GHDI logo

Serving Peace (July 1, 1969)

In his inaugural speech, newly elected federal president Gustav Heinemann declares peace a top political priority and appeals to the younger generation, in particular, to gradually effect positive social change. He warns listeners against the frivolous abuse of liberties, including the right to refuse military service.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 3

Peace is the Emergency

[ . . . ]

As Federal President, I am not required to deliver a government policy statement. I have left the federal government and the German Bundestag; I have resigned from all my positions in the Social Democratic Party of Germany. According to the will of the Basic Law, from now on I will stand by those entrusted with carrying out and answering for political decisions. But at this hour, certainly, the Federal President might be permitted a personal word.

Ladies and gentlemen, I take office at a time in which the world is living in extreme contradictions. Mankind is on the verge of walking on the moon, and yet it still has not driven war and hunger and injustice from this earth. Mankind lays more claim to maturity than ever before, and yet it still has no answer to an abundance of questions. Insecurity and resignation mingle with the hope for a better order. Will such hopes finally be fulfilled? This is a question for all of us, especially those of us here who, by virtue of the mandates conferred on us, bear responsibility for our fellow citizens.

The first thing I see is the obligation to serve peace. War is not the quintessential emergency in which man has to prove himself, as my generation learned at its school desks in the days of the Kaiser; rather, peace is the emergency in which we all have to prove ourselves. Beyond peace, there is no longer any existence possible.

Twenty-four years after the Second World War, we still face the task of reaching an understanding with our eastern neighbors. The time has come – and must come – for multilateral conversations about a secure peace in all of Europe. I know that I am at one with the German people, the German Bundestag, and the federal government in the will to peace. I appeal to the responsibility of the blocs and the major powers, not to seek security in the arms race, but rather in a meeting for joint disarmament and arms limitations. [Applause] Disarmament requires trust. Trust cannot be commanded; and yet it is also correct that the only one who earns trust is the one who is prepared to grant trust.

One of our most noble political tasks is to open up trust. All means of exercising power – civilian and military – should be subordinated to this task. [ . . . ]

Ladies and gentlemen, we are just at the beginning of the first really free period of our history. Liberal democracy must finally become the vital element of our society. Only if this succeeds will we face the contradictions of our time, which I believe relate to the following: that the realm of what the individual can fashion is becoming narrower at the same time that the individual’s self-determination is gaining in scope. What I mean is this: in a tempo never experienced heretofore, humanity has acquired dominion over creation, down to the depths of outer space. But the individual is becoming ever more powerless. The consolidation of business continues apace. The already large bureaucracies grow even larger. What – I ask – will become of the individual's space for free existence? His share of the mechanism for producing and consuming keeps getting ever more untraceable, ever more impersonal, ever more alienated.

first page < previous   |   next > last page