One of the most troubling aspects of Germany's reaction to the Katrina tragedy is just how widespread the outbursts of Schadenfreude and the ridiculous blame diatribes have been. It seemed to begin with Germany's lunatic-fringe Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin, who blamed disasters like Katrina on America's George W. Bush's environmental policy and rejection of Kyoto. Shortly thereafter, "Stern" magazine, "Die Zeit" and Chancellor Schroeder chimed in and blamed America's lack of big-state Socialism for the extent of the disaster. Yet others were simply happy to see America take a hit.
Thankfully, there was someone sane in the midst of all the finger-pointing and conspiracy-spinning to record it all. That someone is Jeffrey Gedmin, and his article on the perverse German reactions to Katrina is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and informative piece written on the subject. Mr. Gedmin has kindly granted Davids Medienkritik permission to print his work in the English original.
"Save Your Comments
By Jeffrey Gedmin
A friend of mine, born and raised in the south, a supporter of George W. Bush, has told me several times how disturbed she is by New Orleans. She finds it shocking that the U.S. government responded so slowly, and above all, left the most vulnerable, mostly poor African-Americans, to fend for themselves. Follow the U.S. commentary and you'll know that America is at the beginning of an agonizing debate, likely to last longer than the time it will take to rebuild New Orleans.
You can learn a bit about this in the German commentary about Hurricane Katrina. But that's not all. What an orgy it has been! It started with environment minister Jürgen Trittin's low blow about "climate polluter headquarters" USA. Things like Katrina will not happen, opined Professor Trittin, if only Americans would protect the environment. The Chancellor quickly joined the pack, of course. He says if only the Americans had a bigger state they could have been spared their misery. Henryk Broder found a gem, an American-hating lady from Chemnitz, who wrote to a large daily about Katrina. Her view: "A religious person could get the impresson that this is the wrath of God." My favorite, though, is the one from a fellow from Berlin-Zehlendorf, who wrote to the Berliner Morgenpost about the "war criminals" in the US government who "could care less about the deaths of blacks or foreigners." For a more sophisticated formulation of this thesis, see the front page editorial this week from Stephan-Andreas Casdorff in the Tagesspiegel who did his readers the favour of inserting himself into the brain of the U.S. President. What did Mr. Casdorff discover? That the heartless George Walker Bush would rather attend a business dinner in San Diego or play guitar on his ranch than care for fellow Americans in their hour of need.
Still, the "Armin Meiwes prize for Katrina commentary." names in honor of the "Cannibal of Rotenburg," goes to the salivating fellow from the taz who admits to feelings of "joy" over all the death and destruction. Philipp Mausshardt says he is happy that Katrina hit the United States.
A few quick points to all of this. First, I am pretty sure God did not order Katrina to punish the United States. Second, I am certain the United States needs a more serious debate about global warming. So does Germany. According to the United Nations, since the 1940s "the peak strength of the strongest hurricanes has not changed, and the mean maximum intensity of all hurricanes has decreased." Scientists are also divided, incidentally, on the cause of recent violent hurricanes. Third, a note to the outgoing Chancellor. Yes, we all love Vater Staat, but if bigger government were the answer to natural distasters, then how come your buddies in Paris did not fare better in preventing the deaths of 15.000 during the heat wave that hit France a couple years ago? Fourth, the next time the storm of a century ravages an area half the size of Germany within 24 hours, and this by the way after repeated false alarms, I have no doubt that the editors of the Tagesspiegel will roll out their master plan for a faster, more effecient, more comprehensive and more humane response than the monster Bush.
Finally, we Americans are indeed shocked and embarrassed by what has happened. There will be investigations, commissions, conferences, documentaries and books examining what should have been done differently by local, state and federal authorities. A new debate about race and poverty in America has also begun. Among the recriminations, there is introspection. Does anyone else want to get a kick in while we are on the ground?"
Indeed. But let us be clear on another point: Not all Germans share the sentiments described above. We would like to believe that most Germans do not and that those with perverse reactions are a minority. But we can also not ignore the fact that most Germans have been less than enthusiastic about helping Americans in their time of need. We would like to report the very opposite. After all, both David and I are German citizens, (David is a full German and I am dual US-German), and we would like to report that Germany has generously supported the hurricane victims. But the opposite is true. Most Germans simply assume that America is rich and doesn't need the help and yet others obviously view America with disdain and have simply chosen not to help.
The German government has sent some aid, and President Bush has thanked Chancellor Schroeder for the assistance, but apparently there is a customs issue with a portion of it that the German media is blaming on the US. This is curious indeed considering the fact that German private industry has absolutely no problem exporting things into the United States. So why the holdup?
Anyway, Jeff's article is necessary to raise awareness on the ugly side of German society, politics and media. And in that we are fully on his side. Keep up the good work Jeff!