Just before his death, Peter Scholl-Latour wrote a new book, published in the fall of 2014. It is his thirty-third book, in a long row of excellent publications during the last 70 years. In Germany, his 1980 book “Death in the rice fields” on the Indochina War has been the most published non-fiction book since 1945. In “The Road to the New Cold War” (2008), he analysed the years 2001–2008, especially the consequences of 9/11 for global politics. Now we can finally read “The West’s Failure in the Orient” with the latest analyses of the battle fields in the Orient and Ukraine. It is the legacy of a German-French great European, a lover of people and places, from the Levant to the Gulf and beyond. Peter Scholl-Latour was a true cosmopolitan.
Peter Scholl-Latour was born on 8 March 1924 in Bochum. His parents were from Alsace-Lorraine. Because of his Jewish mother, Mathilde Nussbaum, he was considered a half-breed of 1st degree according to the Nuremberg Race Laws. His mother’s brother, Robert Nussbaum, was killed in Concentration Camp Sachsenhausen. Peter Scholl-Latour was baptized Catholic and from 1936 to 1940 he visited the Jesuit College Sankt Michael in Swiss Freiburg. Then he had to return to Germany and passed his Baccalaureat in Kassel in 1943. In 1944, he wanted to serve as a volunteer in the French army fighting Germany. When this failed, he tried to join Tito’s partisans. But he was caught right away in Styria and kept in prisons in Graz, Vienna and Prague by the Gestapo. After his liberation Peter Scholl-Latour served in the French paratrooper unit Commando Ponchardier.
From 1948, Peter Scholl-Latour studied language, literature and politics at the University of Mainz and the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1954, he took a doctoral degree with a thesis on the German author Rudolf G. Binding. In addition, he obtained a diploma in Arabic and Islam studies from the University of Beirut in 1958.
In his professional career, he worked for many German and French newspapers, German radio and TV stations (ARD, WDR, ZDF, RTL, UFA film studios) and the weekly magazine Stern. Since 1988, Peter Scholl-Latour mainly worked as a free-lance writer. He held both the German and the French citizenships and valued Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. He died on 16 August 2014 in Rhöndorf and is buried on the forest cemetery there.
Two features are characteristic for his journalistic career: the question cui bono and his constant struggle for authentic and true first-hand information. He was always on site and risked his life many times because he did research for his books by himself. He had a strong distaste for press spokesmen, spin doctors and think tanks. In dialogue with his partners he formed his own picture of the situation and made a number of enemies. The more enemies, the more honour. For decades, he worked against the current of western mainstream. In choosing his words he never simply repeated the transatlantic propaganda theses. He was a friend of many high-level politicians, however, always keeping a critical distance in his comments. In his speech at Scholl-Latour’s 90th birthday, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said: “Scholl-Latour always checked his writing critically, it is the well-considered truth. And this is a crucial criterion for friendship: To be able to rely on the fact that the friend is saying what he believes is the truth, truth and nothing but the truth!” (p. 344)
For western readers, his book is much easier to read than the analyses on Asia by Kishore Mabubani or Pankaj Mishra. Most cited persons come from the Western and Oriental cultures. Interested contemporaries will have heard about a number of them. The register is listing some 300 persons and it is thrilling to read what they have to say on the Curse of the Evil Deed.
Peter Scholl-Latour has preceded his book with a citation from Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstein:
“This is the curse of every evil deed that, propagating still, it brings forth evil.”
On its inner linings, the book has a map with the Sykes-Picot Line. This secret agreement [concluded in 1916] split up northern Iraq, Syria and south-eastern Turkey between France and Great Britain. In 1917, the revolutionary Russia published this secret agreement, thus exposing the evil deed of the Entente powers which were not amused. In seven chapters, Scholl-Latour describes centuries of the West’s political and military interventions between the Levant and the Gulf.
In the first chapter, the author reviews the questionable western politics towards Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989: “The most absurd territorial conflict is happening in the Ukraine and the bloodshed is most severe in precisely the same region which was among the bloodiest battlefields in World War II.” (p. 9) After Napoleon, Wilhelm II and Hitler, the Ukraine is again to be misused as a deployment zone against Russia. “The silliest expression that came to the mind of the German commentators in the last months in order to vilify those voices that are calling for a minimum of objectivity in the assessment of Russian diplomacy is ‘Putin-Versteher’ [somebody who understands Putin]” (p. 18) They include the former chancellors Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder, German top managers and intellectuals. And the current chancellor, Angela Merkel? Peter Scholl-Latour calls her the Tsar from Uckermark, who arrogates a right to criticize the underdeveloped Russians for a lack of democracy and freedom of opinion. (p. 31) Just one remark: In World War II 150,000 Ukrainian nationalists had volunteered for the “Waffen-SS” who killed 600,000 Russians, Poles and Jews and fiercely fought against Russia until 1950. (p. 26f.) Their leader, Stepan Bandera, is still a national hero in Ukraine, even today. He and his SS militia, rather than being indicted and convicted in the Nuremberg Trials, were transferred to the US and Canada. His successors, trained by the US secret service, started the Maidan, toppled the elected president and placed four of their fascists as ministers in the new government. If German politicians are now playing the role of watchdogs and pontiffs of a free order, Peter Scholl-Latour says: “A bit more reserve would have been desirable.” (p. 31)
Peter Scholl-Latour is aware of the fact that this introduction makes him likely to be charged with Anti-Americanism. But since the second Iraq campaign, if not earlier, we have been subject to a broad disinformation campaign which is performed by the US, Great Britain and Israel through perfectly organized institutions and in fact should be taken as serious as the ubiquitous surveillance by the NSA. Once again Helmut Schmidt, the most respected elder statesman in Germany, is playing the lone voice in the wilderness when he expresses surprise in the newspaper ‘Bild’, that some western politicians and many media are currently writing very differently from the way the Germans think. The Germans, Schmidt says, are far more peaceable than the columnists of the ‘Welt’, the ‘FAZ’, ‘Bild’ and also […] the ‘Zeit’.” (p. 18) And Peter Scholl-Latour goes on: “The global disinformation campaign by American propaganda institutes which has succeeded in manipulating the European media landscape completely may seem justified when the goal was to deceive the enemy. It may even be useful when coordinating allies. But it turns out disastrous if their authors get entangled in their own web of lies and obsessions, if they are victims to their own fantasies.” (p. 37) This exactly is the curse of the evil deed.
Peter Scholl-Latour left for Anatolia in the spring of 2013 in order to visit a unit of the (German) military stationed there. Their Patriot missiles were pointed at Syria and were brought, commissioned by the Ankara government, to this place from NATO’s German field commando in Geltow near Potsdam, in order to demonstrate solidarity with the Turkish alliance partner. But everyone was aware that it was a quite superfluous gesture of support. “The superiority at the disposal of Ankara’s General Staff was so enormous that the Turkish army […] could move its division up to the City of Damascus in the shortest time. In the course of a systematic disinformation campaign, the politicians and the media of the West had agreed upon the version that any anti-civilian attack could only occur because of terrorist intentions of the Syrian Assad regime. The more believable hypothesis, in which the rebels, supported by the West, would have an even greater interest in staging such occurrences in order to influence international opinion, in addition and above all, to set the Erdogan government against the ostracised government of Damascus, was obviously not seriously considered in NATO circles. The elementary question cui bono – who profits from it? – was not asked.” (p. 47f.)
Peter Scholl-Latour went again to Syria in May 2014, as the war was already in full swing. His observations and analyses are embedded in narratives of his experiences from earlier journeys which partially were undertaken 60 years back. His newly acquired insights are integrated in the context of these past experiences and of his profound knowledge of history from ancient to modern times. His descriptions of the people and countrysides, whom he encountered on his trips and who accompanied him, are literary valuables and confirm his profound commitment to the welfare of people all over the world.
Peter Scholl-Latour is familiar with the history of the Sunnites, Shiites, Alevi, Christians, Jews, Kurds etc. between the Levant and the Golf. He makes connections between the actual occurrences and their historical beginnings. Concentration is needed in order to follow his complicated thought patterns, if needed, using a cheat sheet and being patient and courageous, in order to work one’s way through the crevices of the many-sided and intricate connections. As a reward, there is nothing less than an explanation and recognition of the facts, hidden by our media. The reader is pleased when Peter Scholl-Latour himself asks, who could ever find his way through this thicket. Regarding the situation in Syria, he writes: “There are no clearly defined territories in which friends and enemies stand cleanly separated from each other. A sort of leopard skin pattern has emerged, as in the late phase of the American involvement in Vietnam, where the pattern constantly changed.” (p. 89) In a similar way, my father described the situation in Europe at the end of the Second World War as millions of people were fleeing being at risk to become the senseless victims of a widely exercised expulsion.
Today, there are no organised chains of command and the people are now fleeing by millions. Peter Scholl-Latour didn’t even try to get a realistic picture of the military balance of power in Syria, nor a strategic analysis. For him, more important than the daily political skirmish, were the war mongering forces in this “war by proxies”. (p. 91f.)
What are the great lines of policy in Syria, which, according to Peter Scholl-Latour is “in a state of anarchy”? (p. 94)
In the continuation of his book Peter Scholl-Latour describes in depth the confusion of ethnic, religious and ideological conflicts of the peoples between the Levant and the Gulf. At the same time he emphasises the century-long political and military interventions of the West which are responsible, to his mind, that these people cannot live in peace and respect with each other. Peter Scholl-Latour was familiar with the Orient for decades. Only recently he travelled there. His last book is like a legacy. It sharpens the view on reality and blows away the fog of disinformation and manipulation of western power politics. •
Journalists can comment on the way of the world in very different ways. For example out of the comfortable perspective of domestic home offices. Or else, they travel by themselves to foreign countries and obtain their own impressions. No doubt Peter Scholl-Latour obviously belongs to the latter.
For decades Peter Scholl-Latour has impressed by his expertise about other continents and cultures. It is based on countless personal encounters and experiences. His reports are not only knowledgeable observations, but also impress by their clear geopolitical view.
Source: Greeting from Federal A.D. Helmut Schmidt on Peter Scholl-Latour’s 90th birthday.
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