Perhaps the very fact that President Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery created the firestorm of feelings and actions that it did will lead us to assess the situation--and public life--more fully and deeply.
First off, Reagan thought he was joining with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to help further "reconciliation" between the Germans and the Americans. But such reconciliation has been going on for years--from at least the start of the Marshall Plan in 1948. One could say that the symbolic celebration of it occurred when President John F. Kennedy said, "Ich bin ein Berliner" at West Berlin's City Hall more than two decades ago.
What is still left over--and powerfully left over--from the era of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and World War II and Hitler and Nazism and Fascism is the Holocaust, the almost unspeakable extermination of Jews (and some others). And the question is not simply one of Hitler and the SS. The questions extend far more deeply, even into the other Western powers and whether our leaders did all they could have, and should have, to save the Jews or largely tried to ignore the issue. The abysmal wounds persist.
In any event, dealing with feelings of reconciliation and renewed meaning between Jews and, for example, the Germans, is something that must take place by them and between them. Gentile leaders in America, no matter how sympathetic and understanding they may feel, or think they feel, toward the Jews and other victims are not the ones to speak for them.
And finally, when some persons powerfully and passionately tell the President, "Don't! Please don't! For God's sake, don't!" he needs to do more than listen. He needs to hear. And hear beyond his own needs to save face, his own needs to act stubbornly as if he "can't give in to pressure."
Whether or not we can--and should--love our enemy, including our enemy who seems the very embodiment of evil--and what and how that "loving" means--are questions each of us has to face. (Try Matthew 5:43-48 if you want to meditate on this.) But I cannot do it for you with your enemy, nor you for me with mine. And if we did think that questions with moral and spiritual meaning to the very depths of our existence can be determined mainly on political grounds, the incidents of the last three months with Bitburg should disabuse us, if we have opened our eyes and unblocked our ears.
I am staying here in Escondido as a foreign exchange student from West Germany. So far I have had a great time, and I have enjoyed America a lot. It is a wonderful country with very nice people.
The subject I would like to comment on is the noise that is made about President Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery.
I can understand that many people, especially those who were victims of Nazism, still have bad feelings about Germany. But I think after 40 years it should be realized that the Germany of today has nothing in common with Hitler Germany. I don't say we should forget what happened, but the Germans get tired of being expected to be ashamed about what their fathers did, and thus feel as a second-class people.
It is obvious that the President didn't visit Bitburg to honor the dead SS men, but to honor those who died for their country, believing that they did the right thing. It is a misconception to think that every German was a Nazi.
Instead of strengthening the bonds between the United States and its most loyal ally, and that is what Reagan intended to do, the unbelievable publicity devoted to this subject makes us Germans feel that we still aren't accepted among the brotherhood of free nations.
So, I say, let the dead rest and the living act like compassionate human beings.
In explaining why he went to Bitburg, Reagan has portrayed the soldiers buried there as victims of Nazism, separating them from the government that used them as instruments of war and terror. But would Reagan be as quick to forgive the soldiers of communism?
Can anyone imagine Reagan visiting a North Vietnamese military cemetery, or bowing his head in memory of the Russians who have died in Afghanistan? Of course not, as he would not wish to separate the soldiers from the cause for which they fought.
Yet this is just what Reagan has done by going to Bitburg. It is a fine and noble thing to recognize the millions who died in World War II, on all sides. But by going to a German military cemetery, Reagan has honored the dead buried there in their role as soldiers, thus implicitly giving respectability to the cause for which they fought and died.
Reagan's visit to Bitburg has not simply reopened old wounds, it has whitewashed one of the most revolting chapters in human history. For this he should never be forgiven.
STEVEN J. RENICK
Something has happened that was very important.
I heard a President of the United States say there was a Holocaust. He used words like Jew, Nazi, heinous, evil and guilt. And he said these things in Germany.