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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Little Even-handedness Would Be Nice

The recent news about possible assistance to the US Military planners coming from German BND agents in Baghdad represents a cause for reflection. The uproar about this issue in the German media speaks volumes about the overall attitude of German society. There are several root questions about this story, and about the reaction to it in Germany.

The first and obvious question regarding this issue is what was the motive of the former government in Germany to provide this tactical military information to the US? The likely answer is really quite unfortunate and hypocritical. Could it be that in deference to the it’s public posture toward US policy, the German government was not as inhospitable as its public persona? The Schroeder regime publicly went far beyond disagreements among friends. It used every opportunity to outwardly attempt to diminish the credibility of the Bush Administration. But now we discover the degree to which this public treatment was “political.” The reality in this case may be a bit of realpolitik. Perhaps even the Schroeder government realized that in light of the Marshal Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and the defense in the face of Soviet aggression, there could never be an “up side” to blatant opposition (not to be confused with mild, or subdued opposition) to US policy.

Given the realpolitik agenda (albeit private) of the German government, we Americans should find it even more disconcerting that there was a political benefit for this hypocrisy. What is it about the German public’s mindset that makes it so willing to gleefully cling to anything that “puts America in its place?” Why does opposition to US policies appear to be a winning political platform in Germany? The German media has some real soul searching to do, and is greatly responsible for this shift in attitudes toward the US. David and Ray @ Medienkritik have painstakingly highlighted bias in the German media, and have done a thorough job of outlining this important issue.

The elite in Germany find it so easy and opportunistic to exhibit anything greatly critical of the US. The lack of even-handedness in their coverage of America cannot, and does not have benign effects on the population. Why is it that the only foreign country worthy of ridicule in a Karneval float is… the US? Organizers have declared Islam off limits for float material, but anything critical of America is either so prevalent that it cannot help but be prominently shown in the German news, or the German media truly knows what makes for popular headlines. Both of these possibilities are truly abhorrent.

A recent interview with Beate Wagner, secretary general of the German Society for United Nations, by Deutsche Welle further outlines the overall lack of even-handedness by the German media. Ms. Wagner clearly indicated that “The human rights situation in China is well known. The number of people executed in China equals the amount executed in all other countries of the world put together. You can even be executed for tax crimes. There is no freedom of the press of freedom of expression. The human rights situation has not improved.” On the other hand, if you read Spiegel online, you would have to assume that capital punishment in America is the lone threat to the civilized world. It seems as though negative stories relating to the death penalty in America outnumber those about Chinese executions by a factor of 10:1. The facts just don’t support this imbalance. In the same interview, with DW, Steffen Leidel (DW interviewer) indicated that “Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was very reserved when it came to criticizing the human rights situation in China and Russia.” Mr. Schroeder was never reserved in his criticism about the Anglo-Saxon economic system, or the American response to Hurricane Katrina; particularly when compared to the “German Social Model.” He even wanted to start selling China weapons. To this day, most in Germany gleefully praise Mikhail Gorachev, and give total credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall and German Unification to him. It should surely occur to many in Germany that there were conditions which made Glasnost and Perestroika the obvious and only choice for Mr. Gorbachev (Ronald Reagan had the Soviets backed into a corner with no viable options). Of course to realize these facts, would mean most of the credit for these events would go to Pope John Paul (who helped to give subjects of Soviet oppression hope for personal freedom) and Ronald Reagan. Instead, the former Communist gets rock star treatment by the German press.

Why is the most compelling reaction in the German media to immediately drum up some nonsensical conspiracy theory? My wife and I even hosted a German exchange student several years ago (on a US government scholarship) who truthfully believed that the American landing on the moon in 1969 was a total hoax. Today, roughly 33% of thirty-something adults in Germany believe that the US government was responsible for the catastrophe at the Pentagon on 9-11. What’s even more astonishing is that this theory was “created” by a blockbuster book written by a government minister. You can also read about grand theories of the BND story being some sort of political payback towards the previous German administration. It’s been suggested that the timing of the story was linked to Frau Merkel’s statements about the need for Gitmo to be dismantled. For the record, most Americans agree that Gitmo should be abandoned, but we think this should only be done after a viable alternative is presented… we’re still waiting for ideas. The trouble with these “theories” is that they don’t make any sense. There can be no doubt that the Bush administration would have been rooting for a new government in Germany with traditional partners CDU and FDP. If this story was political, why would this not have been leaked to the press during the German election season? That surely would have had more impact on the tenor in Berlin. The source of the story has clearly indicated that the timing of the story was designed (by his publisher) to coincide with his recent book about military operations in Iraq. This scenario is infinitely more plausible than the conspiracy theories asserted by much of the German media.

German courts have outlawed the showing of a movie about the German cannibal because it would infringe upon his rights. But the Turkish movie showing American GI’s is cause for a cinematic celebration. We believe that both movies would fall under “free speech.” We just want a fair shake.

Submitted to Carnival of German-American Relations

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