The U.S. Betrays Its Core Values
A war long sought and planned for is now underway. All deliberations and warnings of the United Nations notwithstanding, an overpowering military apparatus has attacked preemptively in violation of international law. No objections were heeded. The Security Council was disdained and scorned as irrelevant. As the bombs fall and the battle for Baghdad continues, the law of might prevails.
And based on this injustice, the mighty have the power to buy and reward those who might be willing and to disdain and even punish the unwilling. The words of the current American president -- "Those not with us are against us" -- weighs on current events with the resonance of barbaric times. It is hardly surprising that the rhetoric of the aggressor increasingly resembles that of his enemy. Religious fundamentalism leads both sides to abuse what belongs to all religions, taking the notion of "God" hostage in accordance with their own fanatical understanding. Even the passionate warnings of the pope, who knows from experience how lasting and devastating the disasters wrought by the mentality and actions of Christian crusaders have been, were unsuccessful.
Disturbed and powerless, but also filled with anger, we are witnessing the moral decline of the world's only superpower, burdened by the knowledge that only one consequence of this organized madness is certain: Motivation for more terrorism is being provided, for more violence and counter-violence. Is this really the United States of America, the country we fondly remember for any number of reasons? The generous benefactor of the Marshall Plan? The forbearing instructor in the lessons of democracy? The candid self-critic? The country that once made use of the teachings of the European Enlightenment to throw off its colonial masters and to provide itself with an exemplary constitution? Is this the country that made freedom of speech an incontrovertible human right?
It is not just foreigners who cringe as this ideal pales to the point where it is now a caricature of itself. There are many Americans who love their country too, people who are horrified by the betrayal of their founding values and by the hubris of those holding the reins of power. I stand with them. By their side, I declare myself pro-American. I protest with them against the brutalities brought about by the injustice of the mighty, against all restrictions of the freedom of expression, against information control reminiscent of the practices of totalitarian states and against the cynical equations that make the death of thousands of women and children acceptable so long as economic and political interests are protected.
No, it is not anti-Americanism that is damaging the image of the United States; nor do the dictator Saddam Hussein and his extensively disarmed country endanger the most powerful country in the world. It is President Bush and his government that are diminishing democratic values, bringing sure disaster to their own country, ignoring the United Nations, and that are now terrifying the world with a war in violation of international law.
We Germans often are asked if we are proud of our country. To answer this question has always been a burden. There were reasons for our doubts. But now I can say that the rejection of this preemptive war on the part of a majority in my country has made me proud of Germany. After having been largely responsible for two world wars and their criminal consequences, we seem to have made a difficult step. We seem to have learned from history.
The Federal Republic of Germany has been a sovereign country since 1990. Our government made use of this sovereignty by having the courage to object to those allied in this cause, the courage to protect Germany from a step back to a kind of adolescent behavior. I thank Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, for their fortitude in spite of all the attacks and accusations, from abroad and from within.
Many people find themselves in a state of despair these days, and with good reason. Yet we must not let our voices, our no to war and yes to peace, be silenced. What has happened? The stone that we pushed to the peak is once again at the foot of the mountain. But we must push it back up, even with the knowledge that we can expect it to roll back down again.
Gunter Grass won the 1999 Nobel Prize in literature. His most recent novel, "Crabwalk," will be published this month by Harcourt. This piece was translated from German by Daniel Slager.
Topics: International Law, United Nations