German Intellectuals and The Gulf War

German Intellectuals and The Gulf War

Nowhere in Europe did the Gulf War provoke so explosive a public debate as in unified Germany. It was not Germany’s reluctance to contribute military forces to the coalition (deployment of troops outside of NATO territory is prohibited by the Basic Law) that accounts for the vehemence of the controversy. It was the virtual consensus that surrounded the official stance, combined with massive and spontaneous nationwide peace demon- strations characterized by anti-American rhetoric and an indifference to the fate of Israel. The result was a bitter confrontation between left-wing intellectuals for whom Germany’s obligation to Israel was a singular moral imperative and a resurgent peace movement for whom any German complicity in war and militarism remained the most powerful postwar prohibition.

When the war began there was not the slightest doubt anywhere on the political spectrum, from the ecological-fundamentalist wing of the Greens to the higher echelons of the CDU (Christian Democrats), that Germany should opt out of the conflict militarily and play a subordinate role financially. Critics abroad pointed out that the government’s reluctance did not extend to preventing German firms from delivering weapons to Iraq even after the UN embargo or German engineers from improving Iraqi missile accuracy systems and advising the military research center in Mosul. Only after the first Scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv did Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher arrive in Jerusalem with the promise of cash and Patriots. Genscherism, some critics said, stood not for patient and intelligent diplomacy, but for international “malingering.”

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