Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The European Peace Movement: Conversation with Petra K. Kelly, Member of the Green Party and Member of the Bundestag, and General Gert Bastian, Retired General and Member of the Bundestag: 10/23/84 by Harry Kreisler

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Anti-Americanism and the Peace Movement

Intertwined in all of this and related to these problems is the question of whether the peace movement is anti-American. How do you respond to that question?

First of all, I think that the peace movement in Europe has probably most of its friends in the American people. At every demonstration that I can remember we've had key speakers from the United States, whether it be Ron Dellums or Mrs. King or Mr. Belafonte. The argument is, of course, a pretty good one. [People] can immediately say that if you're anti - American weapons, then you're anti-American. In fact, all of our whole inspiration coming from people like the Berrigans, many others who've blockaded with us, who've been taken and arrested with us, have shown how we're tied together. We also have many friends, of course, in the Eastern Bloc countries, but they can't travel to us so easily. I think that is completely wrong.

But certainly, throughout the whole population, the criticism is very strong of Mr. Reagan, of interventionism in Central America, of policies encircling the globe, whether it be Mr. Schultz going to New Zealand and saying to Mr. Luntz, "you cannot do this nuclear-free zone," or whether it is in fact the Americans looking for new bases because the Philippine bases might go. There is a mistrust of this administration.

There is a deep mistrust that, for example, now we're talking about whose missiles are being put on U-boats, and we can't even count how many there are going to be. And this is a mistrust in the population against the [Reagan] administration, but never against the American people. In fact, every time there is a big demonstration here, there is a movement to, in a way, be critical. People are very happy in Europe and are in solidarity. I think what worries people most, at the present, is for example the problem with Central America. Because there is a fear that Mr. Reagan's second term might be more dangerous than the first. And there is a feeling that this administration does not know historically what has happened, what is going on. [The peace movement] is always being misinterpreted by the media. I must say the media, the American media, has done so much damage to the peace movement and to the whole idea, but they are the first ones to call it anti-American. They will even call a speaker like Mrs. King "anti-American" if she comes to demonstrations.

Is the criticism even-handed? Is the peace movement as critical of, say, the the downing of the KAL flight, without going into what actually happened, or the invasion in Afghanistan? These are important questions for American audiences because, as you say, this is the way the media frames the question.

Well, first of all, it is very clear that, especially with the Green Party, there has been this non-aligned factor. It's been very critical for both sides. We were doing the very famous blockade in Moolanda when the KAL airliner was downed, and that night there was an incredible reaction of people who holding special services and making very much protest, including the day that Ron Dellums had come to a platform where we openly, again, mentioned that we cannot accept this. On the other hand, we have also spoken in Afghanistan as well as in Nicaragua, and we have Greens travelling to both Nicaragua and to Afghanistan. What is amazing, though, is that the human rights issue is so ideologically misused, you will have Americans talk about Afghanistan until you cannot hear it and will have Russians talk about Nicaragua until you cannot hear it anymore, because they both misuse their own backyard, everybody's backyard is so full of bodies and corpses and yet [each] side always points to the other side. For me the biggest hypocrisy, I must say, was when we had so much with hope with the Solidarity movement in Poland, and there was Mr. Reagan suddenly a champion of trade union rights, which he does not in any way support in his own country, but he supports them in Poland. The same in the reverse, Mr. Strauss.

We have, as a peace movement, learned to go beyond ideologies, beyond systems, beyond national borders, and to point out the human rights infringements wherever they happen. That's been the role of the peace movement. For example, with the question of Sakharov, it was the Greens that went to Moscow, and the first thing they asked was the fate of dissidents, not only Mr. Sakharov, but many more. And we would also go to the State Department and ask what happened in El Salvador. But the problem is that, again, this non-aligned attitude is something so new and so special that so many people have not yet comprehended that we look all over the world. That we try to be an Amnesty International, more or less, and we try to do it in a way that it cannot be misused. And so I think that the argument is really wrong.

Can I add something? I am much older than Petra, and for me, another point, very important, is my deep feeling of friendship to the United States and to the United States people. The origin of this feeling was the end of World War II. I was living in Bavaria. I was coming from a prisoner camp of the United States in Bavaria, and have never forgotten, and shall never forget, that the United States was the first which gave us the end and helped us to come back to a normal life after this terrible end of this war and all these crimes which were done by my own country and by all of us. I will never forget it. Therefore, I have such a deep feeling of friendship to the United States and to the United States' soldiers. I am full of respect for the United States' soldiers in Germany. I have had good comrades in the United States army -- the division command of General Blanchard, a former high commander of the United States troops in Europe; his successor General Kurzon -- [all] have been very fine soldiers and officers. This is the reason that I am so angry. That now, wrong policy gives such a deep shadow to the relationship between Europe and the United States in the Western Alliance. It makes such an unnecessary danger and damage in these relationships. And this is one of the reasons of my protest.

General Bastian, when you resigned from the Greens, the Washington Post quoted you as criticizing the antiquated politics of class struggle as well as the one-sided anti-American foreign policy of the Greens. Is that quotation correct?

It is correct, but it was only one of many reasons that I left only the Parliamentary group, not the Green Party. I am a member of the Green Party still now. I have written in the paper to the Green friends in the faction in this time, said I am angry at a small group which is a clear minority within the Greens, which came from the former Communist Party and has, in my opinion, old-fashioned Marxist thinking and is very anti-American, It's manipulating the sessions of the board of the Green Party and the faction also, and has more success that is declared than [merited] by the small number of members in this group. The reasons that I have written this is to give a warning to my friends to be careful that this minority come not to such an unnecessary success. I think this warning was successful. In the following time, this group was not successful.

It is, of course, a small group of, maybe, 200 members for whom I fought very hard that they will become members, because I don't want to have an anti-communistic Green Party. But they had a long process of integrating. I think it was necessary that sometimes we have to do this. The many different strands in the Green look and vie for influence, that's very clear. You have them in a very big, successful movement, where you have many ideologies coming together. Though we have to also add that what has been frustrating was that, in fact, the Green Party parliamentary group was always worrying about its own problems more than those outside, because of its structure.

That was the main reason I left.

That was the main reason. This was so blown out of proportion. That's why I'm shaking my head here. Because the Washington Post and The New York Times took that little one line, and the letter was two pages, that was one line, and that was a worry that he expressed, and immediately blew it up. That was the typical media style.

I have left the Parliament, at first, on account of the internal problems, not the effective work of the organization. The chaos, the parliamentary people, the succeeders working together in one group was a wrong construction from the first day. This other was only an additional aspect, but not the main point.

You both have touched on something that I want to pursue, which is this generational difference of the view of America. Your generation, General Bastian, remembers the American role in World War II, remembers the Marshall Plan, remembers whatever else America achieved in that early rebuilding of Europe. It is said that the successor generation thinks more of America in terms of Watergate, of Vietnam, and so on. How does this resolve itself? What I think I hear both of you saying is that the peace movement is in fact not anti-American, that in fact it is a rejection of particular policies.

It is a rejection of militarism wherever it may be. I would like to say that rather clearly. I have a stepfather who was in the American military, so I have a rather good insight into it. I could never accept the Vietnam War. It was pure barbarism. To me, this barbarism was the worst kind, which is committed also on the other [Eastern bloc] side. And I think those soldiers were just as misused as German soldiers, as any soldier. The problem, I think, that the peace movement is trying to show is militarism. When you come to a certain degree, then there can be nobody who is a fine general or a fine soldier because they are all being misused or they misuse themselves. At a certain point, the United States had a tradition in Vietnam out of which they should have learned. Now, in fact, they are going back to policies again misusing their soldiers, misusing them completely as a kind of checkmate on a chess board. They are misused in the sense that American soldiers in Europe are becoming worried. They are sending us little slips through the fence saying please continue, because we don't like this here either. I think this is what has to be the warning to all political military leaders in both superpowers, that they cannot continue misusing. Because it's not the generals on the front, it's certainly the soldier out there who are going to be using nuclear weapons, who are going to throw them a few miles and hit his own territory and who are going to be misused in all this thinking. This has become the criticism. It is a criticism of militarism and of nuclear policies, nuclear barbarism. No person said it better than Archbishop Hunthausen, when he said it is a time now of nuclear Auschwitz. I think that is the correct wording. It is really, really horrifying. That is what the peace movement is trying to create. Of course, our criticism is very loud against our own protective power, called the United States.

But what you're saying would apply then to the Soviet soldiers and what's being done in Afghanistan.

Of course. The same situation. We are very critical, also, for example of the French, what they are doing in the Pacific testing. But of course the role of people in Afghanistan is to ask an intervention of the worst kind. We also say at the same time, it's a strange parallel. Kremlin said they were called by Kabul to liberate. Mr. Reagan said we were called by Granada to liberate. So it's the same type of thinking, the same type of philosophy. All these superpowers are always called to intervene. It's very strange. And we don't accept either of those two, because both are building a bloc, trying to create this sphere of influence.

I do think that the United States is leading, and I have to add that, in a certain sense, there is Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. is the only country that dropped the atomic bomb on people. It is the only country at the moment always leading, always putting the Soviets behind. It's a dynamic in itself. Every time there has been a creation of nerve [gas] or a creation of hydrogen bomb, it's always been the Americans, first, and the Soviet Union declares we must be the same, so we must also do the same. This is the arms race -- perfect. And nobody seems to get out of it. But that country which leads in technology and leads in all those strings, must be the first. That is our opinion, because we also have the freedom to say we are critical, so you must begin the first unilateral measures.

The stronger can make the first step without a risk.

Without a risk, right.

Now, there is another set of issues that I want to get into here, and that is the question of German nationalism. To what extent, in the words of The New York Times foreign correspondent, Mr. Vincour, is the peace movement a left-wing nationalism, a manifestation of what we experienced?

I have had a discussion with another commentator who made the same statement, that the peace movement is a very nationalistic movement in West Germany and has as the only objective to make forgotten the crime of Auschwitz in pointing out Hiroshima. It is crazy to speak so. No. This movement is an idealistic movement, not a nationalistic movement, and has more internationalistic input and thinking and has good friends in all other countries and continents, in Japan as well as in Australia, in the United States as well as in Austria and the United Kingdom, and, if it possible, also on the other side of the Iron Curtain. There is no nationalistic thinking in this movement. I can say that really.

I must add this. Because you know where the misunderstanding came, was when Heinrich Albert, the ex-mayor of Berlin said once, we have a new form of patriotism. What he meant was that Europeans are finally saying, "We are not going to be the slaughterhouse of two superpowers. We are going to be a very sovereign continent that says it doesn't want to die. So we are patriots of our life." Mr. Vincour, whom we followed for several years, is now in Paris doing the same stories, has always said that that sentence of Mr. Albert's, the SPD mayor of Berlin, was very dangerous because it showed that we are nationalistic. It is such a misuse of this movement, because there is no talk of reunification in the peace movement, because it doesn't concern us at this moment, second because nobody wants two German military nations to come together, and third, it is never a discussion because it is not a nationalistic movement whatsoever.

We have, outside of the peace movement, more groups of very crazy people in Germany. The young people ...

Small, right-wing clusters ...

... mostly nationalistic, and [they] hold that against the foreign workers in our country. Neo-fascistic. But in so small numbers that it is of no importance to the political things.

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