To the Editor:
In “Whatever Happened to Willy Brandt?” [July], David Gress sets out to explain how Willy Brandt, once a “democratic anti-Communist,” turned into an “appeaser” and “neutralist.” These are indeed serious charges to make, in the columns of a serious American magazine, against a long-proven friend of the Western alliance and of the United States, who is also chairman of a German party—the Social Democrats—which has succeeded in condemning the Communists to virtual nonexistence in the German Federal Republic for more than three decades. Such charges, moreover, are hardly likely to overcome the present disagreements between German democrats of the moderate Left and American political leaders of the not-so-moderate Right. I am writing to remind Mr. Gress of the saying of a famous Danish philosopher: “Never try to explain a phenomenon until you have made quite sure that it exists.” For the appeaser and neutralist Willy Brandt does not exist. As I propose to show, the claim that he does is based on woolly concepts and slipshod treatment of facts.
Let me take the concepts first. I should think that an appeaser is someone who accepts the use of force by another power or the results of the use of force, though he has the means to prevent or undo them. Brandt is accused of having “urged recognition and acceptance of Communist conquests” because he based his Ostpolitik of the 70′s on the post-World War II division of Europe and Germany. Even Mr. Gress would agree that Brandt did not have the power to undo this state of affairs; he himself mentions that the European status quo had long since been accorded de-facto acceptance by the Western powers, including the United States, and suggests that Brandt conceived his new policy only when he became fully aware of this fact, after the American non-reaction to the building of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. But, though unable to undo the territorial status quo (which even the Western powers could not have done without risking nuclear war), Brandt did not “accept” that this meant the total separation of Germans East and West of the border, as his predecessors in the West German government had done. With the support of the Western allies, Brandt negotiated treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, and East Germany based on the territorial status quo; he thus created relations with these governments as normal as those his Western allies already had (except in the case of East Germany), and made it possible for millions of West Germans to visit their relatives and friends in the East. The treaties also freed the people of Poland and Czechoslovakia from the fear of “German revanchism” which had been one of the wellsprings of Communist influence (and though Communist-inspired, had proved very effective). Some appeasement!
Let me now turn to the charge of neutralism. A neutralist, I should think, is someone who, in a world divided by a profound conflict not only between opposing powers but between opposing principles, tries to keep his country out of the conflict, or if it is already part of an alliance, to take it out of the alliance. Our world is divided by such a profound conflict, and the Federal Republic of Germany is part of the Atlantic alliance, but Willy Brandt never for a single moment suggested that it should leave.
Mr. Gress sees the seeds of neutralism in the formula of Brandt’s friend Egon Bahr, “Wandel durch Annäherung,” which he mistranslates as “change by convergence,” whereas it actually means change by rapprochement. Bahr’s idea was that internal changes in the Soviet bloc could be brought about by normalization of foreign relations between the opposing alliances, not by internal changes in the West (which is what convergence would mean). The idea proved in part realistic, in part illusory: realistic in that the declining fear of Germany, brought about by Brandt’s Ostpolitik, was a precondition for the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Polish movements of 1970, 1976, and 1980-82; illusory in that the Soviet Union was determined not to tolerate major internal changes within its empire, and was strong enough to stop them. But it is simply not true that Bahr’s formula was at any time a “euphemism for the mutual neutralization and final confederation of the two Germanys.” Brandt and all his aides, including Bahr, have long been convinced that the partition of Germany could not be overcome while the partition of Europe persisted, and that so long as the Soviet Union was able to hold its empire together, it would never release East Germany—not even as a price for West German neutralization. Brandt and his aides know that while a Soviet empire exists, there has got to be a Western alliance, and that West Germany, to survive as a free country, must be part of it.
The idea of “Brandt, the neutralist” has lately received considerable currency in the West as a result of the criticism of the Reagan administration’s foreign and military policy by Brandt and his Social Democratic party (SPD). In particular, their doubts about the American conduct of the negotiations on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Reduction (INF) in Geneva are seen as proof that Brandt and the SPD are as critical of Germany’s American allies as they are of its Soviet antagonists—or perhaps even more critical!
Three remarks are necessary to correct this impression. First, the need to reply to the threat of the Soviet SS-20′s was first brought to the attention of NATO by the German Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and it was his initiative that led to the “two-track” decision. Second, the SPD backed that policy at two successive party congresses, and Brandt, far from “undermining” Schmidt on this point, supported him both times. Third, in the course of the last year both the Social Democrats in general and Brandt in particular have indeed become increasingly critical of the American conduct of the negotiations, without becoming in the least uncritical of the Russian position. But in an alliance among democracies, public criticism of the policy of one ally by sectors of opinion of another is normal and inevitable, and has nothing to do with a “neutralist” wish to leave the alliance. Brandt himself forcefully made this point in a recent article in the Washington Post: according to the latest polls, 90 percent of the West German voters support the alliance, but 65 percent oppose the stationing of new missiles on West German soil. Whatever those figures may mean—and they may still change considerably if the negotiations result in an agreement that brings about partial stationing, or if they fail despite great and visible efforts on the part of the U.S. to reach agreement—they do not mean that 65 percent of the West Germans are neutralists.
There is no space to deal with all the detailed errors of fact in Mr. Gress’s article, but I wish to correct at least one injustice to President Kennedy, one to Chancellor Schmidt, and one particularly galling one to Willy Brandt. Mr. Gress has fallen for the legend that Khrushchev’s Berlin crisis ended after the wall was built and the exodus of East German refugees stopped. That was indeed what some American diplomats believed at the time, but they were wrong. The crisis was started by Khrushchev before the exodus of refugees had become really dangerous for the GDR, and the exodus became threatening only as a result of the crisis. When the wall went up, Khrushchev was not yet content, but increased his forces along the highways and air routes to Berlin in 1962. The real goal of the crisis was to force either a U.S. abandonment of Berlin or a U.S. negotiation with the GDR about access routes without West German consent; this would have led in either case to a crisis of the American-German alliance. But when Kennedy, after an initial hesitation, refused to yield and strengthened U.S. forces in Germany too, Khrushchev engaged in the adventure of putting pressure on the U.S. nearer home—by stationing missiles in Cuba. Only when that adventure failed was the Berlin crisis over as well. The Berliners understood this at once, which is why Kennedy’s visit in the spring of 1963 was more than “theater.” He could not prevent the wall from being built, but he did save the free part of the city—and much more.
Mr. Gress also tells us that Helmut Schmidt, in 1981, “was virtually congratulating Jaruzelski on the crackdown in Poland.” But he does not mention that immediately on his return to Bonn, Schmidt made a speech to the Bundestag resulting in the first official resolution of solemn protest against Jaruzelski’s action in Poland by any Western country.
Finally, he charges Willy Brandt with having carried with him, during “his physical and metaphorical pilgrimages to Moscow, Warsaw, East Berlin, and Prague,” not only recognition of the status quo, but “confessions of guilt for centuries of exploitation, pillage, and oppression perpetrated by Germans on Slavs and culminating in World War II.” I believe it is sheer invention to say that Brandt ever made confessions of German guilt for centuries past. But there was one incident which made one of these visits truly a pilgrimage, and which was the most solemn expression ever of German consciousness of Hitler’s guilt: Brandt’s kneeling in front of the Warsaw Ghetto memorial. His Communist hosts did not like it, and Mr. Gress did not think of it, but there are many people who will not forget it as long as they live.
Berlin, West Germany
David Gress writes:
Richard Lowenthal wishes to deny that Willy Brandt, with whom, in terms of the internal struggle in the SPD, he is hardly in agreement, is now or ever was either an appeaser of Soviet power or a neutralist. As Mr. Lowenthal himself points out, however, such matters are largely ones of definition and preference: one man’s appeasement may be another’s realism. In fact, by his definition, Mr. Lowenthal has neatly made it appear that, far from being an appeaser, Brandt has in fact been a realist. An appeaser, says Mr. Lowenthal, is “someone who accepts the use of force by another power or the results of the use of force, though he has the means to prevent or undo them” (emphasis added), whereas Brandt was in fact unable to overthrow the East German regime or to undo the territorial expansion of Soviet power. Hence Brandt’s official recognition of these facts in the period from 1969 to 1972 was not appeasement, though it granted a long-standing Soviet wish, but realism. Nor was it “acceptance,” since, according to Mr. Lowenthal, Brandt “made it possible for millions of West Germans to visit their relatives and friends in the East.”
Mr. Lowenthal, then, sees détente purely in material terms: how many West-East entry permits granted, how many phone lines installed, etc.? But surely this is a very poor and narrow definition for a Social Democrat, for whom, as Sidney Hook has reminded us, “freedom comes first.” At stake in Germany is not only the survival of the democratic constitutional state in the West, but the obligation, contained in the Federal Republic’s Basic Law of 1949, to pursue freedom for those Germans who have had an illegal and illegitimate regime imposed on them by alien coercion. Ex-post-facto recognition of that regime grants it undeserved moral status, presumptively violates the charge of the Basic Law, and confuses the political instincts of one’s own compatriots in free Germany. Travel permits and phone lines are part of a set of unilaterally revocable concessions which the Eastern regime blatantly uses to extort tribute in the form of the “swing,” the ransom for political prisoners ($10,000-$200,000 at current rates), and the Zwangsumtausch or forced daily exchange of 75 marks per person while in East Germany. Such measures do not promote freedom, but endanger it, by satisfying Eastern demands and thus provoking more. No real concessions, such as ending the automatic Schiessbefehl or “shoot-to-kill command” which is strictly enforced along the East-West border, the so-called “death zone,” have ever been obtained from the East.
It is astonishing in this connection that Mr. Lowenthal should claim that Brandt’s Ostpolitik was of more help to the victims of Eastern tyranny than Konrad Adenauer’s “policy of strength.” Adenauer, who knew far better than Brandt what sort of men the Soviet leaders were, obtained more concessions on his visit to Moscow in 1955 than Brandt ever did, notably the release of surviving German POW’s and other German nationals in Soviet hands. It is true that fifteen years ago détente was supposed to contribute to democracy in the East and to a “loosening of the blocs.” Certain incorrigibles still repeat such clichés today, after all the intervening years of experience, but Mr. Lowenthal should not have to associate himself with such non-arguments.
As for neutralism: if I shared Mr. Lowenthal’s belief that Brandt and his aides realize that the Soviet Union “would never release East Germany—not even as a price for West German neutralization” and that “while a Soviet empire exists, there has got to be a Western alliance,” I would not have written my article or compiled the much more extensive material on which it was based. My worry is that Brandt today no longer agrees that the division of Germany is the absolute enemy of anyone who professes to be a West German democrat and that recognition of the division in any form is tantamount to a legitimation of tyranny and oppression. His refusal, as chairman of the Socialist International, to sponsor resolutions condemning Castro’s regime and its concentration camps is indicative, in my view, of his current priorities, which are not those of traditional social democracy.
Finally, the notorious missiles. According to Mr. Lowenthal, Brandt is not a neutralist because he has pointed out publicly that 65 percent of West Germans opposed INF modernization in a recent poll. But if so many Germans do not understand that INF modernization is a precondition of continued stability on the central front and is necessary to maintain a deterrent to the Soviet Union, this is partly attributable to a shocking failure to inform them of these facts by party leaders, including Brandt. Further, in an interview in Die Zeit early this year, Brandt not only expressed great personal sympathy for the “Greens” and the “peace movement,” but actually granted them legitimacy by saying that “it can hardly be bad that so many young Germans today march for peace.” But the point, of course, is that they are marching not for peace in any politically acceptable interpretation of the term, but for a policy of confrontation with their own and allied governments and abject appeasement of the East. Any analysis of their pamphlets, banners, slogans, and statements clearly shows that their hatred and fear are directed solely at American missiles, which do not yet exist, and not against Soviet missiles, which do. As he must surely know this, Brandt’s expressions of friendship with people whose actions threaten peace and survival are, at best, irresponsible.
In conclusion, let me say that I am not surprised, but perhaps a little pained, to see Mr. Lowenthal, who has been a stout defender of reason and enlightenment in the SPD, though many of its members seem to have forgotten the party’s commitment to these principles, repeat the routine charges of the European Left against an alleged warmongering Right in Washington and its supposed lack of good faith in negotiations. It is truly incredible that responsible politicians across the spectrum in Western Europe can repeatedly urge the American INF negotiating team to go back to the proposals made in 1982, as though these had been first rejected not by Moscow, but by Washington! It does seem that such politicians are less interested in the reality of the negotiations and the strategic necessities for them than in saving their own credentials with the dominant anti-INF current of opinion. Opportunistic, but not respectable.