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World War II

Opinion: Genuine dismay, necessary criticism

Members of parliament debated a landmark decision on a historic day. It soon became clear that politics is never easy where war is concerned - and that's a good thing, DW's Marcel Fürstenau says.

Kommentarfoto Marcel Fürstenau Hauptstadtstudio

Marcel Fürstenau is pleased there is a healthy debate surrounding the decision to ship arms to the Kurds.

The German Bundestag is officially still on holiday; the parliamentary summer break only ends this week. So if delegates are called to Berlin for an extraordinary session, it has to be for a very important reason. On this September 1 that reason could, perhaps even should, have been the anniversary of the start of the Second World War. It was the invasion of neighboring Poland by the National Socialist German Reich exactly 75 years ago that triggered the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century, with tens of millions of dead.

But in the Bundestag this historical event was mentioned only on the sidelines of this historic day. No one wanted to leave themselves open to criticism by failing to mention German guilt and responsibility. But the official reason for the special session was not the past's biggest and most terrible war, but one that is in a dreadful way more contemporary: Not a conventional war between states, but one described by security experts as "asymmetric." And Germany is to participate in it, under the oddly vague headline: "Humanitarian aid for refugees in Iraq and fight against the terrorist organization IS." This was the title Chancellor Angela Merkel gave to her government statement, thus avoiding the decisive phrase "arms shipments."

Merkel beats around the bush

Man raises IS flag

IS has conquered large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The desperate people of northern Iraq are supposed to halt the apparently unstoppable advance of the bestial terrorists called "Islamic State" with German guns, anti-tank rocket launchers and rockets. However, if one is approving the military armament of a hopelessly inferior war party against a barbaric enemy out of ethical and political conviction, one should please get to the point without further ado. Instead, Merkel approached her core concerns in a very roundabout way. She spoke of the war-like conflict between Russia and Ukraine, praised the new president of the European Council, Poland's Donald Tusk, and emphasized the significance of NATO.

The Chancellor could have kept it shorter and more succinct. After all, Germans have known about the political decision made by their government since Sunday, preceded as it was by a torturous week-long discussion. All the arguments for and against supplying the weapons were already well known. Merkel could therefore have confidently got straight to the point. As it was, however, the constant undertone of her government statement was that of a guilty conscience, which she certainly should not and hopefully does not have. Because both Merkel and all the speakers in the ensuing debate are deserving of respect for giving their yea or nay to such a dramatic question.

Unknown delegate finds the right words

Nobody took the easy way out. Not Merkel's friend and colleague, the parliamentary group leader of her Christian Democratic Union, Volker Kauder; not opposition leader Gregor Gysi from the Left Party; no Social Democrat, no Green. And each of them is right in their own way: Kauder in calling for arms shipments in view of the humanitarian catastrophe ("Now, immediately!"), Gysi in opposing arms shipments with reference to international law and the authority of the United Nations ("Ban exports!").

 Frank Schwabe

Frank Schwabe, who supports arms shipments, said it was important to respect differences of opinion.

As the almost three-hour debate began to draw to a close, the unknown SPD delegate Frank Schwabe spoke of the dilemma in which parliament found itself, saying that he could also understand the arguments of the Left Party and the Greens. With a few simple words, this politician, an advocate of arms shipments, expressed his respect for those whose opinions differed. It was a short, pleasant and engaging speech. It made it clear that there must always be scruples, uncertainties and criticism wherever war is concerned; but sometimes an element of helplessness is also apparent. That is all too human, and understandable.

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