When the West German peace movement mobilized against the arms race in the West in the early 1980s, its moral standing was immense. Its proposals might have been deemed pragmatically wrong or its entire worldview naïve, but its idealism demanded and won respect. Protests against the Gulf War were different. That was when many liberal and leftist observers started feeling uneasy about peaceableness. What was the real moral substance of a pacifist who was prepared to accept the illegal occupation of Kuwait, who wasn’t plagued by sleepless nights on account of a butcher like Saddam, and who responded to the threat to Israel’s existence with nothing more than a shoulder shrug – if not even an occasional anti-Semitic “It’s your own fault!” addressed to the Jewish state? A progressive “bellicism” emerged at the time and went on to unfold completely in the face of the genocidal expulsions in the Balkans. This bellicism approved of sending out bombers and troops as a last resort in fighting inhumanity.
The situation leading up to a possible attack on Iraq is also different. Even those who wanted to see Kuwait liberated by force or ethnic cleansing in Kosovo put to a stop might see no justification for an intervention right now. There is no such thing as an intellectual “war party.” The Balkan bellicist Peter Schneider, for example, or Micha Brumlik, who began to view the German peace movement as insufferable during the Persian Gulf conflict, are strictly opposed to a preemptive strike. There is no acute genocide to prevent and the legal grounds for an invasion would be, to put it cautiously, shaky. The cause of peace, one could say, again has a moral strength that it hasn’t had for a long time.
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Source of original German text: Jan Ross, “Dann gibt es nur eins: nie wieder!” [“Then there’s only one option: Never again!”], Die Zeit, no. 1, 2003.
Translation: Allison Brown