Afghanistan and the West The Difficult Relationship between Democracy and War
Many Germans would like to see Chancellor Angela Merkel withdraw the country's troops from Afghanistan. But should she listen? There are many good reasons for the West to be involved in the war against the Taliban, but public opinion may not be listening.
The first democrats were warriors. In the fifth century BC, the citizens of Athens constantly had to defend their freedom, first against the Persians and later against the Spartans. They performed their military service either as hoplites -- citizen soldiers -- in phalanx formation or as rowers on trireme war ships. At the time, no one realized that war would prove to be a greater challenge for democracies than for other forms of government. The citizens of Athens and other city-states killed and died for their values. In his book "The Classical World," historian Robin Lane Fox writes that this was precisely the Greeks' advantage. They fought furiously so that they could remain free. The Persians, on the other hand, were ruled by a brutal king, which reduced their motivation.
Nowadays, democracy is the form of government that struggles the most with war. This is even true of the United States, where governments are often quick to deploy troops, whereas the public quickly becomes skeptical. This is not a flaw; war always involves the killing and mutilation of human beings and scruples are absolutely necessary. Of all democracies, it is perhaps Germany that struggles the most with war -- and that too is understandable. Germany started two world wars, the second of which was total war, an orgy of destruction and self-destruction. The phrase "No more wars," one of the guiding principles of modern-day Germany, is an obvious consequence of the country's history.
But this phrase has been overtaken by reality, now that Germany has been embroiled in a war for the last eight years. Hardly anyone noticed at first, but since the bad news from Afghanistan has begun piling up, the war has triggered a new debate. Two thirds of Germans want to see the German military, the Bundeswehr, pull out of Afghanistan.
But there are good arguments for the troops to stay. These arguments are the subject of this essay, as is the question of what it means for a democracy to wage a war, and why waging this war in particular can be the right thing for the German democracy. The arguments coincide with the chronology of a war. First, we discuss the act of and reasons for going to war, then the actual conduct of a war, which involves killing and dying and, third, the question of when one should end a war. Finally, we discuss who should decide when to begin and end a war, and what the basis for those decisions should be.
- Part 1: The Difficult Relationship between Democracy and War
- Part 2: The Beginning:Terror and Solidarity
- Part 3: The Course of Battle: The Beast and its Victims
- Part 4: The End: Aftermath and Innocence
- Part 5: The Legitimization: Public Sentiment and Responsibility