The period between 1968 and 1977 saw a lot of turbulence all over West Germany. Also known as the “crisis years”, this was a time when Germany experienced upheavals, uprisings, and insurgencies. The Cold War militarism, authoritarianism, as well as colonialism in East and West Germany coupled with student radicalism in the United States set the stage for German student rebellion, mass meetings, tense negotiations and clashes with the police, resulting in political activism in German campuses.
The role of the United States during the German student movement
The involvement of political actors spread across Germany, mainly, speaking the language of democratization as well as human rights played an instrumental role in injecting concerns about neo-colonization and imperialistic tendencies of the United States. These concerns developed into political debates in several German universities. The international political situation was crucial in creating a connection between young people from different continents.
Following the assassination of Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, including the protests of Iranian students across West Germany against shah’s policies, the air of revolution was all over universities in West Germany. The largest and most active student group, German Socialist Students Organization (SDS), demolished the statue of Hans Dominic, the commander of colonial troops in Cameroon.
In many ways, they linked their acts to a number of events that were taking place in other parts of the world. Additionally, they considered themselves opponents to partners involved in the international project of de-centralizing the map of world politics, which included Europe and United States. Additionally, the students criticized the government for refusing to criticize military interventions done by the United States during the Cold War. Being children of the Cold War themselves, the students asked penetrative questions concerning the issues at hand.
There was a transnational connection between West Germany in 1960s and the student movement in the United States. The protests’ tactics, influences, as well as individuals across the Atlantic, depicted the connection. The US students had a great influence on the West German students, especially the SDS members. This was evident at the drafting of the Port Huron Statement in 1962. The connection was further enhanced following years by cooperation on GI desertion campaigns as well as the travels of Black Panthers to West Germany in the late 1960s. Furthermore, the Fulbright exchange programs brought several critics of the US military power to West Germany. Additionally, the politics criticizing racism, as well as the US exchange students in the German Federal Republic became key partakers in the German student activism.
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As a result of the co-operation, there were calls for “the other alliance” between US student activists and those in West Germany. This was to take place in the shadow of their governments’ partnership during the Cold War.
Differences between German student movement and US student movements in the 1960s
There were a number of differences between the German student movement and the US student movement in the 1960s. One of the differences was the nature of the “enemy”. In the United States, most of the students were basically against racism, thus, demanding equality. It was on this backdrop that the people like Martin Luther King Jr. arose to oppose the discrimination that was leveled against the African Americans. On the other hand, the German students were up against the Nazi sympathizers and collaborators who were still occupying positions of power and continuing to act with impunity, despite having committed atrocities. Additionally, while most of the protesters in the US were mainly US citizens, the German student movement was made of German students, including students from other countries, who had come to Germany on scholarship programs. Most of them were from developing countries in Africa, as well as from the Arab world like Iran.
How the United States was perceived by German students
As a result of the war which was going on in Vietnam, executed by the United States, German students had a poor perception of the United States. This was mainly because of the excessive military force that was being applied by the United States against the Vietnamese who had no military might. They blamed the United States for their intrusion into Vietnam, and especially for their acts of imperialistic belligerence in order to advance worldwide capitalism.
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Additionally, the students saw capitalism as an indirect attempt to take control of the masses through market-based means. According to West German protesters, since the country was endowed with all they required to survive, the system of capitalism, which was being advanced by the United States, was an attempt to influence them to believe in the need for too much and gratuitous goods. Such views fostered and nurtured leftist movements. By and large, the perceptions of the German students were not correct and were somewhat distorted. This was because they believed that the foundations of capitalism were not correct. As a matter of fact, in the long run, the world abandoned communism and embraced the same capitalism, which they disregarded with a lot of dissatisfaction and mistrust.
On the whole, student movements in the United States, as well as the global movement in opposition to the war in Vietnam, played a crucial role in the protest movements in German universities in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the radical students’ elements sought to realize their goals by means of political terrorism, leading to several attacks against police stations, banks, as well as the US military installations.