World War I and poppies


This video is called Poppy – Papaver rhoeas.

From Peter Frost in Britain:

The flower of sacrifice

Thursday 21st August 2014

PETER FROST traces the history and symbolism of the poppy

The poppy, Britain’s most colourful weed, is much in the news lately as we mark the centenary of WWI that didn’t end all wars. Over the century that simple flower came to mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people and not always for the best.

We are talking about the corn poppy, (Papaver rhoeas) also known as the corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy, red weed, coquelicot, and even, due to the strange effect of its curious smell — the headache poppy.

Cascading down the walls of the Tower of London are thousands of ceramic red poppies and they are promised to fill the moat before November 11, Armistice Day.

Members of the public are invited to pay 25 quid to acquire a poppy for themselves. Some of the money goes to a coalition of military charities. The poppies will stay in the Tower until November and then be despatched to those who have purchased them.

There are plenty of poppies to buy — 888,246 in fact — one for each of the brave British tommies who laid down their lives in the blood and gore of the first world war.

The poppies at the Tower are an amazing sight — the thought behind it a noble one. But as you would expect every dodgy politician from the prime minister down, every gung-ho blood and thunder Colonel Blimp is getting in on the PR act.

Even junior royals like Prince Harry, this time not wearing his Gestapo uniform,

Actually, it was an uniform of Adolf Hitler’s Afrika Korps.

and William and Kate are trooping along to the Tower to plant a poppy to ensure a spot on the six o’clock TV news.

It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Wrap a bit of the glorious dead’s glory round you.

Commercial sponsors haven’t been slow to get in on the act either. There’s a Spanish sounding bank, a big city insurance firm and millionaire’s law firm …

Let’s leave this whole pathetic story and take a look at the amazing plant itself.

The poppy has evolved and found itself a unique evolutionary niche. We don’t really know where it originated. North Africa probably, or perhaps ancient Persia.

We do know how it travelled. It hitched a lift in the clay jars of seed corn that ancient traders trafficked all over the known world.

Ancient farmers in Britain, Flanders and just about everywhere else would buy a bushel or so of seed from a passing Phoenician and the free gift would be a bunch of colourful scarlet weeds.

They soon discovered that the poppy seed had plenty of uses in bread and cakes and boiled up in a tea it even possessed magical curative powers.

It had developed its tiny rock hard seed to last a long time before it landed up somewhere it could grow.

Did you know that some poppy seeds found in funereal jars in ancient tombs have been successfully germinated?

That of course is the explanation of the huge flowering of poppies in Flanders. As shells, bombs and trench digging disturbed the soil, poppy seeds that had lain dormant so long got warmth, moisture and sunlight and burst into scarlet flower.

Up to 10 million soldiers were killed in WWI. Estimates of civilian deaths top 1.4m.

As the men returned home, many of them with shell-shock, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they had stories to tell.

Those who had seen such horrors in Belgium and northern France also would tell a much brighter story of the extraordinary beauty, persistence and profusion of the fragile but defiant flower — the blood red corn poppy.

Strangely, it was returning north American soldiers who first adopted the red poppy as an emblem.

Canadian doctor John McCrae had captured the beauty, symbolism and pathos of the poppy in a poem: In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row,/That mark our place; and in the sky/ The larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below…

This music video by British punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees is the song Poppy Day, based on McCrae’s poem.

US organisations arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-torn France. The money raised went to children who had been orphaned by the war.

British soldiers too came back from the grimness of war to find that life wasn’t “fit for heroes” as they had been promised. Just like today returning heroes found the government off hand and tardy dealing with their problems.

Some organised themselves into ex-servicemen’s societies of various political opinions and of varying degrees of militancy. In 1921 many of these organisations united to form the British Legion.

Its purpose was to provide support and to fight for the rights of ex-servicemen, especially the disabled, and their families. In fact what actually happened was it became one of the richest British charities ever.

In 1921 it bought one-and-a-half million of those French made artificial poppies and sold them to the British public raising over ten thousand pounds. Poppy day had been invented.

Soon it set up its own poppy factory, with disabled ex-servicemen making the poppies. Today they produce and sell over 45m lapel poppies, 120,000 wreaths and one million small wooden remembrance crosses.

Not everyone is happy to wear the red poppy. Some see them as glorifying war and militaristic thinking. In many people’s eyes they have become a badge of jingoism and a justification of recent wars.

The British Legion adopted as its slogan: “Honour the dead, care for the living” but even in the week David Cameron and Nick Clegg and various other ministers paraded themselves at the British Legion commemorative church service it was announced that claims for compensation from recently serving military personnel, often wounded in battle, were taking 10 times as long as before the latest Con-Dem round of spending cuts.

The idea of detaching the poppy from a militaristic culture dates back as far as 1926.

The No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint “No More War” in the centre of the red poppies instead of “Haig Fund” and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.

Douglas “Butcher” Haig was the British general who had ordered so many of his troops to their deaths at the Battle of the Somme — one of the worst bloodbaths in British military history.

When it came to lions led by donkeys, Haig was certainly our biggest donkey — two million brave lions died under his orders.

The Legion choose to keep Haig’s name on their poppies until 1994.

In 1933 the first white poppies appeared on Armistice Day, mostly home-made and worn mainly by members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild.

Just a year later the Peace Pledge Union was formed and it began widespread distribution of white peace poppies in November each year.

Just as today, it took real courage and real commitment to wear the white peace poppy.

So which will you wear? My wife Ann always wears a red poppy. She wears it in proud memory of her dad Fred who always wore his red poppy in memory of his own father, another Fred, Ann’s grandfather.

Grandfather Fred died in France in 1917. He had been in France just days and his body was never found. He left a widow and four children including young Fred then aged just six. Fred’s red poppy was the only memorial to his dad he ever had. No wonder he wore it with pride.

This year our 14-year-old grandson, who also has the middle name Frederick, was at Tyne Cot cemetery with his dad and his family to pay tribute to his namesake, five generations before, who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme.

So wear your poppy, red or white or both with pride. They aren’t about glorifying war and militaristic thinking. They are about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem commemorates World War I dead


This classical music video is called Benjamin Britten – War Requiem.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Britten masterpiece fitting reminder of WWI carnage

Tuesday 19th August 2014

War Requiem

Usher Hall

5/5

THERE could be no more fitting work to recognise the centenary of “the war to end wars” than this great pacifist statement by Benjamin Britten on the pity of global conflict. This must be one of the most dramatic of requiem masses.

There is throughout an angry ironic exchange between the words of the conventional Latin Mass for the Dead, with its religious message of damnation and prayerful appeals for salvation, and the interwoven anti-war poetry of the greatest of war poets, Wilfred Owen.

The opening aeternam, a plea for eternal rest, is followed by Owen’s bitterly sad sonnet Anthem For Doomed Youth, with the memorable opening line of: “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”

Throughout, the poems puncture the complacent profundities of the religious scenario.

Britten’s music, which spine-chillingly captures the Armageddon of battle and the helpless and hapless lament of the senseless slaughter, progressively draws the two worlds together.

It climaxes when the enemies on the battlefield meet in death — “I was the enemy you killed my friend … let us sleep now” — meet with the ethereal voices of boys wishing these martyrs to rest in peace.

Andrew Davis conducts the massed musical ranks of the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Scotland’s National Boys Choir and three international soloists in an ascent from a standing start to magnificent heights, while chorus master Christopher Bell induces some stunning choral singing.

German baritone Matthias Goerne and English tenor Toby Spence as the enemy soldiers truly are the voices of suffering humanity while Uzbek soprano Albina Shagimuratova thrills as the voice of the angel. Magnificent.

Peace academy in Wales, against glorifying World War I


This video says about itself:

ANTI-NATO SUMMIT PROTESTORS BEGIN 192-mile PEACE MARCH to WALES

8 August 2014

Anti-NATO protesters begin 192-mile march on NATO SUMMIT to WALES, UK.

“Peace activists have set out on a three-week ‘Long March on Newport’ to protest against September’s NATO Summit. Police say they have drafted in 9,000 officers to face the protesters in one of the UK’s biggest ever police operations. More than 20,000 activists from around the world are expected to take part in demonstrations during the summit, where a week-long peace camp and a counter summit are among some of the events planned in what has been billed as Wales’ largest protest in a generation. Sixty world leaders from the 28-nation military bloc will meet at the Celtic Manor in Newport for the NATO summit on September 4 and 5. Previous NATO summits in Chicago and Strasbourg saw thousands protest war, austerity and global inequality.”

By Morgan Gwynne in Wales:

Peace academy can halt tide of WWI apologism

Wednesday 13th August 2014

MORGAN GWYNNE listens as artists organise to stop Wales becoming a dream militarist recruitment ground

Speakers at the Wales Peace Academy meeting at the Llanelli National Eisteddfod were unanimous in their condemnation of the tone and nature of events marking the centenary of the beginning of the first world war for glorifying militarism. At the same time there was whole-hearted support for a peace academy similar to those that exist in Catalonia, Flemish-speaking Belgium, Finland’s Aland Islands and Norway.

Plaid Cymru MEP and CND Cymru chairwoman Jill Evans spoke of the — failed — project to establish a military academy in the Vale of Glamorgan.

“I don’t want to see a Wales that is recruiting ground and a military training base for Britain and other countries,” she said.

“Scotland has expressed its opposition to Trident. That’s the message we want to hear from Wales and a peace academy would be a step towards peace and a new Wales. Remembering World War I in itself is not enough — we need to create a new culture of peace.”

The Reverend Guto Prys ap Gwynfor, chairman of the Wales branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, condemned the culture of glorifying war that has become part of the World War I “celebrations.”

“This culture of violence which seeks to normalise war, the belief that war solves problems, needs to be changed,” he said.

Mererid Hopwood, poet and activist in the campaign against the use of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Aberporth as a testing site for robotic drones drew a simpler analogy. “The cane,” she said, “has been banned from the classroom as a tool for keeping order, but state violence remains the order of the day. Remembering is important, but we must remember in the right way — and learn. Dropping bombs is not the answer.”

Author and Morning Star contributor Gwyn Griffiths recalled that the historian AJP Taylor had said how often history had vindicated those who deviated from public opinion in their opposition to war. Yet it is one lesson that never seems to be learned.

He spoke of the contribution made by Welsh people to the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace. Of the seven secretaries of the Peace Society six were Welsh — the best known being Henry Richard, who held the post from 1848-85.

“The germ of the idea was established in 1814 — another anniversary we should remember,” he said.

“It was a revolutionary statement challenging the position of the established church that serving in war was compatible with Christian doctrine.”

He quoted from the book by the society’s first secretary Evan Rees, Sketches of the Horrors of War: “The character and achievements of the warrior have ever been the favourite themes of the historian’s narrative and the poet’s song. The sufferings of the wounded are lost in the animated descriptions of the pomp of battle and the tears of the widow and the orphan are undetected in the enumeration of its ideal glories.

“All the powers of language, and every embellishment of style, have been lavished to immortalise the soldier’s fame — to veil the hideous deformity of war — to give perpetuity to deeds of destruction and to transform the destroyer of man into the most exalted of the human race.”

Griffiths, paraphrasing from the aims and objectives of the International Catalan Institute of Peace, said that one objective of a Welsh peace academy should be “to research into and disseminate the memory of history, thought and pacifist action in Wales.”

Ecumenical accompanier in Palestine and Israel Jane Harries supported the need for the pacifist tradition to be included in the history curriculum and the need for research into the activities of the military in Wales, a country where large tracts of land have been acquired to provide training facilities.

Visitors to the CND / Fellowship of Reconciliation stand at the Eisteddfod were urged to join the Wool Against Weapons Carmarthenshire knit-in to produce a mile-long Welsh peace scarf, a craft project to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons.

World War I start, don´t celebrate, interview


This video from England is called No Glory – Remembering World War One in Music and Poetry – St James’s Church London – 25.10.13.

From Red Wedge magazine in the USA:

Never Over the Top: War, Art and Modernism

The No Glory campaign seeks to highlight the art of the Great War to remind us of its madness.

Jan Woolf — August 5, 2014

Jan Woolf is the cultural coordinator of the No Glory In War campaign, a group that seeks to counter the celebratory narrative of the British government’s commemorations of World War One. She recently answered some questions for Red Wedge about the campaign’s use of art and media — both past and present — to communicate its message.

Red Wedge: Why was No Glory started?

Jan Woolf: The anti-war and peace movement would have commemorated the outbreak of World War One anyway in our various styles (I say our, as this is a diverse movement with ideological nuances) but our government’s style of national commemorations brought us together to form the No Glory campaign and our position that World War One was a “species crime” waged by rulers with imperial interests, and not the interests of those who did the suffering and fighting. No Glory is an alliance of Stop the War, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Quaker groups, Members of Parliament, writers, historians and artists. We are having extraordinary success in our population’s relationship with World War One as we are striking a chord of knowledge and sensibility that is there anyway, as recent attempts to justify it as a just war by Government and revisionist historians just “smell wrong.” We are also pointing up the link between then and now, and the similarities in war making propaganda.

RW: How does the British government’s narrative of the First World War differ so much from the actual reality of the conflict?

JW: I’m going to refer you to the open letter on the NoGlory.org site. Many prominent people signed it, and its gathered thousands more signatures, as they are disgusted with the way this particular government have appropriated the World War One commemorations, to celebrate the “British spirit” (whatever that may mean) and comparing it with the queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations. Of course, our government mourn the dead and recognize it as a horror — and I believe they feel and mean this — but the turn around from our mass national consciousness after World War Two (when, significantly we had a welfare state) that World War One should not have happened and would have spared us World War Two — to the current jingoistic celebrations of a “victory” is deliberate revisionism.

An example of the government’s work is the laying of over 400 paving stones (or hero stones) in the home towns and villages where Victoria Cross recipients were born. This may sound OK, but at the time, VCs did not want to stand out from their fallen comrades and we see this current “ripping yarns” version of history to be sacrilegious. We have to be careful here though, as many relatives of the VC are rightly proud and we do not want to upset anyone. Our careful response to this is outlined in my next answer — as care and emotional intelligence is an important principle in the No Glory campaign.

RW: Was there a conscious decision from the outset that there would be a strong cultural component to what No Glory should do? And if so, why?

JW: Yes. Cultural expression was and is very important and links us with those who brought back the stories of horror through their art. The British war poets were and are very important to us and to world literature as they made us understand what had happened physically and emotionally to millions of young men. Their artistic achievement was in showing us just enough without making us turn away. There is only so much the human psyche can tolerate without switching off — so their language was never gratuitous or (excuse the following pun, but we do have a sense of humor) “over the top.” There has been a recent attack on the war poets, with a revisionist historian referring to “Sassoon and his kind” wallowing in self pity and spreading doom and gloom. No Glory had a recent poetry event (also on the site) where we honored “Sassoon and his kind,” with readings of the war poets by contemporary poets, who also read their own poetry. It was magnificent and moving but also encouraged us to struggle against warmongering now, and to recognize it as on the same political trajectory as World War One and the disastrous Versailles settlement that carved up the world.

This is what good art does, it tells you like it is and was but is life affirming. I’ve concentrated on poetry as this is No Glory’s most recent event but there were and are paintings, novels and films. I might refer you to my recent review of the Great War in Portraits at the National Portrait gallery. Look under articles, and then reviews. Check out my thoughts on the “top down” aspects of that exhibition and the portraits of disfigured soldiers by Henry Tonks. Current art activity by No Glory includes a poster-leaflet download put together by our artists’ group. This will be used by local groups to put details in the communities of names and numbers of men who died, and is in response to the government’s Hero Stones.

RW: Art history generally sees World War One and the art that came out of it as a major leap for modernism. Could you describe the confluence of political and artistic developments that artists during World War One were operating with?

JW: A very interesting question and one fraught with contradictions. Part of the government’s commemoration are to celebrate modernism, i.e. it was all very terrible but at least it gave us modern art etc. (“I would rather have my son back than a Picasso on the wall,” a bereaved woman might have said). World War One also gave women the vote and led to various social change, but it shouldn’t take a major trauma to achieve this. But yes, trauma does lead to new ways of looking at the world — it has to, and artists’ sensibilities and vision was shaken up big time. The world would never be the same again.

Explosion, by George Grosz, oil on composition board, 1917

The marvelous German school of expressionist painting grew (in part — its complicated) out of the horrific images of George Grosz. While the Germans were painting it like it was, the British retreated to a form of nostalgic sentimentality, like a soothing balm (except Paul Nash of course).

We are Making a New World, by Paul Nash, 1918

But these are generalizations. Modernism challenged the way we looked at everything, yet art couldn’t really help nerve and body shattered soldiers returning from war who had been promised a “home fit for heroes.” Many came back to appalling poverty, watching the world build up to another war. Our brilliant writer Johnathan Meades said recently on TV “Necessity is the adoptive mother of invention, but war is its birth mother.” This is a true and desperate statement, and we would all wish that the marvelous art forms that sprang from modernism could have been achieved through peace and development.

RW: Per your last response, I’d like to try and parse out exactly how the war spurred on the aesthetic leaps in modernism. World War One is often referred to as the first industrial and technological war, and due to this was certainly the most brutal up to that moment in history. You referenced earlier how a great many of these artists and poets “showed us just enough,” but do you think there was a shift in how they showed it to us that was also spurred forth by the utter senselessness of what the artists were seeing?

JW: War as trauma shakes us up in art, science, social relationships — everything — and we have to look at life in a new way — hence modernism, we had to incorporate the new images of the machinery that made death as well as life in our aesthetic. An artist with good understanding of psychology and his or her art won’t show us too much. It’s “less is more” if you like, but neither must we turn away. The impact made through art is in the resonance between artist and viewer. To shock us into questioning? The need to make a better world? Honor the recent dead?

RW: Tell me a bit more about what these writers slamming “Sassoon and his kind.” How much do you think these writers are running cover for a deliberate political agenda? Do you think this reflects something about governments’ attempt to rehabilitate empire?

JW: “Sassoon and his kind” was referred to by Max Hastings, a right-wing historian who has a huge World War One tome out just now. He and others that we call the revisionist historians are toeing the Governments line that — despite the suffering — World War One was justified in that we had to stand up to a bully. That the British empire was also a bullying entity is not mentioned as part of this curious thing “Britishness” being touted by the establishment right now. It is nonsense.

RW: When most young people of a left bent think of art and war, there’s a good chance that the first thing coming to mind is the music and aesthetics around the Vietnam War. But I’d imagine that No Glory sees there being an evolutionary through-line of sorts between the art that came from the First World War and that which came in subsequent wars?

JW: Again, war is trauma, whether you are directly caught up in or just imagining how it is for others — this imagining, or empathy is what drives us to oppose war and is a part of our enduring humanity. But, if you have vested interest in war, i.e. you can profit from it or want to defend or expand empire then that humanity is overridden and something else takes over — maybe a hardening called “greed.” This is a gross generalization and of course it is more complex than that – and does not take into account the liberation struggle — we had to fight the Nazis in World War Two, etc. The artist steps back from all this and contributes by helping people see things outside the propaganda jingo that the war makers perpetuate.

RW: Any final thoughts?

JW: I would add that I have answered your questions primarily as an individual and campaigner with knowledge and an interest in art history. If I was a doctor my answers might have taken a different perspective — or a shop worker — or a cleaner. i could have any of these backgrounds — but as a working class woman who had the benefits of the post World War Two British welfare state — a state that was set up by an enlightened population that had to fight Hitler — I have a clear sense of what is a necessary and what is a wrong war. My sensibilities and the work I do with friends and comrades has been honed collectively. We know, and thanks to the impact that NoGlory.com has had on our population, that many many others know that World War One was an international atrocity that should not have happened. This is the predominant position in our country now, and, vitally, gives us the analysis and clarity to oppose war-mongering today as we can see the relationship between then and now.

Jan Woolf is a writer and artist in the UK. She is the author of Fugues on a Funny Bone, and is currently the cultural coordinator of the No Glory campaign. She can be reached through her website.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a bellicose address last week on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War—an address aimed at politically and ideologically conditioning the population for Canada’s participation in future imperialist wars: here.

German militarism reviving


This video, recorded in Belgium, says about itself:

The last survivor of the destruction of Louvain in WW1 | Channel 4 News

5 August 2014

It was in Belgium where the Germans inflicted collective punishment on civilians 100 years ago. Channel 4 News correspondent Lindsey Hilsum speaks to the last known survivor of the sacking of Louvain.

By Elizabeth Zimmermann in Germany:

German commission undermines parliametary approval requirement for military operations

9 August 2014

Largely unnoticed by the public, a commission of former defence politicians as well as military experts has been working to repeal the requirement that Bundeswehr (armed forces) operations abroad obtain parliamentary approval.

The commission is headed by former defence minister Volker Rühe (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), his deputies are Walter Kolbow (SPD, Social Democratic Party), former parliamentary undersecretary of defence and Wolfgang Schneiderhan, former Bundeswehr inspector general.

Their activity is closely related to the campaign to revive German militarism, and the stated aim of the government and the president that Germany must take on a greater role and responsibility in the world, including through the use of military means.

After the Second World War, in response to the war crimes of the Wehrmacht (Hitler’s armed forces), the role of the Bundeswehr was constitutionally enshrined as a purely defensive army. The constitution expressly prohibits the preparation of aggressive military interventions. After German reunification in 1991, the then CDU-led government urged, however, that the Bundeswehr also participate in armed foreign missions of the UN and NATO. In 1991 and 1992, without the consent of parliament, German soldiers were sent on UN armed “peacekeeping missions” to Somalia and Cambodia. In 1992, the German armed forces participated in NATO surveillance flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina. The same year, the SPD, which was still in opposition and had previously criticized such missions, undertook a foreign policy reversal and called for the legal situation to be clarified.

The Supreme Court finally ruled in July 1994 that the deployment of the German armed forces abroad was in principle constitutionally permissible, however each mission needed the approval of the Bundestag.

Subsequent governments, in particular the former SPD-Green government led by Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, have systematically expanded Bundeswehr missions abroad. The Bundestag has regularly given its blessing to such missions, from the war in Yugoslavia to the Afghanistan mission.

However, with the foreign policy change since the last federal election, and the tense political situation in Ukraine and the Middle East, the existing procedures are regarded as too time consuming by leading politicians and military brass. They want a free hand for quick-armed interventions. Emphasizing NATO treaty obligations, they argue that a mandatory requisite to seek a parliament decision for Bundeswehr missions poses an obstacle to Germany’s reliability as an ally and for its leadership responsibilities in NATO.

On July 29, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on the last meeting of the commission on July 8 in Aachen. The paper cites political scientist James Davis, a professor at the University of St. Gallen and a member of the commission, saying that Germany was among the group of countries, “in which the parliamentary right of consultation [was] particularly pronounced.” This would make deployments as part of multinational alliances more difficult.

It was along these lines that Volker Rühe, who was defence minister from 1992 to 1998 in the governments led by Helmut Kohl, also spoke. “We already no longer have national armed forces, but armies operating at European level increasingly in a division of labour. …This will be further consolidated. But this also means that it must be sure that their contribution is available.”

Calls for a softening and undermining of the need for parliamentary approval have long been made. For example, according to Walter Kolbow (SPD), the deputy chairman of the Commission: “We will not get far in an international context with a military constitution from 1955. It is about creating reliability for the allies.”

Before their meeting in Aachen, members of the commission visited the European aviation transport command in Eindhoven, Holland, the headquarters for the “Allied Joint Force Command NATO” in Brunssum and the base for AWACS reconnaissance aircraft in Geilenkirchen.

A total of 440 of 1,300 Bundeswehr soldiers used for the AWACS system are based in Geilenkirchen. Germany finances a third of the annual AWACS budget, to the tune of about 250 million euros. When the German government abstained in the vote in the UN Security Council on the bombing of Libya by NATO in March 2011, German crew-members on the AWACS aircraft that were circling over Libya had to be withdrawn.

Proponents of stronger military engagement by Germany repeatedly cite this abstention, which is now regarded by German politicians, in particular representatives of the Greens, as a serious foreign policy error that must never again be repeated.

Rühe said that this was an essential part of the job of the commission headed by him: “We need to find a way that protects confidence, so that European countries also engage in such a division of labour of military structures.”

Of the 800 soldiers at the NATO command post in Brunssum, 90 are from Germany. They are currently lead by the German General Hans-Lothar Domröse. Some military figures stressed during the commission visit that this command post would be almost paralysed if in an emergency the German forces were withdrawn from the operations staff.

This question arose three years ago, in the operations against Libya. However, German officers were ultimately not withdrawn from the NATO command post, despite the fact that Germany had abstained from voting in the UN Security Council for the mission. This fact too was concealed from the general public.

According to Rühe, a commission proposal to bypass parliamentary approval might look like this: Once a year, the government allows parliament to grant it so-called general “transnational powers,” in other words to issue a blank check for international military operations. The Bundestag should “affirmatively note” that other nations can rely on the Germans in these areas. In the case of a concrete deployment, the Bundestag would still have to agree, but the political threshold for rejection would be significantly higher.

However, the demands and wishes of the military leadership and also many politicians go much further. For example, some demand the replacement of the vote by the Bundestag before a Bundeswehr mission through a so-called call-back right. The Süddeutsche Zeitung writes: “The government decides on a deployment, the Bundestag can (theoretically) end it again. This is already possible for operations that cannot be delayed, but beyond that it will be impossible to enforce.”

The commission is to submit its proposals to the Bundestag by April next year. Its next meeting is scheduled for September 11. Despite being invited, the Greens and the Left Party have not sent any members to the commission, supposedly because they fear a weakening of the rights of parliament.

The Green defence spokeswomen, Agnieszka Brugger said: “We would really like to have cooperated, if the government parties were responsive to our suggestions.” In their opinion, the Parliamentary Participation Act in its current form already offers “rapid response” mechanisms. Parliament had “so far always shown great responsibility,” she said, alluding to the approval of the Greens to foreign Bundeswehr missions since 1998.

The drive to abolish parliamentary approval for foreign military missions makes clear that the revival of an aggressive German militarism goes hand in hand with the dismantling of democratic checks and balances.