do not mention the war

Special Relationships

In Academia, Britain, England, Germany, History, Identity, Literature on April 23, 2012 at 14:26

The possibly best known ‘special relationship‘ in modern history is between the United States and the United Kingdom. This blog is about the ‘special relationship’ the UK and Germany have enjoyed over the last 60 and more years, particularly on the football pitch but also on other field such as music, the press and literature. This post however, will look at recent press outpourings in Germany about a poem published by Nobel laureate Günter Grass in which he heavily criticized Israel and thus shed a light upon this special relationship.

The Poem

Günter Grass has written a poem which was published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a respected left leaning newspaper based in Munich. The poem was entitled ‘What must be said’ and a translation can be found here. Grass openly criticized Israel for its politics with regards to nuclear disarmament or its refusal to sign the proliferation act. The text sparked an outrage and many labelled Grass an Anti-Semite and an SS man. This was supported by the fact that it took Günter Grass more than 60 years to admit that he was a member of the Waffen-SS as a 17-year-old just before the end of the Second World War.

The background or the initial reason for the poem was the sale of a German submarine to Israel which would enable the latter to fire nuclear warheads at Iran, its deadly enemy and certain aspects of Israel’s current government. And this is where the poem has its main weakness which Grass admitted shortly after the publication. He said that he should have mentioned the government of Netanyahu and not have written in a general manner about the state of Israel, which ignited the outrage.

Grass an Anti-Semite?

Is Günter Grass Anti-Semite? Many in Germany were quick to judge about him and could not be convinced otherwise despite attempts from all angles. It is prove that Germany still has a problem with its past. So much so that critcism towards Israel’s nuclear policy is still considered a sacrileg and thus a taboo not to be broken. Günter Grass is by no means an Anti-Semite, he is a supporter of Israel and wants the country to prosper, unlike Iran where his poem was greeted with an official statement of the english satellite TV channel Press TV saying that the poem is a ‘lyrical death strike for Israel’ and called Grass’ poem a ‘courageous way to attack Israel’. That this is nonsense is obvious and requires no further explanation. That Grass has struck a right note often goes unnoticed in this discussion. That he further demanded that both countries must be held at bay and their nuclear programmes strictly controlled is also often ignored in this debate and sheds a terrible light on the German media. Günter Grass accuses them of blind peer pressure which everyone has to follow and which they duly obey.

What makes a relationship special?

Relationships become special when, in the case of the US and the UK both have a long common history and more recently have side by side fought in a major conflict against a government that had mankind as its enemy: Hitler’s deluded Third Reich. That as a result the relationship between the newly founded states of Israel and Germany has to be a special one, is clear. It could be argued that every country Germany has relations with is a special relationship because of the Second World War, most notably its direct neighbours, Israel, its former enemies and the US. In 2003 Joschka Fischer refused to follow America into a new adventure when the latter lobbied for an invasion of Iraq on the grounds of suspected weapons of mass destruction. Fischer’s ‘I do not believe’ speech caused a positive mood as he openly refused to believe in America’s more than dubious case against Iraq. Something like that would be required to present Israel. A firm and solid criticism without upsetting its citizens but with reason. Just like friendship between humans contains criticism and even harsh words, countries must be allowed to openly speak about problems and severe criticism is just a part of a special relationship. Otherwise it would be dull.

Günter Grass has used a poem that resembles prose to air his thoughts and openly criticize Israel for its politics but also to vent his anger at the German government for the sale of a submarine which undoubtedly will de-stabilze the fragile situation in the Middle East. For that he deserved praise not criticism. The criticism should be directed at the governing class in Germany to allow such deals to happen and the media to start a witch hunt.


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