# 330: Embrace

Grass, Günter (2002). Im Krebsgang: Eine Novelle, 60.

Story behind the Passage

In my childhood, I dealt quite a lot with war. Not personally but via stories. As most people in my generation, my parents were born in the middle or shortly after the war. Their stories therefore became part of our stories — if we liked it or not. Most people did not like the war stories of theie grandparents at some point. Somehow, people do not like stories about war at all. That is understandable because war is a nasty thing. That is also why it is one of the most life-changing things — if not the most life-changing thing. You will never forget war if you have experienced it. At least, this is what I learned from the stories. And we, our generation, then learned to learn about war as we were taught about the Second World War in school and the fact that Germany will always be involved in wars somehow because we were the ones who started some of the biggest wars in history.

Now, war is right here, right now again.

You did not notice?

Just watch to your left and to your right.

Your neighbor might be a refugee.

Your colleague in business might be a former soldier.

I watched the return of the German troops from Afghanistan on TV yesterday and I will never forget these images. I will never forget the speech given by the leading officer and the handing over by the general to the general inspector. I will never forget it because it shaped me. Being open to the things that matter most in life is the precondition for realizing what really matters. Yes, there are many things that matter, you might say now. But guess what, there are not that many after all. After all, there is only one thing, actually one dualism, which basically rules all our behavior, if we are aware of it or not. But when we hear the terms uttered by others, we immediately leave aside all other things. This dualism is simple: Life and death.

In my teenage and early student years in university, I read quite a few books about military history. I especially read the stories about the navy and liked exploring German submarines in museums. This is also how I ended up reading Kreuzgang. As with most books that I read a long time ago, I hardly remember anything specific about the plot. But when I look at the cover and the underlined passages, I immediately know that it moved and shaped me quite a bit. I even remember carrying it around for quite a while and taking it along to a political education seminar where we used to do literature cafés. This is all I remember about the past. And here comes the present — my mind is still deeply moved and touched by what I saw yesterday.

My poem today is dedicated to the men and women of the German Armee as well as to all the international soldiers, their families, our local staff members who are left behind, and all others who are trying to fix what no one can really fix anymore.

My Learnings

They are all back,

Every single one.

Healthy outside,

Broken inside.


Incredible scenes,

Stored in memory,

No words for it,

No time to think,

Hopefully help to reflect


You led them there,

You were with them,

You gave them orders,

You trusted in them.


Cannot imagine the pressure,

On your slim shoulders.

Every second in tension,

Every nerve hyped up.


Weeks consist of days,

Days consist of hours,

Hours consist of minutes,

Every second is a threat.


Answering questions,

About the future,

Is speculation,

In your military eyes.


You were trained,

To go on missions,

You have learned,

What it means to serve.


You did more,

Than anybody can imagine,

You must have wondered,

How this can work.


Looking in the faces,

Of tired men and women,

You must love them,

Each and everyone.


What you must think,

About so-called pacifists,

Who march in the streets,

Selling visions without a plan.


Standing up,

Facing cameras,

Inside you see,

Helpless victims of war.


What comes next?

Will you see them again?

They go back to their places,

Everyday soldier life waiting.


You can train everything,

Life is always different.

Have you realized yet,

What a miracle you performed?


All professional,

Voice clear,

Tears inside,

Posture outside


Then the moment,

When humanity hit,

A woman without uniform,

A man armed.

United in embrace.

Reflection Questions

1) Can you imagine that there will be wars on European soil again?

2) Which live broadcast of a political event has stayed in your memory? Why?

3) How do you think about the role of the military in our times?