by Ralph Schoellhammer
Friday, 27
May 2022
Dispatch
07:00

Germany’s anti-war intellectuals are resurfacing

The realist faction is starting to find its voice again
by Ralph Schoellhammer
Jürgen Habermas is one of the anti-war faction’s most important intellectual

Can a country truly change overnight? Having cultivated a national culture that is inherently suspicious of intervening in foreign conflicts after 1945, the war in Ukraine seemed to have caused a fundamental shift in the way Berlin sees its position in the international order. Within days of the Russian invasion chancellor Scholz declared to ramp up defence spending above 2% of GDP and dedicating an additional 100bn euros to the German armed forces.

But in recent weeks, some of Germany’s leading intellectuals are coming out of the woodwork to voice their unease about their country’s involvement in Ukraine.

In early May, a group of German academics published an open letter asking the German government to reconsider supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons, which gathered over 285,000 signatures (by contrast, a rival letter demanding unconditional support for Ukraine attracted a just 71,000 signatures). And thanks to support from Martin Walser and Jürgen Habermas, the anti-war faction has two of Germany’s most important intellectuals on their side. The latter has been particularly unsparing in his critique of those who demand more support for Ukraine. They are shrill and engage in moral blackmailing, Habermas argues, sabotaging the cautious course of chancellor Scholz.

From the late Günther Grass — winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 — to Walser and Habermas there has long been a consensus that the West always needs to show restraint in its foreign policy. Since 1945 German identity and foreign policy rested on the principle to avoid the direct involvement in armed conflicts and interfere primarily through financial support, as happened during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when Berlin was not sending troops but a cheque. There have been few exceptions to this, like the Balkan Wars in the 1990s or after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, but both of these cases led to heated domestic debates.

It is important to understand that this line of thinking is not just a matter of policy, but of a political culture that sees in every potential military involvement the reflection of its own belligerent past and any kind of peace as a preferable option. Not seeing a defeat of Russia as a realistic possibility, for many German intellectuals the current level of support for Ukraine is foolhardy.

Attitudes towards President Zelenskyy are changing as well. An Austrian magazine recently published a cover story that was widely shared in Germany claiming that Zelenskyy is a “lying and deceiving to fill an inner emptiness driven by the psychological trauma of having Jewish ancestors” while Putin “feels misunderstood.” In its current print edition, the German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” published a cartoon that depicts an oversized Zelenskyy looming over the World Economic Forum in Davos, playing with antisemitic stereotypes. These stories reflect a broader sentiment in the country: a majority of Germans have made clear, for example, that they would not support an energy embargo against Russia.

As the war drags on, more Germans seem to be longing for a return to the post 1945 consensus and to disengage from the conflict as much as possible. And it is the countries foremost intellectuals who are spearheading this shift.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
38 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
4 months ago

“lying and deceiving to fill an inner emptiness driven by the psychological trauma of having Jewish ancestors”

They want to disavow their history but are happy with that in a newspaper?

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Fully agree, the anti semitic genes aren’t that far from the surface.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

The hypocrisy of the position you quote from the writer is laughable.

And although Germans don’t support actual violence, they have no problem in unleashing economic violence on supposedly friendly countries, when they destroyed the economies of the Greece et al with an artificially bolstered currency.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

No one forced the Greeks to lie and cheat to enter the Euro in the first place …

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Indeed an absolute scandal that they should have been incorporated in the first place .
All that nonsense about being the birthplace of Socrates, when they are little more than “Turks pretending to be Italians”.

Last edited 4 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Quite true, but everyone knew that was the case and there was collective wilful blindness to the issue. The The political imperative of the Euro was paramount. The Germans have in any case done exceptionally well out of the arrangement in selling their goods to the Greeks!

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
4 months ago

Whilst I 100% agree there should be moderate voices – and a lot of the pro-Ukraine excitement has gone overboard. The correct opposite is not peace-at-all-costs foreign policy.

a political culture that sees in every potential military involvement the reflection of its own belligerent past and any kind of peace as a preferable option. 

As “nice” as that might seem it’s deluded and naive. But what if there’s another belligerent like Germany was in the 1930s? Pursuing peace at all costs enabled them. How do they fail to see that?

Not seeing a defeat of Russia as a realistic possibility, for many German intellectuals the current level of support for Ukraine is foolhardy.

Whilst there is still a lot that can happen – Russia has very much lost this so far given the overwhelming advantage they had.
It’s not looking good for them at all – even conservative intelligence estimates have indicated devastating losses for any military not seen since Vietnam or Korea. Even if we assume that Russia’s losses are somewhere in between their official figures and Ukraine’s likely inflated numbers – they have lost over 10k. To put that in perspective Russia lost 14k over 10 years in Afghanistan. In little over 3 months (!) More perspective; Britain lost 11k soldiers in Normandy over a similar period – at a rate that was as bad as WW1.
It’s been said before a thousand times but needs saying again. German politicians have got too comfortable living in their post-1945 peace and prosperity bubble that is funded by the US taxpayer and enforced by its military.

Last edited 4 months ago by A Spetzari
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
4 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Well said. I think we may “have drunk at the same well” earlier in our lives.

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
4 months ago

What appears to be resurfacing is a German intellectual position in which they condemn the very people who are fighting to defend the freedoms enjoyed by, well I never, German intellectuals.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago

Fascinating to see how old alliances reform under stress. Hungary, Italy and Germany calling for appeasement. France wavering. The Anglosphere standing up.

Last edited 4 months ago by Matt M
R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I’m pretty certain we British engaged in appeasement too, right up to September 1939.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Which is why we take a dim view of appeasement now. We know what comes next!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

The thinking at the time was that we didn’t have much choice, because we were too militarily weak, which was unfortunately true. In fairness to Chamberlain, he had recognised this and accompanied his appeasement policy with radical increases in defence spending.

Last edited 4 months ago by Drahcir Nevarc
martin logan
martin logan
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Germany was even weaker militarily than Britain at the time. Fact.
Stopping Hitler in Czechoslovakia would have saved some 50 million lives.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

You’re wrong. Fact. Now if you’d said Germany was weaker militarily than France, you would have been correct. France could have stopped it at the outset, and German commanders of the time stated that in many many sources. But not us, as we had almost no land forces.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Stewart
Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Quite impossible to know that. Certainly, Britain and the actual treaty guarantor of Czechoslovakia (yes, that’s you France – funny how Britain always gets all the blame for Munich 1938) were in no position to stop Germany invading Czechoslovakia. That’s just simple geography.
In any case, it is very likely that the German-Russian war would have broken out later anyway. As could the Japan-America war.
So the claim that 50 million lives could have been saved seems unlikely.
I’m not sure it is a “fact” that Germany was weaker militarily than Britain in 1938. The RAF was comparatively weaker than the Luftwaffe in 1938 compared to 1939 and lacking any recent combat experience (Germany had the Spanish Civil War). Britain had very little army to deploy on the continent in either year. Yes, we had a far stronger navy. But that would not deter a European land war.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
4 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Not financially.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

That is a gross oversimplification, but it would take a book to explain what was really driving politics at that time!

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Chamberlain didn’t enter politics until he was about
50 and thus he had a very pragmatic view. He played a good ‘double hand ‘ as WSC was the among the first to acknowledge.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

It was too little and too late. Blame Asquith.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago

The problem is we don’t know the future. The German intellectuals can see the human devastation in the Ukraine and rightly recognise it as a bad thing. They think giving Putin what he says he wants will restore peace. The more cynical of us see the devastation but suspect that if we give Putin what he wants he will come ack for more just as he has done after Crimea.
The German mindset is similar to that described in Julie Bindel’s article about restorative justice. The progressive thinks the rapist speaking with the victim will reform him and what is the point of devastating his life by incarceration – forgetting that if there is no sanction against rape the rapist will be tempted to do it again and those who see he has got away with it will be tempted to rape as well.
Of course war is terrible but unless the bully is resisted he will repeat his behaviour and others will be tempted to join in – but until it has happened the progressive can persuade himself that only good will come from appeasement.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Completely agree.
It’s wishful thinking, based on the assumption that Putin thinks along the same lines as them.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

And yet the title of the article implies that these German intellectuals are the “realists” !!! You couldn’t make it up.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yes it might be more realistic to give the big bully your lunch money but putting up a fight even if it involves injury might put him off coming back for your lunch money for the rest of the term. The Ukrainian government seems to be putting up enough fight that further incursions are discouraged even if they fail to dislodge the Russian troops from some portion of their territory. There are no easy answers but rolling over in the face of attack tends not to lead to a happy outcome.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
4 months ago

Unfortunately, sensible politics depends on an unvarnished evaluation of the facts, while the current Western media, bolstered by strict censorship, have free rein to hype a hysterical warmongering fantasy narrative that precludes any rational diplomacy and, even worse, apparently leads many of our politicians to believe our own propaganda.
We’re in for a very bad hangover.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago

 “leading intellectuals”
Where is my gun

J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago

War hysteria is starting to wane in Western countries. Ukraine isn’t top of the news page every day. The public’s attention is starting to shift and the politicians are being forced to focus on other issues, not least inflation and the midterms in the US.
There has to be a middle way between permanent war in Ukraine and complete appeasement. Slowly the pressure will build, on both sides, to find it.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

There is no “war hysteria”. And the midterms in the US will not be won by any party seen to be appeasing Putin. Of course the media will move on to other stories. The public has however made its mind up now and will not change their overwhelming support for Ukraine. However much the wishful thinkers, pacifists, dreamers and German intellectuals like to indulge this fantasy.
There is no middle way here. Putin will only accept complete elimination of Ukraine or its effective destruction (“if I can’t have it, we’ll trash the place so no one else can”) through permanent grievances, instability and future conflicts. And this is why he must be defeated. Call that “war hysteria” of whatever you like. This is not a man you can negotiate with or trust.

Jeremy Stone
Jeremy Stone
3 months ago

It is absurd to describe this as “the realist faction”. They are either unreconstructed cynics from the last century, like Henry Kissinger, or unreconstructed former fellow-travelling Russophiles from the last century. Scholz’s Pilate-like question, whether peace can be brought about other than without weapons belongs to the second camp, although they both have the same end in view. You could defend Kissinger as a realist, but not Sholz or Chomsky or Habermas.

Ian Alexander
Ian Alexander
3 months ago

If German leftist intellectuals consider support for the Ukranians resisting Russian military occupation to be a bad thing, perhaps to be intellectually consistent, they should also reconsider their support for Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

Typical selfish German response. They’re perfectly happy to throw the Greeks, Irish, Italians, Spaniards etc under the bus to protect the single currency (which they greatly benefit from) but are completely unwilling to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels to assist the Ukrainians fighting for the future of their nation.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
4 months ago

Utterly disgusting.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago

How things have changed. Before World War 2 the the Germans were the brutal aggressors threatening the world while the appeasers and pacifists with heads buried in the sand were found elsewhere

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 months ago

‘Can a country truly change overnight?’ Germany did in 1945.

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
3 months ago

Everyone here seems to neglect the “Nuclear option” which did not exist in 1939, and the fact that most of the world including Russia ultimately joined forces to defeat Nazi Germany……The Second world war was winnable, but given the economic and military strength of the eastern block, the Third is not.
We need to review our position regarding energy and our ability to sustain ourselves in times of hardship or war. Does anyone believe that populations in the West are willing or able to starve or die for an idea?
Our strength these days seems to be reduced to virtue signalling, biological denial, or self deception.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago

Late to this article but: Zelenskyy is a “lying and deceiving to fill an inner emptiness driven by the psychological trauma of having Jewish ancestors” – a quite extraordinary example of covert but real anti-Semitism! Would the authors apply that to their own nation?

M. M.
M. M.
3 months ago

Ralph Schoellhammer wrote, “Can a country truly change overnight? … But in recent weeks, some of Germany’s leading intellectuals are coming out of the woodwork to voice their unease about their country’s involvement in Ukraine.”

The United States is undergoing rapid demographic change (due to its “open borders”). By 2040, Western culture will decline to the status of a minority culture, and this country will cease being a Western nation. Hispanic culture will become the dominant culture. (In California, Western culture is already rejected by most residents, and Hispanic culture dominates.)

Germany must replace the United States as the leader of the West.

The current crisis in Ukraine is an opportunity for the German government to show leadership. Berlin should demand and obtain assurances (from Volodymyr Zelenskyy) that the Ukrainians will modernize their nation. They have been too corrupt and incompetent for too long. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of Ukraine in 2019 was actually less than the GDP per capita (at purchasing-power parity) in 1991.

If President Zelenskyy provides these assurances, then the German government should provide any military assistance that is necessary to expel the Kremlin and its Russian soldiers from Ukraine (including Crimea).

Get info about another area in which Berlin can show leadership.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  M. M.

Delusional fantasy.