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Some US Comedians Still Associate Germany with Nazi Past

Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien and an American blogger make jokes expressing concern for German troops going "on tour again" and suggesting that today's Germans could turn into Nazis anytime.
US News and World Report quoted NBC's Conan O'Brien in its Late Night Comedians round up on November 29, 2006:
The Pentagon is, of course, making some decisions on Iraq. The Pentagon is trying to convince Germany to send more troops to the war in Iraq. Yeah. This marks the first time anyone has asked the Germans to send more troops.
Does US News and World Report find this joke funny? Such jokes are a good excuse for Germany not to send troops anywhere. I could use this joke to argue that many Americans still associate Germany primarily with our Nazi past (see poll at the end of this post) and don't want us to participate in military missions abroad: "Sorry, Germany is not going to support America, because we don't want anybody to think of us as Nazis." 
Conan O'Brien's joke is not even accurate: The phrase "to send more troops" suggests that Germany already has some troops in Iraq. Thus, anybody who finds this joke funny lacks some information.

Another example: Jon Stewart interviewed Natalie Portman about filming Vendetta in Berlin in March 2006: 
Natalie Portman: Berlin is amazing. I was nervous to go. I had never been to Germany.
Jon Stewart: well we're Jews, you don't know…
NP: we're Jews. And…
JS: you never know when Oktoberfest turns a little ugly. [Natalie laughing] You know, we're having a couple of beers and suddenly it’s 'waser waser meintenhead'.
NP: Schnell Schnell
NP: Schnell
NP: Erm, it was, it was amazing though, they've been through so much. I mean since that time too. Obviously they went through the whole Soviet splitting of the city and all of that, so. They've had another history since and it really feels like it's changing its really cool.
The wonderful Natalie Portman managed to stop Jon Stewart.  I have seen the video on the internet in March, but it is no longer available online. A fan site has an accurate transcript.
Jon Stewart's Daily Show is watched by millions of Americans. He received the prestigious Peabody Award twice, has been called a "Walter Cronkite" for a younger generation and was also featured on Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the year 2005.

When Chancellor Merkel expressed Germany's solidarity with Israel in February 2006, an American Blogger based in Berlin voiced his concern about future German invasions:
She stressed Germany's special responsibility in insuring Israel's right to exist, something clearly denied by Teheran’s leadership, and said that "Germany will not simply just watch" but will play an active role in solving the growing conflict over Iran's nuclear program. And upon hearing this, clear words before a light background of veiled military threat, none of the natives began jumping up and down and holding their breaths or running around in circles or whining or yelling or moaning like they're supposed to.
Was soll denn das (what is going on here)? Now it's okay for Germany to actually "do" something, or what? Where will this lead to next, people? Before you know it, they'll be "doing something" all over the place again.

To conclude: Conan O'Brien assumes that German troops always come as invading armies and makes fun of the Pentagon asking for "more" troops, while Jon Stewart is concerned that "Oktoberfest turns a little ugly" and Germans go after the Jews, while Clarsonimus -- the American blogger in Berlin -- is concerned that Germany might soon be "doing something" all over the place again.
And if I am not laughing about their joke, then they might bring up the stereotype of the humorless Germans...

I think Germans have learned their lesson from history and many are sensitive to thinly veiled comments about our past. (Likewise, many Americans are sensitive about Anti-Americanism.) Most Germans pay attention to their country's international reputation and take expressions of mistrust seriously. German Joys quotes the British Times correspondent in Berlin Roger Boyes, who wrote a book about the Germans:
No other society so regularly seeks the views of foreigners. How are we doing, Dutch or Italian or indeed British correspondents are asked on television. Are we messing up again; are we failing Europe; are we incapable of change?
I think, the lessons from the past and concern for international mistrust of Germany are two of the main reasons, why so many contemporary Germans are pacifists and critical of US wars.
Most US policy makers, many US think tanks and many US journalists criticize Germany for being unwilling to send combat troops to Southern Afghanistan and accuse Germany in general for not doing its fair share within NATO. Popular US comedians with an audience of millions of TV viewers, however, continue to make Nazi jokes. Thus Germany gets mixed signals from policy makers and think tanks on the one hand and comedians and American TV audiences who laugh about them on the other hand.

Sure, the comedians don't speak for all Americans. Most Americans are not concerned about Germany going Nazi again. Still, as Roger Boyes wrote, Germans are very interested in the views of foreigners.
Besides, the respectable Forsa institute has conducted a poll about the image of Germany in the United States and in Russia in 2004. According to Forsa's report (p. 15), more Americans than Russians associate Germany with the Nazi regime. The term "Germany" makes a quarter of all Americans, who participated in the poll, think first about the Nationalsocialism:
Das Bild Deutschlands wird in den USA deutlich stärker als in Russland noch durch die Erinnerungen an das Nazi-Regime geprägt: Ein Viertel aller Befragten denkt beim Begriff "Deutschland" zuallererst an den Nationalsozialismus.
Quite surprising since Russia suffered much more under Nazi Germany than the United States. And Russians were living under Soviet propaganda. Does this mean that US comedians are more influential than Soviet propaganda ever was?

First Endnote: Davids Medienkritik criticizes Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which once had an animation on their website making fun of German politicians with obese Americans in the background.

Second Endnote: Laughing about Hitler?
Both German and Jewish sensitivities are to face a severe test next month with the launch of a comedy movie in German that turns Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler into a clown with 90 minutes of juvenile jokes.
Third Endnote: Roger Boyes book "My dear Krauts. Wie ich die Deutschen entdeckte" is available at, but unfortunately not at Extract available at The Times:
Sour Krauts? Not a bit of it
The Germans are cold and efficient right? Wrong. In a book that is a runaway bestseller in Germany, the Times man in Berlin debunks the myths about our Teutonic cousins.
I started out as a Teutono-sceptic. How could it be otherwise? You grow up reading Commando comics, you watch Hogan’s Heroes — which makes a clunkingly unfunny distinction between Bad Germans and Stupid Germans — you snigger perhaps at ’Allo ’Allo. At school an eccentric German teacher tries to correct the balance with Beethoven and Willy Brandt, but in the end my generation is still held hostage by the inbuilt hostility of our fathers who last glimpsed Germany at 17,000ft through the bomb-sights of a Lancaster. One of my predecessors in the Times office in Germany was Frank Johnson (who died last week), who would think dark thoughts in pubs. “That man over there gnawing a sausage. You think he looks as if he was of military age? What did he get up to?” That was in 1985. We were not exactly in the Nazi-hunting business but, well as Frank would say, we kept our eyes open.


Atlantic Review on : How Good or Bad is the US Media Coverage of Germany?

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"Ever since reading the New York Times, I've always wondered how simple Germany is portrayed." complains Gerd at Anglofritz: When you look at the recent stories in both CNN and the NYT about Germany this past week, you’ll find the followi


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Chris on :

I did not see Conan's remark. But, he is probably referring more to German militarism. He's a history buff. And doesn't the saying go: Prussia was an army with a state?

Zyme on :

Germans have gotten over it and can laugh about the past. Only a minority is still worried when german soldiers move abroad and thinks they will secretly blow the planet apart :D "I think Germans have learned their lesson from history and many are sensitive to thinly veiled comments about our past." You are among the only ones of the younger generation I know to be so sensitive. Please tell me, if someone punched you in the face, how many kilometers would you run? I bet you are a good runner. Oh - I hope this statement was not too insensitive..? ;) "why so many contemporary Germans are pacifists" Oh yeah sure. So many. Each time german troops are sent abroad, the streets are full of protesters who want our army to be abolished and stuff. Everytime. At least in the 1980s :D "Popular US comedians with an audience of millions of TV viewers, however, continue to make Nazi jokes." I´m sure I can speak for those comedians when saying that they probably didn´t want to hurt you too much. How evil they are, maybe they even expect most germans to be a little tougher than you?! :D "Thus Germany gets mixed signals from policy makers and think tanks on the one hand and comedians and American TV audiences who laugh about them on the other hand." Whew! Knowing this I don´t envy Merkel for sure. It must be so difficult to be a politician under such conditions. How can you please both american think tanks AND american comedians at the same time? Oh wait, isn´t her job about something completely different? "Does this mean that US comedians are more influential than Soviet propaganda ever was?" *lol*. It rather means that the russian people has become used to its new partner. Seriously Jörg, did you move out of Germany a decade ago and have you never returned ever since? You should have been here in the world cup. The last guys with your problems have been cured at the event.

Zyme on :

Oh and Jörg, do you ever watch TV here in Germany? I do not watch TV a lot - yet I noticed the same kind of jokes are around here, too. Kostprobe gefällig? Wie oft beginnen Kabarettisten bei Sprüchen über die ältere Generation mit der Einleitung "Wer Stalingrad überstand, der sollte doch auch mit (...) fertig werden!" Oder was man bei kulturellen Fragen auch immer öfter hört: "Wenn das der Führer hören würde!" Gestern im Scheibenwischer: "Nun nimmt unsere Armee also auch am Krieg im Libanon teil - nur hat niemand bedacht, dass wir bei einem Sieg auch Gebietsansprüche an Israel stellen müssen!" Oder wie meinte Ottfried Fischer so schön: "2006 - das war vielleicht ein Jahr: Günter Grass hat zugegeben ´Ich war bei der Waffen-SS!´ - viele ham gsagt ´Na und? I a!´ " ;) Oder ganz köstlich Harald Schmidt, als er meinte: "Der Rhein ist ein Nazi, wussten Sie das nicht? Ja natürlich, heute fließt er ruhig und beschaulich durch Deutschlands Westen und lässt sich nicht das Geringste anmerken. Das ändert aber nichts an der Tatsache, dass er auch zwischen 1933 und 45 trotz Machtübernahme der Nazis ununterbrochen auch weiter durch Deutschland floß und einfach so tat, als sei nichts gewesen!! Ja meine Damen und Herren, daran erkennen sie, was für ein Nazi der Rhein wirklich ist!"

JW-Atlantic Review on :

In my humble opinion: The jokes by US comedians are quite different from the ones that you mention. Besides, it makes a difference if someone makes fun of his own country rather than somebody else's country. At least it feels different. Similarly with Anti-Americanism: If a German says xyz about the US, then it is often considered Anti-Americanism. If an American says the same, then it is not considered Anti-Americanism. Anyway: I am NOT calling those jokes Anti-German. I just point out that US comedians still use Nazi jokes to comment on German foreign policy. I do NOT feel offended by any of these jokes. I just find them lame. It's time to write some new jokes about Germany. I find it unfortunate that quite a few Americans associate Germany first with the Nazis. I am not so sensitive as you suggest, but it was my mistake. I should have used a different word than "sensitive" in the post. What I meant was what Boyes wrote: "No other society so regularly seeks the views of foreigners. How are we doing, Dutch or Italian or indeed British correspondents are asked on television. Are we messing up again; are we failing Europe; are we incapable of change?" Besides, we can agree to disagree about how much Germans care about the opinions of allied nations. I just want to point out that doing our share and responsibility etc (Bündnistreue, Verantwortung gerecht werden) are part of any discussion. Perhaps not that serious, but it is discussed. Re pacifism: There is a significant minority in Germany which opposes every war and believes that a war is never justified. You mentioned the demonstrations in the 80s. There were large demonstrations against the first Gulf war (1991) as well and smaller (but still considerable demonstrations) against the Iraq war in 2003. And then there is this poll: 62% of Germans think that a war is never justified. 68% of polled Germans believe that any conflict can be solved by peaceful means. The majority of those polled in Poland, Netherlands, UK, and USA, believe that wars are justified under certain circumstances. "Die soeben veröffentlichte Studie wurde vom Sozialwissenschaftlichen Institut der Bundeswehr erstellt. Sie beruht auf einer repräsentativen Befragung von 2544 Personen im Alter über 16 Jahren, die in Privathaushalten in Deutschland leben. (...) Im Unterschied zu vielen anderen Ländern nannten die Befürworter eines internationalen Engagemenents altruistische Gründe für ihre Haltung. 40 Prozent von ihnen waren der Meinung, daß ein politisch so bedeutendes und wirtschaftlich so starkes Land wie Deutschland eine entsprechende Verantwortung bei der Bewältigung von Krisen und Konflikten zu tragen habe. Etwa ein Drittel führte persönliche Betroffenheit und moralische Verpflichtung an. Verbreitet war auch die Auffassung, daß Deutschland sich nicht isolieren dürfe und seine Verpflichtungen als Mitglied von EU, Nato und UN zu erfüllen habe. Die Wahrung ökonomischer und politischer Interessen, die in der klassischen Lehre als Maßstab für die Außenpolitik eines Landes gilt, wurde dagegen nur von wenigen für wichtig gehalten. Diese stark von pazifistischen oder idealistischen Zügen geprägte Weltsicht findet sich in der Einstellung zu militärischer Macht und Gewalt wieder. Auf die Frage, ob unter bestimmten Umständen Krieg notwendig sei, um Gerechtigkeit zu erlangen, antworteten 62 Prozent mit Nein. 68 Prozent waren der Meinung, daß sich Konflikte in einem Staat oder zwischen Staaten immer mit friedlichen Mitteln lösen lassen. (...) Bulmahn weist darauf hin, daß es gerade die Einstellung zur Legitimität militärischer Gewalt ist, in der sich die Deutschen von anderen westlichen Staaten unterscheiden. In Polen seien 53 Prozent der Auffassung, Krieg sei unter Umständen nötig, um Gerechtigkeit zu erlangen. Noch höher liegen diese Werte in den Niederlanden (60), in Großbritannien (79) und den Vereinigten Staaten (89). Anscheinend wirkt die historische Erfahrung der beiden Weltkriege in Deutschland noch stark nach." Source: Pazifistische Züge Eine Studie über das außenpolitische Denken der Deutschen/Von Nikolas Busse Text: F.A.Z., 13.03.2006, Nr. 61 / Seite 10 Also in German: Zyme, what do you make of this poll? Why do you think is pacifism more widespread in Germany than in other countries? To be sure: I am not saying that the majority of Germans are really pacifist. I think it is a minority, but a significant minority. In addition, there is a pacifist sentiment among others. Therefore it is difficult for any German government to send troops into war. Though, there are also many good additional reasons to be very reluctant about sending troops into war.

Zyme on :

"Zyme, what do you make of this poll? Why do you think is pacifism more widespread in Germany than in other countries?" Ok let me tell you something about this pacifistic stream in the mentality of our people: It has been around most of the time since the 30-years-war in the 17th Century. No other language has received such an impact of words that describe suffering and pain as the german language in this conflict, which lasted for a whole generation on german soil while every major european power was involved. Tell me: How many wars involving germany have been started by the german people? How many times have they been asked? The german people has never started a war. The impulse always came from its governments. So something else matters: The People´s Tolerance or Intolerance of War - not its Approval. Our people is VERY tolerant - you could see it this week at another poll: 82% of the german people believe that our government governs with no respect to the people. Does this bother anyone? Such an approval rating would cause strikes of even rebellions in other countries. Not so in germany, where the virtue of accepting fate dominates again. Don´t you think that something has changed since the 1980s regarding this? Back in that decade, all hell would have broken lose if we decided to go to war again. What do you think would happen if our government announced next week that a few thousand soldiers including heavy tanks and artillery are relocated to southern afghanistan to start a new offensive against the Taliban? Except notoriously populistic politicians, what percentage of the people would care to demonstrate? Who cared this week when Siemens and IBM received a contract from our Army for renewing its communications system - worth more than 7 billion euros? Who cares about the manufacturing of our stealth submarines - each worth 500 Million Euros? Who minds the renewing of our airforce with Eurofighters, costing more than 15 billion euros alltogether? Oh and what do you think would be the reaction in our society to a war after a successful terrorist strike took place in germany? Something like 9/11 in the USA? Don´t you think that in such a situation, there would be fewer demonstrators than volunteers for the army?

Pat Patterson on :

Wait a second. Just last year Joerg criticized me over at DM for saying virtually the same thing as the post. That the media here in the US rarely talks about Germany unless it's in reference to Nazis or neo-Nazis. I wasn't wrong just prematurely correct.

Pinkerton on :

For what it's worth, here is my view on American comedians. Conan O'Brian and Jay Leno target their jokes to a certain audience who are not, IMO, the brightest stars on the planet. In addition to the comparison of Germans to Nazi's, they also make jokes about French being cowards or smelly. It's nothing more than stupid humor for stupid people. On the other hand, Jon Stewart usually keeps his humor somewhat intelligent. By lowering himself to that level of comparing Germans to Nazi's is a real shame. Using the fact that he is Jewish as an excuse to insult an entire nation of people (many of whom are Jewish themselves, no?) by comparing them to Nazi's should be insulting to his audience. It seems that Jon is still going for the "frat boy" humor which is sad. He's a smart guy, he should know better. From what I could see, the caricatures of Germans as either Nazi's or guys running around in short pants and suspenders while holding an over-flowing beer stein is still an image that crops up in jokes. Then again, how often is the image of Americans as fat and stupid, or toting guns wherever we go expressed in German humor? Personally, I've always pictured Germans as more intelligent and more disciplined than Americans. It also helps that I had a mad crush on a German guy that would come into the office that I worked at, before I was married. So, the Nazi image never stuck with me. ;-)

Pinkerton on :

"IMO, the brightest stars on the planet." ????????? My gosh! I meant to write "brightest stars in the universe"...I guess I can include myself with those 'not so bright' stars, eh?

alexander on :

Hallo Jörg. I think you are a little too überempfindlich. These are quite sensible remarks compared to what british newspapers and their publishers normally say about germany. What are you expecting of us-american comedians? The only comedian I know that might have a tendency to educate people is Loriot -- all others adapt to their audience's level. Why do you sound so disappointed? Did you expect well balanced cynical remarks from us-american tv stars? Why? Everybody knows, US-citizens are not prone to balance. Any comment or remark on non-us-stuff from the us-side that is constructive is great and extraordinary, any other stuff just normal, to be expected. If you just trried to counter stuff like the one on this horrible medienkritik site, I sink sis here was not stupid enough. You'd haf to try harder to get down on this level. cheers Alexander

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I guess, I expected different humor, because of the strong preference for political correctness and the little tolerance regarding ethnic slurs on US television. I thought, there is always an outcry in the US whenever someone makes fun of Asian Americans or African Americans or the Mexicans, Japanese and Poles etc. I thought, that for some weird reason, Americans were only "allowed" to make silly and bigotted jokes about the French. The British press performed a remarkable U-turn during this year's World Cup. They wrote positive reports about the Germans. "Everybody knows, US-citizens are not prone to balance. Any comment or remark on non-us-stuff from the us-side that is constructive is great and extraordinary, any other stuff just normal, to be expected." I am not sure I understand your comment on US-citizens. Are you blaming Americans for not being balanced or the American media for not informing Americans, i.e. for not giving them sufficient information to make up their mind in a balanced way? (Or are both the same?) I think there is a lack of international news and commentary in many US newspapers (primarily local and regional papers), and the TV evening news programs etc. International news and opinions are covered, whenever someone opposes US policy or makes an Anti-American comment; in addition to that, there does not seem to be that much. So I agree with you in this regard. Americans, however, seem to be very interested and balanced. When Americans meet a foreigner they ask all kinds of questions and want to know more etc. And many Americans use the internet to get international news these days... "If you just trried to counter stuff like the one on this horrible medienkritik site, I sink sis here was not stupid enough. You'd haf to try harder to get down on this level." Won't do that. I just think political comedians are pretty powerful. They make comments on the news. Such broadcasted stereotypes are pretty powerful. Harald Schmidt and Stefan Raab used to make silly and bigotted jokes about Poles stealing our cars. They don't do that anymore, do they? I don't find these jokes funny either. Like the Nazi jokes, these are silly and lame. My opposition to these jokes is NOT based on being überempfindlich and being politically correct. I just think they are old, childish and not funny. I think Loriot and others great comedians would agree. Anyway, I just my two cents.

Shah Alexander on :

It is ridiculous. The Cold War is over now, and the global community faces new threats, like terrorism, religious radicalism, nuclear proliferation, and rogue states. Today, the key agenda in Europe is embracing New Europe and Turkey rather than defeating Nazi. They've already gone!

Don S on :

'Going on Tour' is a direct reference to a line in the Mel Brooks musical comedy 'The Producers'. In the context of the song 'Springtime for Hitler' (and the joke) I don't think it's particularly offensive. It's what the English call black humor. Put it this way - the number has a limp-wristed 'Hitler' singing 'I'm a hotsie-totsie Nazi dontcha know', and showgirls wearing tank costumes.

mbast on :

Hah, welcome to the wonderful world of Euro-bashing. Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien? Now where did I last hear those names? Oh yeah, must have been on Superfrenchie. I wonder why... ;-). Na ja, was soll's. Humor ist ja bekanntlich, wenn man trotzdem lacht.

Axel on :

Personally, I don't feel offended by these Nazi jokes at all. For me, it's merely an example of bad taste but not an affair to waste my time with or to complain about. I don't like this kind of political correctness at all where you ban cultural sterotypes because somebody possibly will feel offended. So I haven't the slightest motivation to dictate Americans their picture of Germans and the "correct" way how to make fun of us. But beware! ACHTUNG! If US comedians mock about Germans too much, especially about their love for soccer, we'll send our own comedians to the US for making rude fun of ordinary and unprepared US citizens. We'll begin with Luise Koschinsky. [url][/url] [url][/url] Scheiß' die Wand an!

Dan on :

First, Leno's reference to Germany reunited and expected to go on tour has nothing to do with military actions. It's an analogy with rock bands (they usually go on tour after reuniting). Second, there's a reason Jon Stewart, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien (not "O'Brian") are called comedians. They are making jokes that don't call for any of the meta-analysis you engage in. Sometimes a quip is just a quip. Taking a deep dive in a shallow pool is only advisable if you are seeking a skull injury.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

You are right. I have deleted the paragraph on Jay Leno. In the interest of transparency and full disclosure, here is what I have deleted: [i]Since I don't have access to US TV stations, I don't know how representative such jokes are for US late night TV shows, which are watched by millions of Americans. By chance, I have come across three more examples of US comedians linking today's Germany with Nazi-Germany. Reading "The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe" by Andrei S. Markovits and Simon Reich ( and I learned that late night show host Jay Leno quipped: "I'm sure that you have heard that Germany has re-united. The only question now, I guess, is when will it go on tour again." Okay, that was in the early 90s. Conan O'Brian, however, made his joke in November 2006. [/i] I have also corrected the spelling of Conan O'Brien's name. You wrote: "Sometimes a quip is just a quip. Taking a deep dive in a shallow pool is only advisable if you are seeking a skull injury." You are right. What bothered me was that so many Americans associate Germany with the Nazis. (In fact, more Americans than Russians do so.) Comedians are partly to blame for it. Therefore my dive in the shallow pool. This guy made a similar point, but blames the NYT and CNN rather than comedians: [url][/url]

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