This Saturday many Germans, party leaders and media pundits above all, will recall October 3, 1990, when their dreams of a unified Germany became reality. May they celebrate, with speeches, fireworks, bockwurst and beer and vibrant voices, resounding tutti with the “Deutschland über alles” anthem, sung since that date thirty years ago from the western Rhine to the eastern Oder!
That day brought joy to many good people, and many remain joyful. But few can ignore the facts; neither Germany nor the world have lived up to all past expectations, while many worry about what lies ahead. Even pagans like me may turn to the Christian Bible; its final chapter warns of four “Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, whose fierce mounts were symbols of “plague, famine, conquest by the sword and wild beasts”. Can modern echoes of those equine hoofbeats jar the harmony of the intoned anthems?
The virus plague now besetting the world is causing more harm than any in the past hundred years. How long will it dominate our lives? Germany, blameless and till now spared its worst effects, may now be facing a worse “second wave”.
As for famine, its ravages have never been fully absent. But here too Germany has been spared for nearly 75 years; since unification in 1990 it has been less its victim than its cause. Despite amazing advances in machinery for tilling soil, for planting, reaping and processing, men of power and wealth have twisted blessings into curses. Seed genetics is impoverishing variety and impelling monoculture: family farming is replaced by giant livestock factories; poorer countries are stuffed with imports of machine-wrapped white bread or plucked chicken and turkey parts; shrimp farms replace ravaged mangrove swamps and mass fishing for de-boned exports empties or sullies the high seas; heat and gases emitted by mills, factories and heavy, high-speed vehicles fog the skies. Small marginal farms become empty and arid, their displaced owners forced into hungry slums – or death-dealing escape routes through Mexican or Saharan deserts and Mediterranean storms. Too often they then find hardest low-paid toil or hunger for themselves, also providing grist for xenophobic hatred while the smug culprits enjoy their flowered mansions, high-rise penthouses, their yachts and private jets.
Menacing as this apocalyptic nightmare is becoming, a far worse one surpasses it – one which has received far too little attention. It is the curse symbolized in Biblical years by the sword. But spears or swords of old – though cruel, unjust and bloody – required personal strength and often courage. Neither are needed for today’s missiles and drones. A single unmanned drone, guided from Nevada and Ramstein, can decimate wedding festivities in Afghanistan. Two single bombs alone killed over 100,000 human beings in the horrible crimes called Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Far more powerful ones, carried by a bomber now waiting in line in Büchel and unleashed by a single spark from a modern apocalyptic hoof, can mean – within minutes – that all talk of fields, forests, famine or viruses becomes forever irrelevant.
What about the fourth Biblical menace – wild beasts? Species considered fearful then are now less dangerous than endangered! And yet an analogous but far worse danger now faces us; Nazis, fascists, wild, brutal mobs. Definitions and character vary; US traditions trace back to the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. In Germany – to twelve years of terror from 1933 till 1945.
It was often treated as a big surprise when buildings were defaced and set on fire and people attacked or even killed. Authorities announced their shock – again – at finding police forces infected by whole cultures of Nazi bacteria. Forty cops in Essen and Mülheim swapped bloody racist internet messages; in Hesse, death threats to LINKE leaders and others were based on information available only in police files; smeared swastikas on homes, mailboxes stuffed with filth and several burnt-out cars in a Berlin borough escaped countermeasures or arrests for years; now we read that some cops and at least one district attorney were themselves fascists. Whole nests of Nazi-lovers in elite army units were discovered, some with caches of stolen weapons. Almost weekly, marches and rallies sport clothing and tattoos which defy taboos with logos like “Adlf Htlr”or “88” (the 8th letter in the alphabet is “H”, as in “Heil Hitler”) – and are protected by the cops. A legal party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), voicing similar views a bit more subtly, often receives “objective” media opportunities to spread its views, while some politicians in the top-polling “Christian Democratic Union” hint shyly at the possibility, if it prove necessary to gain a majority, of forming coalitions with the AfD.
Many tend to equate fascism only with Hitler, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Recent attacks on Jews strengthened this view, though attacks on Muslims and all people of color may be slowly enlarging this perception. For, when opposing such modern “wild beasts”, it is proper to recall that in Mussolini’s Italy, where the term fascism originated, Jews were fewer and hardly important. Even in Hitler’s Germany, fascism’s main target was the political Left, and above all a militant working class. Among the first to be arrested, tortured and executed were always the Communists, then left-wing Socialists and any who sympathized and joined with either one. The oppression and then mass murder of Jews and of Roma (“Gypsies”) or Slavs, though partly based on deeply-rooted bigotry and hatred of men like Hitler, were begun basically as devices to divert working people into hating minorities, the “others”, instead of their genuine enemies in executive offices, mansions and at all steering wheels of power. While mourning the six million Jewish victims of fascism it is also proper to mourn other peoples who were massacred, of whom the largest number were the 27 million people of many USSR nationalities. And to remember, too, that when Soviet soldiers were captured, two categories were killed immediately: the Jews and Communist Party officers and commissars.
In the 1930’s the ravages of the Great Depression caused such misery in Germany that those in wealth and power became fearful; if Communists and Social Democrats could overcome their mutual mistrust and hostility they could form a powerful majority, cut their giant sources of profit and stymie hopes of renewed world power and expansion. That is the main reason they turned to Hitler’s party, some with distaste, others with enthusiasm, but all determined to prevent any turn to the left.
This explains why the heirs of those forces, often with the same names, factories and logos, used every tool in their well-stocked political, PR and economic toolkits to destroy the GDR – in the glittering name of freedom, democracy and German unity (plus effective added enticements like Volkswagens or Opels, unlimited globe-wide travel and even fine yellow, but hitherto rare, bananas.)
Despite all its weaknesses and blunders, its aged, often limited leaders and their sycophants, despite its modest consumer-goods assortment (compared to favored, super-wealthy West Germany), it had achieved social achievements and conditions for women, for children and most working people which were perhaps unsurpassed anywhere. Might another earnest economic crisis in the West cause too many to make comparisons in a new light? The economic giants and their politicians were determined to play it safe, and to regain lost factories and estates while eliminating the barrier the stubborn little GDR represented to unashamed expansion and warfare. They achieved their goal.
But, though greatly lessened, those dangers could again build up, even in a united, uniformly capitalist Germany. Pay levels are already low, job security is weak, and strikes are too frequent. Once again it is wise to plan for an unpredictable future. Crude Nazi types are unpleasant and give Germany a bad, all too reminiscent name. But just in case – a reserve option is always wise.
Ever since the Federal Republic was founded (and totally contrary to East German policy), old Nazis, among them brutal SA Storm Troopers, officers of SS killer battalions and secret Gestapo men were permitted to staff the equivalents of the FBI, the CIA and a variety of police forces, often up to the very top. As they died out those traditions were maintained by enthusiastic apprentices. Their number is a dark secret while new generations of authorities, even the majority who are not themselves fascists, prefer to castigate and control “Islamic terrorists” and, always, their basic and eternal enemy – the left. As for the danger on the right – they almost always look the other way.
I, however, am unable to look the other way; I oppose all four apocalyptic dangers. I shall therefore not join the rejoicing (but hopefully face-masked, properly distanced) crowds at Brandenburg Gate.