Speeches and Public Statements
Remarks at Presentation of First American Academy in Berlin Kissinger Award to Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt
June 7, 2007
One of the few disagreements between Helmut Schmidt and me concerns how we met. We both agree that it occurred fifty years ago in 1957. He has claimed that our first encounter was at a conference at Harvard University where we argued about nuclear strategy. I have been convinced that our paths crossed a few months earlier in Hamburg, when he was introduced to me as a promising young political leader. I like to think that the difference of opinion arose from the pride we have felt in our relationship: each of us has wanted to take credit for having discovered the other.
As the years went by, we became friends. I had the good fortune of being Helmut's colleague for nearly a decade when he was Defense Minister, Finance Minister, and Chancellor. And, [since being] out of office, we have remained in close contact with frequent meetings and an active correspondence. We have shared each other's intellectual interests, attended each other's important birthdays, and have overcome our occasional disagreements.
There is no other statesman I have trusted more and few whom I have trusted as much as Helmut. When he was Defense Minister, he played a decisive role in overcoming President Nixon's and my reservations about Willy Brandt's ostpolitik. When he was Chancellor, I stayed with him at the Bungalow in Bonn to exchange ideas whenever I traveled to or through Europe. Convinced as he was that Germany and America shared a common responsibility, Helmut did not confine his advice to matters of the German national interest narrowly defined. He did not hesitate to telephone me, on the occasion of the accession of Giscard d'Estaing to the French presidency, while I was on an official visit to Algiers with an injunction to avoid sliding into traditional Gaullist-American quarrels and a warning that he would keep an eye on both sides.
Through all of Helmut's conversations on politics has [been] a profound moral concern. "Politics without a conscience tends toward criminality," he said on one occasion. "I understand politics as pragmatic action for moral purposes". Typical was a conversation I had with Helmut a few weeks after a German commando unit undertook a daring raid to rescue German hostages held captive on an airplane hijacked to Mogadishu. Helmut recounted his anguish in the hours before he knew the raid had been successful. If he could be so moved, he mused, about the fate of eighty-six hostages and the commando unit that rescued them, how would he ever be able to bring himself to implement a NATO strategy involving nuclear weapons? And yet, a few years later, Helmut agreed to deploy medium-range American missiles on German soil - because he thought it was his duty in the defense of freedom - even though he knew it might end his political career.
The committed aspect of Helmut's nature has been in seeming contrast to Helmut's Hanseatic surface which has avoided making a display of personal emotion. Marion Dönhoff was a close friend of both of ours. In fact, the last time I saw Marion Dönhoff, it was at dinner with Helmut and Loki at their home in Hamburg. Marion was in great pain of which she gave no sign, and Helmut honored her Prussian self-control by never referring to her illness. Marion and Helmut's friendship was profound and deeply felt, yet they never used the personal "du". For Helmut, friendship requires no underlining or special emphasis. It has its own meaning.
As a statesman, Helmut's distinguishing attribute has been character and vision: the ability to stand fast when the storms rage, to be able to be counted on whatever the appearances. He is a man of great vision. Few, if any leaders, were as well prepared as he in so many fields. Yet for a leader to achieve immediate mythic popular stature requires the opportunity for a heroic response. And history did not vouchsafe him the opportunities to repeat the drama of long-range East-West reconciliation of Willy Brandt or the national fulfillment of Helmut Köhl. Helmut Schmidt has made his contribution in a less dramatic but equally profound manner by establishing Germany as a key member of the international system. He conducted the affairs of his country with intelligence, skill, and flair, on the basis of issues that transcended the German national challenges. He guided Germany's transition from its past as a divided and occupied country to its future as the strongest nation in Europe, from its obsession with security to a leading role in constructing a global system, from transforming European unification as a means of containing a resurgent Germany to becoming a leader of a new European entity, helping to shape a new international order.
And, out of office, more than any political leader of the last half-century, Helmut has made a seminal intellectual contribution as he has traveled tirelessly around the world to lecture and has devotedly worked at home to enhance his intellectual reach. Whether as advocate of Western defense or of reconciliation with Russia, as a proponent of responsible domestic economic policy, or as the spokesman for a new structure of international financial management, Helmut is always at the cutting edge of global issues: population explosion, global warming, economic globalization, the international financial system, the World Bank, and the near-permanent Middle East crisis. He never repeats the slogans of conventional wisdom but, in his eighties, he has devoted time, effort, and intellectual energy to recall the world to a sense of responsibility. Twenty-five years out of office, he has been a kind of conscience to our time - though he would never make this claim for himself.
A word must be said about Helmut's special relationship to America. When I was in government, I knew no more reliable a friend of the United States. The Presidents [whom] I served and I relied on him as on few others, American or foreign. As the decades went by, Helmut became increasingly critical of certain tendencies in American politics and life. Superficial observers have interpreted these observations as anti-Americanism. His friends know better. Helmut is part of the immediate postwar generation that looked to America for special qualities of leadership as the best, at first, the only hope of the free peoples. He therefore has tended to judge America by special standards and has found American shortcomings more difficult to accept than those of societies toward which his expectations were lower. And, in the process, he has considered it an act of trust to call attention to challenges in need of urgent attention. Helmut's relations to America are those of a somewhat strict uncle intolerant of intellectual or moral sloth, insistent on high performance, convinced that Europe and Germany contribute more to the common good by assuming their own intellectual responsibility than by simply becoming spectators or executors of the design of others. So we are here to pay tribute to a remarkable man for his contributions to Atlantic partnership.In a moving speech in 1998, [Helmut] summed up the qualities that[, to him,] seemed important in a statesman and a people. What matters, he said, in a slight paraphrase, is:
das freiheitliche und das demokratische Credo, getragen von den Leitideen der Aufklärung, die 1776 die Grundlage der amerikanischen Verfassung geworden sind, die schließlich seit 1949 auch in Deutschland heimisch wurden und die Grundlage unserer Verfassung sind, das innere Pflichtbewußtsein, zuvor so rational wie möglich zu analysieren, ehe man handelt oder ehe man einen Rat gibt. Es ist auch die R¨ckhaltlosigkeit, im privaten und persönlichen Gespräch wahrhaftig und zur Gänze nur das zu sagen, was man wirklich denkt - und nicht etwas, das vielleicht der andere gerne hören würde.
Letztlich ist es in der Politik, in der internationalen wie in der Innenpolitik, ebenso wie in unser aller alltäglichem Leben: Aus gegenseitiger Sympathie kann Freudschaft entstehen. Aber nur dann wird die Freundschaft standhalten, wenn jeder sich auf des anderen Zuverlässigkeit und Wahrhaftigkeit verlassen kann.
It has been a privilege to be Helmut's contemporary and an honor to be his friend.