Cultural Crossroads: Why Germans Oppose War in Iraq

An hour ago, I was standing deep in a Franconian forest of central Germany, gazing in amazement at the time-hidden ruins of an ancient castle, Nordek, that was first built in A.D. 950 and finally abandoned about 500 years ago. The massive stone structure looms two hundred yards above the Steinach river, and was probably built by the local warlord to control the trade on the river. A sign on the castle identifies three medieval wars that were fought for control of it, and, no doubt, for control of the river’s trade.

As the dried and disintegrated blood on Nordek’s mute stones tells us, it all comes back to money. And the real money these days is in oil, since there’s only about a 30- to 50-year supply of it left on the planet, and thus it’s starting to rapidly increase in value.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about cooking oil.

“Your car’s exhaust smells like french fries,” I said to Samuel Mueller as he drove me from the train station in Kulmbach, Germany.

“It’s because it’s running on oil, possibly recycled from a restaurant,” Samuel said. “It’s a diesel engine modified to run on vegetable oil.”

Interestingly, here in Germany you can buy “bio-diesel” or recycled vegetable oil at gas stations, while in England people who modify their diesel cars to run on vegetable oil are vilified and even prosecuted. Germans broadly oppose seizing the oil fields of Iraq, which are estimated to be the largest in the world, or, at worse, second only to Saudi Arabia, while Tony Blair is Europe’s main (and, perhaps, only) cheerleader for former oil-industry CEO Bush’s war plans.

Germany is not an oil-producing nation, and the typical German consumes less than half the overall energy and oil of the typical American. The German government offers incentives to architects and companies to design and build energy-efficient or even energy-producing (as in active or passive solar, etc.) buildings. Public transportation (particularly the train system) is cheap, efficient, and very well maintained.

England is an oil-producing nation, and the oil lobby in the UK, like in the USA, is powerful. In England using french fry oil to power your car is considered unpatriotic, and can even land you in court. At the same time, securing the oil of the Middle East, perhaps with England’s biggest oil companies as partners in the pumping consortium that will undoubtedly come out of an Iraqi war effort, is promoted to the British public by the corporate-owned British newspapers and similarly corporate-loyal UK politicians. Meanwhile, the British rail system is a mess, and their highways are hopelessly clogged with cars, cars, and more cars. All running on fossil oil.

Although I lived here in Germany for a year some time ago, and visit regularly, my sense of the public sentiment is relatively broad but admittedly unscientific. Nonetheless, it’s not surprising to me that a country that remembers well the blood-cost of war, is quickly moving toward energy efficiency and oil-independence and does not have any domestic Big Oil lobby pushing its newspapers and politicians. I’m not surprised that they would oppose their own children dying in a faraway war to secure the world’s second-largest oil supply.

After all, they’ve figured out what to do with all that grease the fast-food joints once poured down the drain. And, since burning vegetable oil is cheaper, less polluting, and doesn’t require a distant army to maintain, they seem to be having a good time making the transition.

Thom Hartmann is the author of Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights , a book about corporate influence of government, and The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight , a book about the end of the era of oil. Visit and . This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint in print or web media so long as this credit line is attached.