Leaving History Behind

Gerhard Schröder, the first German chancellor born after the Nazi era, wants parliament to vote Friday on whether to deploy the country's first combat mission outside Europe since World War II.

If he succeeds in sending 3,900 soldiers to the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Schröder will help move Germany toward becoming the "normal" country long sought by many Germans, who want to throw off the 56-year-old stigma of the Nazi past.

The fact that no other nation has questioned Germany's military plan shows how convincingly it has left that piece of its history behind. And the fact that the vote may be close and has required arm-twisting political tactics by Schröder shows that Germany's postwar Constitution allows ample room for a healthy pacifist streak.

Schröder's tactics include a threat to end his government if he loses the vote, a move that would likely force his coalition partner, the Greens, into the political cold (see story, page 7).

During his three years in office, the leader of the Social Democrats has shown a determination to assert a new Germany beyond just its role as the keystone of a unified Europe. He was eager to send troops to former Yugoslavia, and he's come out in support of President Bush's missile defense plan.

When he moved the capital to Berlin, Schröder boldly declared that Germany is a "great power" again, freed of Hitler's taint in that city.

Ironically, he criticized President Bush for unilateralism in opposing the Kyoto treaty on climate change, but now he himself faces a struggle to bring Germany into the military war against global terrorism.

Also, interestingly, a nation that Einstein once called "mass murderers" may soon join the US-led war to end mass murder by terrorists.

Part of Germany's turnaround may come from its realization that, like the US, it has become a nation of immigrants and can be more active in shaping the world. It recently repudiated the ethnic basis for German citizenship in favor of an American-style civic system.

Joining this first war of the 21st century will help Germany leave behind the wars of the 20th.

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