Finding peace at the “gi cafe”

There are anti-war posters on the wall, chocolate cake with orange buttercream filling, soft drinks and, of course, a coffee at the counter: the first Europe-wide counseling center for U.S. conscientious objectors opened in downtown Kaiserslautern a few days ago.

"Free coffee for military personnel," beckons a note stuck to the wide window front of the "GI Cafe" at Richard-Wagner-Strasse 48. Meike and Chris Capps-Schubert are still waiting for the first U.S. soldiers to talk about stressful war experiences or even to leave the service. The former Iraq war veteran and conscientious objector and his wife deliberately opened "The Clearing Barrel Bar" as a pacifist base just a few kilometers away from the U.S. airbase Ramstein. The institution, with its approximately 50.000 military personnel is the largest American military base outside the U.S.

From this "hub," peace organizations have long criticized, the Americans transport soldiers and war equipment to Afghanistan, Iraq and other global theaters of war. "Many U.S. soldiers suffer from severe psychological problems and anxiety after wartime deployments and are looking for a way to leave the military," says Chris Capps-Schubert. The quiet 28-year-old Texan, who was stationed in Darmstadt, deserted when his superiors wanted to send him to Afghanistan. Dishonorably discharged from the army. For several years, he and his wife and their association Military Counseling Network (MCN) have been volunteer counselors for U.S. soldiers who want to refuse military service or leave the military.

"We do not call on US soldiers to refuse to serve"
The association, which is supported by the German Mennonite Peace Committee and other peace initiatives, is part of a global network of peace groups. Recently, the couple Capps-Schubert received the peace award of the working group peace groups in Rhineland-Palatinate. More and more U.S. Army servicemen and women are seeking help, mostly by e-mail or phone, say the couple, who originally lived in Hanau, Germany. Chris Capps-Schubert, who himself went through the wheels of the U.S. military authorities as a "conscientious objector," wants to give them legal advice and provide access to a network of counselors, doctors, psychologists and lawyers.

"We are not calling on U.S. soldiers to refuse to serve," Meike Capps-Schubert, a former educator, makes clear. The call for desertion is punishable under German and U.S. law. Rather, he said, the goal is to inform soldiers and their families and to stimulate a discussion process in the U.S. military community about American military policy.

In the pub near a busy shopping street and many pubs frequented by U.S. soldiers, what is hushed up by the U.S. military should be addressed, says Meike Capps-Schubert. It is swept under the carpet that many battle-hardened soldiers suffer from mental illness, anxiety and depression. Also, female U.S. soldiers are repeatedly sexually harassed or even raped by soldiers.

The model is coffee shops from the time of the Vietnam War
The "GI Cafe" in Kaiserlautern is modeled on the numerous coffee shops for U.S. soldiers that sprang up during the Vietnam War in the vicinity of military bases in the U.S., but also in Germany. Even back then, peace activities beyond the barbed wire fence were a thorn in the side of the military and state authorities, the couple reports. Soldiers were harassed and called "traitors to the fatherland". Today there are still two such contact points in the USA.

The Capps-Schuberts hope that their pub, financed in large part by donations, will develop into a free meeting place for Americans and Germans with cultural events. Negative reactions from German or American authorities do not exist so far, she says. "We are being watched, of course," says Meike Capps-Schubert. "We are not afraid, but we still have to take out glass insurance."There is a reason for this caution: unknown persons smashed the windows of the two American coffeehouses.

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