Feb. 9: The Rumsfelds of Weyhe-Sudweyhe, an unremarkable red-brick suburb of Bremen, were once proud of their long-lost cousin, America’s secretary of state for defence — but no longer.
Like many Germans, they are appalled by Donald Rumsfeld’s hawkish attitude to military action against Saddam Hussein. About 18,000 anti-war demonstrators marched through Munich yesterday to protest at his presence at an international security conference — chanting slogans such as “No room for Rumsfeld!”
“We think it is dreadful that Donald Rumsfeld is out there pushing for a war against Iraq,” Karin Cecere (nee Rumsfeld), 59, said from her two-up, two-down home. “We are embarrassed to be related to him,” she said.
Margarete Rumsfeld, her 85-year-old mother, was equally dismissive: “We don’t have much to do with him anymore. Nowadays he’s just the American defence secretary to us, but for God’s sake, he’d better not start a war.”
They used to feel differently. Twenty-five years ago, the German Rumsfelds were thrilled to welcome Rumsfeld — then the US ambassador to Nato stationed in Brussels — into their extended family.
Like many Americans keen to trace their European antecedents, Rumsfeld had made contact with the Weyhe-Sudweyhe Rumsfelds, a branch of the family with whom his near relations had lost touch since his great-great-grandfather, Heinrich, emigrated to America during the 19th century.
Rumsfeld paid three visits to Dietrich Rumsfeld, a bricklayer, and his wife Margarete in their small artisan’s cottage. On the last occasion, they greeted him with chicken soup and roast pork for lunch. “It was a really pleasant family gathering, almost like a wedding,” said Karin Cecere. “Mr Rumsfeld seemed a genuinely nice man. It is such a shame about his war ambitions.”
She had grown up during the Second World War and her instincts were to search for a solution to the deadlock with Saddam that did not involve military action. “I was born in the war and saw its aftermath, and my mother went through it,” she said. “There must be a peaceful way of solving the Iraq problem.”
This change of heart over their Rumsfeld cousin reflects the mood in Germany. More than 60 per cent of Germans oppose a war and the US defence secretary has become a hate figure for the country’s peace movement. His desire to topple Saddam by force is at odds with the Social Democrat-led government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which is opposed to war in Iraq.
Even before his arrival in Germany yesterday, Mr
Rumsfeld had faced fierce criticism from senior German
government officials for describing France and Germany
as "old Europe".
Last week he caused further outrage when he told the
House Armed Services Committee in Washington that
Germany, like "Libya and Cuba", had indicated that it
"did not want to help in any way" the international
efforts to tackle Iraq.
The German government attempted to play down the
criticism. "Mr Rumsfeld is like he is. I can say no
more," said Joschka Fischer, the foreign minister.
Other senior politicians were more explicit. "Rumsfeld
has flipped out - his behaviour is impossible," said
Klaus Kinkel, a Free Democrat and former foreign
Some Germans have misgivings, however, that their
country's hard line against war with Iraq may backfire
- especially if, as widely predicted, France drops its
own objections at the last minute and joins in
Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democrats,
yesterday became the first opposition figure to call
for Germany to become involved. "If it is impossible
to solve the situation peacefully then Germany has to
take part in a military operation," she said, accusing
Mr Schröder's government of "spreading ill-will and
confusion" in Nato.
In Munich Mr Rumsfeld sought to dispel the furore over
his own comments by claiming that he had intended the
phrase "old Europe" as a term of affection, like that
of "old friends".
He admitted that he was sometimes inclined to be blunt
- but blamed it on his German roots. "My family
originates from northern Germany. People there are
well known for their direct and clear manner of
His explanation did not impress most Germans - least
of all his cousins in Weyhe-Sudweyhe. Mrs Cecere said:
"We're all in favour of plain-speaking but our
relation goes just too far."