Every war is accompanied by a kind of mental mobilization: war fever. Even smart people are not immune to controlled bouts of this fever. “This war in all its atrociousness is still a great and wonderful thing. It is an experience worth having,” rejoiced Max Weber in 1914 when the lights went out in Europe. Thomas Mann felt a “cleansing, liberation, and a tremendous amount of hope.”
Even when thousands already lay dead on the Belgian battlefields, the war fever did not subside. Exactly 100 years ago, 93 painters, writers, and scientists composed the “Call to the world of culture.” Max Liebermann, Gerhart Hauptmann, Max Planck, Wilhelm Röntgen and others encouraged their countrymen to engage in cruelty toward their neighbor: “Without German militarism, German culture would have been swept from the face of the earth a long time ago. The German armed forces and the German people are one. This awareness makes 70 million Germans brothers without prejudice to education, status, or party.”
We interrupt our own train of thought to insist that history is not repeating itself. But can we be so sure about that these days? In view of the conflicts in Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, the leaders of the West suddenly have no more questions and all the answers. The U.S. Congress is openly discussing arming the Ukraine. Former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recommends arming citizens there for house-to-house and street combat. The German chancellor, as it is her habit, is much less clear but no less ominous: “We are ready to take severe measures.”
German journalism has switched from being levelheaded to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the field of vision of a sniper scope.
Newspapers, we thought to be all about thoughts and ideas, are now marching in step with politicians in their calls for sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even the headlines betray the sort of aggressive tension usually characteristic of hooligans when they “support” their respective soccer teams.
The Tagesspiegel writes: “Enough talk!” The FAZ: “Show strength.” The Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Now or never.” And Der Spiegel calls for an “End to cowardice,” writing: “Putin’s web of lies, propaganda, and deception has been exposed. The wreckage of MH 17 is also the wreckage of failed diplomacy.”