Obituary: Gert Bastian

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The Independent Online
Gert Bastian, soldier and politician, born Munich 26 March 1923, died Bonn October 1992.

GERT BASTIAN's death represents a great loss to those of us who have worked for and shared his vision of a world in which dependency on military means for settling international conflicts is no longer seen to be the road to international peace and security. I knew and collaborated with him for more than 10 years and, knowing him as I did, it seems inconceivable that the manner of his death with Petra Kelly (obituary by Stephen Padgett, Satish Kumar and Sara Parkin, 21 October) was as it appears to have been. It is difficult to imagine or accept the circumstances in which this tragedy is reported to have taken place. It was so contrary to his nature.

Since the day he resigned (he was not sacked) as a major-general of the German army in 1980, Bastian steadfastly and determinedly championed the cause of nuclear disarmament and the curtailment of the arms race. In his letter of resignation from the Bundeswehr he categorically deplored the proposed deployment of US nuclear weapons on German soil and asserted that as a commander of 20,000 soldiers, he could not continue to fulfil his obligations of obedience to policies with which he was in such disagreement. For this personal act of moral courage he was ostracised by his contemporaries in the armed forces and refused membership of his Veterans' Association on the grounds that he had somehow acted in a traitorous manner. Though others of us who have taken a comparable stand have suffered similar attacks, Bastian stood out alone in a country where militarism has at times almost been a religion. His reaction to it was to join the civilian ranks of the campaigners for nuclear disarmament and to work assiduously throughout the 1980s in support of their movement.

In 1981 Bastian became a founder member of a group of retired generals and admirals of Nato countries (later known as Generals for Peace and Disarmament), who from there on devoted themselves and the lessons of their military experiences to the disarmament cause and to promoting alternative strategies and concepts of security in Europe, based on co-operation rather than confrontation. In 1984 the group extended its activities to interact with a comparable group of retired senior officers from the Warsaw Pact countries. Gert, with his strong anti-Communist feelings, was I believe not wholly happy at this development but nevertheless continued to support wholeheartedly the work of Generals for Peace and Disarmament; as he did the further extension now taking place of forming a global consultative association of retired senior officers of armed forces from around the world as a forum which can advise collectively and effectively on any threat to international peace and security.

Gert Bastian was a man of great personal and moral courage and commitment. His work for human rights, particularly in respect of Tibet and the environment with Petra Kelly, was an extension of his firm belief that people and the planet are more important than politics and nationalism. Together they formed a team, often under stress and harassment from those who in his words were trying to reincarnate the worst evils of the past in Germany. His support for Petra's work was unstinting, particularly with regard to her efforts to create in Germany a centre for the promotion of international human rights, which had latterly become her focus. It is an additional sadness that next week it was likely that she would have received a major award in the United States which would have provided the funding to launch her venture.

In a letter written only four weeks ago to the award organisers, Gert enthusiastically welcomed the award which he said Petra so justly deserved and which would end the uncertainty and worries which had dogged her efforts for so long. For a man of Gert Bastian's qualities and courage, suicide would seem to be an act totally alien to him. What is certain is that in the deaths of Gert Bastian and Petra Kelly two bright lights have been extinguished in the fight for the human rights of the deprived and the survival of our planet's environment.