Let me preface this with my own introduction: I was born and raised in Germany in the seventies and eighties and emigrated to the US in the nineties. I was around and politically aware, if not active, during the height of the peace movement in Germany that spawned the Green Party, now an integral part of the power structure in Germany.
I will focus this diary on the two main drivers behind the current decisions, or non-decisions, to send tanks to Ukraine: the SPD (Chancellor Scholz’s party) and the Greens (Foreign minister Baerbock and Vice Chancellor’s Habeck). The rest would only add nuance, but not much understanding to the big picture.
The SPD (Social Democrat Party of Germany) has deep roots in the labor movement, to their founding in 1863. It embraces a structuralist approach, especially when it comes to war: Every war is always fought on the backs on the working class. They’re the ones who are conscripted and dying, and when the war is over, they are the ones to rebuild with their sweat, while the ruling elites will be just fine and probably grab an even larger share of the means of production, that is capital and natural resources. So in short, a war has to be avoided at all costs, because it’s the little guys who will pay for it in blood and treasure. Much of the SPD’s work since WWII and the horrors that Hitler’s Germany inflicted on the world has focused on preventing war. The prime mechanism has been to make it prohibitively costly for any rational adversary to engage in it. First, building relations with France (the nucleus for the European Union, spearheaded by Kurt Schumacher, to never have to go to war with France again), then Poland (Willy Brandt’s knee fall in Warsaw and expanded economic ties), later followed up by ever-deepening economic relationships with the USSR and then Russia (Russian oil and gas). With those entanglements, or so was the reasoning, no rational (!) leader would wage war on the back of the ordinary people in Europe ever again.
Contrast this to the Green Party. They were born out of the anti-war movement of the sixties and early seventies. Even though Germany did not take part in the Vietnam war, it had a profound impact: innocent civilians, often children, were dying in war, and the pictures were there for all to see. That generated a moral imperative: prevent war because it will cost innocent lives. There was a heavy protestant influence in this movement: Though shall not kill (for territory, natural resources, etc.) But in that moral framework, there is nothing whatsoever telling you not to defend yourself, or come to the defense of someone who is in dire need of your help to defend themselves. Thomas Aquinas “Just War” is a concept the Greens can historically and morally relate to, and so making the pivot to support Ukraine with heavy weaponry is not such an impossible imposition. Hence we are seeing the Greens, the party of the peace movement, standing up for Ukraine.
The Ukraine war now put these two these two very different pacifist views add odds: Are all wars bad, because it’s always the little guy who pays the price, or is there a morally just war? I think German public opinion trends towards the latter, and I certainly hope so.