German Professor in the Firing Line

Raise a cheer for freedom of expression in Germany! – or perhaps rather to that country’s notoriously-rigid labor laws. It now seems that Defense Minister Peter Struck will not be able to relieve Michael Wolffsohn, history professor at the German armed forces university in Munich, of his post.

With this we’re back to the topics of torture and prisoner abuse that continue to dominate the news. For Wolffsohn got into trouble last week for remarks he made during an appearance on the German N-TV television channel, according to this report from the FT Deutschland, where he termed “legitimate” the use of torture or the threat of torture in the fight against terrorism, “because Terror has absolutely nothing to do with the normal basis, that is the normal value-basis, of our civilized order.”

“These assertions are totally unacceptable,” Defense Minister Struck responded on Wednesday of last week, suspending Wolffsohn from his job and summoning him to Berlin for a meeting at the Defense Ministry, with is lawyer, earlier this week. Wolfssohn reponded to that summons, according to Die Welt, by warning that Struck “wasn’t going to be very happy with the conversation.” The Die Welt piece goes on to report that, at the meeting, Wolfssohn did express his “regret” over his remarks, and promised that there would be no trace of any such sentiments in the classes he taught at the armed forces university. But he never actually withdrew them, and instead emerged saying “I feel totally rehabilitated.”

Given Germany’s recent past, it should be no wonder that that society remains rather sensitive to some painful topics, even to the point of curbing the free expression that, say, Americans are more used to under the legal umbrella of their Constitution’s First Amendment. (Well, at least until you try to get Disney to distribute a film critical of the Bush administration . . .) For example, the Communist Party there remains illegal, as does the publication of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Recent polls results given in the Die Welt article confirm that three-quarters of Germans are against torturing any prisoner, even a terrorist holding information that can otherwise save innocent lives. And, that article goes on to note, former SPD head Oskar Lafontaine also recently got into trouble for supposedly justifying the threat of torture to extract information in the recent case in which an eleven-year-old boy, Jakob von Metzler, was abducted and killed.

For all his outrage, Struck still remembered what country he was in: “One can naturally only fire somebody when one has the legal basis to do so. That is now being investigated by the legal section of my house [i.e. the Defense Ministry].” The FTD reports a spokesman for Struck having mentioned that the first such legal investigation came up with no possible justification under the law for firing Wolffsohn. But Struck, in good military fashion, told his legal staff to go back and try again. Well, they did: and there is no possible justification under the law for firing Wolffsohn. In Germany, it seems, saying or reading what you want is something negotiable, but actually firing someone is an absolute no-no.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.