Duve began by pointing out that his topic, which was chosen some two years ago, had become more relevant when he arrived in Washington to discover that the Bush administration had used the same handbooks in Iraq that had been written for building democracy in Germany in 1945, and were extensively used in Germany in 1945-1947. He added that James Dobbins' recent RAND study on "America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq" did not distinguish different historical traditions which set distinct requirements for introducing democracy in the various places where the United States had attempted to build it. Duve's discussion of democracy building in Germany combined some of his own experiences as a child in first meeting Americans and then coming to appreciate later what they had been doing in Germany to quoting from the unpublished diaries of prominent banker Eric Warburg who as a young officer in the U.S. Army had been among those interrogating prominent Nazi criminals being prepared for war crimes trials. Among other points that Warburg made was the scrupulous attention to the stipulations of the Geneva Conventions and other elements of international law in the attempt to guarantee the trials of the leading Nazi war criminals would give every appearance of fairness and equity. He drew implicit distinctions with the attempts to exclude certain enemy combatants at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan from the protections of the Geneva Conventions and the failure to bring to any form of judicial proceeding the vast majority of those captured.
He dwelled at some length on the difficulty of building democracy in Germany. It took many years of work beyond the allied sponsored war crimes trials. German citizens had no real debate on the crimes of the Nazi era for a variety of reasons including the return of fourteen million expelled Germans from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the severe hunger, the destruction of up to 90% of many German cities, and the experience of returning prisoners of war. It took basically a generation before these issues were fully discussed and integrated into the civil society of Germany.
In brief remarks about the recent situation in the Balkans and in the Soviet Union in the 1990s, he pointed out again the difficulty of establishing democracy in areas that had not fully developed the supporting institutions and on how each society had to develop democracy within its own traditions, emphasizing that there was not one model that could be applied in all situations.