Memo From Camp David

When George H. W. Bush and the German Chancellor Conferred on the Future about Germany and beyond

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

It should all happen very quickly: Three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) traveled to the United States to reassure himself of American support for Germany’s future plans toward state unity.1 At a meeting at Camp David on February 24, 1990, he easily found the backing he had been hoping for from U.S. President George H. W. Bush. However, the Americans were primarily concerned not only with German reunification, but also with the expansion of NATO.

In the meantime, a public memorandum about the Camp David meeting exists and can be viewed online.2 It illustrates how, in the period immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West was keen to shift its sphere of influence together with EU and NATO to the East and closer to Russia, the legal successor of the then still existing Soviet Union.

Excerpt of the memorandum of the conversation between then U.S. President George H. W. Bush and then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, at Camp David on February 24, 1990, released by the National Security Archive. The marked comment of the American President is telling.

In contrast, there is little sign in this conversation of plans for compromise or even peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union within the framework of a future security structure in Eastern Europe. One participant in the conversation is intent on a possible reunification of Germany under the protective shield of the Americans; the Americans themselves see their supremacy in the world after the end of the Cold War as their most important interest in the context of “a new world order”. Both sides unfold their strategy at the expense of the disintegrating Soviet Union. The fact that the Soviets possessed nuclear weapons and that up to half a million of their soldiers were stationed in the GDR is completely ignored, as is Moscow’s reaction to the surprise opening of the Wall on November 9, 1989, which could have turned out quite differently.

I had been born and raised in the GDR, the frontline state of the Cold War, and even on the morning after the opening of the Wall, my father did not trust the situation: “The Russians will not tolerate this, they will send their tanks again.” His “again” referred to June 17, 1953, when workers’ uprisings in East Berlin and other cities had brought the GDR to the brink of collapse and the Ulbricht regime could only hold on to power through Soviet military intervention.

But this time, in the fall of 1989, the Soviet tanks and soldiers stationed on GDR soil remained in the barracks during the crucial hours. The reform policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, brought about by huge economic problems in his own country and mass protests in several Warsaw Pact states, ushered in the end of the Cold War; a development that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Whoever looks at Europe today and sees a despicable war, which hardly anyone thought possible especially after 1989, should remember the recent historical development of the past three decades. There is no justification for Russia’s war against Ukraine – but the historical causes of the current catastrophe go back further than pointing to Europe’s and Germany’s dependence on Russian energy supplies. The terrible suffering of the affected people in Ukraine could have been prevented by more than one side if the Western powers, including Germany, had had the honest intention of building trust with the successor state of the Soviet Union instead of cornering it.

Notes:

1 Kohl had the valid fear that the chance for reunification, which had been offered to the Germans as suddenly as it had been unexpected, might not last long, so that swift action was the order of the day. This was especially true of the Soviet Union’s position, whose concession the German chancellor saw as a singular opportunity in history.

2 The published memorandum of February 24, 1990, can be read here: Memorandum of Conversation between Helmut Kohl and George Bush at Camp David. | National Security Archive (gwu.edu)

As a side note: It’s quite amusing that no small number of people in the U.S. believe Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall. In truth, Reagan did not pressure the Soviets, but took successful steps of détente with them toward disarmament, undoubtedly paving the way for what was to follow a short time later. His words at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, remain unforgotten: “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” In contrast, American foreign policy under his successor, George H. W. Bush, very quickly returned to Cold War practices.

Spied on by Communists

The Secret State Police of the GDR had me in their sights

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

The vernacular called the Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) summarily “Stasi” or “Peek and Listen.” It was not as harmless as it sounded on the surface. The Stasi, abbreviated for “Staatssicherheit”, was not a civilian secret service, but a military institution.

They called themselves the “shield and sword of the party,” the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Under this emblem they observed, denounced, blackmailed, harassed millions and destroyed the lives of thousands: The Stasi.

When this German Democratic Republic went down, I was 29 years old. Like most people, I didn’t dare in the communist dictatorship to be a real resistance fighter. I was rather one of those who often stood there with clenched fists in their pockets and often burned their mouths – sometimes close enough to expose themselves to the danger of the State Security Service. So, I was more of a dissenter, of which there were a few. Otherwise, the non-violent revolution that swept the country in the fall of 1989 and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall would not have been possible. There is no way to make a revolution with people who have adapted to a ruling system.

Anger pent up over the years about the government, which had not been freely elected, erupted into this revolution. It was about freedom rights and democracy, with freedom of travel at the top of the list. It was like a kettle that suddenly boiled over, setting off a chain of events that led to the fall of the Wall more by accident than design.

Of course, I knew at the time that the Stasi existed – but not how intensively they spied on people in their own country. I could not imagine having people in my immediate environment who cowardly and secretly passed on information about me to a communist power organ. Yet in the course of the last few years, I have read more and more books about the Stasi and its practices. Remembering my own experiences, especially in 1985, when I got into serious trouble because of political remarks, I became curious after so long about my own situation at that time – especially how close I came to being harmed. So, I would like to have certainty.

Now I have proof.

Invalid since 1990: Third page of my GDR identity card, issued December 27, 1988.

Unlike the secret documents in the other states of the former Warsaw Pact, the Stasi files were made accessible after German reunification. Anyone who wishes to do so can submit an application and try to find out whether he or she was classified by the GDR secret service as a “person potentially dangerous to the socialistic state”. I filed such an application a year ago and have now received the notification.

In the decisive passage of the letter from Berlin to me it says: “[Our] research has shown that you were recorded in the files of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic. The registration indicates that documents on your person may exist.” Due to the high number of application processing, it can take up to two years before I can receive more detailed information. If this information exists, of course I would like to know what the communists wrote down about me and who was set on me. Because even for the aliases of the spies, their clear names can be requested.

In the months following the fall of the Berlin Wall until German reunification on October 3, 1990, the Stasi had attempted to destroy as much evidence of its espionage activities as possible. In most cases, the documents were shredded, but to this day the Stasi Archive in Berlin is still trying to piece together these mountains of paper scraps with the help of computer technology.

Make it Celsius, if you will

Miles, yards, feet, inches, and … Daniel Fahrenheit!

From my Writing Room

Copyright © 2020 by Uwe Bahr

Referring to my previous blog about the indispensable transition from a ruthless American economic system comprising certain semblance with elements of 19th century capitalism, another absolutely innocuous subject matter comes to mind that nonetheless carries quite some nostalgic smack with it. Although it is, without doubt, also of far less importance in light of current social problems, the matter nevertheless reveals the sometimes hilarious, widespread mentality in a country where many folks are serious in referring to a Second Amendment, which in recent decades has been completely turned on its head in terms of its original meaning written a cool 231 years ago and ratified two years later. As an aside: The man who penned the infamous lines of said Amendment – James “Jamie” Madison, who would later become the nation’s fourth president and the last of the founders to go – certainly had to use candle light for his literary fabric, provided he used his little quill either in the wee hours or later at night.

Even a bit more ancient than the presumptive law of the gun most Americans deluding themselves with, is their procedure to figure out what the temperature of the day or night might be. In doing so and in a slightly mispronounced style, they use a man’s name who was of German ancestry, born in the year of 1686 in the city of Danzig at the Baltic Sea, back then under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I have been to Danzig, which today belongs to Poland and is named Gdansk, several times in the 70’s and 80’s. Its downtown is certainly the most magnificent I have ever seen. According to my father, who knew Danzig from his childhood, the historic inner-city was restored almost to the detail after heavy air raids and besiegement at the end of World War II had reduced to rubble nearly the entire city.

The subject of our story – Americans are more familiar with the name than almost anybody else in the world – is Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man from Danzig who in 1724 invented the thermometer in conjunction with the scale named after him. He basically is the father of the mercury-in-glass thermometer, which scale became the first standardized measuring unit to be widely used for temperature.

Only a few years later, in 1742, the Swedish astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Anders Celsius (1701-1744) introduced the Celsius scale, an improvement and to date in conventional use throughout the entire Western world of contemporary style. Celsius’ method provided more accuracy, not least because of its conversion to a decimal system.

There are sources claiming that Fahrenheit was furthermore used worldwide to measure temperatures until the 1970’s. Such assertion catches me by surprise, for as somebody growing up in the – what we considered it back then – underdeveloped ages of Socialism, I can only state that, at the time and at least from the 1960’s on, there was not a single country at least in Europe using Fahrenheit instead Celsius. Even the expression was unbeknownst to us. As for Germany, I can say with certainty that most people including me were at loose ends with the term already back then, not to mention the significance of the man who invented the thermometer almost 300 years ago. This certainly constituted a lack of knowledge as well.

At least, Americans today are not completely alone in this world to hold unswerving faith with Mr. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. According to researchers, the Fahrenheit scale is used to date by the following countries: Marshall Islands, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Liberia, Palau, The Federal States of Micronesia, and – you bet – The United States of America.

Americans and their Specter of Socialism

From my Writing Room

Copyright © 2020 by Uwe Bahr

The closer it gets to the election day, the more the political right in the United States is riding their hobbyhorse of “Socialism” in a desperate attempt to defend a President who not only has proved a lack of intellect and morale, but bullies, lies, and sneers. Followers that are still holding on to him – careless or clueless about the incorrectness of terms used in the heated political language – walk straight into the verbal trap, eagerly abusing the mystic expression themselves. And yet, the strenuous iteration does not make it an inch truer.

This writing comes from someone who – not voluntarily – has lived nearly thirty years in the pseudo-Socialism of the extinct German Democratic Republic (GDR). I would not want to have it back.

Nevertheless, a dose of clarification seems necessary at this point in view of the utter nonsense spreading like a virus in Trump’s America almost every time the term “Socialism” is being referenced.

So, my fellow Americans, hold on to your seats, lean back for a minute, grab one of your numerous dictionaries especially Trump supporters should always have at hand, and look up what “Socialism” stands for. I am for my part quoting for you Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged), page 2162. A pretty heavy book, by the way – but any other American dictionary will do.

Socialism is a – quote – “System or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.” End quote. Period, that’s it – no more, no less.

Got it?

A socialist command economy – I did not have to see it with my own eyes decades back for coming to the conclusion: Such state controlled, nationalized economy cannot function due to its utter inefficiency. Which makes me wonder: Where in the United States are such circumstances in existence? Is somebody out there who can please prove me wrong?

Hold your politicians, regardless of their political color, responsible for their baseless propaganda trick, don’t let them take you for a fool with an imaginary scapegoat that does not exist. Don’t fall for the catch phrases from political pied pipers who themselves have never lived in Socialism, like no American within the United States has ever even seen a glimmer of Socialism in their country.

For the sake of bettering the conditions for most Americans, it is worth noting here that an accompanying, controlling mechanism – ensuing from the government in terms of checks and balances – must be incorporated in the legal system to protect the little man from exploitation. It’s not called Socialism, but rather: Justice. Those who have – for example – ever worked for America’s largest retailer, W******, (and again, I was there, too), should know what the talk is about. The indiscriminate cut of work hours without any legal regulations versus the corporations own dictates, recurrent bullying, the shortening and eliminating of night shift allowances, the virtually non-existent access to institutions to defend themselves, a broadly lawless work environment in general, as well as a wage which does not allow hard-working Americans to make a decent living – all these facts experienced by the author disparages American citizens to a merely disposable mass of people without rights. The phrase of a “Free Country” becomes a farce here. Not even in the pseudo-Socialism of the GDR have I witnessed human beings being treated like this, which arises the question: Why do Americans, in their very own country with a Christian claim, humiliate their own people that way, albeit the means for a fair treatment and more income justice are available and could be easily arranged? Why?

By the way: If social justice is an interpretation of Socialism, then the pastor in church who commonly calls his sheep all “brothers and sisters”, obviously invoking equality, might be called a communist as well – that is, God forbid, the consecutive comparative of the spell “Socialism.”

Ironically, some 50 years ago, in that very same Socialism I lived through, once a teacher, not exactly convinced of the subject himself, asked his little students what it might look like in Communism. A girl raised her arm, stepped outside the bench and replied with an upright posture: “In Communism they are all brothers and sisters.”

By now we should know what propaganda is. If not – ask your dictionary.

Unparalleled

From my Writing Room

Copyright © 2020 by Uwe Bahr

If it was not for my American wife, I would not be in this country anymore and long back in Germany. There have been inconsistencies going on everywhere lately, but the United States are presently salient with a good deal of people revealing ominous disturbances toward a sound human mind. A public disease seems widespread in this society like another virus on its own.

In 1989/90, when we sent the self-declared peoples’ government of the GDR (East Germany) packing, I considered these apologists of Socialism the most primitive sort of people I was ever governed under and was certain that I will never see any attempts of that magnitude from a government again to play their own populace for a sucker. Obviously, I was misled here by my own presumptions.

What I am seeing today in the country of my current residence is not only shocking, but nothing more than a largely effective process of national dulling disguised as patriotism. I can’t help myself to express it in a more polite and harmless way. The adherents of Donald J. Trump – in my judgement – suffer from pathetic brainwashing including the influence of conspiracy theories, leading inevitably to a disturbed mind. Never in my life have I seen anything even close to this.

And it makes feelings even worse when noting that white Evangelicals rank among Trump’s most reliable bases. Is this what Christian morality is about? The hypocrites, who tell themselves and others you HAVE to believe in God, should be ashamed for the rest of their life.