Published in German at SPIEGEL ONLINE on October 29, 2002
Translated by The Editrix, authorized by the author.
Americans wiped out the Indians. They bombed Dresden. They burnt Hiroshima and didn't sign the Kyoto Accords – Plenty of reasons to loathe them. An essay on the growing anti-Americanism and moral arrogance in Germany.
Anti-Americanism: The very word is a fraud. It suggests anything you want it to suggest, from protest via reaction all the way to self-defense, and it establishes a hierarchy: Anti-Americanism inevitably results from the U.S.' ambition to rule the world, just as anti-Fascism was the logical answer to Fascism, as antibiotics are given against inflammation, and antidepressants against a foul mood.
Cause and effect seem to work here as well. First the pathological symptom, then the doctors are consulted to decide how to proceed. The patient, of course, is told not to resist treatment and assured that it is all to his own best. But that is only so on the face of it. Anti-Americanism is not a conditional reflex in response to U.S. policies; it is an independent feeling of resentment in search for its own justification. One might say that the effect will gladly accept any cause, as long as it can swank its morally superior position.
No way those cowboys are superior!
The Nazis' anti-Americanism attacked the American "Mammonism", for turning women into men and men into women. Immediately after the war had finally come to an end and the last CARE package was scoffed, Germans started ranting against "Negro music" and "degenerate" artists like Elvis Presley, who undermined German youth with their din and waggle. But it wasn't called "anti-Americanism" then, though. This particular resentment was sold then as a no-name product, so shortly after liberation. Much water has passed under the bridge since then. Historical inhibitions were broken down and replaced by an unselfconsciousness that gets high from its own bravado.
Anti-Americanism is a collective primeval scream from hurt souls: the attempt to overcome one's feeling of inferiority. No way — no way! — can those primitive Americans, those cowboys and "Bushmen" be superior to us in almost every respect. After all, we invented culture and the schnitzel sandwich, and we hang on to theaters and opera houses even in backwaters like Augsburg, Mainz and Oldenburg. What makes it worse is the fact that "the Amis" defeated us twice in the past century and saved us from ourselves. No other society, wrote Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, a German professor of comparative literature with U.S. passport, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, comes close to "so proudly and consistently misunderstanding its own anti-Americanism as an expression of national sovereignty". Gumbrecht cited examples, including an "artist well known all over the country" who stated in a TV chat show that the invention of chewing gum had been "America's sole contribution to world culture". Let's take this mixture of spite and ignorance — in Germany automatically considered proof of a sound self-confidence — and return it. Then Germany's only valid and lasting contribution to world culture would be the Schweinshaxe.
"Specifically we as Germans..."
Whence the feeling of moral superiority that rises its head everywhere in the media, in professional editorials as well as in naive letters to the editor? What is the basis of this staple coalition of clear consciences, whose members are issuing mutual authorization for possessing the ultimate competence as arbitrators? "Must I not call a murder a murder because many of our forebears were murderers? Am I not obliged, specifically because of our history and for the sake of our children, to name murder for what it is, and murderers, for what they are? Not speaking out, these days, means complicity" — writes a SPIEGEL reader to the editor. What he means is that he has a duty to take sides in the Middle East conflict, take sides for peace and for the Palestinians. The arithmetics are simple: The heavier one's own historical burden, the greater one's own expertise to sermonize about ethics and moral values to others. Thus, with the holocaust as a baggage, the Germans are qualified for this job like no other nation.
As the old adage says: "Young whores, old nuns," which has turned into: "specifically we as Germans...". This applies to everybody, but particularly to Americans. They are the ones who wiped out the Indians, bombed Dresden, burnt Hiroshima and didn't sign the Kyoto accords. Their sins are many and they urgently need help and extracurricular lessons.
"NO to war in Iraq. Because war never leads to peace." It is bizarre that we were treated to this pearl of wisdom in full-page ads taken out on September 1st by the Party of Democratic Socialism [PDS], the afterbirth of the SED, that used to celebrate the victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War as if their own German Central Committee and the Politburo in Pankow had personally conducted the military offensive. And suddenly, as if by a letter-writer's guide for chewing-gum-censors, the same language turns up everywhere. "We need to point out the danger of going down the wrong path," said a reader in Neues Deutschland, and: "Who, if not Germany, should do so -- given the background of our painful historical experience?" Needless to say, it was a purely rhetorical question.
Jawoll! We'll close the toilets at train stations for American tourists!
In a letter to the editor of Die Welt, a reader confessed that "in my opinion, the German people are more fit that any other in the world to advise on the volatile danger of war", and a clone of his chimed in with his letter to the Berliner Zeitung: "Germans have learned their lesson. It is no more than understandable that they are sensitive to a new war of aggression in the making whereever else."
Such a moral advantage must be used wisely. "Perhaps we Western Europeans can teach Americans a lesson in democracy and humanitarian empathy," pondered a taz reader, who on the strength of the subscription to this newspaper, had turned from a German to a Western European and thus, conveniently, forgot the heroic resistance of Western Europeans against the Nazis before they heroically surrendered, and in what role-model manner they had solved later all European conflicts, from Northern Ireland to the Basque region, from Cyprus to Kosovo, sticking all the time, of course, to the code of humanitarian compassion.
Another taz reader wrote a letter to George W. Bush, in which he managed to combine humanitarian compassion with rank humour: "When you was governor of Texas for example, all the world could see your wonderful capacity to endlös homemade conflicts." Another taz reader submitted his suggestion as to how the next Endlösung might be prevented: "The USA and the UK must be strictly prohibited from using their military bases and command centers inside Germany…for the purpose of a war against Iraq!" Jawoll! And if that doesn't work, then we'll close the toilets for American and British tourists at German railway stations!
"If only Columbus had just passed those morons by"
Statements like these may possibly have been written by braggarts, crackpots and malcontents, but they still authentically reflect the prevailing mood in Germany. What Herta Däubler-Gmelin [former Federal Minister of Justice] echoed [i.e. the infamous comparison Bush/Hitler] is common thought everywhere. And if you want to know what the people deep down — in every respect — are thinking, you just want to look at what's being said in Internet forums, where the vox populi presents itself, uninhibited and unfiltered, without regard to orthography or punctuation.
"It's only about mineral resources and the profit of the US! Those mega-pigs aren't willing to do anything for the rest of the world. Iraq is going to be attacked because they have nuclear and biological weapons — but what does the USA have??? If only Columbus had just passed those morons by. Let's leave them alone and the day they don't like themselves anymore they will start solving their own problems and will get off of the rest of the world's back — this country without any culture whatsoever. AT LAST!"
Anti-Americanism is a popular and therefore diversified phenomenon. There is the anti-Americanism of the dumb, of those who get worked up about chewing gum, Coca-Cola and McDonald's, while they are warming up buletten and fried potatoes in the microwave; and there is the anti-Americanism of the educated classes, who relativize everything and bring things into the "correct" perspective, like readers of Stern, Zeit and Der Spiegel are fond of doing: "This September 11 didn't change the world. Similar and even much worse crimes have sadly happened all the time in human history, but never has a state won so much political capital from such an incident like the USA in this case."
"An analogy to the collapse of the tower of Babel"
Something like that can, of course, not just be swallowed without objection. Who, if not us, would be better suited to slap the USA's hand and demand fairness for a dictator: "With exactly same right that the sovereign USA demands a look into the weapons factories in the Iraq, the equally sovereign state of Iraq could likewise claim to inspect the witch's kitchen of the American military! Equal Rights for All!"
One floor above, the sages and philosophers carry on this educational project of national magnitude. In the FAZ the systems analyst Sybille Toennies reveals, "Why it is only logical that the American aggression now targets Saddam", because he has rejected the Pax Americana and refused to take part in the "war on terror".
The lifestyle-philosopher Peter Sloterdijk lets the newsmagazine profil from Vienna know that he belongs "thank God to a group of people who always thought of September 11 in the context of Theodor W. Adorno's birthday" and will continue to do so because "that association remains the more important one from the standpoint of cultural history."
The progressive theologian Dorothee Soelle, always on the side of the poor and downtrodden, sees "an analogy to the collapse of the tower of Babel" in the destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center. Both structures were destroyed for the same reasons: "Because mankind couldn't understand each other anymore."
"If something fishy is going on in the world it smells of oil!"
Her colleague Friedrich Schorlemmer [Protestant pastor and civil rights activist in the former GDR] sees a bleak future ahead. "The world must not only win the difficult and lengthy war against international terrorism, but also needs to survive eight years of Bush administration." That's all he has to say about terrorism, but not about the Bush problem. "Bush has become a danger to the world", he is going to "become a global dictator", the US government "is therefore itself a global danger". In this situation, Schorlemmer writes in Neues Deutschland, "the West would be well advised to listen to the liberal powers of the Arab world" and, because there are so many liberal powers to listen to in the Arab world, two immediately jump to his mind: "The President of Egypt and the President of the Arab League."
Appalled and with utter disapproval, the opponents of the Pax Americana observe that the US administration is not actually a branch of the Salvation Army, but that its actions "are always involved with furthering solid economic interests and power politics." Surprise, surprise! Instead of just distributing woolen blankets and powdered milk all over the globe, a superpower is also concerned with interest-orientated power politics. A Neues Deutschland [the mouthpiece of the PDS and its predecessor, the SED] reader hits the nail on the head: " If something fishy and crooked is going on it smells of oil! And with Bush & Co. the smell gets suffocating."
German companies, on the other hand, never take part in worldwide competition, German banks especially fall over their own feet to give interest-free loans to businesses without capital in the Third World, and German moralists like Sloterdijk, Soelle and Schorlemmer switch off their central heating in the winter and freeze all together for peace. Meanwhile, they keep themselves warm with a cup of tea, which they have bought at an OXFAM shop because, after all, the electric current keeps coming out of the wall.
German Companies armed Iraq
Only incidentally one hears that German politics are not quite as far removed from the case as the representatives of German ethics and morals would like. In 1997, goods with a value of 21.7 million Euros were exported from Germany to Iraq. One year later, the total was by now 75.4 million Euros. In 2001, German companies had a total turnover of 336.5 million Euro doing business with Iraq and in the first half of this year 226.2 million already; that means: within only five years Germany's business with Iraq increased twenty-fold.
It were also German companies that keenly supported Iraq's armament, making its Scud missiles launchable. What obviously did not bother German moralists was what damage those weapons might cause, but rather how an "escalation of violence" — following the disarmament of Iraq — might be avoided. Also, German idealism is not prepared to tolerate that "Blood for Oil" might be spilled. The only thing for which blood should be spilled is blood — without any pecuniary concern. Morality, in Germany, is for export only. The self-empowerment mantras we use "if not us, who..." and "specifically we as Germans with our history..." has replaced the old "Made in Germany". For the domestic market, however, they are without the slightest meaning.
If only the riches of the Earth were distributed justly...
The "Free National Zones" in East Germany remain under the control of neo-Nazis. In the West, anti-Semitism is rapidly increasing while the ethical standard-bearers, with artists and intellectuals marching ahead, can't be bothered having their jolly good time fouled-up. They are focusing their energies on telling the world how terrorism ought to be fought, namely: "just as any sort of criminality with police actions," but always keeping in mind that "one must understand and deal with the social causes, especially the unfair distribution of the earth's wealth and the humiliation of foreign cultures through the arrogance of some of the leaders of the West" as it was written in an petition signed by several dozen of culture vultures, from Walter Jens [professor of literature and writer] to Katja Ebstein [pop singer] and Johano Strasser [secretary general of the German PEN Club], to Hannelore Elsner [ageing actress].
If only the riches of the Earth were distributed justly and the humiliation of foreign cultures through the arrogance of some of the leaders of the West were abolished, then the Twin Towers in New York would still be standing and Katja Ebstein and Hannelore Elsner could go to the bar "Windows of the World" on the 101st floor of the North Tower, and have drinks on the Third World with Caipirinhas rather than researching the "social causes" of terrorism.
Much of the German anti-Americanism, as seen since September 11, 2001, is merely idle bandwagon-jumping by people who would also sign a petition against bad weather as long as it proves their progressive political position free of charge. The same people who, when it comes to Al Queda and Taliban, tirelessly sweet talk Islamist fanatism and play down its actions as socio-cultural self-defense, a reaction to poverty and arrogance, need a foe image to hold on to, namely the ugly, uncultured American who stinks up the globe chomping on his chewing gum.
They haven't read a single line of Walt Whitman and don't know what Henry David Thoreau wrote "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" — The only thing they know for sure is that they must rescue the world, not from Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but from George W. Bush, who is a danger to world peace like Adolf Hitler was more than 70 years ago.
The more George becomes Adolf, the less remains of the original.
And now it's time for action. The German peace lovers do not wish to go wrong once more and to suffer another finger pointing because they failed again to see the writing on the wall. The comparison between Bush and Hitler is supposed to legitimize the belated resistance. And the more George becomes Adolf, the less remains of the original. So we will manage to get our history out of our own country, lay it down at the Americans' doorstep and thus keep our own backyard clean. Soon the White House will be called the Führerbunker and it won't take long until Germany will humble the rest of the world by offering Saddam Hussein sanctuary. Who, if not us.