German Development Minister Heidemarie Wielczorek-Zeul was on a high
when she arrived at a TV studio recently for a panel discussion fresh from
joining 600,000 protesters in Berlin marching against a U.S.-led war on Iraq.
"I was immensely proud to take part in that great demonstration for peace,"
said Wielczorek-Zeul, a close associate of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder since
the 1970s, when both were leaders of an anti-U.S. youth wing of the Social
Democratic Party. "After all, the Americans don't care about democracy in the
But a sharp rebuke from one of the panelists suddenly caused her to fall
Participants of a human chain hold their candles as they join a protest candlelight vigil in front of the illuminated Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany late Saturday evening, March 15, 2003. The demonstrators gathered to protest against a possible war in Iraq. (AP Photo/Jan Bauer)
"Only last week Saddam Hussein had 13 people executed in Baghdad, but
nobody here demonstrated," said Hussein al Mozani, a prominent Iraqi writer
who lives in exile in Germany. "And nobody went on the street to express their
horror at the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis over the
years. Hussein can be removed only by war."
Wielczorek-Zeul hasn't been the only Cabinet minister to be lectured by an
When Family Minister Renate Schmidt, a Social Democrat from Bavaria,
enthusiastically praised the Berlin marchers on another talk show for
"standing up against a terrible, totally unjustifiable war," she was
challenged by journalist Namo Azis.
"All these demonstrations are not in the interest of the Iraqi people, who
for years have been terrorized, raped, brutalized," he said.
Looking at the flustered Schmidt, Azis added, "The German government is
very short-sighted, and it's not surprising that Chancellor Schroeder and
Foreign Minister (Joschka) Fischer have been cheered for their anti-war stance
by Iraq's government-controlled press."
But such sentiments are the exception these days in Germany, as anti-U.S.
sentiment over the looming war with Iraq is increasingly coupled with a hatred
of all things American.
In September, Schroeder won a tough election only after pledging to oppose
a war against Iraq. A recent survey by the Public Opinion Poll showed that
only 15 percent of Germans and 8 percent of Austrians believed the American
way of life was something to strive for. In the same poll, President Bush was
rated as no more "likable" than Hussein.
"It increasingly takes guts to be for the Americans" these days, said Heinz
Graefer, a Munich sociologist.
Although Germans who support Bush's position appear to be in the
minority, there are some who say they understand it in view of the Sept. 11
"The U.S. doesn't want to take any chances that there will be future
attacks," said Manfred Hildmann, a 46-year-old accountant from the Bavarian
town of Freilassing. "If you consider Saddam Hussein's dreadful actions in the
past, it's plausible that he is working on weapons of mass destruction and
willing to turn them over to terrorists."
But for many Germans, America-bashing has become a favorite pastime.
Entertainers appear to be the most outspoken critics, voicing not only
fierce opposition to a war in Iraq, but singling out Bush. Last month, 19
prominent German intellectuals signed a declaration strongly supporting
Schroeder's anti-war position, including Nobel Prize laureate Gunter Grass and
playwright Martin Walser.
The major conduits for anti-U.S. sentiment are the ubiquitous television
"Iraq would be of no interest to the U.S. if it didn't have oil," said
Senta Berger, the Austrian-born actress who spent several years in Hollywood
during the 1960s. On ZDF TV, she likened the impending war with Iraq to the
Nazis' attempt to secure oil fields in the Caspian region by laying siege to
Stalingrad in 1943.
On another program, popular TV actor Uwe Friedrichsen said: "When Hitler
invaded Poland in 1939, he faked a Polish military attack on a German border
town as a pretext. But in the case of Iraq, the Americans don't even bother to
fabricate such excuses."
Prominent playwright Peter Handke, whose plays are mainstays on the German
stage, said the United States should be disarmed, not Iraq. "That would be the
solution to the current problem, because it's the Americans who have the most
atrocious weapons," he said.
In the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine, Alice Schwarzer, a noted
feminist author, said: "The world superpower USA no longer seems accustomed to
anyone contradicting its views, not even on issues about life and death, the
death of others."
A regular on the America-bashing circuit is Konstantin Wecker, a 55-year-
old singer-songwriter who is a household name in Germany. Wecker recently
returned from a highly publicized "peace trip" to Baghdad that his critics
called a publicity stunt.
"In the event of war with Iraq, the German government should close down all
overflights of U.S. military planes," Wecker told a Munich newspaper.
Leaders of the leftist peace movement that organized huge protests against
U.S. troops deployed in West Germany in the 1980s are back in action as well.
One is Eugen Drewermann, a 62-year-old theologian, who recently said on ARD TV:
"If Bush wants to fight evil, he should start on his own psyche."
Expressing pity for the "poor people held as prisoners by the Americans
at Guantanamo," Drewermann held the United States responsible for starting the
Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and lavished praise on Dustin Hoffman and other U.S.
actors "for publicly standing up against Bush and his war plans" at the
recent Berlin film festival.
The surge of anti-Americanism is particularly striking in view of the huge
debt Germany owes the United States for providing generous help in the post-
war reconstruction era, security during the Cold War and decisive assistance
in gaining unification more than a decade ago.
"Anti-American sentiment no longer is the traditional preoccupation of
either leftist or rightist newspaper feature editors," said Michael Stuermer,
a leading editorial writer at the conservative Die Welt. "It unstoppably is
becoming a sort of matter-of-course mood for the whole country."
A patron in his 30s at a Munich beer hall put it more bluntly: "We are
all fed up with Americans looking down at us for the Holocaust -- something
that our generation had nothing to do with," he said. "Now, the Americans are
all set to start their own holocaust in Iraq."
Feeling free of any guilt for the Nazi crimes, many of Germany's younger
generation are taking another look at World War II, with some even regarding
the Germans as victims of the conflict.
Historian Joerg Friedrich recently shattered a taboo by writing a best-
selling book "The Fire -- Germany and the Bombardment 1940-1945" about the
destruction of German cities by U.S. and British bombers. The book, which
condemns the attacks as war crimes and indirectly suggests that they may be
comparable to the Holocaust, inspired a recent series on German TV.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle