Germany and America: Soul-Searching Over the Realpolitik of the Iraqi War

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A court's decision this week to put a confessed cannibal's privacy above the public's right to view a movie about him may have been right or wrong. What it certainly reflected in this country, whose Nazi past is always quietly present, is one of Germany's most conspicuous features: an intense and abiding desire for the moral high ground, to do the right thing.

Germany is a place where, a couple of years ago, a big city police chief was cashiered because he threatened to torture the kidnapper of a 9-year-old boy if he did not disclose where the boy was being held.

Clearly, as was generally recognized, the police chief was acting in the interests of the boy, who, it turned out, had already been killed. Still, the policeman lost his job, not for torturing the kidnapper, but for threatening to.

A similarly absolutist morality seems to be involved in the political scandal.

But a strong argument is being made by some here that what the former leftist coalition did — oppose the Iraqi invasion publicly but offer help privately to the United States once it began — was not, after all, the act of unadulterated hypocrisy that many Germans have been proclaiming it.

Is it really so shocking, that argument goes, that a German government would have quietly done what it could to help its American ally, while at the same time holding together the Atlantic alliance and even providing some militarily useful information that might have saved some American lives? Surely, even if the government did the wrong thing, there were some good reasons for what it did.

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