2003 Baghdad is no 1945 Berlin

Approximately one year ago today, I sat upon the granite walls of Northrop Plaza and witnessed an indisputably peculiar scene. A sizable throng of anti-anti-war demonstrators penetrated an anti-war demonstration during the initial phase of an antagonistic war.

The tensions were high – at least among those immersed in the clash – and shrieking extremists from both sides orated their usual distortions of reality. I sensed an unusual irony in this scene. Observing the melee through a high-noon squint, I thought about the bizarre ability of a few outspoken extremists to whip things into a frenzy despite their tiresomely dogmatic, uncompromisingly reactionary and altogether inaccurate world views.

The chants have long since passed from my mind, but the basic gist of the arguments were: “This war is for oil and regional domination! Bush is a war-mongering imperialist!” versus “Saddam is evil! He is the next Hitler! We must rebuild Iraq like Germany!” Despite the valiant attempts of the antis, the war with Iraq commenced, Saddam was captured and, predictably, bloodshed continues to this day.

Compared to the Marshall Plan after World War II, Iraqi reconstruction is achieving mixed results. Unfortunately, the present state of Iraqi reconstruction elucidates how truly senseless the comparison to the Marshall Plan really was. Now studying and living in Germany, when I think back to the anti-anti/anti-war clash at high noon, and the arguments expounded, I still deem that the antis have it. Iraq is no Germany and history reveals why.

Entering the medieval cathedral in Freiburg, Germany – a giant Gothic structure of marvelous intricacy – a picture hangs in a shady corner of the cavernous interior. It depicts Freiburg in 1945. Like most German cities, Freiburg suffered a few nights of carpet bombing. Apparently allied bombers used Germany’s omnipresent central cathedral as a reference point for laying waste to the rest of the city. Besides the spared cathedral, not a single building remained – only blasted ruins. Clearly, 2003 Baghdad is no 1945 Berlin.

To compare the defeat of Germany and subsequent reconstruction to the invasion of Iraq is at best a frightening prospect. First, the nature of the war was thankfully not the same. Germany wreaked havoc upon Europe incomparable to anything before in human history – and suffered utter defeat for it. The Nazis, a rather popular regime in the 1930s, eventually led the German people into total defeat and deservedly utter shame.

Second, the Allies dropped bombs indiscriminately, and in one instance, the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, between 200,000 and 500,000 civilians were killed in two days. This kind of collateral damage is inconceivable for Iraq. Emerging from a country of rubble, it took about three years to get anything off the ground. During these years, about 5.7 million Germans died of starvation and other harsh postwar conditions. Death, defeat and utter destruction of a chillingly popular movement is not like a surgical removal of an unpopular third-rate dictator controlling very little of his country.

Third, unlike the popular perception, it was mostly capital from Germany’s wealthy elite – well-known for supporting and collaborating with the Nazi regime – that was invested in rebuilding. In fact, somehow a higher percentage of the Marshall Plan money went to France. It currently appears the Iraqi reconstruction is continuously financed by the United States and in some critical estimates, already exceeds the real-terms costs of Germany’s allotment in the Marshall Plan. To emulate Germany, Iraq needs internal investment – something in short supply – not foreign corporations.

While I did not chant and scream at the demonstration, I did not support the war. Maybe because I thought it would turn into something like the anti-anti versus anti melee a year ago: a stalemate polarized by extremist discourse on one hand, extremist violence on the other. I feared of the present state of jarring polarization and political fallout arising from the war in Iraq coupled with the continuous violence surrounding Baghdad – likely exported to Madrid, Spain – both perpetrated by a handful of outspoken extremists.

Douglas Voigt is studying abroad in Germany, and welcomes comments at [email protected]