Germany's Opposition to the Iraq War and Its Effect on U.S.-German Relations

By Kirkwood-Tucker, Toni Fuss | Social Education, May-June 2004 | Go to article overview

Germany's Opposition to the Iraq War and Its Effect on U.S.-German Relations


Kirkwood-Tucker, Toni Fuss, Social Education


In a famous comment in January 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to a difference between Old Europe and New Europe. By "Old Europe," he meant mainly the traditional European leaders, France and Germany, which adopted a stance critical of U.S. policy on Iraq. He saw the "New Europe" as consisting of former Iron Curtain countries, now part of the free world, whose leaders supported the U.S. on Iraq.

In fact, within Europe, the phrase "the New Europe" has been used differently, to designate the European Community, which has been carefully built over the last half century After the end of World War II, in an attempt to forsake nationalism and militarism, the Western European nations sought to forge common institutions. The countries joined together to found the European Common Market, which became the European Community in 1967, and the European Union in 1992. It encompasses a borderless region of free trade; standardization of products; free migration; right to employment anywhere; a single currency; and parliamentary representation through the direct democratic election of ministers by each citizen of the member nations. Its 15 members expanded on May 1 of this year to 25. The Union now includes 450 million people, who are responsible for more than one quarter of the world's total economic output.

The emergence of the "New Europe" has been a development of great historical significance. It has marked the transformation of Europe from being the world's epicenter of war and destruction in the first half of the twentieth century into a model of international cooperation in the second--something that would have seemed beyond the wildest imagination of anyone viewing the debris of World War II in 1945. From being practitioners of the unbridled nationalism that led to two world wars, the countries of Europe have radically changed their historical course, and adopted foreign policies that stress the importance of international mediation, peacekeeping, and human rights advocacy.

Germany is a country that has been at the heart of the move toward European unity. Its policies since World War II have reflected a renunciation of militarism, a strong commitment to democracy and human rights, and support for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. It has also been a solid ally of the United States since World War II. The tensions between Germany and the United States over the war in Iraq marked an unusual break in what had previously been a notable pattern of cooperation. This article examines the policies and values that led Germany into its opposition to the United States over the war in Iraq.

The Specter of the Past

Rising from the ashes of unconditional surrender of World War II, Germans have struggled to overcome extreme militarism, nationalism, and a Nazi past that seems incomprehensible to Germans today Anti-war sentiments lie particularly deep in Germany Older Germans remember vividly the horrors of war: the sounds of ear-deafening sirens alerting the population of imminent bombing attacks; limited space in underground shelters; pervasive hunger; lack of medical assistance; destroyed cities renowned for classical architecture; the sight of frightened, wounded, or dead civilians; millions of refugees; and the return of loved ones from two fronts long after the war had ended--ill and broken from years in prisoner-of-war camps. As a young girl in postwar Germany, each day I would hear the clacking footsteps of a young bride walking to the train station in my village, expecting her fiance to arrive with the 10:45 night train. He never returned, long killed on the Russian front at the age of twenty-four. As a result of such a history, Germans have developed a profound angst about war. The thought of war stirs their greatest of fears.

In the deep layers of the contemporary German psyche is an awareness of the Nazi legacy Germany has not recovered from its crimes against humanity of World War II, a legacy that has created irreparable damage to its reputation. …

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