We at Medienkritik have decided to translate a piece by Jan Ross of Die Zeit to give our readers a feel for the current strain of elitist thought on the United States in German media. Because they can no longer credibly claim that Iraq is the worst debacle-crisis-disaster in history, the current financial downturn has given Germany's Down-on-America crowd a long sought-after implement with which to bash their favorite target. (They also likely see this as one final window of opportunity to kick Bush while he is down. What ever will they do without Bush to blame for all the world's problems?)
Of course this is nothing revolutionary in European thought - being very much in the vein of Emmanuel Todd's "After the Empire." Those wishing to contact the editors of Die Zeit with comments on this article may email them at: [email protected] (We ask readers to please keep all correspondence civil and respectful). Here is our translation:
"The United States: Heroes of the Retreat
By Jan Ross
How can the land of victories and optimism come to terms with a life after the imperial moment?
Learning to decline – is it doable? Can a world power that no longer presumes to dominate the world find a new role, without depression or biting fear, is there life after the imperial moment? That is the question that the United States faces and that will define the term of the next American President starting 20 January 2009. Managing getting weaker, revising the political self-image, if not the national identity is at least as great a challenge as tangible dangers; from the results of the financial crisis to competition from Russia and China to terrorism. Anyone who heard Barack Obama and John McCain at the end of the last week during their first debate had to have had doubts as to whether they (and their country) have clearly made out the entire dimension of the fall of America or whether they have found the courage to speak the truth.
In a hopeful sign, we have seen a slow dribble of articles on anti-Americanism of late. The latest is a piece by Jan Ross of Die Zeit. This is an encouraging and worthwhile piece, though he does make a few sweeping generalizations that are difficult to support - about Asia for example. Also, he fails to address the fundamental role that German and world media have played in pouring gas all over the flame of global anti-Americanism for the past several years.
Still, this is evidence that more people are beginning to awaken to a phenomenon we have worked against for years now. For that reason, we offer a full translation exclusively to our readers:
"The World’s Bellyache: From subculture to "Leitkultur" - a collective anti-Americanism is conquering the world.
By Jan Ross
Here as well? India is no anti-American country – millions
have relatives in the USA, and Washington has recently plastered Dehli as a
preferred ally, including recognition of it as a legitimate atomic power. But
at a seminar in Chennai, in the south of the country with regional newspaper
reporters who want to learn something about the EU, the big awakening first
comes when the topic America is discussed. The (EU) Constitutional contract,
WTO negotiations, fine and good, but the real reason for being of the EU ought
to be one thing above all: To put the arrogant United States in its place. The
Europeans in attendance very nearly received a shock, did not want to
acknowledge the anti-American leading role offered them, spoke of the United
Nations and the Rule of Law for great and small alike. The EU does not want to
be a competing pole to the USA, not an alternative leading power of the West,
and it certainly doesn’t have what it takes to do that. But, after scratching
the surface on most conversations, Europeans are receiving such demands to
resist the United States all over the place these days – obviously, of course,
in Islamic lands, whether officially pro or anti-American, whether Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan or Iran, whether the partner in conversation belongs to the
ruling elite or to the opposition.
The prevailing mood against the United States extends far
beyond all concrete topics of dispute. When Angela Merkel travels next week to
the US/EU summit in Washington, she will meet the tamest, most cooperative
American government in a very long time. A project for the harmonization of the
transatlantic economies will be started that is really of no interest to the
Americans, and that they plan to undertake primarily to please the Chancellor.
American diplomacy is doing overtime to negotiate within NATO and with the
Russians about the controversial missile defense program. The Washington
government has given up its grandiose plans of reform for the Islamic world,
which the Europeans held for megalomania, and has returned to working with the
EU on a more humble and traditional Middle East peace policy. (Expressed
literally in German as a return to baking the “small rolls” of a traditional
Middle East peace policy.) Humbled by Iraq and weakened, the BushII
administration is probably a more comfortable partner than the Clinton
government, that is still mourned after in Europe, ever was.
But it doesn’t help. Everything American has become
radioactive in (Western) Europe – whoever comes into contact with it too
closely and for too long becomes contaminated to the point of unelectability.
The German CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic parties) began to really shake when
the SPD (Social Democrats) discovered the potential for conflict and
mobilization in the US missile defense plans. Nicolas Sarkozy would rather keep
quiet about his admiration for America in the French presidential elections,
and nothing will be dismissed with more relief in the waning Blair-era in Great
Britain than his historic bosom-friendship with George W. Bush. It is a long
way from this alliance-frustration with old NATO partners to the unrestrained
demagoguery of third world populists like Mahmud Ahmadineschad (Iran) and Hugo
Chavez (Venezuela). To fight Bush’s foreign policy, to culturally despise the
American Way of Life or to demonize the United States, as the Iranian state
rhetoric, as the “great Satan,” – that is not all the same. But something
potentially universal, a form of worldwide bellyaching in varying strengths, is
to be seen in the criticism of the United States. Anti-Americanism is a new
global ideology, the “Leitkultur” for protest against prevailing conditions, just
as it was for decades for the various forms of Socialism.
Polls prove that the worldwide outrage over the Iraq War was
no short-term expression of opinion. The image of America has not recovered –
on the contrary. It has further deteriorated. A “mainly positive” influence of
the USA in the world was given by 40% of respondents in a BBC poll of 18
countries. In 2006 still 36% and in 2007 just 29%. The US image was the darkest
in Germany and Indonesia (74% and 71% respectively stated a “mainly negative”
(US) influence in world events.) Dramatic collapse of trust between 2006 and
2007 took place in Poland (from 62 to 38% for “positive influence”), the
Philippines (from 85 to a still spectacularly friendly 72%) or in India (from
44 to 30 percent). The Muslim countries, where the distrust of the United
States borders on hate, the people are for democracy and entrepreneurship in
majorities. Optimists can interpret that as a form of underground sympathy for
“real” American values: If the USA would only finally follow its ideals, it
would certainly gain the appreciation of its enemies. But those are abstract
fantasies. The concrete truth is that the stock of America has suffered a deep
decline on the world market of public opinion.
There is something pathological to the real anti-Americanism
loaded with resentments. Historian and documenter of ideas Dan Diner speaks of
a “narcissistic disease tied together with the assertion of the modern.” The
USA, which is spreading its military bases, Starbucks franchises and Hollywood
films around the world, spreading its capitalism, are branded by the losers of
globalization as barbarians. One want to at least be superior morally and
culturally. That was already the pattern of the classic European
anti-Americanism from the 19th and early 20th centuries,
it is today, above all, the unfortunate consciousness of the Arab world that,
in contrast to the American dominated West, is experiencing its own
backwardness, in a paradoxical mixture of disgust and fascination: “Yankee, go home,
but take me with you!”
The historic breaks from 1989 to 2001 only intensified the
emotional and political polarization with regard to the USA. Now the middle
Europeans, who recently ran away from the Soviet empire, are also playing
along, and they are not interested in the French or German criticism of
America. For many Poles it is no cultural scandal that the United States is
religious and patriotic, they are themselves. In the Czech Republic they
haven’t forgotten that the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was
born in Prague and found refuge in America; The image of Bill Clinton, who
visited Vaclav Havel in a Prague jazz club and played the saxophone, has not
disappeared. The Iraq War and George W. Bush are also no longer popular in Poland
or the Czech Republic, but the disappointment did not initially shake the
fundamental trust. It is exactly the opposite in the other half of the once
divided world, and especially so among earlier especially close allies such as
those in Germany, Turkey or South Korea. There America is practically just the
superpower that has fallen to the outer edges after 9/11 and has largely used
up the thanks for its assistance in the Cold War. A diplomat from the new EU
countries recently asked in a perplexed manner why the German political
establishment pushed through NATO up-arming against mass protests – and why
today virtually no one dares to defend a pair of potential interceptor missiles
against Putin’s polemic? Because, the answer must be, not only because the
world has become fundamentally different from an old European perspective, but
the United States has as well. From the perspective of Prague or Warsaw, on the
other hand, the USA has remained, in a changed reality, at its core, the same
force for good and the same indispensable protective power. This difference in
perceptions is driving Europe and the Atlantic alliance apart, and it is not at
all easy to say, who is right.
Anti-Americanism is the phenomenon of a world dominated by
America – or at least of a world in which America is the strongest force and
the most dynamic factor. Regions in which that is not the case, and a future,
in which perhaps that is no longer the case, will be less fertile terrain for
the animosity towards the United States. There will always be losers in
globalization, but will they still direct their anger against the USA when
globalization no longer has an American face, but instead an Asian one? China
is already and truly India, despite occasional counter-examples, no societies
with a negative fixation on the United States. With their own economic and
political rise a certain superpower collegiality is forming with the USA.
“America is a sort of measuring stick with which the Chinese recognize and
determine who they are themselves,” believes Peter Hays Gries of the University
of Colorado, author of a seminal study on Chinese nationalism. There is no
cultural resentment against McDonalds, and there are no principle reservations
against the motherland of capitalism – how could there be when you are racing
with dramatic success to become ever more capitalist? In Peking there is a
strategic mistrust against the United States, the suspicion that, in the end,
it wants to slow or even torpedo the rise of an historic successor. But that is
sober geopolitics. With the large global psychological game between Americans
who feel the need to be loved and bitter Europeans or Muslims, Asia is not
playing along. It is, however, profiting from it."
It is difficult to say that anti-Americanism is not big in Asia. Further, in order for the US (or more precisely American entrepreneurs) to "export" McDonalds, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Hollywood movies, blue-jeans, and other products around Europe and the world, there has to be someone on the other end willing to buy the products. No one is forcing those products down anyone's throat. Still, an excellent work. This is a conversation that the media needs to engage in a far more intense manner. (Translation by Ray D.)
UPDATE: The BBC is running an interesting piece that discusses the long tradition of Hate America in Europe. Excerpt:
"If we regret the founding of the US we regret a thoroughly European
creation. If George III hadn't been as mad as a hatter, if the Redcoats
had been more in touch with the feelings of His Majesty's subjects in
the colonies, the English colony of Jamestown might never have given
way to Yorktown, where 174 years later the English crown was finally
defeated in the War of Independence.
To be against the founding of America is not to be original but to
continue a long line of misguided bigots who always resented the birth
of the US. In the late 18th Century, the eminent Dutch scientist
Cornelius De Pauw wrote that everything from America was "either
degenerate or monstrous". He was considered the foremost expert on the
New World of his time and, like many critics of America, he never went
Then there's the Oscar Wilde quip, plagiarised by
former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau: "America is the only
nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism
to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation".
Anti-Americanism is as old as America and it continues to miss the
The Dutch scientist de Pauw, considered to be a "foremost expert on the New World" despite never having seen the New World is a remarkable reflection of many of today's so-called "America experts" in German media. Now that the world is smaller, many "experts" actually have been to the United States - but many never wander far enough away from like-minded, inside-the-beltway think tanks or their Manhattan environs to truly challenge their Euro-centric, social-democratic group think opinions on the United States.
In a recent online piece for the Washington Post, German journalist Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of Die Zeit points out the disturbing fact that many Germans feel more threatened by the United States than Iran. He points to a glut of hate-America, lunatic-fringe comments on his publication's website, yet claims that Die Zeit is "squarely middle-of-the-road" and "read by educated people." Mr. Brockhoff's glaring inability to admit the obvious leftist-bias of his publication is matched only by his audacious unwillingness to acknowledge the German media's far-reaching role in spreading anti-Americanism in Germany. He writes:
"Maybe we are getting a good look at anti-Americanism. Surely, Germany
has quite a bit of that. The nationalist right loves to talk about
"authenticity" and "roots" as opposed to American "shallowness" and
"materialism". The left is proud of its history of "anti-capitalism"
and "anti-imperialism". The United States is seen as the premier
perpetrator of these crimes. Surely, Germans will have to work through
these stereotypes –- and historically they have. But the undeniable
anti-Americanism in Germany and all of Europe has also become a
convenient excuse for Americans. The argument goes: if it is all about
who we are instead of what we do, then why care?
Traditionally, the way America conducted itself in the world
influenced foreign audiences. America was able to change the "balance
of power" in foreign debates. Certainly, America has again changed
foreign lands over the past five or six years. Except, this time it has
acted much to its own detriment.
Some argue that America does not explain its policies and motives
well enough and that this is why the country is hated. This is a
favorite claim from those who do not want to change policy course.
These people fool themselves into believing that expanding a White
House spin and communication campaign around the globe will change
perceptions. It is more likely that Frances Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins
University has it right.
During an event on Capitol Hill today he said that rebuilding
America’s reputation around the world will take "the better part of a
generation. And it cannot be done as long as "American tanks roll
through a major Arab capitol". And I might add: there will be little
global legitimacy for the U.S. as long as it is seen as a country that
routinely tortures its prisoners.
That fact ordinary citizens of European liberal democracies feel
more threatened by America than Iran (or Putin’s Russia) is not just
because of a lapse of judgment that can easily be dismissed. It is
cause for alarm."
How nuanced. Of course. It is current American policy that is to blame. But how does that explain German anti-Americanism at other times in history? Further, Mr. Brockhoff obviously lacks the moral integrity and the downright honesty to admit that his colleagues in the German media have tirelessly fanned the flames of anti-American bigotry and ignorance - particularly over the past five years. There is nothing any administration could conceivably do in the face of a media elite determined to present it in a negative light with little regard for facts or balance.
Could this sort of non-stop hate-America reporting have anything to do with German anti-Americanism Mr. Brockhoff or are you too dishonest to admit it exists? What can Americans possibly do to end the hate spewing from German media? (Take a look through our archives for more examples.)
Mr. Brockhoff - who fancies himself a tough and fair reporter - would rather continue to exist in a cocoon of denial - in a fantasy land - and hope that the language barrier and lack of interest for Germany in the United States will continue to conceal the very ugly truth about his profession. He has become too much a stooge of his editors to speak truth to power. Mr. Brockhoff obviously lacks the intellectual honesty to admit thatthe German media is a major part of the problem. At the very least he could drop the Oberlehrer-like tone of the wise truth-teller preaching down to his so-called American friends.
Mr. Brockhoff misses a further key point. Namely, that American's opinions of Germany and Europe - especially those of informed decision-makers - will likely take a generation to recover from the feckless politics and hateful media propaganda spewing forth from Europe's capitols- and that is something he ought to worry about as well. American leaders are growing increasingly reluctant to give their European partners the benefit of the doubt. Blogs like ours will continue to tirelessly expose and document the hate and hypocrisy coming out of the European press.
This much is certain: Germany's shameless trade with Iraq, Sudan and Iran has not gone unnoticed. Europe's cowardly appeasement of Saddam Hussein and other dictators has not gone unnoticed. Germany's unwillingness to deploy troops in harm's way when it really matters in Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed. Gerhard Schroeder's incredibly corrupt, poodle-like obedience to his Gazprom masters in the Kremlin has not gone unnoticed. And Mr. Brockhoff's - and the German media's - unwillingness to come to terms with the pervasive and undeniable anti-Americanism that plagues his profession will not go unnoticed. If he is so worried about America's image in the world, perhaps he ought to take a very long and hard look in the mirror. Tend your own garden first Mr. Brockhoff - before you tell Americans how they must tend theirs with your hollow - populist policy prescriptions.
To conclude, we suggest our readers look at this recent piece by Andrei Markovits, which offers a far more honest and comprehensive assessment of European anti-Americanism, it's roots and current implications. Here an excerpt:
"The Bush administration's policies have catapulted global and
Western European anti-Americanism into overdrive. But to understand
that overdrive, we need to analyze the conditions under which this kind
of shift into high gear could occur. Western Europeans' unconditional
rejection of and legitimate outrage over abusive and irresponsible
American policies — not to mention massive human-rights violations à la
Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, secret CIA cells — rest on a substantial
sediment of hatred toward, disdain for, and resentment of America that
has a long tradition in Europe and has flourished apart from those or
any other policies.
Ambivalence, antipathy, and resentment toward and about the United
States have made up an important component of European culture since
the American Revolution, thus way before America became the world's
"Mr. Big" — the proverbial 800-pound gorilla — and a credible rival to
Europe's main powers, particularly Britain and France. In recent years,
following the end of the cold war, and particularly after 9/11,
ambivalence in some quarters has given way to unambiguous hostility.
Animosity toward the United States has migrated from the periphery and
become a respectable part of the European mainstream.
Negative sentiments and views have been driven not only — or even primarily — by what the United States does,
but rather by an animus against what Europeans have believed that
America is. While the politics, style, and discourse of the Bush
terms — and of President Bush as a person — have undoubtedly
exacerbated anti-American sentiment among Europeans and fostered a
heretofore unmatched degree of unity between elite and mass opinion in
Europe, they are not anti-Americanism's cause. Indeed, a change to a
center-left administration in Washington, led by a Democratic
president, would not bring about its abatement, let alone its
Majorities in USA and Europe Favor Saddam Execution
The recent results of a poll conducted by Novatris/Harris for the French daily Le Monde on the death penalty shocked the editors and writers at Germany's left-leaning SPIEGEL ONLINE. When asked whether they favored the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Spain responded in the affirmative. Here the results by country:
Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:
Clearly, there is a gap between the United States and the European nations polled. On the other hand, the western Europeans polled demonstrated that there is majority support for the death penalty in particular cases. In other words, the gap that exists across the Atlantic is not at all the clear-cut, "black-white" divide that some in mediamake it out to be.
Die Zeit: "The Europeans condemn the use of the death penalty" / Do they? The poll numbers above contradict that assumption.
Frankfurter Allgemeine: "President Bush praised the execution, from Europe came sharp criticism." / A tempting -and in the media oft used- opportunity to again pit "Europe" against Bush. A more intellectually honest headline would have pointed out that the majority of the criticism coming from "Europe" has emanated from a tiny media-political elite. The rest of society is evenly divided.
ZDF Heute Online: "Bush Welcomes Saddam's Execution - Criticism from Europe: Divided Reactions to Death Penalty: US President George W. Bush greeted the execution of Saddam Hussein as a milestone on the way to a democratic Iraq. In contrast, criticism came from European countries and human rights organizations - they reject the death penalty as a matter of principle." / ZDF is clearly attempting to create an "us versus them" - "Europe versus Bush and America" wedge issue out of the death penalty. This piece also totally ignores the opinions of the average German.
Deutsche Welle: "Europe condemns death penalty" / But what about the more than half the population in Germany and other European nations that does not condemn it in Saddam's case? Do they simply not matter? Do they somehow not exist for certain media-political elites? Why are their views systematically ignored?
Sueddeutsche published a piece entitled: "Worldwide Sharp Criticism of the Execution." The piece goes nation by nation and lists criticisms as if they represented the view of the entire country. It does not mention poll results that indicate majorities in many of the same countries actually favored Saddam's execution.
Other media outlets, including Financial Times Deutschland and even SPIEGEL ONLINE have actually treated the death penalty question as a debate instead of falsely claiming that an imaginary, monolithic "Europe" has "sharply criticized" Saddam's execution. Another major theme in most of the Western media is that Saddam's execution does not help Iraq - in other words, more of the usual pessimism.
Additionally, there has long been a heated debate on the death penalty in the United States. Several U.S. states do not legally permit executions or do not make (wide) use of them. From the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s, executions came to a near standstill in the United States, in part because of legal challenges which culminated in the Supreme Court's 1972 Furman vs. Georgia decision. Recently, a botched execution in Florida led Republican Governor Jeb Bush to suspend the death penalty as a federal judge in California imposed a moratorium halting executions in that state.
Put another way: There is a lively debate on the death penalty on both sides of the Atlantic, with significant numbers and powerful factions on either side. Unfortunately, many in the German media have made death penalty out to be a divisive, "good versus evil" wedge issue. This stems in part from the transatlantic legal contrast: Most European nations have banned the death penalty while it remains legal in much of the United States.
The desire in influential segments of German media and society to reduce the death penalty to the level of a transatlantic wedge issue is also deeply rooted in another key factor: Ideology. The far-left in Germany is a political force to be reckoned with. Its representatives dominate wide swaths of the media, academia and certain political parties including the SPD, Greens and the PDS. Not only do representatives of the far-left reject the death penalty in all cases (putting them at odds with many ordinary Germans), they also oppose American-style free-market capitalism, smaller, less restrictive government, and the projection of American power in the world. This movement consists largely of an assortment of 68-radicals (including ex-Maoists, Leninists, RAF sympathizers, and your run-of-the mill Socialist demonstrators); ex-eastern-bloc-Communists; young people radicalized through academia, media and far-left political parties and movements; and out-and-out America-haters. Quite honestly, these folks would have rejected the execution of Hitler and Eichmann just as they reject the execution of Saddam. Ironically, they see the issue as a "black-and-white" - "with us or against us" issue. (Sound familiar?)
Nonetheless the death penalty remains contentious. Conservatives, libertarians and European Liberale, who traditionally favor a less powerful, less intrusive government, must ask themselves if they trust the state to determine who should live and who should die. Furthermore, they must consider whether the death penalty in the United States has become so legally contentious (filled with endless appeals, challenges and expenses) that it is practically (if not also ethically) questionable?
These are the debates that citizens on both sides of the Atlantic should be having with one another and not against one another, as many on the far-left would have it. The real "wedge", in this and many other cases, is not a transatlantic one. The real "wedge" is and has long been firmly lodged between the Angry left and the rest of society.
As the poll numbers above demonstrate, the peoples of the United States and Europe are not nearly as far apart on the death penalty as some would have us believe. Sadly, in a media culture that thrives on creating new controversies and divisions and exacerbating old ones (whether real or imagined) you might never know it.
UPDATE: Watch the full Saddam execution here:
A quick and painless death for a tyrant responsible for the murder and torture of so many.
Another holier-than-thou German media "expert" has written an article on a special brand of hypocrisy: The American brand. The article begins with an explanation of the socially polite lie. The author, Peter Schneider, explains how his Washingtonian friends (Washington being representative of the rest of America of course) praised a friend's badly decorated new kitchen only to laugh out loud and exclaim it a disaster after leaving. Schneider goes on to explain that while no nation is free of hypocrisy, Americans enjoy a particular relationship with the word. He writes:
"An American editor will never seriously tell an author what he thinks of his text. It would be physically impossible for him to only indicate that the manuscript he sent in is unprintable or, yes, simply terrible."
Americans editors don't tell authors what they think? That must be news to most newspaper editors around the nation. But being the expert that he is, Mr. Schneider must really know what he is talking about. He must have already met all of the editors in America. Case closed.
Then comes the predictable twist into the world of politics. You guessed it: American history is replete with examples of hypocrisy. For example, Schneider claims:
"The ability to look away and to unequally distribute the proclaimed democratic rights has accompanied American history from the beginning."
Of course no nation is perfect. Every nation has its dark sides and its less than stellar moments. But one has to ask: Has Mr. Schneider ever heard of the American Civil War? Americans were apparently so uninterested in the unequal distribution of democratic rights that they engaged in a four-year blood bath that cost the lives of 600,000 Americans, the worst war in U.S. history. Let us make a suggestion: Mr. Schneider should take a one hour drive north from his comfortable Georgetown environs, where he is currently a "Distinguished Writer-in-Residence", to the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He should tour the battlefield and visit the graves of the thousands of Americans who fell there and then lecture us about how Americans look the other way when it comes to standing up for democratic rights. He could also visit the Bull Run, Antietam and Balls Bluff battlefields, all within a short drive of his home, and report to us about how the Americans that fought and died there also chose to look away. Perhaps Mr. Schneider has already forgotten that as Americans were putting an end to slavery, German and Austrian monarchs were fighting to dominate one another. Perhaps he has forgotten that Americans had a democratic constitution well over a century before democracy saw the light of day in Germany.
After he completes his Civil War tour, Mr. Schneider can take a trip down south to visit the sites of marches and protests held during the Civil Rights movement. Of course he can begin his trip very close to home on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and several thousand other Americans failed to confront inequality. Right. Then he can reflect upon the fact that, at least until very recently, German newspapers continue to openly run Jim Crow-style ads for apartment rentals that indicate they are available "for Germans only." Again: Why can't the American hypocrites learn from the German friends. Let's not even get into how those pesky Auslaender are treated...
But that isn't all: What article worth its salt would be complete without a healthy dose of Bush bashing? That's right, Bush is hypocrite Numero Uno. That certainly never gets old. And Schneider further pleases readers by sarcastically wielding the phrase "God's own country" while cataloging America's many sins and idiosyncrasies. It doesn't matter that the German left has beaten that sad cliché to death a thousand times over. No sir. And, not surprisingly, twisting the truth to make others appear as twisters of truth is also not out of bounds. Schneider writes:
"For that reason the American hypocrite is tempted to lend his sins a legal form. Whether it is the American environmental sins, the circumvention of the Geneva Conventions or the mistaken abduction and torture of a suspected terrorist - he will declare that he has acted in accordance with law."
Let's talk about the Geneva Conventions. Since when did they apply to terrorists? Did Osama bin Laden sign and ratify the conventions? And which nation did he represent? Like so many other members of the Angry Left, Mr. Schneider twists reality to fit his arguments, something he ironically accuses Americans of doing. By the way: Torture and abuse are simply not tolerated in Germany. Never. Never. Never.
It is true: Americans are debating the boundaries and validity of torture as a tool in the war on terror. There is a debate over what consists torture and what is an "aggressive interrogation method." There is also a debate over the use of renditions and turning over prisoners to third-countries that are known to allow torture. Perhaps Mr. Schneider could have reported on and even contributed to that debate in a constructive manner. (For a real look at that debate, check this article versus this article.) Perhaps he could have gone into the very real question of civil liberties versus security in the struggle to confront terror. Of course that isn't what the readers want to buy.
Also keep in mind that the criticism is coming from someone from a nation that considers a slap in the face a form of torture. In Germany it is getting to the point that it is torture if you deny a terrorist killer his milk, cookies, night-light and teddy bear.
Schneider's piece ends with a cynical, hackneyed metaphor. America as sheriff. A comparison sure to fire the imaginations of the stereotype-plagued minds reading this sort of journalism back home:
"The American sheriff really does have a dangerous profession, and he is often right. But the erotic tenderness with which he celebrates the labial sound of the word law when confronting the traffic violator is somewhat disconcerting. Arguments against a perhaps unjust punishment only make the situation worse. The sinner can, in any case, win the favor of the sheriff by admitting his guilt without reservation and by thanking the sheriff for the punishment and by complimenting him for carrying out his difficult job."
Reading between the lines: America the world power doesn't want to hear or confront the truth. Americans take comfort in lies and niceties. They take comfort in hypocrisy. God's own country is a nation in denial. Forget the recent election. Forget the thousands of anti-Bush books and articles published in US media. Forget Michael Moore, Gore Vidal, Bob Woodward, The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fiasco, Al Franken, Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Tim Robbins. None of those people, books, media or programs really exist in America.
UPDATE: According to this report on charitable giving: "Americans per capita individually give about
three and a half times more money per year, than the French per capita.
… Seven times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians."
Seven times more than the Germans?! Those damned American hypocrites...
Contact: If you would like to reach Mr. Schneider with your thoughts and comments, you can do so at: [email protected]. We ask that you please keep your comments civil, respectful and on topic. Let's not stoop to their level.
If knocking down strawmen, inventing facts, or arrogantly bashing America were Olympic events, then Michael Naumann of Die Zeit would be a perennial gold medallist. For proof, one need look no further than Mr. Naumann's most recent article, "Amerikaner sind wir alle." The usual hate-America talking points are to be found in abundance: America is imperialist, Bush lied about Iraq, the chasm between rich and poor is growing (no mention of the 4.4% unemployment rate of course), America's debt is enormous (no mention that the deficit declined dramatically last month.)
The article also features a laundry list of virtually every crime that America has committed since World War II: First the evil interventions in Vietnam, Central America and Iran. Then there are those horrible evangelical Christians. But apparently, none of those historic sins are nearly as bad as George W. Bush. According to Naumann, Bush is singularly to blame for all of America's image problems in the world. (Of course nothing the German media has done could have anything to do with that). He also contends that elements of the Constitution, freedom of opinion and "the right to elections free of falsification" have been endangered over the past six years.
Then comes the strawman that European journalists never seem to get tired of knocking down. Naumann claims that Bush suffers from the illusion that military power is a means to political "hegemony". Excuse me for asking, but when did Bush ever articulate such a position? When has the administration ever claimed military power is the key to world domination and how do the current multilateral diplomatic efforts to address Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions mesh with that assessment?
The final proof that Mr. Naumann has little interest in reality getting in the way of his opinionated worldview is the following statement:
"The daily Atlantic life of earlier years could return - a dialog free of arrogance could take place on all those themes that George W. Bush doesn't give a damn about: Global environmental problems, disarmament, fighting hunger and the dying of millions of children in Africa."
Obviously, a dialog free of arrogance and condescension is hardly what Mr. Naumann is interested in. On the contrary. Mr. Naumann is interested in elevating his narrow worldview to the moral high ground.And while Mr. Naumann is entitled to his own extreme opinions, he is not entitled to his own facts. Whether his policies are correct or not, President Bush is clearly concerned with the issues listed above, whether the environment, global disarmament or starvation and dying children in Africa. In fact, the United States government spends significantly more than the German government to address the problems Mr. Naumann claims it doesn't give a damn about.
So let's explode Mr. Naumann's misrepresentations point by point.
According to the US State Department, the sharp increase in overall aid to Africa visible in the first table was due to:
"A major increase in aid took place in FY2003 because of large quantities of food aid provided to Ethiopia and southern Sudan, as well as a boost in spending through the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund in response to the African HIV/AIDS pandemic."
This was a direct result of President Bush's approval of emergency funds for Africa in 2003.
"The U.S. has devoted enormous resources to the effort to safely and expeditiously destroy its CW stocks, including over $1.5 billion in 2005, and a projected $32-34 billion over the lifetime of the project (for comparison – total 2005 budget for OPCW was $91.6 million)."
Point three: Bush doesn't give a damn about the environment. Like so many other German "journalists" too intellectually lazy to explain complex environmental policy differences, Mr. Naumann has confused the administration's refusal to sign Kyoto (something that will not change with Democrats in power) with refusal to give a damn about the environment. If the administration really didn't care about the environment, then why does it feature a two page posting on environmental achievements on the White House website? Government policies listed include:
"A proclamation that will create the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. This national monument will enable nearly 140,000 square miles of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to receive our Nation's highest form of marine environmental protection.
In May 2004, the Bush Administration finalized a rule that will dramatically reduce pollution from heavy-duty diesel engines used in construction, agricultural, and industrial equipment. This will prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalizations, 15,000 heart attacks, 6,000 children's asthma-related emergency room visits, 280,000 respiratory problems in children, and a million work days lost due to illness once the rule is fully implemented. Soot and NOx emissions will decrease by more than 90 percent by 2014, and the sulfur content of diesel fuel will be cut 99 percent by 2010."
President Bush has committed America to meeting the challenge of long-term global climate change by reducing the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output by 18 percent by 2012 compared to 2002. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output.
$4.1 Billion in Tax Incentives for Renewable Energy and Hybrid and Fuel-Cell Vehicles
As we demonstrate above, demolishing Mr. Naumann's obvious misrepresentations is not particularly difficult. One has to wonder how his editors at Die Zeit could have allowed such ludicrous falsehoods to appear in their publication (maybe because they play well with the anti-American audience?). Furthermore, it is an insult to Americans around the world who have worked countless hours to address these problems as members of the government or private organizations to claim that American leaders just don't give a damn when that is so obviously false. It is also an insult to each and every American taxpayer who has paid to fund these efforts.
Extremists like Mr. Naumann, who pompously claim they would like a return to transatlantic dialog, are not at all interested in conversation on anything but their own narrow, arrogant terms. Anyone who disagrees with them is guilty of total inhumanity and worthy only of demonization. Mr. Naumann is obviously prepared to lie and twist the truth as needed to smear those he hates. Whether we like it or not, George W. Bush will be gone in two years, but the damage done by "journalists" like Naumann to transatlantic relations will endure for years to come, whether Democrats or Republicans are in power.Only when the German-American conversation begins to move beyond these extreme voices and the falsehoods they spew (still all too common in the German media) will we begin to see real improvement.
As John Rosenthal in his TCS article "Cowboys in Deutschland" observes, when George Bush visited Germany in May 2002 death wishes of the German left (published in the weekly ZEIT) were in plentiful supply:
... in a letter addressed to "Dear George," Christoph Schlingensief, the darling of German "alternative" theatre and creator of artistic "happenings," admitted to having "played with the idea of quite simply blowing you up at our next meeting."
A hundred thousand demonstrators showed up to stamp Bush as "Terrorist #1". (BTW, John reminds us that at the time of this display of German Bush bashing the Iraq invasion was still 10 months away.)
Now, at Bush's mid July 2006 visit to Germany, things were much more amicable. Angela Merkel, rather than Gazprom employee Gerhard Schroeder greeted the American president, and far fewer demonstrators - a few hundred at best - were at hand. And, as John reports, even ZEIT adopted conciliatory, albeit arrogant, tones:
... long-time Zeit co-editor Josef Joffe wrote that Angela Merkel was "meeting a President who had lost his illusions and learned that democratic ideals and strategic interests are two different things.... The muscular unilateralism is now a thing of the past -- and no wonder. There is no weighty interest that does not require friends or at least partners."
Merkel clearly supported Bush's position on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, even though the New York Times (surprise!) interpreted her stance somewhat differently. In any case, Schroeder's confidant, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, made sure that the ambiguity of German politics is still alive and well.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is certainly not a great friend of Davids Medienkritik, but his recent piece on the NSA affair is a sign that professional coverage of complex issues involving the United States is still possible. Brockhoff makes an honest effort to explain the NSA debate to readers without the dumbed-down sensationalism and populism that mars so much German reporting on the United States. He writes:
"What happened? According to a report from the daily USA Today, the National Security Agency (NSA) began to evaluate the telephone data from tens of millions of Americans after the terror attacks of September 2001: Telephone connections, length and frequency of calls. Names, addresses and social security numbers were not passed on. There was no eavesdropping - at least as far as we know to this point. The NSA got the data from the big telecommunications firms. Only the Qwest company refused."
According to most sources, the NSA activities in question involve the collection and analysis of phone records for patterns that might lead authorities to terrorists. But that didn't stop the usual suspects from reporting that the affair involved eavesdroppoing on millions of Americans' phone conversations:
The SPIEGEL ONLINE headline and opening paragraph (above) read:
"NSA Scandal: Bush Calls Eavesdropping Operations Lawful
George W. Bush once again used the fight against terror to defend eavesdropping on the conversations of millions of Americans. In his weekly radio address, the President claimed that all measures taken by the secret intelligence agency NSA were 'lawful'."
The problem with the SPIEGEL ONLINE article is that Bush was not defending "eavesdropping on the conversations of millions of Americans" in his radio address. Here is what the President actually said:
"The intelligence activities I have authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda terrorists and its affiliates who want to harm the American people."
Whether you agree with Bush's statements is one thing. But for SPIEGEL ONLINE to claim that Bush was defending "eavesdropping on millions of Americans" in his radio address is demonstrably false. This represents yet another example of shoddy, misleading journalism that far too many Germans trust to be accurate.
Now back to Brockhoff. He concludes his article by making a further, highly important point. When it comes to the question of civil liberties, European authorities often have more intrusive powers than their American counterparts:
"Until today there is no required residential registration and no (national) personal identification card whose recognition by a computer could serve as a prerequisite to nationwide surveillance (as is the case in Germany). Americans would take that to be a first step towards authoritarianism. There is also no internal intelligence agency modeled after that of Great Britain or Israel. The Federal Republic of Germany supports 17 such agencies, called Constitutional Protection (Verfassungsschutz). So it can be explained that what passes for a major scandal in America is much more easily possible in many European countries: Eavesdropping on telephone conversations between someone in the country with foreign terror suspects."
A long overdue point. Whether the issue is civil liberties, immigration, housing discrimination or the economy, much of the German media has created the impression that conditions in the United States are far worse than they are in Germany. In many cases, the opposite is true, but the media rarely catches the double standard. Brockhoff does, and for that he deserves praise.
In Germany, the term "amerikanische Verhaeltnisse" or "conditions as in America" has long been associated with social decay and heartless capitalism, particularly by members of the far left. The problem is that the term is rarely, if ever, held up to the light of truth or objective comparison. Brockhoff's article represents one small candle in a sea of darkness. As Goethe so famously said on his deathbed: "More light!"
"... nearly every headline i've seen has used the phrase "gespräche abgehört" or something in that vein, despite the fact that this is entirely untrue.
We can relate and let us add this point: When it comes to understanding the United States, many German-speakers are indeed "mind-bogglingly ignorant" not because they are inherently unintelligent, but because they believe what they read in the German-language media to be credible, accurate and unbiased. In fact, as we've documented on our site, many influential German-language media outlets are chronically biased in their reporting on the United States. Additionally, as we've documented in this and other posts, influential German media often can't get basic facts straight. The point is to get people to question the German media establishment, particularly its coverage of the US.
Finally, for the record, we neither love nor hate Bush. As with almost every politician, there are things we like and dislike about him. The problem is that, if you are an intellectually honest person of any political stripe, you regularly find yourself having to defend the President against the chronic bias (and outright lies) of the German media even if you honestly disapprove of some, many or all of the current administration's policies. As the commenter notes, it is, at times, almost impossible to break through the stereotypes and innuendo placed in peoples' minds by the German media and some in German politics. That is a frustration that a lot of us face every day. The only answer is to keep putting the truth out there. If we give up they win.
UPDATE: Another articulate, balanced article by Brockhoff on the immigration debate that asks how Germans would react to the suggestion to give illegal immigrants in Germany a path to citizenship. If Brockhoff keeps this up he is likely to get a lot of angry letters from readers used to a more black-and-white approach to reporting on the USA: Bush = Evil. Let's just hope he doesn't lose his job in the German media for his attempts at intellectual honesty. (No we are not kidding about that, it could happen). Respect Thomas...
I guess we have learned to accept a certain amount of idiocy in the never ending quest of the German media to paint negative pictures of America. Still, every now and then you come across a piece that's even more outrageous, even more venomous than the usual run-of-the-mill anti-American crap you get used to from the German media. Here's a shining example from the liberal weekly "Die Zeit": American soldiers playing soccer with severed heads of Iraqis.
Medienkritik reader CH made as aware of this story about a deserter from the American army because of the war in Iraq:
I am writing to you because I came across this article in 'Die Zeit'. Among other things, the article makes the claim that the American soldiers play soccer with the heads of dead Iraqis:
Josh has no fear. What should one be afraid of when one has stormed 75 houses in Ramadi and Falludscha and has seen how his comrades play soccer with severed heads of dead Iraqis? What should one still be afraid of, then, someone should tell him. No one can say that to him – not to him.
That which lies behind them is the stuff the people in Hollywood will make movies out of in ten years, when the Iraq war, like that in Vietnam, goes down in history as a great failure. In the film it’s about a simple religious man from Oklahoma who becomes
Michael Naumann, editor of the left liberal weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” and former cabinet member under Chancellor Schröder, delivers further proof in this mammoth three-part article of the anti-Americanism running rampant among German intellectuals.
Here are just a few excerpts:
Torture State America
People without rights: That’s what the Fathers of the Constitution wanted to forever eliminate. Under Bush’s administration, it’s back. ...
...Gone are the years when German correspondents in Washington could write guaranteed best sellers like “Our America” (Dieter Kronzucker) or “The Foreign Friend: America” (Klaus Harpprecht). “Our America” and Europe, at least on the political level, have become ever more estranged from Bush-year to Bush-year. … America has become a torture state....
If executing a person is the ultimate form of torture, then the “torture state” label has long applied to the United States. Every ten days someone is executed in the United States – and it’s been going on for thirty years....
State authorized torture by American Soldiers and CIA agents in cooperation with Middle East flunkies, most notably dictatorially governed Egypt, is unique among the nations of western civilization and culture. ...
Among the ten officially approved “innovative interrogation methods” (CIA Chief Porter Goss) are familiar totalitarian terrorization techniques…
The Federal Republic’s foreign political influence is too feeble to successfully pressure the United States into desisting from torture and lawlessness. (emphasis added)
Naumann’s article is a howling, hate filled accusation against the USA based on hearsay, rumor, and speculation sold as fact.
"In much of Europe's public debate, the true meaning of human rights has degenerated into a tool that gives anti-Americanism an aura of legitimacy. The real, horrendous human-rights violations in the Middle East, North Korea, China, Cuba, etc., are largely ignored or relegated to news blurs on the back pages. For front-page coverage, you need an American angle."
Mr. Naumann is truly an elitist Eurosnob America hater. It's obvious that he has zero interest in offering the United States any sort of constructive criticism. This is all about tearing America down and putting its faults and mistakes under a microscope while ignoring massive torture and human rights abuses elsewhere. It is another vindictive hate-tirade from the smash-America Angry left.
Americans need to know that these people have a lot of power and influence in Germany. The United States and its policy makers must begin to cautiously consider anything and everything they hear coming out of Germany. Deep down, a large portion of the German leadership in media, politics and diplomacy shares Mr. Naumann's ugly sentiments.
And let us ask this: Who is the Public Affairs Officer at the United States Embassy in Berlin? If you haven't already written something to respond to this garbage, now would be a good time!
Update: Here is an outstanding comment from Helian on this subject:
"Naumann and the rest of the German leftist elite don’t genuinely oppose
torture in the US, or anywhere else. On the contrary, these vile
hypocrites are the torturer’s most effective collaborators. They
knowingly play into the hands of the proponents of torture in the US
who can easily exploit their hate-filled rants to claim that principled
opponents of torture are “exaggerating the problem,” or are blowing a
few “minor incidents” out of proportion. Anyone who has listened to
right wing talk radio in the US can see how effective the Naumanns of
the world have been in “opposing torture” in short order. If Naumann
and the rest of the leftist scum really felt any sympathy for the
victims, they wouldn’t exploit their sufferings to promote America
bashing. Sympathy for the victims? What a joke! These people
practically have an orgasm every time they hear of some new real or
imagined incident of torture. More grist for the anti-American
propaganda mill! Principled opposition to torture? Forget it! They are
indifferent to the imcomparably worse torture now afflicting the people
of countries such as Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba, just as they were
indifferent to the torture inflicted on the people of Vietnam and
Cambodia by their Communist masters in the recent past, and just as
their intellectual forebears were indifferent to the torture on a
horrendous scale perpetrated by Stalin and Mao. In fact some of them
have gone so far as to claim torture by the US is worse than Stalin’s,
demonstrating both historical and moral imbecility at the same time.
One can easily distinguish principled opponents of torture from those
who exploit it to promote hate. See, for example, Andrew Sullivan’s
recent posts and articles in opposition to torture. He makes a strong
case against it without bashing the thoughtful and principled people
who disagree with him, such as Charles Krauthammer. That, again, points
up the problem with the German media that David is fighting to remedy.
Germans have heard little if anything of the thought of people like
Krauthammer, or, for that matter, of the debate on torture in Israel, a
country whose very existence is at stake. Instead, as usual, they only
get the fraction of the truth that fits the agenda of the media elites."
Our good friend DL recently reminded us of the slow but creeping removal of all things American from German history. He related how surprised he was to see almost no mention of America's role in the Cold War and reunification in an exhibit at the Reichstag in Berlin.
Well, unfortunately, DL shouldn't be surprised. Although it is true that the United States was the indispensable nation for German democracy during and after the Second World War, this sort of slow airbrushing and denial of history is clearly taking its steady course in today's Germany. We need look no further than the Berlin city government's forcible removal of the privately funded Checkpoint Charlie monument. These manifestations of historic denial are hardly surprising in a Germany overrun by anti-American media and politics over the past three years, yet they are profoundly disappointing and disturbing nonetheless.
But despite its slow death, the history of America's sacrifice clearly remains an irritating thorn in the side of many a German media elite. After all, it is exceptionally difficult to forget that the United States took the Fascist murder state that was Germany and turned it into a flourishing democracy and then protected it for decades until the nation united with its depressed Communist half. The result is that many Germans are still fighting with the historic legacy to regain their own claim to the moral high ground and a sense of historic legitimacy. The erasure of America's role in German history goes hand-in-hand with that struggle.
So when your average left-wing German journalist sees an event like the 2000 election or the Iraq war, he or she doesn't care much for the facts or details. There is but one word necessary and appropriate to describe the problems and challenges facing America: DEBACLE! And if that doesn't suffice, there are four additional words that sum everything else up: It's all Bush's fault!
Why? Because for the German left-wing elite in media and politics, belittling and diminishing America as a moral force in the world is part and parcel of re-establishing German moral authority.And so they hammer away day-in and day-out. They are particularly zealous in their defense of the bloated big-state socialism that has come to define Germany, a way of life they see threatened to the core by the success of the American model.
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!
The red-green coalition has landed “on the wrong side of the tide” of democracy (to paraphrase Müntefering). Recently, autocrats like Putin, Hu, and the Gulf State potentates have become Germany’s best friends. When Kiev blossomed orange, Fischer fell to stuttering. When millions of people in Beirut and Taiwan take to the streets, the government wants to weigh the merits of the case first. Anger at the emerging American power in Iraq received faint applause after 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls despite the threat of
Day for day in the German media, the United States is mercilessly criticized over abuses and alleged abuses that have occurred at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons. This open and harsh criticism continues to be regularly voiced despite the US government's highly visible efforts to punish those guilty of abuse while aggressively stepping-up military training programs to prevent future occurrences of abuse.
But when it comes to Chechnya, where up to 5,000 people have simply disappeared in a brutal Russian war that has claimed thousands of victims, there is no widespread outcry or criticism in the German media. When compared to the amount of reporting done on Iraq, the level of reporting on Chechnya is negligible. The bloody conflict in Chechnya has also barely been mentioned by Europe's
leading politicians of late and has never been cause enough for the
so-called "peace movement" to pound the pavement in mass
protest. After all, Vladimir Putin is seen as a valuable partner by Germany's leaders and welcomed with open arms on state visits. And mentioning the quagmire in the Caucuses or engaging in anti-war protests would only upset Gerhard Schroeder's brilliant Ostpolitik and his chummy Männerfreundschaft with Putin. Never mind the thousands of faceless victims in Chechnya...
So is it any surprise that more Germans trust Vladimir Putin than George Bush?
A recent poll by Infratest published in Die Welt revealed:
"The Russian President enjoys great trust especially in the east of the republic, so the result of the representative poll. While the national average is 29% for Putin and 24% for Bush, Putin gets 37% alone in eastern Germany (Bush 16%). To compare: In western Germany Bush has 27% and Putin 26%."
The results can be better understood in the context of an interesting article written by Adrian Pohr for Die Zeit entitled 'The "Missing" Chechnyans'. Here, now, is an exclusive translation of the article for our Medienkritik readers:
The “Missing” Chechnyans
"Human Rights Watch speaks of up to 5,000 cases in which
Chechnyan people have been abducted. In the Chechnya question the Europeans
have, to this point, made themselves noticed primarily through their silence.
Relations with Russia mean a lot to Europe. Unpleasant
topics are better left out, like the disappearing freedom of the press, the
centralization of power in Vladimir Putin’s hands or the Chechnya question.
While US President George W. Bush was latently criticizing the Russian
understanding of democracy during his meeting with Putin at the end of
February, his colleagues from France, Spain and Germany remained
rather silent during their four-way meeting last Friday. Neither Jacques Chirac
and Jose Louis Rodriguez Zapatero nor Gerhard Schroeder even uttered the word
Chechnya—and there have certainly been developments worth criticizing of late.
For example the killing of rebel leader Aslan Mashadov.
Russian troops murdered the moderate Chechnyan; the photos of the dead man were
released afterwards for a general display of the corpse. From Moscow one could
register celebration in light of the blow struck against terrorism. The fact
that the last Chechnyan leader willing to negotiate was executed has been
realized by the European media, but not by their national leaders. Today the
human rights organization Human Rights Watch released a report that forces up
further unpleasant questions about the Russian Chechnya policy and harshly
criticizes the accompanying European silence.
The report is the result of a comprehensive examination of
the human rights organization on the abduction of people in Chechnya. According
to the data from Human Rights Watch, between 3,000 to 5,000 Chechnyans have
become victims of abductions, which gives Russia the infamous distinction of
being the worldwide leader in forced abductions. The human rights organization
found it remarkable that the EU has for the first time not introduced a
Chechnya resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission: Looking away while human
rights violations are taking place is without scruple.
While Putin is claiming to the international community that
the situation in Chechnya is normalizing, abductions are taking place with the
full knowledge of the Russian government according to the report. The
government has admitted in an official statistic that at least 2,090 people
have disappeared since the beginning of the Chechnyan conflict. However,
according to the vivid reports in the report from Human Rights Watch the missing
do not simply dissolve into thin air, but are instead brutally ripped from
their families through the force of arms, as relatives recounted.
And the perpetrators of the kidnappings were identified by
the human rights organization: In the overwhelming majority of the cases the
perpetrators were without a doubt agents of the government, either federal
troops or (pro-Russian) Chechnyan security forces. And this also explains the
low rate of resolved kidnappings, which is a noteworthy zero percent: None of the
1,814 criminal investigations have led to conviction of the perpetrators
according to information from a Chechnyan official.
The missing are divided by Human Rights Watch into three
categories: Most are men between the ages of eighteen and forty who the
government officials believed had connections with the rebels. Secondly many
women have been kidnapped lately – a trend that can be traced back to the
recent participation of female Chechnyan underground fighters in terrorist
attacks in Russia. A minority has thirdly been abducted because of their
(familial) relation to rebels, probably to press information out of them about their
unpopular relatives or to put them under pressure. And so Human Rights Watch
complains about the possible (and in many cases, in their view, probable)
torture of those abducted.
Human Rights Watch has called on the United Nations to
actively take on these human rights violations. Because the Russian government
does not feel obligated to pursue the perpetrators. And that contributes to the
ongoing cycle of abuse summed up the human rights organization. In the view of
experts the Kremlin does not give direct orders to kidnap. But according to
Roland Goetz, director of the research group Russia at the Foundation for
Science and Politics in Berlin, Moscow allows its armed forces in Chechnya
large freedom. The abductions are at least not stopped on the part of the
Kremlin, which is a form of approval, says Goetz.
The perpetrators have two differing motivations to
kidnap people according to him. On the one hand they want to demonstrate their
dominance. On the other, the kidnapping of Chechnyans is also an excellent
source of money. For the kidnapped or the corpses of the kidnapped the
perpetrators demanded ransom. Good business was especially possible with the
dead; according to the beliefs of most Chechnyans, the souls of the dead first
find their peace when buried."
So where is the daily media outrage on Chechnya? Where is the anger at all of the widespread, systematic torture carried out by Russian troops and condoned by the Russian government? How could it be that virtually none of the cases of kidnappings have been legally resolved? Where is the German left in all of this? Why the outrage over Iraq and the deafening silence on Chechnya? Why the double-standard?
Why is virtually no one asking whether those abducted in Chechnya are receiving proper treatment and being tried in a fair and legal manner before a court of law? Are they receiving proper medical care and visits from the Red Cross? Are their international human rights being upheld? Are both male and female prisoners free from sexual abuse and humiliation? Where is the so-called "peace movement" when Vladimir Putin visits Germany? Why aren't they out beating their drums and waving their rainbow flags by the thousands?
Oh yeah, one final note: The results of the poll on who Germans trust is truly revealing. However, it would be even more revealing to see the results of a poll that asked Germans where they would prefer to live if forced to decide between Russia and the USA. As Markus Wolf, East Germany's notorious Stasi spymaster and the mastermind of the organization's counter-espionage department noted when the CIA attempted to recruit him at the end of the Cold War with offers of money and resettlement in California: "Life in Siberia isn't too bad either."