In light of the EU-US Summit on April 30, 2007, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, writes in the International Herald Tribune:
Americans invested four times as much in Belgium in 2005 as they did in Chinalast year. Facts like this one remind us that sometimes, in periods of rapid change, it is important to hang on to the big picture. And the trans-Atlantic economy is as big as it gets. Collectively, the European Union and the United States register more than $3 trillion of commercial sales annually. Bilateral trade between the European Union and the United States accounts for 40 percent of all global trade. Fourteen million jobs are dependent on our economic links.
The EU and US leaders "will sign a framework for greater trans-Atlantic economic integration which sets out a clear vision of where we want to go, adds value to existing work, and provides continuity and accountability." writes Barroso.
In the future: "German solar manufacturer SolarWorld is planning to bring a large facility in Hillsboro, Oregon online as the biggest solar plant in North America." via: Dialog International. In the past: "Germany Rebuilds its Imperial Palaces" Spiegel International
On April 11th, Kurt Vonnegut, “one of the defining voices of post-war America”, as The Economist calls him, died at the age of 84. He was the son of an American father and a German mother and witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945 as a prisoner of war there. “Although Mr Vonnegut's experience in Dresden shaped his world view, it took him 24 years and seven novels before he wrote the “famous Dresden book” he had promised. “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Amazon.com, Amazon.de), published in 1969 against the backdrop of racial unrest and the Vietnam war, propelled him from science-fiction writer (a label he abhorred) to literary icon,” the Economist continues in its obituary. It is this novel, The Guardian further elaborates, that “contained the phrase that became most closely associated with him and that could most fittingly serve as his epitaph: 'So it goes.' The words recur throughout the book each time a death is recorded. “Slaughterhouse-Five” reached No. 1 on best-seller lists, making Mr. Vonnegut a cult hero”, and ‘so it goes’ became a catchphrase for opponents of the Vietnam war,” adds the New York Times. Showing his typical dark humor, Kurt Vonnegut himself wrote in an introduction for a special edition of his most famous work ten years after its first publication:
The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.
Let’s hope that Kurt Vonnegut’s death has one single benefit, too: causing lots of people to (re-) read his fabulous book.
The Voice of America reports about a US Congress hearing, in which members of the European Parliament have defended the findings of a report criticizing the practice of extraordinary rendition. Dialog International has the C-Span video of the frank debate. At the end of the video clip, US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher angrily retorts:
Well, I hope it's your families, I hope it's your families that suffer the consequences [of a terrorist attack].
Personal Comment: If Representative Rohrabacher were a European, thousands of US newspapers and blogs would complain about wild Anti-Americanism in Europe and Schadenfreude etc. The German press and blogs, however, just ignore Rohrabacher.
CORRECTION: It seems that Rohrabacher did not address the members of the EU parliament, but some American citizens in the audiences, as our reader Fuchur pointed out. Thank you for the correction and informative comments. Though, it should be pointed out that Rohrabacher and the EU parliamentarians were engaged in a lively debate on a controversial issue, as the video and the VOA article demonstrate.
David Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, who served in the U.S. Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, wrote the op-ed "German for Chutzpah" in the Wall Street Journal on April 16, 2007. Access for subscribers only, but a reprint is available at History News Network. The authors start with:
Call it a humanitarian offensive, or call it historical revisionism, but Germany is on the march again. Seventeen years after German reunification, and 61 after top Nazis were condemned at the Nuremberg Trials, Berlin is taking a newly assertive role in attempting to define permissible international conduct. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel claims that there is no effort to "reinterpret" Germany's checkered history, the evidence suggests a determined campaign at rehabilitation.
They consider for instance Germany's initiative "to promote a new version of its own highly restrictive 'Holocaust denial' laws across Europe" as "actually trivializing" Germany's own "crimes against the Jews." Does anyone agree with this peculiar line of thought? Why do they read mean intentions into this? Just like Tyler Cowen, who accuses Germany of "whitewashing the past" because of two movies about defiance against the Nazis (Sophie Scholl) and against the East German Stasi system (The Lives of Others), see the Atlantic Review post Historical Revisionism in Germany? This post attracted many interesting comments: An excerpt from Bill L' comment:
Responsibility was never owned. It was all dumped on the Nazis. The Solution of Caiaphas. Germany's repentance was to point the finger at a small segment of their society and say, "They did it. They are the ones to blame. We are innocent."
I don't think that is the case. Bill, I think you are confusing Germany with Austria. Germans have faced their awful past in a much more honest and soul searching way than the Japanese or Austrians or Russians. Fuchur has brought a great example in one of his comments:
Undoubtedly, dealing with such a painful and dark chapter in history as the Nazi era is an immensely difficult task. But overall, I think Germany has done a pretty good job. Here's an example that came to my mind: A few years ago, a proposal was put forth to name a school in my vicinity the "von Stauffenberg Gymnasium", after one of the "heroes" of July 20th 44. It was turned down, mainly on initiative of the history teachers, who pointed out that the role of von Stauffenberg and his accomplices had been quite questionable in the long years leading up to 1944. IMO that reveals a high level of awareness, and it is not at all the blind hero-worshipping that Cowen feels to perceive. It is not at all the black-and-white "the Germans against the evil Nazis"-view that you accuse Germans of. Instead, it shows a very distinctive and mature approach.
My grandfather was an ethnic German, I was born in Germany, though my parent's were American and as a a child in the United States, I remember being called a Nazi by kids who were only acting as kids act and repeating the crap of their parents.
Back to the Wall Street Journal piece: Messr. Rivkin and Casey end their op-ed by accusing Germany "to obtain a measure of the victim status that, in the modern world, has become a necessary badge of moral authority. That, of course, is how rehabilitation works." I agree to the extent that there is more talk about German victims than there was before, but I don't think this means that Germany aims to have a "victim status."
The shooting on the Virginia Tech Campus started in the Introductory German class. The first victim was Professor Jamie Bishop, 35, who was a US Fulbright scholar to Christian-Albrechts University at Kiel, Germany. More information at Dialog International. Our condolences to the families of all the victims of this tragedy.
UPDATE: Uwe Koch, president of the German Fulbright Association, has sent the following Letter of Condolence to Virginia Tech and to the international mailing list for Fulbright Associations as well as posted it on the Memorial Site:
Dear Dr. Steger:
Senator W. Fulbright's idea was to build up a world of tolerance, mutual understanding - and even better - friendship; instead of animosity. If one lifts these ideas on a bigger scale, how can anyone see a reason in killing another person in an amok run like this. No one who bears Senator Fulbight's ideas and spirit in his own character can see any sense in this tragedy.
Members and Board of the German Fulbright Alumni Association convey their sympathies to the families of Professor Jamie Bishop (Fulbright scholar to Christian-Albrechts University at Kiel, Germany), Professor Liviu Librescu and all those who suffered from the Virginia Tech killings. In such a time of bereavement, it might be comforting to feel that one is not alone and that people all over the world also sympathize with these families.
Our most sincere condolences especially to Stefanie Hofer
On behalf of the board
Uwe Koch President Fulbright Alumni e.V. German Fulbright Association
Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, criticizes in his blog Marginal Revolution a "disturbing, trend in contemporary German culture to whitewash the past." Prof. Cowen took the Oscar winning movie The Lives of Others about the system of observation in former East Germany as an example: "The film shows many small acts of defiance against the Stasi, as if to redeem an otherwise sorry East German record." He also expresses his dislike of the Sophie Scholl movie: "Last year -- fortunately I cannot remember the title -- we were shown the German martyrs against the Nazis." He stresses that his friends consider him "a cultural Germanophile (I could do "My Favorite Things German" for weeks), but I tend to be a cynic about the blacker historical episodes in the German past." Quite a few of his readers disagree strongly with Prof Cowen's statements on the movie and his comments on "whitewashing the past." The Atlantic Review wrote about the Lives of Others and posted the trailer.
• Last week, the state premier of Baden-Württemberg Günther Oettinger came under fire for praising his predecessor in a eulogy as an opponent of the Nazi regime, although Mr. Filbinger actually was a Nazi judge, who personally signed death sentences for soldiers deserting Hitler's army late in World War II. Mr. Oettinger has now "saved his political skin" by backing down from his original statement, writes DW World. I think the fact that Mr. Oettinger did not get away with his attempt to rewrite history, indicates that historical revisionism does not have a chance of succeeding in Germany. Related: Sign and Sight has translated Arno Widmann's article in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "The fine art of whitewashing"
• John Rosenthal, an American journalist living in France, wrote about "Germany and Historical Revisionism" in his Transatlantic Intelligencer blog in 2005 and took the Neue Wache memorial as an example:
After Reunification, in 1993, the Neue Wache was re-opened as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany”. The inscription had been changed. Instead of the “Victims of Fascism and Militarism”, it is now dedicated to the “Victims of War and Tyranny [Gewaltherrschaft]”. The substitution of “Tyranny” for “Fascism” served to establish an equivalence between the Nazi regime and the Communist regime of East Germany. The substitution of “War” for “Militarism” served to evade the question of responsibility: notably, of German responsibility for the Second World War and hence for the carnage it entailed.
Although it is true that when Chancellor Schröder and President Köhler lay their wreaths before the Kollwitz Pietà they paid tribute to the victims of Nazi crimes, this is only part of the truth. They also – silently, without having to say any words that might provoke unease outside of Germany – paid tribute to many of the perpetrators of those crimes.
Personal comment: I don't notice a fundamental historical revisionism in Germany. I think that the past is commemorated rather than rewritten. There is still a lot of Vergangenheitsbewältigung in Germany, i.e. a sort of a reflective "coming to terms with the past." German history is part of every debate about sending German troops abroad. Recognitition of German victims of the second world war is more prominent now than before, but there is not more to it. Though, maybe Tyler Cowen and John Rosenthal are right, and I am just too biased and blinded to recognize the revisionism in Germany... What do you think, dear readers?
"Six decades after Holocaust, Jewish life thriving again in Germany," writes USA Today:
According to the Central Council of Jews in Germany, an estimated 250,000 Jews now live in the country, with some 110,000 of them registered religious community members. Before 1990, there were only 23,000 Jewish community members in Germany, according to the Central Council. "In 2005, more Jewish immigrants came to Germany than to Israel," said Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council. "Without immigration, most of the Jewish communities would not exist anymore," he said, adding that about 200,000 Jews left the former Soviet Union for Germany since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Cosmopolitan, affordable Berlin in particular has become a magnet, home to several thousand young Israelis expats and hundreds of American Jews, prompting talk of a "Jewish renaissance" in a place where famous Jews like Albert Einstein or the artist Max Liebermann once lived.
The article writes that the World Jewish Congress considers Germany's Jewish community as "vibrant" and "the fastest growing in the world" and describes also the latest Passover:
"Twenty years ago, this would have been impossible in Berlin," said Jarosch, a real estate agent born and raised in the German capital. "But today we have an amazing Jewish infrastructure with kosher butchers, bakers, Jewish schools and several synagogues."