BONN — `WHETHER it's `holy' or `just,' war is still mass murder,'' read the banner, one end of which was being held by B"arbel J"anicke. Ms. J"anicke was in Bonn on Saturday to participate in the country's largest antiwar protest since Jan. 16, when coalition forces began their offensive to drive Iraq from Kuwait.
More than 200,000 demonstrators filled the long yard stretching in front of the university here, and thousands took to the streets in other German cities. They seemed to share the pacifist sentiment of J"anicke: War - no matter why - is wrong.
``Any person who dies down there is one person too many,'' said Eva Finke, holding high a banner picturing President Bush next to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with the caption ``mass murderers'' underneath.
Although the Gulf war is being hotly debated in Germany, so are the antiwar demonstrations themselves. As Ms. Finke's Bush-Saddam banner indicated, the demonstrations also have an element of anti-Americanism to them - an embarrassment for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who has been criticized in the coalition countries for not doing enough to support the war effort.
The press and the government expressed indignation last week over the anti-American tone voiced by some demonstrators. Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor and publisher of the left-of-center weekly Die Zeit, last week warned of ``pseudo-pacifism.''
Mr. Kohl told reporters Wednesday that ``the moral indifference, the crass twisting of facts, and the conscious whipping up of emotions by some demonstrators'' alarmed him. Indeed, Kohl tried to shore up Germany's reputation with the anti-Iraqi coalition last week by increasing financial support for the war, sending his foreign minister to Israel with $167 million in humanitarian aid, and promising to close the loopholes in the country's laws on export of weapons. The visiting Germans were met by Israelis protesting the alleged involvement of German companies in helping Saddam build chemical weapons.
At the Bonn protest, German weapons-exports was a major theme. ``No German poison gas in Israel,'' read one banner. About 300 demonstrators gathered elsewhere in Bonn on Saturday to show solidarity with Israel.
Speakers and demonstrators also tried to make it clear that they were not anti-American, just antiwar - although the distinction in many cases was hard to see. A lone voice in full support of the United States was a German soldier and his friend, holding up a US flag which had ``Bush go for it'' written on it. Recent polls indicate that the demonstrators (mostly young people) are a minority, although a loud one. According to a survey by the Wickert Institute, 70 percent of Germans support the allied military intervention in the Gulf.