A group of pro-peace German intellectuals published a letter asking the country not to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine, but they're missing the point completely. Germany needs to reinvent itself in order to face today's challenges — and threats.
BERLIN — When even the brightest minds — some of whom have shaped the intellectual life of this republic for decades — suddenly seem at a loss, it can mean one of two things. Either the clever minds are not as clever as we were always led to believe. Or the times have changed so brutally that old pieces of wisdom are suddenly no longer valid.
If you don't want to give up your childhood faith in the Federal Republic of Germany quite yet, you can settle on the second option.
Alexander Kluge, one of Germany's most versatile artists, founded a television production company, proving that there can even be television for intellectuals. Journalist and prominent feminist Alice Schwarzer has done more for the liberation of women in this country than anyone else. Yet Schwarzer and Kluge, along with another two dozen intellectuals, have written an open letter that basically recommends Ukraine to submit to Vladimir Putin for the sake of the authors' peace of mind.
If the other side is only interested in destroying, not talking, then the plea for a negotiated solution that would end the war "as quickly as possible" is only an admission to one's own willingness to give up freedom and self-determination.
In favor of pacifism, but at what cost?
The aversion to military force as a means of politics is historically and psychoanalytically understandable in Germany. But after almost 80 years of peace guaranteed by others, it has led the country to a large-scale erosion of the potential to defend the values and the normative order to which we owe our own existence in the event of a threat.
The fact that it is primarily others, including Americans, who protect our freedom is gladly swept under the table. It becomes embarrassing when this foreign-financed luxurious pacifism is also sold as a morally superior level of knowledge.
Germans had lectured Ukrainians about fascism for decades, but now that fascism is there...
Last Sunday, sociologist Hartmut Welzer attempted to do just that on a talk show, when he tried in all seriousness to challenge Andrij Melnyk, the ambassador of Ukraine — a country currently under assault by Russian invaders — with his own family's inter-generational war trauma.
It is this arrogance of the ostentatiously purified former offenders, which is increasingly unbearable, that U.S. historian Timothy Snyder recently summed up the situation as follows: Germans had lectured Ukrainians about fascism for decades, but now that fascism is there, Germans are financing it while Ukrainians are dying fighting it.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the nation on television in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Dissolving German certainty
Quite a few of the old German certainties have dissolved over the past three months as collateral damage from Russian artillery.
For example, the idea that peace can only exist with Russia and not against it. Or that free trade inevitably leads towards liberal change. Or that you're fine if you stay out of it as much as possible.
We are currently facing the bankruptcy of a narrow-minded "never again" snobbery that ignores the fact that unconditional pacifism can be merciless and, ultimately, leads to capitulation to terror. We will not be able to avoid rethinking ourselves and the world.
Germany is not only facing an intellectual generational change. It needs to reinvent itself, completely. And we'd better get started quickly. We will have to learn to think strategically. We will have to become more defense-minded, more fearless and more willing to take risks. And we will have to take responsibility for ourselves.
That means that we, as a democratic nation in the center of Europe, should start growing up. This means that we will have to listen more carefully to neighbors who know more than we do. Surprisingly, there are quite a few of them.