This letter created an enormous amount of discussion in Germany, little of it productive, imho.

In the most charitable interpretation, the letter reflects an aversion to militaristic thinking, an version which defined the common-sense in de-nazified post-war Germany. Remember, the German left, at least the Social Democrats, always tried to soften, perhaps even overcome, the antagonistic logic of military blocks that dominated the cold war by a policy of "Wandel durch Handel" (transformation through trade).

That policy made, in my opinion, sense during the cold war, and probably also in its immediate aftermath, but at least since 2008, it has become a moral fig-leaf for naked German economic interests (cheap energy imports & exports of manufactured goods).

In a less charitable, but in my view more accurate, interpretation, this is an intellectually lazy attempt to claim moral high-ground and a willingness to throw Ukrainians under the bus to avoid having to rethink one's self-serving positions.

A much more substantial open letter was published on Jürgen Habermas on 28. April in Süddeutsche Zeitung, in which he formulates the principle dilemma: Ukraine must not loose this war, the nuclear war needs to be averted at all costs.

Against this background, he advocates a cautious course which manages to achieve both goals. This has been widely interpreted as support for Olaf Scholz, but that is a very superficial reading of his position.

Because, his main concern is how the so-called "Zeitwende" works in favor of the hard right, which always despised the idea of German non-militarism and truly hated Willy Brandt for saying, in 1971, that "war can never the a means of politics" (remember, this was the cold war when the hard right did not accept the German-Polish border).

Habermas is, obviously, well-ware that this is approach does not work once war has broken out, but deeply concerned with the return of jingoism to German politics in weird coalition between the Greens and the conservatives. The far right/far left have been probably been paid by Putin and are now somewhat in a dilemma.

Hence he's focused on a cautious, but unavering support of Ukraine that avoids overreach and escalation.

The best English-language analysis of this debate I have seen is by Adam Tooze

all the best. Felix

On 17.05.22 18:22, Francis Hunger wrote:
Hi Brian,

I think this open letter shows a rift in leftist analysis in Germany. The more radical-leftist leaning weekly newspapers Jungle World and Analyse & Kritik have contributed valuable analysis: (paywalled)

Am 17.05.22 um 17:50 schrieb Brian Holmes:
Below is a machine translation of the “Open Letter” to Scholz, signed by over 200,000 German personalities including Alice Schwartzer, Alexander Kluge and Siegfried Zielinski. The source is here:

I am curious as to the letter’s significance in German debates and also, about the many reactions to it which have apparently emerged since its publication on April 29. Some people on the list could inform us about this!

I can’t agree with this letter, because its core notion of universally binding moral law appears out of touch with the present-day reality of civilizational clashes, and perhaps more representative of the 1980s than now. However, I think that the mere rebooting of Atlanticist proxy wars, without any discussion of a global military, economic and political strategy for the rapidly emergent Anthropocene crisis, is equally out of touch.

It is true that the left has wrongly abdicated any consideration of military strategy. But one does not correct such an error by abounding in the Free World/Cold War logic of the 1950s. Russia’s geopolitical bid for Eurasia and its very capacity to make war are dependent on its fossil fuel production, distribution and consumption, which largely takes place under free-market rules. The US, and by extension, NATO, are similarly positioned, and the US is likely to come out of this war as both global cop and global gas station attendant, supplying Europe with LNG produced by an otherwise failing shale-gas industry. While I do not see an alternative to the current proxy war, beyond more vigorous and serious attempts at negotiation which are effectively lacking, I do see an immense failure to think about where ‘victory’ can all-too easily lead.

Nettimers, I would be glad to hear your thoughts about the current state of political debate in Germany, and I would also be glad to be proven wrong about the lack of a thoughts on a strategy for the upcoming decades, when the powers of Nature will likely show that they still do seriously rival those of Humanity – and when the international order will be continually disrupted by crisis, conflict, breakdown, and desperate bids to maintain outdated forms of hegemony.

All the best, Brian (who’s headed to Berlin today)


Dear Chancellor,

We appreciate that until now you have considered the risks so carefully: the risk of the war spreading within Ukraine; the risk of expansion across Europe; yes, the risk of a 3rd world war. We therefore hope that you will remember your original position and will not supply any more heavy weapons to Ukraine, either directly or indirectly. On the contrary, we urge you to do everything you can to ensure that a ceasefire can be reached as soon as possible; a compromise that both sides can accept.

We share the verdict on Russian aggression as a breach of the basic norm of international law. We also share the conviction that there is a fundamental political and moral duty not to back down from aggressive violence without resistance. But everything that can be derived from this has its limits in other imperatives of political ethics.

We are convinced that two such dividing lines have now been reached: First, the categorical prohibition on accepting a manifest risk of this war escalating into a nuclear conflict. The delivery of large quantities of heavy weapons, however, could make Germany itself a party to the war. And a Russian counter-attack could then trigger the case for assistance under the NATO treaty and with it the immediate danger of a world war. The second line of demarcation is the level of destruction and human suffering among Ukrainian civilians. Even the legitimate resistance against an aggressor is at some point in an intolerable disproportion.

We warn against a double error: Firstly, that the responsibility for the risk of an escalation to a nuclear conflict lies solely with the original aggressor and not also with those who openly provide him with a motive for possibly criminal action. And on the other hand, that the decision on the moral responsibility of the further "costs" in human lives among the Ukrainian civilian population falls exclusively within the competence of their government. Morally binding norms are universal in nature.

The escalating armament taking place under pressure could be the beginning of a global arms race with catastrophic consequences, not least for global health and climate change. Despite all the differences, it is important to strive for worldwide peace. The European approach of shared diversity is a model for this.

Dear Chancellor, we are convinced that the head of government of Germany can make a decisive contribution to a solution that will stand up to the judgment of history. Not only in view of our current (economic) power, but also in view of our historical responsibility - and in the hope of a peaceful future together.

We hope and count on you!

The signatories

*Andreas Dresen, Filmemacher
Lars Eidinger, Schauspieler
Dr. Svenja Flaßpöhler, Philosophin
Prof. Dr. Elisa Hoven, Strafrechtlerin
Alexander Kluge, Intellektueller
Heinz Mack, Bildhauer
Gisela Marx, Filmproduzentin
Prof. Dr. Reinhard Merkel, Strafrechtler und Rechtsphilosoph
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Merkel, Politikwissenschaftler
Reinhard Mey, Musiker
Dieter Nuhr, Kabarettist
Gerhard Polt, Kabarettist
Helke Sander, Filmemacherin
HA Schult, Künstler
Alice Schwarzer, Journalistin
Robert Seethaler, Schriftsteller
Edgar Selge, Schauspieler
Antje Vollmer, Theologin und grüne Politikerin
Franziska Walser, Schauspielerin
Martin Walser, Schriftsteller
Prof. Dr. Peter Weibel, Kunst- und Medientheoretiker
Christoph, Karl und Michael Well, Musiker
Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer, Sozialpsychologe
Ranga Yogeshwar, Wissenschaftsjournalist
Juli Zeh, Schriftstellerin
Prof. Dr. Siegfried Zielinski, Medientheoretiker*

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