Over the last 15 days I have been to Europe on a "VE Tour" with Wartburg College. The picture above is from Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther translated the Bible into common German while hiding with a price on his heard.
This tour was with my wife and 45 new friends. VE stands for a Victory in Europe Tour. I am a WW II European history buff and this was right up my alley. My father landed at Normandy D-Day plus 20 and made his way across Europe as a tank mechanic earning three bronze stars. I was very proud of him and never really understood. He died when I as 15. Our tour guides from Wartburg College (my wife is an alumnus) were Pastor Larry Trachte and Dr. Terry Lindell. They were outstanding. They have led this tour several times. Larry has so many experiences that he shared, that I will be eternally great full. Terry had great maps and insight. Terry for example provided letters on the bus of a mother to her son that came back to her, after he had been killed. This is an example of how they humanized this experience for us besides seeing the sights. Alas this this was their last tour as a dynamic team, so you will not have the ability to have the same tour from this outstanding team. I am so great full that I was able to be on this tour with my wife and with Larry and Terry as tour guides. I want to share some lessons learned that I think can help you too.
I went with an expectation of following the GI's from London, through Portsmouth, Normandy, Paris, Bastogne, Luxemberg, Neueddettlesau, Eisenach, Merkers Salt Mine (The Monument Men mine), Wartburg Castle, Wittenberg, Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Berlin, Postdam and more. That was accomplished, but something hit me and changed the way I look at the world.
The Europeans don't see WWII as the movie Patton, The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan or other great WWII movies. Having read dozens of books, watched numerous documentaries and heard many stories, I thought I would simply be confirming what I knew. To an extent this was true. However, Europeans experienced it. They see it as a colossal failure that cost 60 million people their lives in Europe (that was 3% of the world's population at that time).
I learned that the first bombing of London was a mistake by a German bomber who was lost and simply dropped his bombs. The results were England bombing civilian targets in Germany. The results of that was an all out bombing of London. The results of that were all out destruction of German cities by aerial bombing. The escalation was total.
Their museums and histories chronicle the activities that took place, but more importantly they tell the stories of the people and the soldiers (GI's, the Germans, the Russians etc.). Visiting the US Cemetery at Omaha Beach and seeing two US veterans from our group put a wreath next to the flag and then mouthing the words to the Star Spangled banner (because I was to choked up to sing the words) was awe inspiring. Looking at 14,000 grave markers and realizing that another 28,000 are buried in US. cemeteries from the D-Day invasion and its follow up is amazing. What a sacrifice. After touring the beaches and Point du Hoc I can only imagine the tremendous bravery of those soldiers. It was inspiring. I am not sure that I am that brave. Later visiting German and Soviet cemeteries I gained another perspective as well. So many men and women lost their lives all thinking they were right.
When we went to Buchenwald concentration camp and I saw a beautiful red headed teenage girl in total tears in her mother's arms, how could anyone not be moved. I don't know who she was or why she was crying uncontrollably, but my imagination provided me reasons as to why. Man's inhumanity to man was clearly demonstrated at this camp.
In Nuremberg we toured the museum and great hall where the Nazis had their rallies we have seen on public TV. They were impressive. These grew from a one day event in 1933 to an eight day event in 1938. Two women in their sixties commented in videos taken years ago about how proud they were and how caught up they were with the banners, their country's flags, the crowds, and the excitement in seeing Adolf Hitler. They competed with each other to see who could see Adolf Hitler the most times in a year. They were reliving their youth and how exciting it was at the time with such nationalism. It gave me a perspective to be very careful about nationalism, less we think we are right and the world is wrong.
At the Deutsches Museum in Berlin there is a special exhibit of WWII that we went to outside of our group. The Germans offer insights from people that were impacted in the 13 countries invaded by the Nazis and how devastating this was. This is how the Germans portray what took place. They want to learn not to bomb innocents or take themselves so self righteously to think they know what is right for others. They look at the consequences of what took place and want to educate their population on how devastating war is so as to avoid it if at all possible. The consequences are clearly presented from all sides. Everyone loses in war.
On our last day the "Love Parade" with tens of thousands of people came by our hotel in Berlin to promote love, peace, and understanding. It was very impressive. It looked like more people than an exit at a sold out Iowa Hawkeye football game was a comment from one of our group members. I initially watched this from our 12th floor hotel room. Then I went down to the street to experience it. What a novel, peaceful idea. It was very orderly and afterwards the sanitation crews simply followed and cleaned up the streets. Could we have marches for peace here like that?
I went with an American pride and interest in history. I came back with a much deeper understanding of the devastation of World War II and the cold war. There were additional lessons learned.
Larry Trachte was a minister in East Berlin during the cold war and has been to Germany many times. His insights and experiences were very insightful. Researching Martin Luther (Wartburg is a Lutheran College in Waverly, Iowa) and the impact he made to try and change the Catholic Church, resulting in the reformation movement was very educational. In his later years Martin Luther seems to have become caught up with himself. He was in poor health. He became very self righteous. His writings in his later years with negative commentary on the Jews and referring to the Pope as the anti-Christ were clearly misguided. The Nazi's used these anti Jewish writings to promote killing Jews. That is a sad reflection on Lutheranism that needs to be clearly articulated and differentiated. I believe in forgiveness, the need to love God and the need to love they neighbor. When ever hate enters the picture we need to be very careful. Jesus Christ did not promote hate. He promoted understanding and forgiveness.
Reflecting on these types of experiences, I believe we need to encourage our leaders to work with each other, to listen to other's persectives, to avoid dogma and to work tirelessly for peace. Any other alternative is unacceptable.
With my latest book "Peaceful Resolutions" in final review, I will need to make some changes given this tour. De-escalation is key to starting the dialogue. Regardless if you are in a conversation, discussion, negotiation or mediation, explore the other side's interests. Look for areas of commonality. Try to understand where the other party is coming from. Try to bond emotionally. Don't demonize the other side. If you do we all lose.
We need to search for ways to be tolerant, empathetic and understanding. We need to do all we can to avoid conflict. We need to encourage our leaders to do this as well. As a mediator that has helped others find solutions as a neutral over 400 times, I am continually learning. Mediation is an art and not a science, though scientific principles and neuroscience play a significant role. Let's learn from history and promote understanding.
What other choice do we have?
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]