Skip to comments.DEMOCRACY AT THE TIP OF A SWORD: George W. Bush's Infectious Virus (View from Germany)
Posted on 03/04/2005 1:36:56 PM PST by Eurotwit
The US is guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Guantanamo. It's not the first time. The US also committed war crimes in World War II. But the greater legacy of American involvement in the war against Hitler was democracy in Germany. Could the same thing now be happening in Iraq and the Middle East?
George W. Bush -- and he should know -- once compared Germany's abstinence in the Iraq war with a reformed alcoholic: even one glass of beer is too much. After the Nazi Wehrmacht and the SS had left Europe in ruins, murdered nearly all European Jews, and cut a deadly swath through the Soviet Union, war as a political instrument became an unapproachable taboo in Germany. But at the same time, this country is currently flooded by memories of World War II. Sixty years after the end of the war, the bloody winter and spring of 1945 is being relived day by day in the media. In fact, no country in Europe is as obsessed with history as the Germans are. The fascination with Germany's "Downfall" knows no limits.
But this flood of images from World War II is obscuring some important lessons from that half-decade of murderous violence that still hold true today. The Nazi regime was not brought to an end by sit-ins in front of the Adolf Hitler's Chancellery. It was the Russians, Americans and British who -- through a high price paid in the currency of both military and civilian casualties -- brought Hitler's massive war machinery to its knees. Bombs and grenades brought democracy to us Germans. There was no other option; the Germans didn't want it any other way. Until the bitter end, many Germans believed and trusted in their Führer and the first steps of re-education were not taken by social workers, rather they were ordered by the US military.
Democracy being born out of violence
Sixty years ago, the brute force of the sword brought peace and democracy to Europe. Two years ago, George W. Bush began the war against Iraq for all the wrong reasons. There were good reasons to protest the war. Now it seems that true freedom of expression and democracy are evolving from that wrongful war. If that's the case, then there's good reason to cheer.
The Americans never found the weapons of mass destruction that were allegedly threatening the world -- instead, mass graves were discovered. In January, the Iraqis cast their ballots against terrorism. But terror has yet to be stopped. The followers of leading al-Qaida terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are putting their faith in a dark, religiously fueled promise of fortune. For them, death is the pinnacle of life and only death will stop them. However, the Iraqi voters achieved something else: The virus of democracy, feared by al-Zarqawi and friends, is spreading throughout the Middle East. In February, municipal elections were held in Saudi Arabia. To Westerners, it may seem ridiculous mentioning such an event, but for the local population it was an important warm-up exercise on the road toward freedom of expression. In the past -- including recent elections -- only men were allowed to vote there. However, in an interview with Time magazine, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud recently promised that that is set to change soon. Women, he said, were more sensible voters anyway. A brand new tone to the rhetoric coming out of Riyadh.
The events currently unfolding in Lebanon are just as astonishing. Millions of people are gaining political self-confidence, despite Syrian occupation and still-fresh memories of a bloody civil war. Whoever was behind the terror attack against former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the murder was likely not intended as a wake-up call for the Lebanese people. It's still too early to compare these events with the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. But it's certainly a sign of hope for the young people there who are eager to take back their country.
How quickly can the virus of democracy spread?
We can only anticipate where Lebanon is headed. The Syrians will have to leave this oppressed country at some point, whether now or in the future. And when it happens, maybe the virus of democracy and free speech will jump across the border from Beirut to Damascus. Perhaps it will even spread into Amman, Jordan and Tehran, Iran. As Europeans, we should not be afraid of such a process. On the contrary, we should support it wherever we can. For far too long, Germany's foreign policy in the Middle East merely focused on maintaining the status quo. On the surface, the term "critical dialogue" with Tehran sounded great, and it hurt no one. And the rallying cry "no blood for oil" was a convenient lens through which to view the Iraq war.
Leaving the United States out of the big picture for a moment, an examination of Germany's export volume to Iran leads to a massive 2.7 billion per year. We may call it peace, others just call it deathly silence. We negotiate with people who like to force their own population into the corset of the Koran. Those who don't like it are locked away, tortured, thrown out of the country, or, in some cases, just killed.
A US war against Iran would be foolhardy. But no one should suggest that there's peace in Iran. There's an important reason behind the German government's pacifist convictions: big business. If the German leadership had its way, we'd still be sitting in a Tehran teahouse a hundred years from now, kicking back, talking business, while sipping some hot brew. Those who favor democracy in the Middle East surely cannot be opposed to the Americans trying to stir things up a little as a contrast to Germany's "teahouse policy." The mullahs' recent attempts to block investigations of the country's nuclear program underscore the need for such measures. The soft and friendly European-Iranian dialogue could surely use some more incisiveness. After all, former German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel engaged in this schmoozing, chit-chat diplomacy that's still prevalent today, and Kinkel achieved little. The result: In today's Iran, the conservative mullah's have more control than ever before.
US has a history with war crimes
Bush's approach -- using tanks and guns to force democracy down the world's throat -- rightly triggers some serious opposition: Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. How can a country that tolerated torture and created legal vacuums and advocate democracy and human rights with a straight face? It's outrageous that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is still in office while Secretary of State Colin Powell had to leave his post. That said, the torture will be punished: The prosecution at first demanded that the maiden of torture, Lynndie England, be sentenced to 38 years. Now it's down to 16 years -- still a lot of time behind bars for someone who didn't murder anyone. In addition, the reality in the Middle East is somewhat more complex than the few gruesome pictures from the U.S. Army dungeons may reflect.
The people of Iraq countered this horror with hope. This pairing -- war crimes with liberation -- is not completely new: When the 7th Army of U.S. General George Patton landed in Sicily in July 1943, his men killed 150 Italian soldiers and 50 Germans -- after they had already surrendered. It was a war crime, even at that time.
Later, in April 1945, Patton's soldiers liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. What they saw, standing on Ettersberg Mountain near Weimar, left the soldiers breathless and in utter shock: mountains of dead bodies, living skeletons. The dying didn't stop, even weeks after the liberation. Even the birds in the area fled from the Nazis' crimes, and only returned after the crematory stopped pumping out the sickly-smelling clouds of death into the skies.
During the following days, George Patton forced thousands of Weimar residents to help clean up the concentration camp. A person from each household had to climb Ettersberg Mountain and see the results of the Nazis' ghastly crimes. The approach was called "viewing the atrocities" and represented a sort of "shock-and-awe" pedagogy for a population that believed in their Führer, in his miracle weapons and in Santa Claus until the very end. "Viewing the atrocities" was one of the first ways of re-educating the Germans. And it was ordered by a US general who had brutally violated the Geneva Conventions in Sicily.
The US should stay in Iraq
But who would deny that the man who liberated Buchenwald is, in fact, a hero of history? He took the Weimar locals -- many of them very arrogant, cold, self-absorbed and engrossed in their local hero Wolfgang von Goethe -- and rubbed their nose in the Nazis' atrocities, crimes that took place on their front-door step for years and that didn't seem to bother them. Shortly afterwards, Patton and his army left the eastern German city. The region conquered by the US Army went to the Russians in a trade-off for West Berlin.
Patton's 7th Army was later merged into the V Corps, the US Army unit that shouldered the biggest load two years ago during the attack on Baghdad. Among the 42,000 soldiers is the 205th brigade of the military secret service, and some of these men and women are stationed in Abu Ghraib. Other soldiers of the V Corps are currently building schools in central Iraq, or are on patrol there. The 130th pioneer brigade built bridges and reconstructed roads. Without the V Corps' protection, elections could not have taken place in Iraq.
Iraq would be better off if the US Army stayed a little while longer -- as opposed to post-War Weimar, which it quickly left. That would allow the virus of democracy to spread as long as possible and without intervention.
AFP US President Bush has pursued his agenda of gun-boat democracy with single-mindedness.
The Buchenwald concentration camp after its liberation by the US army. Democracy was brought to Germany at the tip of the sword.
REUTERS Lebanese took to the streets in thousands earlier this week. A sign of things to come?
Good article. But mistreating enemy combatants that do not fall under any conventions, Geneva or otherwise, does no make for a "war crime". Nor does a small group of soldiers going beyond the rules of warfare taint the enterprise.
The United States itself is a democratic republic born of violence... based on principles of individual rights (Magna Carta, Glorious Revolution) carried from Britain that were rights won through violence...
Another recent one from Der Speigel:
Could George W. Bush Be Right?
"Democracy being born out of violence"
It appears that democracy is almost always born out of violence. That doesn't make it a bad thing.
There seems to be no mention of the literally thousands of innocent American citizens who have been murdered, beheaded, tortured, or just plain executed by the Muslim world over the past ten years.
A pox on Old Europe and its self centered, self destructive socialism.
To these people, war is a war crime.
The fact is no other army on earth would have performed better ethically than the US army in Iraq. None.
I'm not going to be lectured about war crimes by any German of any age.
Nor I, Eric.
The hand-wringing makes me sick. And the suggestion that mistakes made by Generals 60 years ago, or the pranks of Abu-Ghraib are the equivalent of tyrranical atrocities of Saddam and Hitler aren't even good nonsense.
I'm flabbergasted by an article like this coming out of an important German paper. What kind of paper is Der Spiegel, and what kind of Germans read it?
"Infected with the virus of democracy." I like it!!
Virus of Democracy?
This german magazine is really socialist.
These germans would prefer the impotence of Jimmy Carter or the incompetence of Bill Clinton.
This same article could substitue Reagan for Bush and not be any different.
It also ASSUMES war crimes by the USA. Very Goebles by bootstrapping the propaganda upon falsehood. Goebles lives in germany again.
When you "walk the walk" those that always "talk the talk" just can't stand to admit they could possibly could be wrong without quantify and qualify your success. Have heart, maybe if this is the beginning of a big shift in opinion in Germany. They may actually start to help us in Iraq. Irag and the US could use some "good" payback from the Germans.
Sadly, violence has spread religion, freedom, and communism. it appears that violence is a tool and can be used for good and for evil. (And my wife says I am always stating the obvious.)
gee, breaking the chains of oppression by kicking the posterior of evil.
Assumes violence is always bad. Written by a person who opposes the death penalty.
If the Germans and the French are any example, we will know that we have really succeeded in bringing freedom to Iraq when 40 or 50 years from now the Iraqi's no longer appreciate what we did for them.
It's hard for the Germans to understand trying to help the oppressed people of the world because it's the right thing to do rather than trying to conquer the world which is their track record.
'205th brigade of the military secret service'
The author just can't admit that Iraq was a all-around good deal for humanity.
Even when they are re-assessing the War in Iraq, this column succeeds in taking a few swipes at the US. Oh well, I suppose we should be glad they've come this far...
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