IN DEPTH: Germany’s Anti-War Movement – then and now
By Thomas Trautzsch, for FRN
During the Cold War period, Germany was at the center of the confrontation between the East and the West, between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations. Two armies, the Western German Bundeswehr and the Eastern German National People’s Army were carefully watching and facing each other in nearly constant alert mode. There were times of occasional relaxation and times of highest tensions, when the world was at the tip of war, confrontation between the two blocks. On the Eastern as well as the Western Side tanks were at times ready waiting with running engines in the garages to be deployed to their missions. Fighter Jets equipped with nuclear warheads were ready for take off to carry their payload to the cities and the country-sides of the ostensible enemy.
During these times of the 70’s and the 80’s, when the relationship between the East and the West was enormously stressed and a little spark could have ignited a catastrophe, a very vivid Peace Movement continued to build in the West, which had its roots mainly in the spirit of the 68’er “make love not war” generation that sprung out from the era of the US’ Vietnam intervention, and was joined by a wide range of mostly left and mainstream people, who were expressing their justified fear and anger about the war mongering and escalation.
The tradition of the so-called Easter Marches, which had their origin in England, was developing all over Europe. Back then, the Easter Marches were able to mobilize thousands of people in every major European City to go out on the streets each year around the Easter holidays and protest against all the ongoing war dynamics that took place. The West German peace movement, which mainly originated from these Easter Marches, had its most active times at the end of the 70’s and the begin of the 80’s, when NATO decided to test neutron bombs and to station intermediate-range missiles, the “Pershing 2”, in Europe and in Germany in particular. This decision entered Germany’s history as the “NATO-Doppelbeschluss”, which literally translates to NATO Double-Decision.
The Term Double-Decision was coined, because the NATO decision involved two parts, which at first glance would appear as contradicting each other and rather hypocritical. The first part contained the “offer” for negotiations with the Warsaw Pact about limiting the Soviet and US-american mid-range ballistic missiles, whereas the British and the french nuclear arsenal were excluded from this negotiation offer. In the second part the decision announced the introduction and stationing of a new generation of US-american rockets and missiles – the Pershing II and BGM-109 Tomahawk – in Western Europe.
The German chancellor at the time, Helmut Schmidt, a Social Democrat, who actually was otherwise known for his policies of relaxation between the cold war blocks, defended the decision and put his weight into the political process of getting a majority in the German parliament to vote for implementing the NATO-Double-Decision and therefore also the stationing of the american Pershing Missiles on German soil.
At the time the NATO Double-Decision was perceived by most people as a hypocrisy. Basically, the declared attempt to achieve disarmament by an arms-buildup seemed bizarre and was commonly perceived as a strategic game of chicken, willingly putting the lives of millions of people in Europe and around the world at the highest risk of nuclear confrontation. This threat and the way national as well as global politics dealt with it drew 100s of thousands of people to the streets in Germany, rigorously protesting against the stationing the nuclear missiles. Among the protesters were even soldiers of the German Bundeswehr.
On March 22, 1983 approximately 1.3 Million people were protesting across Germany in all major cities. People holding each others hands and thereby forming sometimes 100km-long chains between cities, were impressively making the point that the majority of the German people was rejecting the NATO policy of putting Germany at the forefront of their ‘Nuclear Game of Chicken’.
I have only vague memories of this as an 11-year old child seeing the East German news about these protests in West Germany on television and getting a glimpse of the idea of the potential nuclear threat, which, even though my generation did not fully comprehend the implications at the time, still made us feel uneasy on a rather sub-conscious level. East Germany also had organized peace protests, but they were not emanating from institutions of an independent peace movement, but rather were they organized and tightly controlled by state-level institutions of the Eastern German government. State-organized demonstrations were not too popular among the ordinary East German citizens, as participation was mostly declared mandatory by party, union, and workplace-institutions, but I imagine the threat as it was presented by the NATO-Double-Decision was also motivating more people to forget about these unpleasant East German systemic side-conditions and to join the protests anyhow. Only some may have suspected at the time already, that this was an elementary part of a western strategy to defeat eastern socialism, not by means of superior weaponry, but by its implications on the eastern block’s economic system.
When comparing the threat of nuclear confrontation back then and today, actually little has changed. The experiment of imposing western style liberal free trade capitalism onto the former socialist economies of the eastern block in the post-cold-war-period was not successful on all accounts and actually on many occasions disregarded the desires of a large part of their populations, who I think, were favouring a more truly democratic socialism rather than the imposed liberal turbo-capitalism, with all the known negative social effects.
A system of a 3rd way, as it was called back then in many post-cold war discussions in East Germany. The West, because of its negligence in dealing with its spiral of ever self-amplifying crises-cycles, faces a known frontier of a situation, where it is forecast that these crises become increasingly socially un-manageable. And as it has been ever so often seen in history, when this becomes clear, an oligarchical strata of society is trying to hang on to their status quo by inducing dynamic social processes, which create threats of monstrous proportions, which divert from the actual inherent economic crises of oligarchy-controlled capitalism.
Stoking ethnic-religious conflicts at the right time, or playing old imperial games of divide and conquer, as well as demonizing heads of states of other nations, which view things differently and even up to the point of inducing the realistic threat of full-scale war between nations, all this is done in order to controllably re-define the structures in society in such a way, that the overcoming of these artificially created monstrously fearful threats and atrocities appear to consume people most by focusing on rather immediate solutions to these artificially created problems, rather than focusing on the actual root cause, mostly being the existing principle of oligarchcal rule.
While it was not quite possible to mobilise forces on the scale of a mass movement based on these abstract principles in the past, because these mentioned processes were not immediately accessible, let alone plausible to many people, in the age of today’s social media, these processes of learning are much more accelerated. Social Media may perhaps not change the proportion of intellectually capable and at the same timne active people in society, but it definitely changes the reaction time in which this minor portion can organize for a valid response. But the other side-effect of social media is that people often confine there activities to the digital social media world only, instead of becoming an active part in organizing protests.
While the peace movement may actually be regarded as a consequence of these oligarchy-engineered threats of war, its existence as an expression of protest and resistance is actually of vital importance, because it does not only carry the protest against the actual subject of nuclear armament or the threat of war itself, but rather a general genuine human moral instinct of making a difference against something utterly unjust. While the new threat of Nuclear Confrontation is a result of a newly instigated New Cold War doctrine by the British-American oligarchy, increasingly more people become aware of the origins and mechanics behind these developments, which makes the peace movement even more important in order to create the necessary amount of street pressure on our political institutions to react humanly, not only in the subject matters of the nuclear arms race and weaponization itself, but rather as well in terms of understanding the underlying dynamics and processes which originally created these threats.
Yet, the peace movement in Europe and in Germany in particular is not the same today as it was in the 70’s and 80’s. As already mentioned above, unfortunately, too many people are confining their activities to the virtual social media world only.
When the Cold War ended and with it temporarily the threat of nuclear confrontation, many of the forces of the old peace movement, a considerable faction of which was part of the German Green Movement, started to direct their activism against civil applications of nuclear energy and demonstrated for radical environmental policies in a rather confused way that created the very destructive mood of a post-industrialism doctrine in Germany. It is rather ironic, that especially politicians from the Green Party, which sprung out of the Green Movement of the 70’s and 80’s, are today, the fiercest proponents of aggressive NATO- and Anti-Russia policies.
The Greens changed considerably, once they became an established political party and today, they have no issue with accepting a new nuclear arms race based on completely bogus claims against Russia. Today they represent the fiercest and most hateful Trans-Atlanticists, which raises the justified question of the early roots and origins of this movement. Very surprising things pop up when investigating this subject on a detailed level.
A recent poll by ARD-DeutschlandTREND, a polling institution, which is attached to Germany’s state-controlled Mainstream TV Medium ARD, shows that:
91% (vs 6%) think that Russia should engage more in a dialog with the West
86% (vs 12%) think that the West should engage more in a dialog with Russia
72% (vs 24%) think that President Putin uses every means to push through Russian interests
48% (vs 47%) can understand that Russia sees itself threatened by the West
While statistics and polls published by German state TV channels since recently have to be read with a grain of salt, there were similar polls by other institutions, which displayed a much larger majority of people stating that they do not regard Russia as a threat. I was still selecting this poll, because it is from German state media itself and it still shows, that despite all the anti-Russian propaganda that is promoted by them most of the Germans are not fooled by it and want a peaceful relationship with Russia and actually can understand Russia’s position.
A considerable faction of the old peace movement in Germany was also left-wing originated. After the End of the Cold War, the political left in Germany went into a deep crisis as it had to chew up on what the West declared as their victory over communism, or socialism alike. The German Democratic Republic collapsed subsequent to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union, and the entire Left-wing landscape had to politically re-define itself and to undergo a process of rehabilitating the numerous injustices that were sometimes more sometimes less justifiably attached to their system in the past.
This process is still not completed today, even though many of the East German State’s atrocities were occurring more than 30 years ago. These problems dominate the picture of the former East German state, while the good features that also existed got pushed into the background over this. The collapse process of the East German state was causing its authorities to intensify their oppressive means of control, which eventually accelerated the collapse process.
The political left is paying the price of shame today for this part of history, for which they and their former Marxist-Leninist ideology are largely made responsible, whether that was correct or not. We know, that it is always the victor, which tends to write history. The way of dealing with this part of state and party history is also indicative of the current state of the German Left, as some part of it relives some nostalgia and vision of an East German Society 2.0, while another faction actually moves closer to the principles of a moderate form of market economics and trying to combine that with an intensified social aspect.
But not only the German Left is suffering a split. The same can be witnessed as well within the overall peace movement in Germany. The majority of peace demonstrations and events are not organized by one central organisation or committee, but rather by diverse political organisations and groups which all more or less are doing their own thing instead of acting as one organisational body. Most of the Easter Marches in the eastern parts of Germany are largely organized by the Left, which of course uses this as a platform to advance their own political messages. The same is true for most of the other groups, who are iterating their own political messages under the banner of the peace movement. Currently, it appears as if most of these groups who are organized under various networks have not yet been able to find some common denominator, when it comes to the question of how to achieve the peace and to jointly organize for it. Often the political differences can’t be overcome, even when it comes to the issue of world peace.
Ramstein Airbase, the symbol of Germany’s non-existing Sovereignty
One of the few local genuine approaches and non-violent forms of protest is the annual campaign against the US-Airforce Base in Ramstein near Kaiserslautern. Ramstein Airbase serves as a hub for the US-Army to transport military equipment as well as troops from A via Germany to B, but more importantly, it also serves as a relay station for drone operations particularly in the Middle-East and other operation zones in the world.
While after WWII Germans swore to themselves that never again shall a war break or be conducted from German Soil, the US keeps on disrespecting and violating these German policies by operating stations like Ramstein Airbase for the purpose of war activities mainly in the Middle-East and transporting massive heavy military equipment over our streets and railroads into the Baltic near the Russian Border to what appears to be a slow but steady military build-up in order counter an actually non-existing Russian Threat.
The protests at Ramstein Airbase are taking place every year, where the event usually mobilizes around 5,000 people. Part of the event is the forming of a human chain that completely encloses the Airbase as a sign of desire for peace and that this Airbase should be closed. This is entirely in the tradition of the old peace movement and the other very pleasant part about this is that the Ramstein protests are attended by people from a multitude of political directions and colors, who for that particular day seem to forget about their political differences for the purpose of uniting in the aim for creating a force against war-mongering and giving the ordinary people a voice in this.
The event is usually attended by various prominent figures from politics and the peace movement itself. Especially the opening event, which usually takes place in Kaiserslautern, featured people like Eugen Drevermann, Dr. Gabriele Ganser, Willy Wimmer, Oskar Lafontaine and Ray MacGovern in the past, people from very different backgrounds. The event is accompanied by cultural acts, speeches, bands and music, as well as poetry in a wide and absolutely non-violent spectrum, which is very powerful once it starts to grow, and grow it must.
One main activity is the annual attempt to close a human chain around the entire Airbase, much in the tradition of the old peace movement. So far the approximately 5000 people have not been enough to close the chain around the Airbase, but the number of people attending has been steadily growing over the years giving rise to the hope that one day the chain can actually be closed.
The Stopp-Ramstein protests are most probably the event with the most powerful symbolism that has the potential to represent a serious wake-up call to people still sleepwalking. The features standing out with the Ramstein Protests are again:
1.) They are organized and acknowledged by a joint body of people from a broader range of the political spectrum, mostly left, center and alternative strata, and
2.) that the strong symbolism of the Ramstein Airbase standing for Germany’s non-existing Sovereignty has a large potential to ignite larger protests, once it becomes clear to a wider mass off people that the US is abusing german territory for its wars of aggression for the mere purpose of advancing their own hegemony.
This year’s event is scheduled for March 30th and there are indications that there are going to be more people this year.
Since Ramstein Airbase is also symbolic for the NATO’s policy of keeping the Nations of Germany and Russia divided in order to prevent Eurasian Development, it may be of interest to some of the FRN readers here to know about this event and maybe, if time and resources allow it, to plan participation, even though it may appear as a mainly German issue at first glance.
Everyone with a genuine interest in peace among nations is absolutely welcome. Raising one’s own activism beyond the comforts of the own social media-bubble may actually change something.