BONN -- "Get out of Germany, warmonger!" "How many Iraqis have you killed today?" Another day at the office, more friendly messages on the answering machine.
And in person too. "To us, it seems you Americans really enjoy war," a German friend says, trying to explain the mass demonstrations, the striking silence of German leaders, the bedsheets that hang from windows of Bonn's cream-colored rowhouses, breaking German orderliness with their monosyllabic message: "Nein."
No to war. No to German participation in the gulf. No to defending Turkey, a NATO ally, if it is attacked by Iraqi Scuds. And no especially to the United States.
This is, quite suddenly, a difficult time for German-American relations, particularly so because it comes after such a good time. Germans -- especially the establishment types and those old enough to remember the immediate postwar period -- were deeply grateful for the seeming ease and grace with which the United States accepted the idea of reunification.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government, the country's media elite, the academics who chart every twist in the trans-Atlantic relationship -- all relished the idea of a new, stronger bond with Washington. Germany, freed of its postwar shackles, would be a partner on a more even footing. Bonn and Washington would divide responsibilities; the Germans would watch over the transformation of Eastern Europe and help the Soviets through their rough patch, while the Americans took a breather and concentrated on their own economy.
It hasn't worked out that way. When it was simply a matter of spending money on the East, Germany was ready to fulfill its share of the bargain. Marks poured into eastern Germany, East Europe and the Soviet Union by the billions.
Then came war. And war was the one thing Germany was not ready to handle. Not even close.
A teacher I know in Bonn was ashamed to tell me her school had allowed a faculty member to distribute anti-American flyers. Another told her students the war would so ruin the environment that they would likely die from lack of oxygen. Elsewhere, schools gave students time off to march against U.S. policy in the gulf.
Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine, who lost the December chancellor race to Kohl, "advised" civil servants in his state of Saarland to leave work to join anti-war demonstrations. The banners at daily protests read, "Amis Raus! Americans Out!" and "War is Wrong." And: "War -- Never Again." Never again. The slogan that built Israel, the words that drove the generation of Jews who survived the Nazi Holocaust. Now those words drive a generation of Germans whose post-Holocaust world is defined in good part by a revulsion for war that has paralyzed their nation's politics.
"Maybe we did too good a job," says Gordon Roberts, an American contractor who has spent most of the postwar era in Germany. "We wanted to turn them away from militarism. Now they wouldn't accept the use of force if it was the only thing between them and slavery."
Well, not quite. But to many Germans, the Gulf War is an opportunity to prove to themselves and the world that they no longer feel the need to resort to force.
The conservative daily Die Welt last week editorialized that "our youth has been taught by politically one-sided teachers . . . that military defense is superfluous and the U.S. is responsible for all evil in the world."
Walther Kiep is a German businessman who remembers World War II and sees a young generation whose ideas were formed by the angrily pacifist veterans of Germany's 1968 student revolts. "For the young, the idea that war is still possible in our day is an absolute shock," says Kiep, who with a hundred other prominent Germans last week issued an emergency appeal for German-American solidarity. "I have some sympathy with that. As a result of the second world war, we oppose war -- period.
"That's easy for us . . . . The Americans have come to be considered by many Germans as a sort of night watchman whom we expect, for a nominal fee, to protect us. But we caution him not to make much noise and not to use weapons."
The end of the Cold War was a liberation for many Germans that went far beyond the fall of the Wall and the euphoria of reuniting families. Finally, Germany was no longer the potential battleground of the war to end all wars. Planners and thinkers in Washington and the rest of the West busied themselves with visions of a Germany ready to assume global responsibilities.
But to many Germans of all ages, 1989 meant a completely different kind of freedom -- the freedom not to be important anymore. As an extraordinary survey by Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung found this month, what most Germans really want is to be free to be rich, to be liked, and to be left alone.
Should Germany become a world power? No, said 75 percent of those surveyed, we should keep out of international conflicts. Even more revealing was the next question: What country do you see as a model for Germany's future?
The United States? A scant 2 percent said yes. The world's other economic dynamo, Japan? Just 10 percent. No, at the top of the list, Germans put Switzerland. Admiring the Swiss' standard of living and neutrality, 40 percent named their neighbor to the south as their model. Sweden, with its political unimportance, homogeneous population and guaranteed social welfare, was second with 29 percent. All told, 79 percent of Germans envision their country as a place that values quiet, comfort and affluence over any involvement in the trials and troubles of the world. Awar and its demands for allied support -- financial, moral and even military -- doesn't fit in.
"The Germans think they are living on an island where peace and friendship prevail," Arnulf Baring, professor of contemporary history at Berlin's Free University, said recently. "But that's not the case. That was 1990, and unfortunately 1991 looks a lot different. I think the Germans have become spoiled, cowardly and mentally lazy," from having relied on America too much for too long.
Why focus anti-war demonstrations exclusively on America? "The U.S. is the superpower," says Wilhelm Knabe, a World War II veteran and a founder of the pacifist Greens Party, which, after suffering a humiliating defeat in the December German elections, is now enjoying a revival. "You are responsible for the massive use of weapons. We have taken the greatest responsibility there is -- to stand up for peace."
That attitude is an embarrassment to many Germans, especially those who recall the postwar CARE packages or live in communities whose economies depend on the 160,000 or so U.S. soldiers remaining in Germany. Surges of anti-Americanism occur fairly regularly here. Eleven years before his warning against "anti-American tendencies" last week, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher issued an almost identical warning against "fashionable anti-Americanism." In 1982 and 1983, German streets filled with dueling demonstrations for and against America and its German-based nuclear weapons.
But this latest display has drawn criticism even from Petra Kelly, a leader of the Greens' anti-nuclear protests a decade ago. "The incomprehensible silence about earlier crimes . . . such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and above all the threat to Israel of a new Holocaust helped along by German companies has cost the German peace movement a good chunk of its credibility," Kelly wrote in last week's Die Zeit.
A barrage of editorials in Germany's conservative press has lambasted Kohl for not moving quickly to lead public opinion out of its peace-at-all-costs corner. Opposing the war is fine, these editorials say. But why do protesters stand outside U.S. facilities and not the Iraqi embassy? And why did it take weeks of pressure to get antiwar crowds interested in German companies that provided Saddam Hussein with advice and materials for his chemical weapons and nuclear industries?
Finally, last week, demonstrators began holding signs such as "German Gas 1944, German Gas 1991." And Kohl broke his week-long silence on the war by dispatching a delegation to Israel to show Germany's solidarity. But the Sueddeutsche Zeitung survey found Israel to be the one country in the world from which Germans would most like to see Bonn distance itself. Thirty-two percent said Germany should have less to do with Israel; only 4 percent named the Jewish state as a country with which Germany ought to have "particularly good and close relations."
Even Israel, which values its close ties to Bonn, has spoken out against the German reaction to the war. "Poison gas, Germans and Jews -- these are concepts which do not fit well together," said Israel's ambassador to Bonn, Benjamin Navon. The recurrent metaphor for Germany is the sheltered child who must now face the real world. This does not fit well with the American image of Germany, the confident, efficient, educated engineer. But this is a country whose people have been taught that their fathers and grandfathers committed the worst crimes known to mankind, that their ancestors habitually dragged the world into ruinous conflict.
These are people who, in many cases, are reluctant to admit their nationality when abroad. They are people who for four decades relied on other countries for protection and political leadership.
Now, just as they regain full sovereignty, the Germans are forced to confront their deepest wound.
"We have lost our lust for weapons," Kohl said last week. "This is a country which is imbued, more than most others, with the effects of war. Our sensitivity is huge." But the chancellor stopped there.
"Germany's responsibilities have grown and will be shouldered," German President Richard von Weizsaecker said. But even Weizsaecker, who has enlarged his largely ceremonial job by speaking thoughtfully about Germany's cruelest hours, has yet to speak out on the war or his countrymen's reaction to it. Neither he nor any other German leader has managed to speak out about the occasional conflicts between love for freedom and love for peace.