Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

What happened to German pacifism?

By Anchal Vohra

07 Feb 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed the limits of pacifism to many Germans, but that ingrained pacifist tradition "cannot be changed overnight," according to this FP analysis.

A banner recently hung on the facade of Germany’s national theater in Weimar read, “Diplomatie! JETZT! Frieden!” (or “Diplomacy! NOW! Peace!”), in reference to the war in Ukraine. These words had not been casually scribbled down but rather were carefully designed to represent the traditional German viewpoint of pacifism.

The dispossession inflicted by the two world wars, the shame of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich, the subsequent division of the country, and the nation’s remilitarization during the Cold War rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union—all of this has left deep scars on the German psyche and made pacifism a part of its national identity. Over time, pacifism became a matter of pride. Germany avoided involvement in the Iraq War in 2003 and the First Libyan Civil War in 2011 in part thanks to this culture of pacifism.

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