NewsThe fear of World War III is back

The fear of World War III is back

The Russian attack on Ukraine has fueled fears of a Third World War for the first time since the end of the Cold War. How real is the danger?

Berlin – Younger people no longer know the feeling, but the older ones still remember it. The feeling of fear. It wasn’t necessarily acute, but it was constantly smoldering in the background.

The fear that there could be a confrontation of the superpowers – to the Third World War, including with nuclear weapons. Sometime in the second half of the 1980s, between Mikhail Gorbachev’s assumption of office as Soviet leader and party leader and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it evaporated. Now the fear is back.

Ghosts of the Cold War

For example, after the first news about Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Wolfgang Niedecken had to think of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. At that time, the USA and the USSR were on the brink of nuclear war. “I was eleven and at a boarding school,” says the head of the rock band BAP (“Verdamp long ago”) of the German Press Agency. “The big names suddenly started talking about the Third World War. I got scared and wrote to my parents.” They were to pick him up immediately – he didn’t want to be alone when war broke out.

There are likely to be many older people with such memories haunting their minds now. It is the ghosts of the Cold War that have now risen again in a different form. “This is the most dangerous moment in history since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962,” says historian Heinrich August Winkler, author of an epochal “History of the West.”

In a speech to his compatriots, Russian warlord Vladimir Putin, cold as ice and with a completely still face as if cast in wax, proclaimed: “Whoever tries to hinder us, let alone create a threat to our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will have consequences never before seen in your history.”

The risk of a third world war

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) was asked on ZDF by Markus Lanz whether that was a threat to use nuclear weapons. The answer: “Yes, that’s how you have to understand it.” Do you have to take it seriously? “Of course you don’t want to believe that he is serious about threatening to use nuclear weapons as a first strike,” Habeck replied.

“But for a long time you couldn’t believe that he was attacking Ukraine completely in a pincer movement like we haven’t seen on this continent for 75 years. And we’ve been taught better, and we have to admit we were naïve. That’s why everyone is extremely concerned.” One thing is certain: “We cannot go to war with Russia. We cannot risk a third world war.”

A threat to use atomic bombs and the risk of a third world war – when was the last time you heard that? In the 1990s, one might have thought that the 20th century would put such times aside forever. At that time there was talk of the “end of history”. Democracy, the rule of law and a liberal market economy should triumph forever. “Who should go to war against whom when there is only one superpower left?” This is how the writer Navid Kermani recalls it in “Zeit”.

turning point in Europe

All these certainties are gone. turning point in Europe. In an interview with the German Press Agency, the psychologist and bestselling author Stephan Grünewald (“How does Germany tick?”) analyzed that “most of us have never been confronted with such a threatening war situation as now in our lives”.

The Yugoslavia war of the 1990s or the Iraq war of 2003 can hardly be compared with the current situation, because one’s own area of life was never potentially threatened by it. In the Gulf War of 1991, Germany was part of the western alliance, albeit not an active participant in the war, which wrested the oil state of Kuwait from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which he had occupied. “Now, on the other hand, we find ourselves in a powerless situation,” states Grünewald.

“The fear that is now felt is anything but irrational, it is based on a very real dangerous situation. We feel that the war carries with it a level of incalculability that borders on the unimaginable.” This is a fundamental breach in the well-tempered attitude to life that Grünewald’s Rheingold Institute has repeatedly worked out in depth psychological studies in recent years.

The Shire Feeling

Grünewald calls it the Shire feeling, after the home of the good-living, well-fed hobbits from John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle-earth. A retreat where you could indulge in the feeling of having everything under control. Corona was the first major shock to this blissful state.

With the pandemic – to stay in the Tolkien image – the orc troops from dark Mordor had already come dangerously close to their personal idyll. Studies have shown: “Because it was so uncomfortable outside, many people withdrew inside, into their shells.” With the war in Ukraine, one is now experiencing how reality is massively breaking into one’s own bubble. “Now we’re at a point where we realize we can’t hide it. This will have an immense impact on the reality of our lives, possibly for years to come.”

What does the psychologist recommend in this situation? “The best thing is to talk to other people. You now need the feeling of social acceptance, of mutual support – like we had during the flood disaster, when people in the affected regions moved closer together.”

Is a nuclear war looming?

Concrete action, on the other hand, must be left to the politicians. The historian Winkler, who was born in 1938 in Königsberg (Kaliningrad), says that unity is the most important thing: “If the western alliance stands firmly together, there is a good chance of preventing Putin’s war from spreading to the rest of Europe. But only then.”

The Stockholm peace research institute Sipri does not assume that the Ukraine war will lead to the use of nuclear weapons. “I don’t think nuclear war is a likely outcome of this crisis,” said Sipri director Dan Smith. “If nuclear weapons exist, then unfortunately there is always this small possibility. And that would be catastrophic.”

Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel tries to encourage courage: “The West has already defeated an opponent with staying power,” said the former SPD chairman on ZDF. However, that really took a lot of staying power: The Cold War lasted 40 years. Then you would be in the year 2062. dpa

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