We threw Chestnuts at Soviet Military Vehicles

Germany intends to deliver GDR Strela anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine

Germany intends these days … to deliver 2,700 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles from former NVA stocks to Ukraine. For the record, the NVA (Nationale Volksarmee) was the National People’s Army of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly known in the U.S. – and not entirely historically accurate – as the former communist East Germany. Like the same state, this army has ceased to exist since 1990.

Germany delivers 2,700 surface-to-air missiles from GDR stock to Ukraine

The military utensil (the official term is 9K32-Strela-2, but there is absolutely no military expert talking in me) is ironically of Soviet design and now to be used in Ukraine against Russian invading forces. It has been in service since 1968, and there has hardly been a conflict hotspot during and since the Cold War in which this weapon has not been deployed. Among others, the Viet Cong also used it against the Americans in the Vietnam War.

Around the same time – we were eight or nine years old – a school friend and I, crouched behind a cemetery wall, threw chestnuts at passing Soviet military vehicles. When one of these vehicles stopped and we heard a loud Russian voice, we almost wet our pants and ran away.

We had actually been told in school to always wave to the Soviet convoys whenever we saw them on the road – because according to official propaganda, they were considered “our liberators from fascism.” But that didn’t really catch on. At the same time, my father was a great admirer of the American Apollo space flights. There I was confronted with the other extreme early in life: For it was Hitler’s former scientists who decisively helped the Americans win the race to the moon during the Cold War. My father’s influence was unconsciously reflected in my thinking, which could not follow the communist propaganda. I feel with almost similar mixed feelings about the portrayals in most news broadcasts today. All this together is probably the material for a whole book.

According to the official GDR account of that time, the Soviets were our friends, but in large parts of the population it was not seen that way. The GDR, a state about two-thirds the size of Florida, was frontline Warsaw Pact territory and therefore fully occupied by Soviet troops. They were omnipresent in the daily street scene, although strangely we hardly came into contact with them.

The chestnuts of 1969 against Soviet military have of course achieved nothing, and yet they were – in a figurative sense – probably trendsetting. For in the fall of 1989, peaceful protests in the Eastern Bloc, not chestnuts and certainly not tanks, led to the end of the Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of “glasnost and perestroika”, which means “openness, transparency and reformation”, led to the peaceful withdrawal of the Soviets from Middle and Eastern Europe. When two weapons-staring systems faced each other, things could have gone very differently, despite the supposed weakness of one of the opponents (we see it today with Russia). But in the decades to come, the West has struck at the outstretched hand of the Russians several times and without careful consideration. Without necessity, one did not understand how to turn a previous enemy into a partner.

And now there is a war in Europe, of which no one can say how the conflict would be resolved even after a ceasefire – from the point of view of both sides, the West as well as Russia, by the way. But the beginning of the 1990s proved how peace and security can be achieved: through dialogue, by approaching each other – in no case with more and more weapons.

One would think that the so-called Christianity of the Occident should understand and support Gorbachev’s option better than anyone else, but unfortunately, in the history of the world, the opposite has usually been the case.

Therefore, a Christian who advocates weapons remains for me a very strange Christian, because he permanently disregards his own principles instead of leaving everything to his dear God.

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