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Helmut Schmidt mit Hund hinter Schloßstrassen-Vitrine
Image by quapan
Helmut Schmidt in der Schloßstrasse zu Politik und Moral:
"Wenn es um Prinzipien der Politik und der Moral geht oder um das eigene Gewissen, dann ist man niemals außer Dienst."
A TALK WITH HELMUT SCHMIDT Published: September 16, 1984 by Craig R. Whitney, an assistant managing editor of The New York Times, reported from Bonn from 1973 to 1977.
ON A HOT AND SUNNY DAY THIS summer, I sat with Helmut Schmidt in his cabin by the Brahmsee, a lake an hour’s drive from Hamburg. He talked of politics, and power, and personal things. Eight years as Chancellor of West Germany had ended abruptly for him in October 1982, at the height of his international renown as one of the most brilliant statesmen of modern times. Faced by a conservative tide in German political life, knowing that his Free Democratic coalition partners were about to bolt in exasperation over growing left-wing neutralism in his Social Democratic Party, Mr. Schmidt called for a parliamentary test to bring the issue to a head. His Free Democratic allies abandoned him for the Christian Democrats, and the new Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, easily won in the national election the following March.
There was a final humbling last Nov. 22, when most of Mr. Schmidt’s fellow Social Democrats in Parliament voted to reject the NATO decision to station American Pershing-2 and cruise missiles in Europe – a decision whose principal architect was Helmut Schmidt. It was the Christian Democrats who provided the majority vote for deployment. He left the world stage in frustration, sailing paper airplanes out into the debating chamber and wondering whether his life in politics had been a waste.
Seldom has the downfall of a European leader been so directly attributable to the frictions of his relationship with a President of the United States. Not that Mr. Schmidt’s defeat was all Jimmy Carter’s fault: His own arrogance, and the fact that he commanded little loyalty among his party’s left-wingers, contributed to his failure. But the fumbling and incoherence that marked President Carter’s policy toward the Soviet Union, and later the tension and hostility that marked President Reagan’s, played a significant role in undercutting the German Chancellor in his own country. In the end, Helmut Schmidt was a victim of the confusion and incoherence that have flawed American foreign policy over the span of the last eight years.
I first met him in 1973, when he was Finance Minister. Brash and confident, he was known then as Schmidt- Schnauze , Schmidt the Lip. He has mellowed considerably since, but he is not shy about expressing his views, and I thought that asking him about his troubles with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan might produce thoughtful observations of particular interest to Americans this election year. So I went to see him at his vacation retreat.
We talked for five hours, in German and in English, as his wife, Hannelore, did the family ironing and kept us supplied with ice cream and iced coffee. Since my translation leaves no trace of my grammatical errors in his language, I thought it only fair to edit out the ones he made in English. Also, because the edited transcript omitted many personal asides about the many American leaders Mr. Schmidt knows as good friends – like former President Gerald R. Ford, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and Mr. Shultz’s predecessors Henry A. Kissinger and Cyrus R. Vance – it may make him seem more critical of Americans than he actually is.
In the interview, Mr. Schmidt reminisced about many things. He talked about his role in the decision to deploy American missiles in Europe if negotiations with Moscow on the issue led nowhere – and why President Reagan’s early speeches led many Germans to turn against that course. He talked of how President Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan came as a sudden and embarrassing surprise, and of why he went along with it anyway. He talked about the Communist Government’s crackdown in Poland and – with surprising sympathy – about the “tragedy“ of the Government’s leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski. He talked about the old men who run the Soviet Union, and why he thought Leonid I. Brezhnev was a man of peace after all. He talked about the achievements and failures of American leadership, and why he still believes that only the United States can lead the world out of what he believes to be a profound economic crisis.
He talked about the German past, the Nazi past, and how it had affected him from the time he was a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht until the day he left the Chancellor’s office. And finally, he revealed a secret he had never spoken of publicly before – a secret he and his father had kept hidden from the Gestapo for eight years out of fear that they, too, would be swept away in the holocaust.