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Democracy in Jeopardy (October 29, 1962)

On October 10, 1962, the news magazine Der Spiegel published an article stating that the Bundeswehr was only conditionally prepared to defend the country against a nuclear attack [bedingt abwehrbereit]. The magazine was accused of treason. On Friday, October 26, 1962, the police stormed its offices and arrested publisher Rudolf Augstein. Conrad Ahlers, the author of the article and the magazine’s deputy editor-in-chief, was arrested while on vacation in Spain. This article from the Frankfurter Rundschau, a left-of-center daily newspaper, uses evocative language to convey the threat posed to German democracy by the actions taken against Der Spiegel by the Federal Prosecution Office and the police.

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With Cloak and Dagger

It had been fifteen years since World War I when the year 1933 went down in history. Today it is seventeen years since World War II, and we have reached the year 1962. We all know that history never repeats itself in its previous forms, and no false comparisons should be drawn here. But we are certain that the question today, here in this country, is: how long can the Germans stand the freedom that was granted to them.

No one who has been following the actions taken at the behest of the Federal Prosecution Office by the “Bonn Security Group” of the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation against the publisher and editorial board of Der Spiegel news magazine could help but feel that on Friday night the “Second Postwar Democracy” chapter of contemporary German history was supposed to be slammed shut by a brisk German police operation. That the decisive act of this drama, the arrest of editor Conrad Ahlers, was carried out, at German request, by the police of fascist Spain, of all places, is more than just a coincidence, it is a sign.

So now when the doorbell rings early in the morning, we can no longer take comfort in the thought that it can only be the milkman or the boy with fresh rolls. When someone knocks on our door at midnight, we can no longer be sure that, at worst, it can only be a messenger with a telegram or a drunk neighbor at the wrong door. We have to reckon that it could be the political police on a cloak-and-dagger operation in search of national traitors. When we hear that children cried because their rooms were ransacked late at night for evidence that could be used against their parents, that galley proofs of articles were confiscated from editors and sent to censors, when it is said that the Spiegel editorial offices in Hamburg and Bonn were suddenly occupied by armed squads and a colleague could no longer reach his colleagues in the office next door by telephone, then we can no longer be certain that it is a story from Moscow, Prague, or Leipzig, or from Berlin in 1944. But we should feel comforted, knowing that it is all happening in the name of and for the protection of freedom.

This description might sound exaggerated. Many will say: it is just an isolated incident. There will even be some who are totally myopic, and who gloatingly rub their hands since the target was Mr. [Rudolf] Augstein, who is not particularly well-liked in some places, and whose journalistic methods did not always win approval, even from critical minds. In the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis, others will say that one should make short work of traitors. But we say: Beware and nip this in the bud! In the Cold War, we should never allow ourselves to adapt the methods of our totalitarian adversaries to such an extent that we threaten the only thing worth defending.

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