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November 14, 2015

Helmut Heinrich Waldemar Schmidt (1918-2015)

Helmut Schmidt, German father figure and Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982, died on November 10. He was 96. Schmidt was a brilliant, rude, savvy far-out mother. RIP, old man. See in this week's The Economist his obituary in Smoke and fire, as only TE can do one. Excerpts:

Helmut Schmidt did not just find fools tiresome. He obliterated them. The facts were clear and the logic impeccable. So disagreement was a sign of idiocy.

He was impatient, too, with his own party, which failed to realise the constraints and dilemmas of power. It wanted him to spend money West Germany did not have, and to compromise with terrorists who belonged in jail. He was impatient with the anti-nuclear left, who failed to realise that nuclear-power stations were safe, and that the Soviet empire thrived on allies’ weakness. And he was impatient with post-Watergate America, which seemed to have lost its will to lead.

In good causes and in bad he was imperious. His addiction to nicotine trumped convention and courtesy. He smoked whenever and wherever he felt like it, even in non-smoking compartments of railway carriages. “Can you ask Mr Schmidt to put his cigarette out?” a passenger asked the conductor. “Would you mind telling him yourself?” came the timid reply.

Yet his brains, eloquence and willpower were unmatched in German politics. They brought him through the Nazi period, thrown out of the Hitler Youth for disloyalty but with an Iron Cross for bravery. He was one-quarter Jewish, which he concealed when he married his wife Loki and needed to prove his Aryan background.

In post-war West Germany he flourished, making a successful career in Hamburg’s city government. By commandeering army units to deal with the floods of 1962 he broke a taboo, and the law, but gaining a deserved reputation as a doer.

Helmut Schmidt.jpg

Posted by JD Hull at November 14, 2015 12:25 AM

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