Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gauck, a War Hawk?


On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, Serbia, a murder that eventually led to the outbreak of the Great War. On the occasion of the centenary Germany's president Joachim Gauck had invited historians from the countries involved to his residence Bellevue in Berlin to discuss and implement a common European Erinnerungskultur (commemorative culture).

Joachim Gauck lecturing at Bellevue (©dpa)
Before the discussions started Gauck gave an introductory speech. He stated that one hundred years after the beginning of the First World War neither nationalism (Ukrainian conflict) nor salvation ideologies (ISIS invasion of Iraq) have disappeared. In this context our president had lately criticized pacifism. The disgust against military force is understandable but since we live in a world with violence it may therefore be necessary and reasonable to overcome violence by force, Gauck said at Germany's military academy in Hamburg. Especially Germany knows that peace, freedom, and the respect of human rights cannot be taken for granted and are not for free. Many Germans regard freedom and the pursuit of happiness as an obligation of their country to provide and confound freedom with thoughtlessness, indifference and hedonism. In taking up John F. Kennedy's leitmotif, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country, Gauck continued: For a democracy to function it needs commitment, attention, courage and sometimes even the ultimate what man can give: his life.

In his inaugural speech of 1961 Kennedy had continued: My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Indeed, following the Second World War it was always up to the Americans to defend the ideals of the Western World successfully in the Korean War but less efficient in Vietnam where they took over from the French when the latter had already suffered their Dien Bien Phu.

U.S. Marines provide security for Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers
 as they investigate a mass grave in July 1999 (©Wikipedia/U.S. Marine Corps)
Again, it needed US forces leading a NATO alliance who intervened in the Kosovo of former Yugoslavia to reinstall peace and order. The Americans have slowly moved out of KFOR (Kosovo Forces) stationed in the region since 1999 and left the task of keeping peace in their own house to the Europeans.

Gauck quite natural took up Kennedy's invitation to share the burden and said you cannot have freedom without taking responsibility. Amazingly his cautious words were broadly accepted in hesitant Germany except for some Left Party members who called Gauck a war hawk.

President Joachim Gauck inspecting his Marines (©dpa)
As far as the Bellevue discussions with the historians about a common Erinnerungskultur were concerned it turned out that our president had been quite blue-eyed. The multi-national experts did not iron out Red Baron's previous observations but rather accentuated them. I had stated: For France it is the Great Patriotic War, for Great Britain it means the decline of the British Empire, for Russia it is the trigger of the Communist Revolution, for Poland the beginning of its fight for independence from Russia.

In fact, the Polish historian stressed that the Great War had been the Big Bang of Poland's nationality and in view of their losses of 1.5 million people his country is not interested in the suffering of others. In the UK people now regard 1914/1918 as a futile and superfluous war. The Turks consider that the war was fought against them as a crusade with Germany playing the role of the forgotten (useless?) ally. For France the Great War against the one and only aggressor was justified and one French historian added: Sorry, we must deal with a fragmented memory.

Gauck was not amused.

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