East German Army Officer (and now American Oath Keeper!) Tells How the East German Military Refused Unlawful Orders to Crush Protests, Stood Down, and Led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
In this remarkable interview, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes speaks with Gunter Spens, now a member of Texas Oath Keepers, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the East German Army when communism collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. LTC Spens tells how the East German military refused unlawful orders given by the Communist Party to crush peaceful mass protests and simply stood down, staying on the base. Without the support of the military, the communist party and their Stasi secret police were powerless and could no longer oppress the people. As we have always said, no government on earth can oppress the people without the support of the military, and a government’s secret police, however feared they had been in the past, cannot stand against the mass of the people when the military withdraws its support. In East Germany, once the military refused orders to stop the mass protests on November 7, 1989, Stasi secret police knew the gig was up and stripped off their uniforms, trying to melt into crowds or pretending to be normal soldiers. Two days later, the Berlin Wall fell. LTC Spens describes what it was like to live under Communism, where they had a constitution on paper, but not in reality because the communist party ran everything and through its secret police, the Stasi, kept everyone under its thumb.
He describes how back in 1968, during the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_Spring) , some East German military officers refused to invade Czechoslovakia because it violated their oath, which was to defend the Constitution and the people of East Germany, and their Army regulations also prohibited violations of the international laws of war, and they were convinced that invading Czechoslovakia was not in defense of the nation, and was in violation of international law. Unfortunately, at that time the Communist Party was so strong, and had such a lock down on the military and all of society, that those brave officers were simply “disappeared” as happened to millions under Communism.
But, by 1989, the power of the Communist Party had begun to weaken, and as economic hardship spread, and as the East German people saw the sharp contrast of freedom in West Germany, the government lost legitimacy in the eyes of the great mass of the people (including in the military, who came from the people). The loss of legitimacy was already a fact in the hearts and minds of the people, and all that was needed was a spark to lead to the routing of the party. In some places, like in Romania, that spark was sudden, leading to a rapid collapse within the span of ten days (and in Romania, the Army also stood down and refused orders to fire on the people). But in East Germany, it started in January 1989 as a quiet, small peaceful march of a few people, simply walking through town. Every Monday, after church, marchers would leave the church and walk through town. Since there was no free speech in a communist country, they didn’t even carry signs, shout slogans, or say anything at all (making it harder for the communist party to have them arrested for being “subversive”). They simply walked.
At first, it was 150 people “just walking” through town. Then as more joined in, the weekly marches grew in size throughout 1989 until on November 7, 1989, on the anniversary of the founding of the “German Democratic Republic” (East Germany) the marchers numbered 150,000. On that day, the Communist Party ordered the military to deploy and stop the protests. The commander of the Army refused, and ordered that all troops were to stay in the Army base. Because the Communist Party did not trust the local troops to oppress their own people, they had brought in young paratroopers from the northern part of East Germany. But when the orders came down to crush the protests, the base commander made it clear that not only would none of his troops leave the base, but none of the paratroopers would be leaving the base either – and none did. The East German Army simply stood down. And that was that. The Communist Party, without military support, was truly a paper tiger and could do nothing to stop the marches, and two days later the Wall of Shame finally came crumbling down and the people of East Germany were free of their communist oppressors.
The lessons here are many, but the central lesson is that when a government loses legitimacy in the eyes of enough of the people, and when the military simply stands down, there can indeed be a peaceful revolution. There have been many who have presumed that such a peaceful overthrow of dictatorships cannot happen, that violence is the only way. But what happened in East Germany shows that a peaceful revolution is possible when enough of the people, and enough in the military, simply withdraw their consent and begin to act like free people. Certainly if there is not enough who feel the same way and are willing to stand up, then those few who do stand will be arrested and “disappeared,” as happened in 1968. or a nation may have to suffer through a violent revolution or civil war. But it is clearly possible that there can come a tipping point, a point of no return, where the government loses legitimacy in the eyes of so many of the people, that the great mass withdraws consent and support. When that happens, the emperor truly has no cloths.
What the military does is key. In fact, what the military does is always key to what happens in a country – whether the government becomes oppressive in the first place is dependent on the consent and cooperation of the military, and whether it remains in power is also entirely dependent on the consent and cooperation of the military. And when the military withdraws that consent, cooperation, and support, no matter how ruthless the dictator, he is powerless. Whenever a government attempts to oppress the people, the military will largely determine the course of events. Will they do the right thing and refuse to obey unlawful orders? If so, it can be a bloodless, peaceful rooting out of oppressive government. But if the military obeys those unlawful orders and oppresses the people, then it can lead to a bloody civil war, to the people having no choice but to fight a desperate revolution against their own military, or to a murderous tyranny, as we have seen in so many examples from the sad history of the 20th Century. All the barbaric mass murder of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. was only possible because the military of each of those nations gave its support and consent by simply following orders. And likewise for the oppression of East Germany, Romania, and all of the Eastern Block nations under communism.
We Americans are fortunate enough to have the chance to avoid such a dark tyranny in the first place if our military and police simply keep the oath they all took to defend the Constitution. Note how LTC Spens tells us that the oath in the East German Army was similarly to the constitution of that country, but because of the monopoly of power the communist party held, where every officer had to belong to the party, and every judge, that oath meant little because the party was always right, and everyone knew better than to say no, or else. We Americans are not yet at such a point, and the way to prevent this nation ever going down that road is to remind all of our current serving of their oath, and encourage them to refuse unlawful orders, big and small. If they do that, it does not take a majority, but as our Founders said, a tireless minority can light brushfires in the minds of men. By setting examples now, by being courageous now, they can prevent this nation from ever having to experience what other people have been unfortunate to have to endure.
And another key point is that the East German Military did not pull a military coup against the communist party. They did not overthrow the government and take over. They simply stood down and let the people handle it. And as LTC Spens says in the interview, in the transition government set up by the people, a priest wound up being the new Secretary of the Army. That was a people’s peaceful revolution, not a military coup.
Our military should be expected to do AT LEAST as well as the military of East Germany when/if orders come down to oppress the American people. That is what we should expect of them, and what we should demand of them. If they simply remember their oath, and refuse unlawful orders, tyranny cannot come to America. And if, God forbid, an American President were tempted to try to “suspend the Constitution” and declare “martial law” (which is nowhere in our Constitution), our military should simply stand down and, regardless of how unlawful the commands, resist the temptation of military coup in response, which has been the bane of many a Republic. Such a coup would be as unconstitutional as anything a President could do, and would likewise be a destruction of our Constitution. In fact, we can think of no more diabolical way to destroy our Constitution than to trick the American people into thinking the only way to stop an usurping President is to jump into the arms of a cabal of Generals who lead a military coup. That would be a false choice, and would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. There must be no American Franco or Pinoche. If such orders ever come in America, the military should do as the East German Army did and simply stand down, stay on base, and refuse to deploy against the people, and let we the people and our states handle it. We will take care of the situation just as the people of East Germany did, finally, in November of 1989.
Members of the American Armed Forces, heed the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, who mandated that you take an oath to defend the Constitution, and put that oath requirement in the Constitution itself. You defend the Constitution, first and foremost, by refusing ALL unlawful orders, and especially orders that are contrary to our Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. So long as you do so, tyranny cannot come to America in the first place, and the American people will never have to resort to taking up arms in defense of liberty, as our forefathers had to. But even if, in the worst case scenario, they ever are compelled to do so, again, you hold in your hands the destiny of this nation and by your standing down, you can ensure that any such last resort to arms in defense of liberty is short and relatively bloodless. Simply withdraw your consent and support, and no matter how ruthless, blood-thirsty, and unlawful those who hold office may want to be, it cannot be done without you. We sincerely hope no such events ever occur here in the United States, and by keeping your oaths now, you can make sure of it. First, we hope no American President is so foolish, ignorant, or so willfully violates his or her own oath. But if that should ever happen, we hope that you do what is right, stand down, and leave the would-be emperor with no cloths – no power to oppress the people. Withdraw your consent. Stand down. Keep your oath.
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