opposition to increased racism, militarism, widespread surveillance and political controls? Hard confrontations may well be in the offing, in the domestic and foreign spheres. Will their outcome steer Germany to the right – or just possibly leftward?
One greatly-loved voice will be missing in future events. Heinrich Fink, born in a poor rural family in Bessarabia, thrown around by war events as a child, became a theologian in the (East) German Democratic Republic and was lecturer, professor and then dean of the Theology Department in East Berlin’s Humboldt University. During the brief era when the GDR opened up to choices from below, in April 1990, faculty, students and staff elected him – 341 to 79 – to be rector of the whole university. But within two years the winds changed. West Germany took over and he, like innumerable “undesirables”, was unceremoniously thrown out, charged in his case with having helped the “Stasi”. Countless doubts about any and all accusations, protests by many prominent writers and big student marches for the popular rector were all in vain.
After one session as Bundestag deputy he was elected president of the Association of Victims of Fascism and Antifascists and, later, its Honorary President. Remarkable for his modest friendliness, humility, almost tenderness, one could never imagine him harming or scolding anyone or ever even raising his voice. But just as impressive was his devotion to his principles – his belief in a humane Christianity based on struggle for a better world. He was both a Christian and a Communist – and saw no contradiction in the combination. He will be greatly missed!