Germany Risks Forgetting Its History

EUROPE, 6 Feb 2023

Scott Ritter | Consortium News - TRANSCEND Media Service

In deciding to supply Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, Olaf Scholtz breaks the self-imposed constraints on the military’s role in German foreign policy that had been in place since the end of WWII.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, January 18, 2021.
(NATO, Flickr)

31 Jan 2023 – Two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, under heavy pressure from Washington and pro-war members of his own government, announced that Germany would be sending 14 Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks to Ukraine.Answering media questions at the German Bundestag, Scholz declared:

“It is right that we act closely with our international partners to support Ukraine — financially, with humanitarian aid, but also with weapons deliveries. Now we can say that, in Europe, it is us and Britain who have made the most weapons available for Ukraine. Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine.”

Two days later, at her own press conference, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded:

“We all remember what are German tanks. These are machines which became a symbol, not only of death…not only of deathly ideology. They became a symbol of misanthropy, as a global existential threat to the planet.

When you read about Nazism and fascism about those times in the Second World War, I think that these SS uniforms and these very German tanks and these symbols of the Third Reich had become a global symbol of the fall of the humankind into the abyss of hatred and horror and massacre.”

Zakharova had more to say:

“It was exactly the German tanks which became the symbol — the anti-symbol, I would say — which will stay in the memory of all humankind forever. Now these German tanks will once again be on our land. … So what does Berlin expect? That these armored vehicles, with all their symbols back then and now, that they will cross our villages and settlements? We remember the end of those times. Does Berlin remember?”

The Morgenthau Plan

Henry Morgenthau, Jr., center, with FDR in Poughkeepsie, NY, Nov. 6, 1944.  (FDR Presidential Library & Museum/Wikimedia Commoms)

In the aftermath of the horrific atrocities inflicted on the world by Nazi Germany, there were many who believed that Germany no longer had the moral right to exist.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was one of those people. In 1944 he promulgated a plan, subsequently known as the “Morgenthau Plan,” which called for the demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany after the Second World War.

“It should be the aim of the Allied Forces,” Morgenthau wrote, “to accomplish the complete demilitarization of Germany in the shortest possible period of time after surrender. This means completely disarming the German Army and people (including the removal or destruction of all war material), the total destruction of the whole German armament industry, and the removal or destruction of other key industries which are basic to military strength.”

Morgenthau singled out the Ruhr Area for particular attention. “Here lies the heart of German industrial power, the cauldron of wars,” he wrote. “This area should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it cannot in the foreseeable future become an industrial area.”

Morgenthau didn’t just target the industrial capabilities, but the human potential to sustain them. “All people within the area should be made to understand that this area will not again be allowed to become an industrial area. Accordingly, all people and their families within the area having special skills or technical training should be encouraged to migrate permanently from the area and should be as widely dispersed as possible,” he said.

New Security Model

Leopard 2A4 tank in Singapore, 2010. (CABAL, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

This history seems lost on Armin Papperger, the CEO of Rheinmetall AG, the producer of the Leopard 2 tank. The headquarters of Rheinmetall AG is in Dusseldorf, the capital of North Rhine–Westphalia Land, the epicenter of the Ruhr Area targeted by the Morgenthau Plan. Papperger and his armaments company are the benefactors of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Zeitenwende (“watershed”) policy, announced with great fanfare on Feb. 27, 2022 — three days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In this speech, Sholtz turned his back on the German experiences of both the First and Second World Wars, where unrestrained German militarism worked in concert with German industrialists to build massive military capability, which was then married to aggressive German foreign policies that turned into global conflict.

Sholtz was now proclaiming military-based deterrence as the national security model for Germany going forward, including a massive increase in defense expenditures that would dramatically increase the profit margins of companies like Papperger’s Rheinmetall AG.

Rheinmetall headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany. (Dacse, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

According to Papperger, Scholz’s Zeitenwende has indeed been a watershed moment for Germany, allowing many Germans to see past the self-imposed constraints on the German military’s role in German foreign policy that had been in place since the end of the Second World War.

“In former times we were insulted and sometimes threatened,” Papperger told a reporter. “Today people say and write to me: ‘Thank God you’re around.’”

Papperger appears unapologetic about the role that he and his company have played in the dispatch of German tanks to Ukraine. “I think about what weapons can do,” he said. “But I also think about what can happen when you don’t have weapons. You can see that right now in Ukraine.”

Scholz, Papperger, and their ilk would do well to reflect on the example set by former German Chancellor Willie Brandt.

Memorial plate in Warsaw commemorating Willie Brandt’s “Warsaw genuflection.”  (Szczebrzeszynski, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

On Dec. 7, 1970, Brandt travelled to Poland where, some 25 years after the end of the Second World War, he was seeking to sign a treaty on the mutual renunciation of the use of force and the recognition of the country’s post-war borders.

Cognizant of the moral responsibility he bore toward Germany’s history with the Poles, he laid a wreath at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw. But Brandt did not go through the motions of simply bowing his head; he fell to his knees in what is now known as the “Warsaw Genuflection,” where he remained for more than a minute.

From the symbolic action of the “Warsaw Genuflection” emerged what became known as Ostpolitik, the process of normalizing relations and openness between West Germany and “the East” — Russia and the nations and territories which, in their totality, represented the major victims of Nazi Germany’s lawless wars of aggression.

Elements of Ostpolitik could be found in the policies of long-time German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who headed the German government for 16 years, finally stepping down in 2021 following elections which saw her Christian Democratic Union party defeated by a coalition led by Social Democrat Scholz and Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock.

Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker, openly promoted policies built around the notion of supporting trade with Russia, noting that given its size, Germany simply could not get away with ignoring their large neighbor to the east.

Merkel’s Betrayal 

But there was a darker side to Merkel’s Russia policy, one which manifested itself in the form of deceit and betrayal of both Brandt’s Ostpolitik and Russia’s seeming sincere search for a peaceful resolution to violence that had broken out in the Donbass in 2014 following the removal by a pro-Western coup of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his replacement by a hand-picked government dominated by Ukrainian nationalists.

“The 2014 Minsk agreement,” Merkel recently admitted to the German media, referring to a ceasefire agreement she had brokered together with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin, “was an attempt to give Ukraine time” to become stronger.

Merkel’s confession has been mirrored by both Poroshenko and Hollande, both of whom admit that the Minsk Accords were little more than a sham to buy NATO time to build a Ukrainian military capable of defeating Russian-backed forces in Donbass.

Oct. 17, 2014: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, in talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.
(, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Seen in this light, the announcement at the 2014 Munich Security Conference by then-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that “Germany must be prepared to get involved earlier, more decisively and more substantially in foreign and security policy,” seems to be little more than the declaration of a policy designed to lead Germany and Russia down a path toward war.

Germany’s current foreign minister, Baerbock, has foregone all pretense as to what the true policy of Germany toward Russia is. During a keynote address last week to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, Baerbock declared, “We are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other.”

Baerbock was seeking to defend law, democracy and human rights in response to “Russia’s murderous attack on the people of Ukraine.”

Baerbock’s honesty, however, flies in the face of the stated policies of her own political party, the German Green Party, which in its 2021 manifesto staking out its positions on the eve of the German national elections explicitly called for banning “export of arms and military equipment” into war zones. “Germany should be a driving force in the political de-escalation of conflicts,” the manifesto says.

The hypocrisy of Baerbock and the Green Party is only matched by that of Scholz, and Merkel before him, both of whom have embraced a path of German militarism and foreign policy activism — the very policy courses that put Germany on their respective paths to disaster in both World Wars.

Loss of Independence

It was this policy direction that Zakharova was speaking about when she implored German leaders during her Sunday press conference “not to make the same mistakes of the German ancestors, that the German people paid a huge price for.”

Zakharova stared into the camera, addressing the German people:

“The day that it was allowed that Leopard tanks should be sent to Ukraine is historical because it has cemented the thing that we talked about, that Germany has completely lost sovereignty. And Scholz has just signed the loss of independent German foreign policy forever.”

Zakharova needed no help reinforcing her last point — she got all the help she needed from U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, who during testimony before the U.S. Senate on Friday bragged to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that, “Like you, I am, and I think the administration is, very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now, as you like to say, a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”

Nord Stream 2 was a major piece of critical energy infrastructure built jointly by German and Russian companies at a cost of over $12 billion to deliver some 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia to Germany per year. On Sept. 26, 2022, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was destroyed by man-made explosions. No nation has taken credit for the attacks, although Russia blames the U.S. and U.K. Nuland’s brazen comments suggest that the Russian’s might be correct.

Nuland’s comments come one year to the day after she made similar statements to the same Senate committee. “We continue to have strong, clear communication with our German allies,” Nuland said. “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.”

Despite extreme reluctance, the same reluctance he showed towards shipping the Leopards, Scholz shut down Nord Stream 2 last year as it was about to open. It was a clear statement of the surrender of German sovereignty to U.S. policy interests.

Pity the German nation that is forgetting the lessons of its history.


Scott Ritter was a US Marine Corps intelligence officer for 12 years. As a chief weapons inspector for the UN Special Commission in Iraq, he was labeled a hero by some, a maverick by others and a spy by the Iraqi government. In charge of searching out weapons of mass destruction within Iraq, Ritter was on the front lines of the ongoing battle against arms proliferation. He has had an extensive and distinguished career in government service with assignments in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In 1991, Ritter joined the United Nations weapons inspections team, or UNSCOM. He participated in 34 inspection missions, 14 of them as chief inspector. Ritter resigned from UNSCOM in August 1998, citing U.S. interference in the inspections. He is the author of many books, including Scorpion King: America’s Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons from FDR to Trump; Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein; Target Iran: The Truth about the White House’s Plans for Regime Change; and Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement. Contributor author: Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War,  Clarity Press. He is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, with a B.A. in Soviet history.

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