I became aware of Jürgen Todenhöfer due to his report on the last war against Gaza. He wrote about the consequences of the bombardments for children, women and men, a description as it is found in only a few media. It touches the reader deeply and makes him sympathise with what such attacks mean for the lives of every human. In March, I found Todenhöfer’s paperback edition “Du sollst nicht töten – mein Traum vom Frieden” (Thou shalt not kill – My Dream of Peace) in a shop window. Whenever I found some time, I have been reading it. In Jürgen Todenhöfer we find a man whose deepest conviction is expressed in the simple lines of the book title. While reading, the development, which led to his courageous standing up against the war and for a more peaceful world, becomes emotionally understandable for the reader. Born in 1940, he experienced the horrors of war: “What I will never forget, is the shaking of the earth, the burning people, my parents’ scarlet illuminated, dying city. So this is war. We Germans went to war. But is it therefore allowed to burn cities and kill children? […] In those days I may have guessed for the first time that there are no decent wars.” (p. 34)
Since then Todenhöfer has always been moved and motivated by the question of war and peace. When he witnessed the massive struggles for and against the French colonialism in Algeria in Paris as a student, he travelled to Algeria in 1960 “to find out about the situation on site for himself”. (p. 35) On the train from Algiers to Constantine he overheard English and German Foreign Legionnaires boasting about their massacres of the Algerian people and the FLN rebels, which shook him deeply: “Why is that what is considered a shameful crime in one’s own country regarded a heroic deed beyond the borders? That question became one of the most important issues of my life. (p. 39)
When in 1973 the “London Times” reported an army massacre in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, Member of the “Bundestag” (German Parliament), Todenhöfer, travelled into the region and carried out local research. Back in Germany, he confirmed the responsibility of the army for the massacre. But at the same time he also condemned the violence of the liberation movement Frelimo against the civilian population. Even those who are fighting for a just cause, have to respect international humanitarian law – that was Todenhöfer’s insight. (p. 45–49)
By means of other travel descriptions Todenhöfer portrays the eventful history of Afghanistan from the invasion of the Soviets in 1979 to the present day and embeds it in the geo-political context of Western interests. (p. 64–67) Todenhöfer always has tried to enter into discussion with the local people. Thereby he gives the reader touching insights into the life, thoughts and feelings of the Afghan people and into their immense suffering. However, he does not stop there. He always makes a constructive, forward-looking contribution to improving the situation as is shown by the following examples.
In Kabul in 2008, Todenhöfer reads in an Afghan newspaper that the US army had killed 30 Taliban in Asisabad. Pictures of the Afghan television show a different picture; killed children and killed old people. Since the spokesman for the US Army maintains his view, Todenhöfer conducts research himself and learns that in the village Asisabad a commemoration was to take place for Gul Ahmad’s brother, who had been killed by ISAF troops some time ago. The night before the commemoration the village had been bombarded with “grenades and rockets”. “Then some GI‘s arrived. For hours they kept the survivors from helping the injured and from digging out the dead from the rubble.” – So Gul Ahmad, who lost 75 relatives that night. The next day Todenhöfer speaks with President Karzai, whom he has personally known since 1989, and calls on him to protest towards the Americans against such massacres. “From that day on Karzai has protested even more uncompromisingly against NATO attacks on Afghan civilians. And from then on, leading American politicians increasingly have declared him a problem.” (p. 71)
In 2009, two tanker trucks that had been captured by the Taliban, got stuck in a ford of the river Kunduz. From the surrounding villages adults and children came running. In the nearby camp of the German armed forces, Colonel Klein, “commander of the ‘regional reconstruction team’” supervised the process on the screen.
“He untruthfully reported ‘enemy contact’ and called on US bombers. The Jets transmitted film recordings in real time to Klein’s command post. The Colonel saw a large number of people moving between the two tanker trucks. At times, there are several hundred destitute Afghans – both adults and children. There is fuel. Many have not been able to afford something like that for a long time. They had rushed to the site from more than a dozen village. Five times the crew members of the US-Jets suggested to Colonel Klein to disperse the people by low-level flights.” Colonel Klein refused and insisted on bombing. He later reports that 54 insurgents were killed and that civilians were not affected. (p. 84)
At the occasion of a talk show on German television, Todenhöfer documented this egregious occurrence with photographs: “I showed the photos in that show, in order to demonstrate the true face of war. […] The ‘Collateral Damage’ is the true tragic of war. Colonel Klein has since been promoted to a brigadier general. What incredible mockery of the victims, of our country’s basic values and of the army! […] To date, no member of the Federal Government has got in touch with the victims’ families of Kunduz. No minister has ever apologized to the relatives. What a shame!” (p. 87) But Todenhöfer was not content with that. He felt that he too had a responsibility to contribute to the reparation. He initiated the construction of orphanages in Kabul. In 2012, “13 girls and 17 boys, who had lost their fathers or brothers in the airstrike on Kunduz commanded by Colonel Klein”, are able to move into the second one with the telling name “House of Hope”. (p. 98) At the inauguration Todenhöfer tells the children that “many people in Germany were sad about the attack in Kunduz”. “I apologized on behalf of these people. […] Then I told them what I expected of them: diligence and kindness towards their fellow human beings. I ask them to help create a better world.”(p. 106)
Todenhöfer talked to President Karzai and various leaders of the Taliban in order to initiate peace talks between the war parties (p. 76–82). Todenhöfer’s forward-looking attitude is a spiritual benefit for the reader and encourages him, not only to describe abuses, but also to actively support a change.
Todenhöfer’s detailed description of journeys to the war zones in Libya and Syria as well as Egypt and Iran provide important insights into both, the political situation as well as every day life of the people there. Moreover, Todenhöfer describes his efforts to mediate between the US and Iran. Todenhöfer’s conversations with Syrian President Assad about a possible peace settlement are also an issue.
Despite revealing the facts in the war zones without euphemism and although Todenhöfer’s travel descriptions include the great sufferings of the civilian population in war-torn Syria and Libya, his book “Du sollst nicht töten” is a deeply encouraging one. As Todenhöfer lives for a No to war and violence, and stands up for solving conflicts at the negotiating table, the reader’s courage and confidence is strengthened to the effect that a more peaceful world is possible and everyone can contribute. This corresponds to Todenhöfer’s optimistic perspective: “We have overcome slavery, the burning of witches, colonialism, racism and apartheid. If we succeed in outlawing war, humanity will have taken a big step forward.” •
Jürgen Todenhöfer. Du sollst nicht töten. Mein Traum vom Frieden. Munich 2015
(Quotations translated by Current Concerns)
“The preparation of a war usually begins with the demonisation and criminalisation of the enemy. […] The demonisation of opponents is often systematically worked out for years. Especially if the enemy’s ‘main crime‘ is, that he does not submit to the strategic objectives of the US empire. […] Often whole groups of peoples and cultures were demonised. Previously Jews, today Muslims. Although no Muslim country has ever attacked the West over the last 200 years […].“ (Du sollst nicht töten, p. 114)
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