What would a German ‘Veterans Day’ in November celebrate?
German troops on the march in Lithuania. German troops are now stationed in Lithuania. The last time they were there they marched through the country on their way to Leningrad which they put under siege in World War II during which, at the hands of the Nazis, the Soviet Union lost 27 million people. Mindaugas Kulbis / AP

As they have just done the U.S. celebrates Veterans Day every November. Now all leading German parties also want such a “Veteranentag” to honor all those past patriots who wore uniforms, voluntarily or not, and certainly to inspire many more reluctant young men or women to put on army boots and shoulder arms.

Not so many may recall that the earlier “Armistice Day” marked the end of World War I. Far fewer know that the Kaiser’s abdication and total surrender were basically achieved, on November 9th, because German Navy sailors, soldiers, and shipyard workers, led by a Communist machinist, joined in a mutiny and a strike.

Their revolt even seemed headed toward a socialist revolution in Germany. But the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, who had buried all principles in 1914 by voting money for the Kaiser’s mass-murderous war (to “patriotically save civilized Germany from those tyrannical Russians”) deflected or betrayed all hopes for a major change in 1918-1921 with their secret deal with the top brass, who had led and lost the war, and with the profit-swollen but now frightened millionaires.

Social Democratic sell-out

This Social Democratic sell-out, achieved with a mercenary army of armed killers, soon opened the door to Hitler, with the same millionaires, the same brass, nobility, and many of the same thugs, now with swastikas. They reached a new ominous peak in 1938 – again on November 9th – with their so-called bloody, fiery “Kristallnacht.”

The method this time was to fool working people into hating the Jews instead of their real enemies. But once again their main adversary – and goal was Russia – or the “Jewish-Bolshevik” USSR. Tragically, the result proved far worse than the earlier war, for Jews, the Soviet people – and Germans.

Fifty-one years later, November 9th was again historic, but a happy day. The Berlin Wall was opened, and was hailed as a great victory for democracy! Was it really that?

The biggest gainers were those same millionaire (now billionaire) banks and corporations, many with the same names they had in 1914 or 1938, and above all the armament makers. Their hitherto barred door to the east, the door beyond which they could not go, was open at last, and since then they have made great use of it – and again become Europe’s muscular center!

This year, one day late, on November 10th, it was Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, one of the most eager “freedom warriors” (and once again a Social Democrat), who demanded: “We need a change of mentality. This is already happening among the troops. I notice it whenever we talk about our brigade now stationed in Lithuania. …But we need it in the entire society, and we need it on the political scene…We must again become accustomed to the thought that the danger of a war is imminent, which means that we must become war-proficient, we must be defense-ready, and must build up both our Bundeswehr and our society to achieve that goal.”

These blood-chilling words – really edging toward readiness for war, despite an absence of any genuine threat – were too frightening for some. The echoes of militant, militarist words in 1914, in 1938, in the 1980s were just too overt for now – and Chancellor Olaf Scholz approved the goals but not the words.

Again the threatening tones pointed eastward, backed by facts weightier than words: tanks, battalions, warplanes in Lithuania, warships in the Baltic – and giant new sums for the Bundeswehr – and for Ukraine, with much the same foe and much the same goals.

There are differences, of course. In 1914 the German Empire was aligned with the Austrian Empire – against Britain, France, and the USA. In 1938 (after Spain’s tragic defeat, thanks to British, French, and U.S. betrayal), Hitler Germany was encouraged to move eastward again, in Austria, and Czechoslovakia. It did, but while it could align almost all of Europe in this goal, often by means of military conquest, Britain and the USA did finally join the USSR in defeating it.

Now, while Germany has again brought much of Europe under its EU sway, it remains a junior partner to the USA in the eastward expansion of its influence and uniformed strength. While some in Germany dream of overcoming this junior status, the rule is now “First things first!” From Washington to Warsaw and loudly in Berlin we hear the words “Russia must be defeated”.

Despite the flags and speeches, the basic impulse is not the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not sovereignty or democracy. These conflicts have always found good slogans for sending in planes, tanks, or troops – from Vietnam and Libya to Grenada and Guatemala, from Kosovo to the Bay of Pigs, or Mali and Niger. And here, too, there is far more at stake than defending Ukrainian President Zelensky and his Bandera-loving oligarchs, ancient veterans of Nazi SS battalions and Azov fighters. And far greater dangers!

The only hope is in the moving feet of millions! Demanding cease-fires – in Ukraine, in Gaza and Palestine! The world needs more huge rebukes to the Tories and Labor fakers in Britain, the Northrup-Raytheon puppets or shareholders in Washington, and the Pentagon, the “defenders” in almost all German parties against imagined Russian threats.

The continuing massive rebukes in so many cities worldwide must not be detracted by rallies ignoring mass murder in Gaza and “opposing anti-Semitism” – always correct but now largely pro-Netanyahu rallies in disguise. Louder and clearer than ever we should hear the demands: “No more weapons to conflict areas,” “Cease fire,” “Defeat the war lovers”! In Germany, the next opportunity will be the anti-war demonstration on November 25 in Berlin and other cities around Germany. Despite all differences – it must fill the streets and squares!


Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, the tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, the reasons for the fall of socialism, and the importance of today's struggles.