Kurt Waldheim & Franz Jägerstätter: Contrasting Austrian Responses to the Unjust War
ON SPIRITUAL HEROISM
Kurt Waldheim is the new President of Austria. However, the controversial issues raised by his candidacy have not been resolved and are not likely to be resolved without much deeper and far-ranging reflection than has been possible in the atmosphere of an exceptionally nasty political campaign. Some of the points demanding such reflection are obvious enough. Others, perhaps the most important, are likely to escape notice.
Most immediately obvious is the personal tragedy of a public figure of international repute, a former General Secretary of the United Nations, suddenly exposed to worldwide criticism for what appears to have been peripheral involvement in Nazi war crimes. Then, as if this were not scandal enough, he chose to persist in a thoroughly unconvincing attempt to cover or distort the facts of that alleged involvement. His continuing disregard for truth provides justification enough for the serious doubts expressed as to whether he was worthy of the office he sought and achieved.
The challenges to the veracity of Waldheim’s denials and justifications will have to be dealt with before he can hope to be fully effective in his new position. Until they are honestly faced and overcome, they cannot fail to undermine the expectations of basic personal integrity one should be able to associate with individuals chosen to fill the highest office of any land.
By seeking to bury and deny his wartime record, Waldheim has converted what could have been a relatively minor issue from the past into a scandal of major proportions. After all, even allowing for the fact that, as far back as 1948, he was regarded as a possible candidate for formal war crimes charges, it is still not certain that he bore major or even direct responsibility for the war crimes in which his military unit was involved. As a desk officer of junior rank, he seems to have performed relatively routine duties — passing on orders and information, initialing reports, and doing all the things any ambitious young officer seeking to impress his superiors would have done. And did them well.
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