Bonzo Goes To Bitburg: 25 Years Later

In perhaps the greatest American political faux pas in my lifetime, 25 years ago today President Ronald Reagan visited a German cemetery in Bitburg that contained the remains of 49 former SS officers. There are over 2000 German war dead in this cemetery and the visiting of the [1] SS graves by Reagan provoked an outrage in the United States and abroad. While Reagan was right in wanting to close the wounds of World War II and allow the healing to flourish it was a mistake of epic proportions to honor the SS by laying a wreath.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl invited Reagan and the US was assured there would be no embarrassing stops on his itinerary. As the trip approached news of Bitburg hit the press and the outrage grew. Reagan had not even scheduled a trip to a concentration camp and yet he was to visit and honor SS dead? Even if his desire to heal old wounds and move forward was sincere, how can he defend what he said in Bitburg? Reagan stated:

“These [SS troops] were the villains, as we know, that conducted the persecutions and all. But there are 2,000 graves there, and most of those, the average age is about 18. I think that there’s nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery where those young men are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps[2]

While White House Communications Director Patrick Buchanan denies writing these remarks and does not believe they equate Holocaust victims to the same level as SS dead, it was an incredibly insensitive remark that has been remembered for twenty five year.[3] One has to question why would anyone make this statement? What possible good can come out of this? The remark was allegedly made “on the fly” and had not been planned. First Lady Nancy Reagan as well as many members of Congress and the Senate (both Republican and Democrat) opposed this visit to Bitburg and Reagan insisted upon going as to not embarrass Kohl.

Some things are worth embarrassing a friend over – honoring 49 members of a murderous, sadistic group like the Waffen-SS with the presence of the leader of the United States is certainly one of them.

[1] Ronald Reagan at Bitburg cemetery with German President Richard von Weizäcker




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5 Responses to “Bonzo Goes To Bitburg: 25 Years Later”

  1. T Donovan Says:

    I remember this incident well. Even though I was a teenager, it still pissed me off to no end. Kudos to The Ramones for memorializing this political shit-storm with a hit song!

  2. sapblatt Says:

    Interesting thing is Johnny Ramone was a big Reagan supporter and forced the band to call the song “Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” as he was not willing to dis the pres in the formal title.
    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. OD13 Says:

    My now deceased uncle, a professor of political science & scholar of Far East and Russian studies, always said the rest of the world’s politicians saw Reagan as a war monger. Perhaps Kohl wanted to test this theory.

  4. sapblatt Says:

    Hey Dana – thanks for reading and posting – I think that is a very fair assessment – someone reminded me why this all happened – Kohl allowed NATO/Reagan to put nuclear missles in West Germany for easy access to annihilating the USSR – so Reagan felt like he owed Kohl a favor and Kohl wanted the Bitburg visit for home country political reasons…pretty tastless all around.

  5. Kevin Says:

    This was the man from Hollywood, after all. The man who outlawed Russia and was to begin bombing in 5 minutes. Regan always seemed to be playing the part to me. Like he actually thought he was simply playing the president in a movie. Ignorant comments like this were tossed out by “the real man”, and not the leading man. Like if the cameras were not rolling it didn’t really count.

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