Obituary – Dietrich Fischer 1941-2015

By Christina Spännar & Jan Oberg

Our dear friend and TFF Associate since 1985, professor Dietrich Fischer, died today, October 18, 2015.

We met Dietrich through another dear friend Johan Galtung and, together with then West German lieutenant-colonel Wilhelm Nolte, Dietrich became the first scholar-in-residence at TFF in Lund in 1986. That lead to Fischer, Nolte and Oberg’s “Winning Peace. Strategies and Ethics for A Nuclear-Free World published in 1989.”

The two scholars came and worked for periods at TFF, went back home to re-write and then back to Lund – no emails and Dropbox at the time. We met, worked, ate, drank, did excursions and played with our children together. That’s how we did it.

And here’s the local newspaper from January 8, 1986:

Wilhelm Nolte, Jan Oberg and Dietrich Fischer

Dietrich was a genius in defensive defence thinking, probably assisted well with his logic, mathematical thinking. Defensive defence was also an element of his personality – humble, explorative, listening and never confrontational – to the point of (later in life) being willing to endure unacceptable working conditions which, fortunately, he was always able to look beyond.

Dietrich was a brilliant mind and could remember everything he’d heard once. Whenever I have met him during the 30 years, he always asked not – “how are your children” but “how is Matilda and how is Joen?” He always responded to mails – and we got an early warning about today’s very very sad news because for about 10 days there was no reply from Dietrich to a mail about the exam results of a former common student. Had he been OK, he would have been there for her.

Dietrich served as academic director at the European Peace University, EPU, in Stadschlaining in Austria – for as long as I was a visiting lecturer. We used to take long walks over the foggy fields in the morning because I felt that he needed to both walk and talk – hit as he had been by a permanent infection during a visit to India and hit by bureaucracy, rigid rules and marginalization by people who higher up understood neither his personality, his humanity nor his genius.

What kept him going was the boundless love of his students. Dietrich cared about every single person, helped those in need – paid out of his own pocket if there was a need. He was, in our view, a thoroughly good human being with an unusual capacity to empathize and do good.

EPU came to an end – but long before Dietrich and many of us teachers transferred to the World Peace Academy, WPA, in Basel where he could also link up with the Galtung Institute just over the border in Germany. He was again the brilliant academic director at WPA and stood by the side of the students. Always. He was a kind of father of a peace student family where no one else had that capacity. No office hours, his door was open to anyone.

His health deteriorated – the infection, diabetes and blood infections and what not. The last time I had a longer talk with Dietrich was at the Basel Hospital – but he was in good mood. He had a long-term view and tried not to engage too much in the meaner activities of lesser minds inside and outside the university to whom peace studies in general and his soft, non-bureaucratic style was a threat. He took it stoically and continued his work in devotion to students. I can’t remember him fighting back at injustices that hit him. He always saw the niche, the opportunities to – in spite of all – do good. But I’m not sure he did not feel hurt somewhere deep down.

He balanced the ways of the world not only with his tremendous knowledge – nay, wisdom – and future views, with professional optimism. He also collected stories and jokes – indeed, one could not meet Dietrich without him telling jokes. Not his own, not a twist of words at the moment – no, a collection of thousands of stories from around the world that he remembered and published in books, stories of wisdom and edifying stories to live by including funny stories. I’m no psychologist but perhaps this passion of his in stories, collecting and telling them, became something of a shield against the brutality of the local and global world in his latter years.

Dear Dietrich, it is not too much to say that we loved you for all you did for us at TFF, helping us in your extremely soft and inviting ways, to put our TFF child on track.

You were the main source of our early, pioneering insights into the whole area of defensive defence – non-violent as well as military – and also about how necessary it is to rid the world of nuclear weapons but do it in a Gandhian manner. It was thanks to you that our common book got ethics into it, so much Gandhian inspiration.

Christina and I are very sad tonight.

But tomorrow we will smile and feel how thankful we are to have met someone like you, dear Dietrich, worked with you and had you as a dear friend and colleague for over 30 years. We feel privileged. You shall not rest in peace – we thoroughly dislike the association of peace with death and “RIP” should be cleansed – but you’ll rest in our hearts and minds and in hundreds, if not thousands, of students’ hearts and minds in the U.S. and Europe. And your thinking and attitude will remain an inspiration for TFF and ourselves for as long as we keep going.

The smile will also be on our faces tomorrow because we know from our students how grateful they feel for all you did for them. And the good teacher and the good academic director is judged, first of all, by how deeply he or she is devoted to and loved by the students. You were more than anyone else we know, rest assured of that. And in that – unmeasurable – “indicator lies all you greatness. Thanks for everything, dear Dietrich. And keep on teaching peace, collecting and telling stories and make people smile…

Christina and Jan
Your devote students and friends

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