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Konrad Werner: Tell all the truth but tell it slant

The Manic Street Preachers had it right. At least in 2010.

Image for Konrad Werner: Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Photo by Tohma (Wikimedia Commons)

On The Holy Bible, probably the best Welsh album ever, there’s a song called “IfWhiteAmericaToldTheTruthForOneDayIt’sWorldWouldFallApart”. It’s an easy thought to dismiss – a delirious sentiment by a group of angry idealists who called themselves the Manic Street Preachers. But then in 2010, Germany had a president who virtually proved the disaffected songsters right.

Travelling home from Afghanistan on a plane with a group of journalists, Horst Köhler accidentally told the truth about Germany’s military mission there: “We are on the way to understanding, across society, that a country of our size with our export trade orientation, and therefore export dependence, must know that in an emergency military missions are necessary to protect our interests – for example free trade routes, to prevent regional instabilities that will surely affect our chances and have a negative effect on trade, jobs, and income.” In other words, sometimes Germany has to go to war to protect its economy. A simple truth, honestly expressed, you might have thought?

And it would be – except that so-called “economic wars” violate the German constitution. Köhler’s world actually did fall apart when he said this (well, he became the first ever German president to resign). Which is odd, because it was something that, as Die Linke party pointed out, everyone sort of knew anyway.

Germany’s latest president, Joachim Gauck, almost told the same truth this week – but he got away with by telling it slant, and in front of the right audience: the annual defence forum known as the Munich Security Conference. Gauck – routinely still referred to in the English-speaking media as a “former peace activist” – told the gathered warmongers that Germany needs to get involved in more wars – because of its growing responsibility in the world – and stop using what is euphemistically called its “history” to get out of sending troops everywhere. The German press roundly applauded their president for finally raising this “overdue debate,” a term which the German press always uses as a euphemism for “stop calling us Nazis!” Well, whatever, the point is it was basically the same as what Köhler said, only more diffuse.