Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald examines the implications of Germany’s release of the killer of Robert Stethem, and larger questions regarding Germany:
Why did the Germans free the torturer and killer of Robert Stethem?
Germans do not understand how the educated world, the world of those with memories, regards them still, and will for a very long time to come. They may have misinterpreted the indulgence of the American government (needing or thinking it needed to put all sorts of things behind it because no sooner was World War II over than the Cold War loomed) with what many intelligent people, many of them born after the war, in America, in France, in Italy, in Russia, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, in Denmark, in Norway, and in England, naturally think of when they hear the word “Germany.” The Germans may think that by now they are home free, and they appear all too ready to regard themselves and expect others to regard their country, their history, and their manner of dealing with that history, as “normal.” Many of them are “tired,” as the writer Martin Walzer wrote — not in these precise words — of “being beaten over the head about the Holocaust.” Too bad. There is no sell-by date on learning in great detail about that atrocity, and realizing there is no transcending of it, no “getting beyond or over it.” It is there, in the air, permanently.
Young backpack-and-water-bottled Germans travel complacently about the world, completely oblivious to what comes to mind to those who either lived through the war, or who have learned about it in detail, when they hear the word “German” or see those faces that cannot but remind one of Hitlerjugend sun-worshippers tramping the heather in groups. And one repeatedly hears about the behavior of German high-school students, as they make their dutiful tours as high school students to Auschwitz — chewing gum, cracking jokes, laughing their heads off, having a great time.
The Germans were always enthusiasts for the Project of Europe, a ghastly business which started small, as merely the European Coal and Steel Community, and has grown and grown and metastasized so that now, corrupt and unrepresentative officials in Brussels and regulations that efface more and more what makes Italy Italy, or France France, continue to build up the idea of homo economicus as the basis for the ideal. And that European Ideal is nothing more than the Expanded Big Market, where “Europeans” can compete using economies of scale. Economic gigantism also involves effacing, little by little, the local products (so that Italian chocolate, Italian parmigiano, or those who make caerphilly or bleu de Bresse, will have to conform to all-Europe standards). Eventually, the sense of the nation-state will dissolve, and with it national languages and national literatures, and national self-consciousnesses, all sacrificed for the Big Market. The monstrous E.U. bureaucracy with its regulations owes its development in part, as one British observer noted in “Encounter” long ago, to the psychological need of Germans in the 1960s to identify themselves not as “Germans” but as “Europeans.” “Yes, ve are all Europeans now, aren’t ve? The old days do not matter. Ve haf put the past behind us. It is the only vay ve Europeans can stand up to the American hegemony, ja?”
For those whose memories are long (and memories should for certain matters go on forever) Germans are permanently on probation. And Germany owes the United States everything — for the absurdly generous treatment it received (compare what the Soviet Union did in the part of Germany it took over) after the war, for the Marshall Plan’s tens of billions lavished upon that country, for the Berlin Air Lift, for the decades of protection offered by NATO, which is to say by the United States — for the United States was the organizer and paid most of NATO’s bills. And certainly the Germans, the chief beneficiaries of NATO’s preventing a Red Army advance further into Europe, have never paid anything like what its economic condition — ordinary Germans live far better than do Americans — should have required of it.
For Cold War purposes much was overlooked. The Cold War is over. A lot that was overlooked need not be. The unseemly rapidity with which a nation that had engaged in mass-murder all of a sudden passed, as virtually its first act, a law banning capital punishment, so as to spare the lives of Nazi war criminals, should not be overlooked. Nor should the continued presence of Nazis in the German judiciary, in the Deutsche Bank, and in politics. See T. H. Tetens, “The New Germany and the Old Nazis,” which came out in the early 1960s. Only a handful of war criminals — out of hundreds of thousands directly involved in the mass murders of Jews, gypsies, and others — were punished, with ridiculously short jail terms.
It is intolerable that the German government believed it had the right to free a murderer of an American serviceman in order to get back a German convert to Islam, who had lived in Iraq for years, married (and divorced) an Iraqi, and apparently had gone as islamically native as one possibly could. Just because she had been involved — so the German story goes — in arranging or attempting to arrange a meeting with Zarqawi or his group, hardly makes her more than a one-time ad-hoc informant.
There are three possible versions of the Osthoff story. One is that she was not involved in any intelligence work, and that the German government, stung by American criticism, is now pretending that she was some kind of intelligence agent to justify their pusillanimity. The second is that she had gone native, married a Muslim, became a Muslim, and identified with Islam, but was willing to arrange a meeting in order to help the Sunni Muslims obtain a hearing for their supposed demands from others who were working for German intelligence. But the third version of the tale is one that the Germans have not yet given, perhaps because it is false, or perhaps because it is true (and one hopes, for their sake, and to justify their action, that it is true): that Osthoff was not simply being asked to arrange this meeting given her obvious sympathies and identification with the locals, but rather was, and had always been, an intelligence agent for the Germans in Iraq.
Were that to have been the case, then obtaining her release by freeing Hamadi, the torturer and killer of Robert Stethem, might have been explicable and, for some, perhaps even justifiable. But only in that case.