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April 18, 2012

What must be said

Günter Grass

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Why have I kept silent, silent for too long

over what is openly played out

in war games at the end of which we

the survivors are at best footnotes.

It’s that claim of a right to first strike

against those who under a loudmouth’s thumb

are pushed into organized cheering—

a strike to snuff out the Iranian people

on suspicion that under his influence

an atom bomb’s being built.

But why do I forbid myself

to name that other land in which

for years—although kept secret—

a usable nuclear capability has grown

beyond all control, because

no scrutiny is allowed.

The universal silence around this fact,

under which my own silence lay,

I feel now as a heavy lie,

a strong constraint, which to dismiss 

courts forceful punishment:

the verdict of “Antisemitism” is well known.

But now, when my own country,

guilty of primal and unequalled crimes

for which time and again it must be tasked—

once again, in pure commerce,

though with quick lips we declare it

reparations, wants to send

Israel yet another submarine—

one whose speciality is to deliver

warheads capable of ending all life

where the existence of even one

nuclear weapon remains unproven,

but where suspicion serves for proof—

now I say what must be said.

But why was I silent for so long?

Because I thought my origin,

marked with an ineradicable stain,

forbade mention of this fact

as definite truth about Israel, a country

to which I am and will remain attached.

Why is it only now I say,

in old age, with my last drop of ink,

that Israel’s nuclear power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what by tomorrow might be

too late, must be spoken now,

and because we—as Germans, already

burdened enough—could become

enablers of a crime, foreseeable and therefore

not to be eradicated

with any of the usual excuses.

And admittedly: I’m silent no more

because I’ve had it with the West’s hypocrisy

—and one can hope that many others too

may free themselves from silence,

challenge the instigator of known danger

to abstain from violence,

and at the same time demand

a permanent and unrestrained control

of Israel’s atomic power

and Iranian nuclear plants

by an international authority

accepted by both governments.

Only thus can one give help

to Israelis and Palestinians—still more,

all the peoples, neighbour-enemies

living in this region occupied by madness

“Was gesagt werden muss” published in Süddeutschen Zeitung (4 April 2012)

Translation by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz

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