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Posts Tagged ‘Frank-Walter Steinmeier’

Germany’s president is Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The president of Germany is a largely ceremonial position, with the chancellor serving as the chief executive. In the U.S., our president serves as both. In Germany, these duties are spread over the two positions. At the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, when the U.S. president made a serious faux pas by “congratulating” Poland and stating it was “a great country,” Steinmeier asserted at a ceremony:

I Affirm our Lasting Responsibility

— Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Germany did a lot of damage in the world during the last century and it still as an inferiority complex as a result to this day. Contrary to what the U.S. president currently often does when world affairs do not go right, namely blaming his predecessors, blaming his staffers and appointees, or blaming other nations and their leaders, the president of Germany took responsibility for the brutal and unprovoked attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 that started World War II.

Steinmeier and I have a few things in common. His mother was born in Breslau, which is in now a part of Poland and called Wrocław. She was a refugee after the war. My father was also born in Breslau, and he was a refugee. Steinmeier was born in 1956. I was born in 1956. When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, World War II was ancient history to me. I only know the Germany of the economic miracle of the 1960s. Due to his age, the same would be true for Steinmeier. I am certainly not personally responsible for the atrocities committed by the people of Germany in World War II, even though my grandfather was a German soldier of low rank serving in the Wehrmacht during the war, and several of my uncles from the maternal side were reportedly members of the SS, even though I never had a chance to actually talk about this with them. It was not talked about then.

There are very few Germans alive today that were alive during World War II. Those who are still with us were children then. Nobody of any position of responsibility or authority is still alive. Nobody who has personally committed atrocities is still alive. And yet, the German president affirms the country’s lasting responsibility for damaging the Polish nation, resulting in the deaths of about six million Polish citizens, about a fifth of the country’s pre-war population, both by the occupation by Germany and then the Russians when they attacked from the eastern front. Six million Polish civilians were killed by war crimes, crimes against humanity and by starvation.

The U.S. president congratulates Poland for this.

The German president affirms his country’s lasting responsibility, even though he himself was born 17 years after the event.

Nations carry responsibility for their actions. The United States is currently responsible for millions of civilian deaths due to wars it started in Afghanistan and Iraq, which triggered conflicts all over the Middle East. That responsibility will remain with our nation. I wonder, in the year 2099, when a U.S. president, who is today not even alive yet, gives a memorial speech for the victims of these wars, whether he will exhibit the same sense of responsibility and grace for those victims?

Countries are bigger than people. They can do more good, and they can do more damage. Where does our country rate today? Will we be proud of our actions today come 2099?

 

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