(By Ray D.)
(UPDATE: Markus Guenther offers an interesting response to this article. Read our correspondence here.)
German journalist Markus Guenther believes that the United States and its people are hypocrites. Why? Because - according to yet another supreme German media "expert" - the people of the United States conspicuously suppress their own injustices while busily memorializing distant tragedies. In an article entitled "Commemorating and Suppressing," (that appeared on the Passauer Neue Presse and Maerkische Allgemeine websites as well as in the "Politics" section of the Donauwörther Zeitung,) Guenther argues that, while Americans busily erect monuments to the victims of Communism and virtually everything else, they allegedly refuse to acknowledge the darkest chapters of their own history. He specifically brings up the legacies of slavery and the fate of the Native Americans. As "proof" that Americans are hypocrites, he claims that there is no museum documenting the plight of the Native Americans and no statue dedicated to the victims of slavery in Washington.
Well - as is so often the case - our German "expert" is dealing more in resentment than in fact. Let's set the record straight:
- Not only is there a museum in the United States dedicated to Native Americans and their plight - there are dozens if not hundreds - including the renowned National Museum of the American Indian - which has branches in New York, Maryland and Washington, DC. One of the permanent exhibits at the Washington, DC museum, entitled "Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories," is described this way: "Powerful forces transformed life in the Americas post-1492, and every Native community experienced loss in unique ways. Nearly all wrestled with the impact of deadly new weaponry, the weakening of traditional religion and ritual by the Christian church, and the dispossession of traditional lands by other governments. But the story of these last five centuries is not entirely about destruction. It is also a story about Native resilience—about the intentional, strategic adoption of tools and customs that kept cultures alive. It is a story about the ways Native peoples used weapons, churches, and governments to ensure their futures."
- Although there is no national monument to the victims of slavery in Washington, there are literally hundreds of monuments, museums (including the United States National Slavery Museum - currently under construction in Fredericksburg, Virginia) and reminders of the horror of slavery throughout the United States. Dozens of prominent films on slavery and civil rights including Roots, Amistad, Beloved and many more have been produced in the United States and seen by hundreds of millions worldwide. Additionally, every young child in American public schools learns about slavery and the civil rights movement from Kindergarten forward. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday and - unlike Germany - minorities and immigrants (including the descendants of slaves) are represented throughout the highest levels of government.
To state that Americans have repressed the memory of African slavery or the plight of the American Indian is outrageous, ludicrous and and an insult to the intelligence of all thinking people. And since Mr. Guenther has lived in Washington, DC for years, perhaps he ought to make a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian. (It doesn't seem that Americans have attempted to hide or repress the museum by placing it on the National Mall right next to all the Smithsonians...) In the not too distant future, Mr. Guenther will also be able to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington and the United States National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Both are currently in planning or under construction - hardly evidence that Americans are interested in ignoring or hiding their past.
Now let's address the Victims of Communism Memorial and Mr. Guenther's claim that it commemorates victims of regimes distant and largely irrelevant to Americans: Here again, a profound ignorance of history and a disregard for obvious fact makes itself evident. For starters, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers (including those who stood guard at the Berlin Wall and along the West German border) fought and died to stem the tide of Communism during the Cold War. Further, millions of American immigrants and their descendants fled their homelands (Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Cuba and elsewhere) and saw family members imprisoned or murdered by Communist dictators. The claim that victims of Communism have no significant or direct connection to Americans is nothing less than delusional - but Mr. Guenther doesn't let the truth stop him from making it.
To fully drive home his point and heat resentments to a boil - Mr. Guenther presents Abu Ghraib as a further injustice that Americans have allegedly failed to acknowledge. This despite the fact that members of the American government, military and press revealed, discussed and condemned the widely publicized abuses in great detail for months on end. Ironically - members of the German media largely ignored the mass death and torture that took place at that very prison during Saddam Hussein's decade long reign of terror - even as German firms sold Saddam bunkers and components for his weapons' programs. It was not until Americans uncovered and voluntarily corrected their own abuses at Abu Ghraib (incredibly mild when compared with those of Saddam) that people like Mr. Guenther sat up and took notice and condemned what was happening there.
But those inconvenient facts won't stop Mr. Guenther from feeding resentments. It's not about fact or fairness or constructive criticism - it is, at least in this case, about tearing down the United States and selling more newspapers. And - as this article demonstrates - the truth and any attempt at real context or perspective is simply left by the wayside. This is particularly sad considering the fact that Mr. Guenther himself eloquently complained about German stereotypes about America in an article he published in 2004...
Endnote: According to the website of one of Guenther's publishers, he received the Arthur F. Burns prize for journalism from the German Foreign Ministry in 2006. The site further states that: "Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier congratulated Guenther on the award and emphasized that he was "successful, in an impressive manner, in promoting and deepening the understanding between the United States and Germany."
Well - with journalists like Mr. Guenther busily at work "promoting and deepening the understanding between the United States and Germany" in this manner - and America's diplomats asleep at the wheel when it comes to effectively engaging foreign mass media - we can fully expect a continued deterioration in the years ahead.
One final point: Mr. Guenther's upset at the Victims of Communism Memorial may have been exacerbated - if not motivated - by choice comments made by keynote speaker Tom Lantos about ex-chancellor and Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder at the dedication.
UPDATE: One of our readers pointed out that there actually is a United States National Slavery Museum. Readers also point out that there are literally hundreds of streets named in virtually every major city named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and point out that Americans also commemorate Black History Month. That hardly seems like Americans are determined to forget their own past.
Another reader emails this information:
"Hello Ray and thanks for all you do to combat anti-Americanism
Just a few more facts for your case. Long in the works, but now finally to be built is the National Museum of African American History and Culture which, like the Museum of the American Indian which I have been to, is to be a part of the fantastic Smithsonian Institute. Not only that, the new museum is to be built in a wonderful and prominent place on the mall - essentially the closest museum to the Washington Monument on Constitution Ave.
Here is a link to the site describing information about the new museum:
To contact Markus Guenther with comments on his work, email him at: email@example.com. To contact the Arthur F. Burns journalist fellowship program with concern at this article, email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A couple readers pointed out that the US National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia has not yet opened and is still under construction. I have corrected the posting to reflect that. I appreciate the helpful fact check.
(Request for readers: Please feel free to translate the Guenther article into English and post it in the comments section. You have to read the entire thing to grasp just how outrageous it really is. Hattip: Fred H.)
Email from Mr. Guenther:
"Dear Mr. D.:Thank you for your message. I read your posting on "David's Medienkritik" and I certainly appreciate your candor and your criticism.80 percent of the people, who respond to my articles, suggest that I am too much pro-American, too apologetic about the current administration, or too naive with regard to the real intentions and powers behind American politics. I have been called "a disciple of Goebbels" and, more frequently, "paid by the CIA". On speech tours in Germany I have quite often encountered people, who were yelling at me for what they perceived as a defense of US politics. Recently a reader of the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger began his letter to the editor by saying: "Either you fire Mr. Günther or I cancel my subscription." He was outraged because I had dismissed the popular conspiracy theories around 9/11.Only on rare occasions, like this one, I have had to deal with the assumption that I was Anti-American.No matter what the criticism is, I recommend to all, who question my professionalism and unbiased approach, to not only review a single article but rather follow my reporting long-term and compare it to the work of other German correspondents in Washington. That will most certainly change the perspective.I do, by the way, share your concern that there is a highly problematic bias in German coverage of the US, and I am very much troubled by that. However, making me an example of this bias is going to confuse my few fans and many critics alike.Thanks again and feel free to post this on your site, if you want.With best regards,Markus Guenther"
"Hi and thanks for your response,
I can appreciate the problems you have with German readers. That does not, however, excuse the clearly biased (and I would call it anti-American) tone of your latest article. It may be that the vast majority of your work is fair and unbiased - I have not read it all - but I do acknowledge your good work from 2004. It is also true that the recent article you published was anything but fair and unbiased - and it would be helpful if you would at least make some effort to address our concrete criticisms. For example:
--- You claim that Americans suppress memories of slavery. That is simply not the case. In fact, there are numerous museums and monuments all over the USA that remind of the horrors of slavery - including the national museum in Fredericksburg.
--- You claim that Americans suppress memories of oppression of American Indians. Again, that is ridiculous. As we point out, there are dozens of museums and monuments all over the country - including the national museum in Washington. Have you visited that?
--- You address Abu Ghraib: Members of the US military, political elite and press all came forward to expose and address Abu Ghraib - and the issue was debated for months. The result was an anti-torture bill passed with an overwhelming majority in the Senate and signed into law.
It would be helpful if you included these facts (which, in cases directly contradict your claims) to give readers context and to avoid the promotion of resentments and sensational oversimplifications. I greatly appreciate the fact that you are willing to discuss this issue and welcome any response.
A follow-up email:
"Dear Mr. Guenther,
One more request: I would kindly ask that you take a look at these websites:
At least he has the guts to respond. Let's see what happens now...