I was just in Berlin to accept a prize for Mission Rejected, my book about American soldiers who oppose the Bush Administration war on Iraq. The prize comes from the German Körber Foundation; I was one of many prize recipients who were recognized for projects that help people engaged in life transitions.
At the elaborate awards ceremony, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William R. Timken, Jr., made one of the keynote addresses. Timken stood up in front a crowd of German intellectuals and launched into his self-serving speech in English. He didn't bother with a nicety such as a perfunctory, "Guten Tag." He didn't even bother saying, "Excuse me for speaking English, but I'm still working on my German." No. This political appointee just did a Bush -- he was almost reminiscent of the colonialists in a Forster novel, minus the charm.
The speech contained a tip of the hat to the Körber Foundation. But Ambassador Timken, a major donor to President Bush's president campaigns, prattled on about the strength of American so-called citizen democracy: the potency of person-to-person relationships building across national frontiers.
After the speech I went out to a leisurely dinner with a few German colleagues who were at the awards presentation. We sat outside at an Italian restaurant drinking prosecco and eating capellini well toward eleven o'clock as the summer sky barely darkened.
My Germany friends were incredulous. Three hundred million Americans and we can't find an ambassador who speaks German? And what is all this propaganda about "citizen diplomacy" they asked me. How can Timken expect he's got any credibility when he talks about citizen diplomacy while the U.S. is invading and occupying Iraq?
It is exactly because of American representatives like Ambassador Timken that the stories of soldiers who reject the Iraq War are so important. These soldiers form a cadre of "citizen diplomats" making it clear to Germans and others around the world that not all Americans -- even those who joined the so-called volunteer army -- support Bush's misadventure in Iraq. One after another, the Germans at the café dinner table where I was talking about rejection of the war from within the ranks expressed relief to hear that there are U.S. soldiers saying, "No!" Some of these soldiers are stationed in Germany. But my German friends and colleagues were unaware of their protests because media coverage of this growing phenomenon has been minimal here in Europe as well.
It is sobering to be sitting in Berlin, not that long after the Nurnberg trials, explaining to Germans that there are U.S. soldiers honoring the Nurnberg principles: refusing to fight in Iraq because they believe the war is wrong and that fighting it would violate international (and American) law.
The numbers of refuseniks are growing: at home and abroad. It is critical to keep them in the public eye.