German Ambassador: Put Disagreements in Context

The German ambassador to the United States reassured an audience gathered Oct. 16 at the University of Cincinnati that there is no widespread anti-American sentiment in Germany, just widespread dissatisfaction with specific U.S. policies.

“I am not pessimistic at all when I look at the future,” Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger told an overflow crowd at UC’s Max Kade Center in Old Chemistry. Ischinger visited UC and addressed the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce at the invitation of German Honorary Consul to Cincinnati Richard Schade, professor in the UC

McMicken College of Arts and Sciences

Department of German Studies.

The diplomat began his presentation at UC by noting what a hectic day it had been in the world of international diplomacy. Nearly four hours before, the United Nations voted to join in the rebuilding of Iraq. He was scheduled to leave UC and head to WCET studios for an interview on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Despite the widespread European dissatisfaction with the U.S. war in Iraq, Germany has taken an active role in the fight against terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, Ischinger said. “I’m not sure everyone knows” it, but German military forces are the second-largest military presence in Afghanistan, he said. Germany also has naval forces in the Indian Ocean and military in Bosnia and Kosovo.

While it might not sound surprising to many Americans, the German military presence outside the NATO Treaty area is actually quite historic. Because of Germany’s past involvement with wars, Afghanistan is the first time since World War II that German forces have been stationed anywhere beyond NATO territory. The first German military casualties to occur since World War II happened in spring 2003 in Afghanistan, he said.

He noted that these casualties were the first German soldiers who died “fighting on the right side of a war. We never want to be on that side again of those who start wars for the wrong reasons.”

This new involvement in international security “would not have happened as fast or as strong were it not for 9-11... It would have taken 10 more years without 9-11,” said Ischinger, who had reported for his first day on the job in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001. “It was a normal working day from 7:30 to 9 o’clock in the morning,” he added. Among the more than 3,100 casualties were 12 German nationals who died in the World Trade Centers attack – more than in any other terrorist attack in German history.

To put the differences of recent months in context, the ambassador stressed to the audience that Germans, and Europeans at large, have a different view of war than the United States. In the United States, people tend to look at war as something that happens far away. “In the European context, and more specifically in the German context…war…is something very different. It doesn’t happen in far away places. It happens at home. It destroys your city and your homes.” He also notes that Germany has nine neighbor countries on its borders that it strives to get along with, while the United States has only two.

Ischinger expressed optimism for the future of U.S. and German relations. The current disagreements should be placed “in context,” he suggested. He remembers as a junior diplomat when 300,000 Germans demonstrated in the streets of Bonn to object to U.S. plans to put missiles in Germany. Demonstrations of that size have not happened over the war in Iraq.

The diplomat also said that when he is asked what “better recipe” he might suggest instead of war, his response is that the United States doesn’t have to invent a new recipe. Americans invented the best recipe themselves when they helped Europe in the years following World War II. Also, he reminded his listeners, it was the United States that worked to create the UN at that time.

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