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Monday, March 28, 2011

German Elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz and the Christian Vote

This time I disagree with Uwe Siemon-Netto’s analysis. It is not ANGST but REASON that caused the change in the election results of Baden-Württemberg und Rheinland-Pfalz. Given the still developing disaster at Japan’s energy plants, it is reasonable to doubt the safety of nuclear energy plants generally and to doubt whether the best security and safety measures – rather than minimum ones as was the case in Japan – were applied to nuclear plants. Doubt here is reasonable. One has to look beyond the demonstrations.

Furthermore, what is significant is that the Green candidate Winfried Kretschmann, who will be the Ministerpresident in Baden-Württemberg, is Catholic. Of Catholic voters, 21% decided for the Greens, an increase of 11%. The CDU lost Catholic votes (48%, minus 8%) and Protestant votes (37%, minus 2%). What is the significant is the low Christian vote for the FDP (6% Protestants, 5% Catholics, and 4% other or no religions).

In Rheinland-Pfalz, 43% of Protestants voted for SPD and 28% of Protestants for CDU, which also got most Catholic votes. Two things are significant again: first, the FDP has been booted out – given its narrow policy focus on lower taxes, this is good – second, the Ministerpresident of the Land is Kurt Beck who is also a Catholic. Whether he will remain in office is yet uncertain because a coalition has yet to be formed.

Of importance again are the Catholic vote and the Catholic active presence in the primarily secular world of politics. For those who have read the talks between Jürgen Habermas, a secular philosopher, and Joseph Ratzinger, a Catholic theologian and now Pope, the vote shift to the Greens in light of the very real and serious atomic energy plant problem in Japan was to be expected. Ratzinger has always argued that faith does not contradict the humanistic idea of reason. Indeed, there is a necessary relatedness between reason and faith and reason and religion (Dialectic of Secularization 2006: 78). Likewise, Habermas argued, “philosophy has good reasons to be willing to learn from religious traditions” including significantly Christianity (p.42). In short, what the election results show me is that the sharp divisiveness between secularists and religious – as one sees in England and the U.S.A. – is rejected by these voters. Instead, there is a new and fruitful co-operation between the two – especially, when real problems need to be addressed. And the problem that Japan has thrown up is real and conducive to a new dialogue beyond simply the concern to lower taxes – although I have nothing against it at the right time and in the right circumstances.

To emphasize again, the important result in these two "provincial" elections is how well secularists and Christians can work together. Anything else is "Nebensache." Voters can easily return to other parties on the next election, especially, since the discussion on safe and economical energy production is far from over.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Total Defeat: Post-World War II Refugees and Reflections about Libya

In the summer of 1945, when in all towns and villages the posters hung with the pictures and stories from Belsen and the crucial statement, “You are the guilty!” Consciences grew uneasy, horror gripped many who had indeed not known this, and something rebelled: who indicts me there? No signature, no authority—the poster came as though from empty space (Jaspers 1947: 47).

World War II did not end in May of 1945 as we have been made to believe. To claim that is as dishonest as it is to claim now in 2011 that the Iraq war ended with the capture of Saddam. For Germans, World War II continued in a barbaric form well beyond 1945. I use the word barbaric deliberately because the war was now motivated, not by Hitler’s unconscionable desire for Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe nor by the necessity of the Allies to defeat and conquer Hitler’s Germany, it was motivated purely and simply by revenge — arbitrary revenge and terror.

After May 9 1945, the Allies were not hunting down the German army, which was defeated and destroyed, most of its soldiers either killed or imprisoned. Rather, the Allies, now as conquerors, and their numerous affiliated armed militias in Russia, Poland and then Czechoslovakia pitted themselves against unarmed German women, children, and the old, all civilians who were plundered, driven from their homes, interned, tortured or killed. Personal guilt or innocence of civilians was ignored. Not only was collective guilt assumed, it was used as a political weapon to justify leaving Germany suspended between life and death. According to various estimates, this war of retribution and revenge cost some two and a half million Germans their lives after the official hostilities ended.

Furthermore, it is estimated that 12 to 14 million Germans from Eastern Europe fled West, were expelled, incarcerated, or became victims of ethnic cleansing. For these millions, the conflict would continue until at least 1949 and often into the 1950s.

In my view, this further defeating of the already defeated was a post-war strategy of the Allied victors. It was done physically, psychologically, and culturally. Why was this done? Primarily, because the Allies believed their own and Goebbels’ propaganda, namely, that all Germans were happy Nazis. The German resistance, especially the Christian Military Resistance, which was known to be active, was ignored for Allied strategic reasons. And earlier, to win this brutal war, Allied propaganda needed to convince all of their citizens that every German was bad. After all, they needed to recruit young men.

I am reminded of Marion von Dönhoff, a courier for the German resistance. Her friends and family many of them part of the July 20 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler were brutally tortured and murdered in Hitler’s concentration camps. In 1945, von Dönhoff went to Nuremburg (Nürnberg) to observe the war crimes trials. She found the whole process highly questionable. She saw the superficial attempt at Nürnberg to separate the bad from the good. Since those presiding "denied the German resistance, however, there were no good people – and so the whole event turned into a kind of extermination (Vernichtung) of the Germans" (Schad 2001:285 my italics).

What happened in post-war Germany will never be repeated – at least not in this manner nor on that scale. German wrong-doing that preceded it was too great. But I fear we have not learned from it. At present, academics, reporters, politicians, and many citizens are discussing war, its nature, and its necessity--not as George Jonas suggests the Peace of Westphalia, which stood for economic recovery and respect for political sovereignty rather than vengefulness.

The discussions about war are no doubt valuable. But we are still not discussing the immediate aftermath of war – a time period that may last several years, even decades. Post-war periods are disturbingly unpredictable. Above all, because legal vacuums form, all elements to the conflict tend to settle scores. The consequences are bitter and cost uncountable innocent lives.

Here it is interesting to mention that the German resistance, or most resisters, knew that the price for their opposition was death - their deaths, but perpetrated against them by Hitler's executioners. Even then, they hoped that their sacrifice would help spare the civilian population. This was not to be. -- And indeed television reports from Libya have shown similar awareness of sacrifice on the part of its protesters. But these resisters were wounded by those who are enforcing the no-fly zone. The significance, however, is not that these Libyans seem to accept the risk. The signifigance is rather that their resistance against Gaddafi is recognized by the Americans, British, and French - the very powers that did not acknowledge German resistance way back then. Which is, in my view, an additional reason why Germany should have agreed to the no-fly zone proposal - but instead abstained. Did young parliamentarians forget to discuss this issue?

Nor are we discussing how to deal with the defeated. While defeat, even of definable bad people, is its own punishment, victors and their allied militias or rebels usually cannot resist taking revenge. While in some cultures revenge is considered appropriate behavior in certain circumstances, in my view and in a civilized world, revenge can never be justified either within or without the law. Furthermore, the rule of law is usually absent in postwar situations, when, in fact, it should be the first thing to be established or re-established.

What I am saying is that currently America, Britain, and France among others, are helping people in that region. The intentions are good. The people there are calling for western help. The risk of unexpected or ugly consequences, however, is great and largely unforseeable. Have the U.S., the UN, or NATO prepared post-conflict strategies so that wars of retribution will be prevented? The stories of refugees in the collection camps on the Tunisian side of the border would make one doubt that.

In Memorium: Eberhard Hahn (1939 - 2011) Rostock - Toronto

Each one of us is born into a time and a country.
And its history – light or heavy – is a weight on our shoulders.
Think about it. Eberhard was born at the beginning of 1939.
About seven months later, we were in an unnecessary and finally brutal war.
Chaos, destruction, and dislocation followed.
When both of his parents died – one after the other — having first, however, left the German Democratic Republic for the Federal Republic, Eberhard aged 22 and his younger brother came to Canada. They exchanged the pain of a fractured life, you might say, for an adventure.
Though without means, he brought something with him. Two things really – or two skills perhaps. The first was caring. – He learned it the hard way while looking after his much older father – and then extending that care, as tender as it was practical, to his brother and the family that sits among you.

The second skill was a technical one – but it was more than that. It was a gift – a creative gift – to build, to solve problems, to innovate and enhance, to repair and explain – and above all to make something work, so that brain, hands, tools, and skills made whole what was broken and real what was theoretical. He turned these skills into a way of life. He used them both to support and to play. Perhaps play out a childhood that he never had, while yet raising, supporting, and encouraging his wife and children.
Because he was color blind, he could not realize his dream of becoming a pilot. – And yet, you might say, he hung onto flying – if only by “remote control” – all of his life.
RC flying and gliding became his hobby. He remained loyal to it and his family – and friends – until the end. Until, quite literally Wednesday, March 16, when he died.
To my mind, caring and making things for and with others – is a rare gift – almost ethereal – and yet as real as a coffee table, or a model airplane, or a child’s science project, or a car, or a machine.
Eberhard! We – your family and friends – know that you have escaped our “remote control.” – We know that you are flying outside of this world to a landscape beyond all distance. – We accept your parting with pain, and bid you “auf wiedersehen.” – Karla.

Last Day

He cannot stay in bed and rest.
Knows medics come to resuscitate.
His soul left quietly knowing best.
Ending his agonizing fate.

Chagall’s Crucifixion hung over his bed.
Yet he did not believe in the church, he said.
Did he harbor secretly a faith in Christ?
Was that the spirit was that his Geist?

Whatever it was whether faith or frown.
He bore the cancer cross.
And though his sickness nailed him down,
His life was not a loss.