"Little Patience for Frivolous Speeches - A Personal Remembrance of Wehrkunde and Ewald von Kleist"

Beginning today, we offer a few essays from the book "Towards Mutual Security - Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference" exclusively on this site. The first is a piece by William S. Cohen, the former US Defense Secretary and long-time leader of the Congressional delegation to Munich.

The cover of "Towards Mutual Security - Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference" (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht).

"After President Harry Truman led America through the end of World War II, he tried to settle an age-old debate. While some had declared that humans are but flotsam on the uncontrollable currents of history, Truman said no, "Individuals make history, and not the other way around. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." It was his belief in this principle that led Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist, as a twenty-two-year-old lieutenant in the German army, to risk his life in attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler—acts that were rewarded with arrest and detention in a concentration camp. And it was his belief in this principle that led him to found the Munich Security Conference in 1963.

 

At Wehrkunde, as it was then known, Kleist brought together courageous, skillful leaders from across the North Atlantic alliance, individuals ready to seize opportunities to make history. And make history they did—from the dawn of the Cold War to its peaceful conclusion; from the reunification of Germany to the enlargement of the Alliance; from NATO’s historic deploy- ments in the Balkans to the first invocation of Article V and the Alliance’s first mission outside of Europe following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

 

These events might have seemed unimaginable to Ewald von Kleist when he sat shivering in the concentration camp barracks. But even as a prisoner of the Nazi regime, he never lost his faith in the power of individuals to shape history. And today, Wehrkunde stands as an enduring testament to this faith."

To download the entire essay, click here. For more information on "Towards Mutual Security - Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference," see here.

28 January 2014, by William S. Cohen

Back