Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff at PostGlobal

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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Guantanamo and My Wehrmacht Uncles

Germany - When I was about 14, I first saw a picture of my uncle in uniform, a Wehrmacht uniform. I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that my family could have had a role in Hitler's dictatorship. Anybodies family, but not my family.

I started to ask questions as so many kids did. And I heard stories - of oppression and seduction and conviction. My families' story is not one homogenious story. Some were victims of the regime, others were willing executioners. But there is one sentiment my uncles shared: When the war ended they all hoped to be captured by the Americans. The best possible outcome of the war was to become a prisoner in an American POW camp. The soldiers had a hierarchy: If you cannot surrender to the Americans, the Brits are your next best hope. The French were deemed to be cruel. And it was seen as a death penalty to fall into Russians hands.

The Americans were my uncles' favorite enemy because they trusted their basic human deceny. My uncles knew there would not be Nazi style concentration camps. Even after nearly a year of merciless fighting (since the Normandy Invasion) these young soldiers believed the Americans would treat prisoners like human beings. The trust in American values was the foundation of a German-American friendship after the war.

My uncles are dead. But if they were alive and could be told that Americans now torture prisoners they would not believe it. It's not the America they got to know in the POW camp. They would tell us that America's strength was not measured in tanks and planes (although they had quite a few of both), but in values - even if these values were under heavy Wehrmacht fire. My uncles would not believe the stories coming out of Guantanomo, Haditha, Abu Ghraib.

Today it has gotten to the point where the German public does not even believe the Bush Administration when it repeals its harshest practices. The Bush Administration has a long way to go to restore trust in America. Introducing rules for tribunals that strip detainees of basic rights can't be considered part of a strategy to win back the hearts and minds of the world. Unless that happens America cannot be save.

Americans are not fighting for land or power but for values. Which is why they live by them. That's what I learned from my uncles. And my uncles learned it from their American captors.

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