The Atlantische Initiative e.V. (the publisher of atlantic-community.org) believes that foreign policy should not remain the exclusive prerogative of Berlin's elite circles, as it affects the lives of each and every one of us. Its core mission is to make foreign policy accessible to everyone. The joint undertaking with BILD ensures that the initiative reaches the greatest number of ordinary German citizens as possible. German Defense Minister zu Guttenberg has expressed his delight at the initiative: "This is a great joint undertaking by the Atlantische Initiative and BILD. Our soldiers more than deserve this type of broad, visible support by the public."
Even though Germany has 4,335 soldiers in the field in Afghanistan and is the third-largest contributor to ISAF forces, the war-weary German public has up to now demonstrated no more than "a friendly disinterest" in the soldiers' fate, according to former Federal President Horst Köhler. Indeed, 59 percent of Germans today think that sending German soldiers to Afghanistan was a mistake in the first place. Nearly half of the population (48 percent) favor bringing the troops home without delay, while 32 percent caution that this is a viable option only after the country has been stabilized. Almost three-quarters of Germans do not agree with the official position that Germany's security needs defending in the Hindukush Mountains.
This notwithstanding, the German men and women deployed in Afghanistan are in that country at the behest of the popularly elected Bundestag. In a democracy such as the Federal Republic of Germany, this means that they are fighting on behalf of the German people. Irrespective of their political convictions, the very least those at home can do is to send them a sign of encouragement.
Over 1,200 submissions have already been received by atlantic-community.org and bild.de. The short posts tend to reflect their authors' stances on the war. Though a number of contributors appear to be opposed to the military engagement, most express strong support for the men and women in uniform, admiring the individual valor and personal strength of the troops One participant Rene Fuss stresses that although he is "a convinced pacifist and opposed to all forms of violence as a matter of principle," he realizes that soldiers "are risking their lives for the security of the German people and on behalf of peoples everywhere who hopefully will soon enjoy a better life."
Nevertheless, for many citizens today, the idea of having German soldiers once again fighting in a war is an uncomfortable one given the country's historical legacy. On the other hand, Germans feel called upon in a special way to fight against dictatorship and oppression. Gerd-Günter Finck writes that "we Germans have a particular moral obligation to take away the weapons of those who kill innocents." Herbert Thiel of Eschborn believes that Germans should remember that freedom must be defended, and often at a high price. The war in Afghanistan reminds him of his experiences as a boy, when he and his family were freed by American soldiers: "If the United States had not intervened in the First and Second World War and had not many young men and women sacrificed their lives back then, we would be living in a very different world today - and one that certainly would not be any better for it."
According to some contributors, German politicians appear unwilling to pay that price, and their cost-cutting measures come at the expense of the troops' security. As Severin Montag explains, "The government wants to save money on the one hand, namely, by cutting back on equipment and training soldiers, while on the other hand giving money freely to Taliban, who now promise to be good boys and no longer cowardly and dishonorably shoot the German unbelievers in the back." The majority of respondents feel that whenever the Bundestag determines to send soldiers abroad, it is obligated to provide the necessary resources to get the job done properly. As Detlef Heumann points out, the word "cost" does not belong in the context of soldiers fighting for their lives. What soldiers need is proper equipment, not loquacious funeral orations.
The only politician to receive favorable mention is Defense Minister zu Guttenberg. Contributors commend him for calling a spade a spade when referring to the situation on the ground as akin to "warlike circumstances." Reinhard Schmid of Brunssum expresses his hope that "the one young German politician, who is not weighed down by the trauma of two wars and the anxieties of the military" will survive long enough on the political stage to make a difference. Schmid further points out that thanks to the courageous stance taken by Bundeswehr commissioners, no German politician today can claim to be unaware of the logistical problems facing the men and women fighting in Afghanistan.
Many writers also stress their disappointment at the German public's inability to sufficiently differentiate between the mission and individual service members returning from deployment.
Possibly because of the painful experience of the Vietnam War, the American public is far more careful to distinguish between condemning the political underpinnings of an ongoing mission and individual soldiers serving their country. Most contributors feel that following the lead of the Americans, a lot more needs to be done in Germany to honor the soldiers' individual contributions to the war effort. Bjoern Giebisch suggests introducing a national holiday akin to Veterans' Day in America or making "Support Our Troops" bumper-stickers popular. Indeed, one website that promotes solidarity with soldiers in the field already exists. Those at home who support the troops, such as Daniel Schuergens, send the following message: "Keep a stiff upper lip... you are doing a great job!"
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Initiative asks its members and supporters to keep the expressions of solidarity coming, regardless of whether or not you agree with the mission in Afghanistan.