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The Germans: Pacifists or Free-Riders? Or Both?

Have American denazification and reeducation efforts turned Germans into true pacifists? Or are Germans just using their past as an excuse for lack of burden sharing? John Vinocur seems to support the latter thesis. He had thought that Merkel has put an end to it:
A few people, me included, read into this step Merkel's desire to put an end to using Germany's awful World War II history as a false moral refuge from taking sides and putting troops and convictions on the line in the new century.
Vinocur is, however, somewhat disappointed by Merkel and calls her "Ms. Soft Power" in his International Herald Tribune article from September (HT: Don).

NYT: "The 'Good Germans' Among Us"

The NY Times' 2nd most emailed article is currently Frank Rich's new column "The 'Good Germans' Among Us." He comments on yet another set of newly unearthed "secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture."

Rich agrees with Andrew Sullivan, who observed that America's "enhanced interrogation" is "the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the 'third degree.' It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation."

Rich concludes at the end of his op-ed, which also shows the newspaper reader with a halo:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "good Germans" who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo.

Well, the Wikipedia entry on Godwin's law points out: "There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a [Nazi] comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress."

ENDNOTE: Why are Germans so critical of US policies in the war on terror, especially re the limits on civil liberties and these interrogation techniques? Why does the German media run so many editorials on US policies that are considered "Anti-American" by some observers?

Here's one reason: Because Germans have learned from history that they should be very critical of powerful governments rather than being "good Germans." The NYT reminds us of our historical reputation once again and provides a new motivation for Germans to criticize the Bush administration in order to proof that we have learned from our Nazi past and are now critical citizens rather than "good Germans."

Hopefully, one day Americans will use the phrase "a good German" as a reference to eating Vollkornbrot (wholewheat bread), recycling a lot, insulating your house, driving a small car or using your bicycle for grocery shopping.

Germans are as fat as Americans

Ulrich Speck of Kosmoblog wrote a comment on our post "Berliners are faster than New Yorkers." He doubts the survey's findings based on his experience in Berlin and Manhattan. Ulrich also points out that Germans are as fat as Americans.
Let's continue our little series of transatlantic "socio-physical facts." The International Obesity TaskForce provides international data on obesity. And DW World
reports:
In response to a recent study which showed that Germans are fatter than all other Europeans, the German government called Wednesday for concrete steps to wage a nationwide battle of the bulge. (...) The new initiative was spurred by a study released by the International Association for the Study of Obesity. It found that among EU countries, Germany has the most overweight women and men. Among adults, the study found that 58.9 percent of German women are overweight; 75.4 percent of men tip the scales. (...)
The rates of obese and overweight Germans now match those of Americans.
Ulrich points out that "the fat American" has been a core topic in Germany for decades and many Germans have claimed that "this fatness underlines the lack of culture, together with death penality and other typical American habits. Now the Germans are as fat as the Americans. What a shock."
For a fairly recent example see Medienkritik.

UPDATE: You gotta love this Sunday's Scotsman article "German fatties fear the wurst":
Germans are being told to go easy on their bratwurst and bier in favour of more sauerkraut. A looming obesity crisis has seen Berlin ordering an action plan to persuade the nation to shed the kilos. Click to learn more... But the slog to fit into those slim-fit lederhosen will be an über challenge for the nation which gave the world the litre-sized glass of beer, where restaurant portions are often so hefty that those who cannot empty their plates are offered doggy bags so they can finish the rest later, and where being able to cruise at speed in a sleek car rather than walk is regarded as a divine right. (...)
The common self-image of a happy German life is to be seated at a table groaning with huge portions of regional foods accompanied by piles of mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, and with a huge mug of foaming beer never far away (Germany produces an estimated 5,000 different varieties of beer). A crucial part of political campaigning is sampling regional specialities, usually with a glass of beer or wine, and politicians with poor appetites face an uphill struggle. Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor who reunited Germany, was addicted to saumagen - a regional haggis type dish which had a dramatic effect on his waistline - with the 6'4" politician weighing in at about 20 stone.
Of course, the Scotsman finds a way to bring up Adolf Hitler and the Nazi past in this article about obesity.
One reader commented on the Scotsman website:
Knowing both countries, Scotland and Germany, I can tell you that portions served in German restaurants are by no means larger than those in Scottish restaurants. Besides, the idea of the doggy bag was imported from the US of A and this bag is not commonly used in Germany.

Two More Americans Accuse Germany of Historical Revisionism

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.
Excerpt from GM Roper's interesting comment:
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."

Related post in the Atlantic Review:
Germans said to be more afraid to kill than to get killed
Historical Comparisons: Fritz Stern Publishes "Five Germanys I Have Known"
Bad News from Germany

Historical Revisionism in Germany?

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.
He concluded:
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?

German Movies Nominated for an Oscar (Categorie "Best Foreign Language Film")

UPDATE: Germany's The Lives of Others has won the Oscar!
Director Von Donnersmarck thanked Arnold Schwarzenegger "for teaching me that the words 'I can't' should be stricken from my vocabulary."
I know many Germans, who learned this can-do spirit in the United States. This optimism and positive attitude is one of the main reasons, why many Germans are fascinated by Americans and love the American way of life. [End of update]


"If there is any justice, this year's Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Lives of Others," writes the The New Yorker about a German movie dealing with the system of observation in former East Germany.

The IHT writes "Oscar-nominated 'Lives of Others' arrives in US from Germany, where it prompted national debate."
Trailer with English subtitles below and at google video. You might have to click twice on play.

The
Boston Globe starts its review with this paragraph:
The Bush Administration has taken a pounding for its unauthorized spying on American citizens in the name of national security. But imagine living in a country, the former East Germany, in which the secret police, known as the Stasi, had 100,000 employees and 200,000 informants, and whose stated goal was "to know everything." And all this for a population that never exceeded 16 million. A new German film, "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben der Anderen), which opens Friday, makes the horrors of this police state concrete by focusing on the relationship between a writer, Georg Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch), and his actress wife, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), and a Stasi agent named Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) who monitors every minute of their waking lives through the listening devices planted in their apartment. The film has already won a host of prestigious prizes in Europe and is one of five finalists for the foreign-language Oscar this year.
• The only German movies, that won an Oscar for best foreign film, were set in the Nazi era: "The Tin Drum" and "Nowhere in Africa." The last two years the academy nominated films about Nazi-Germany as well: "Downfall" and "The Final Days." I like best The Tin Drum and The Final Days about Sophie Scholl of the resistance group White Rose.

I have created an aStore at Amazon.com with direct links to all four films and a few more good German movies, including "The Boat" and "Beyond Silence," which were nominated for an Oscar in 1983 and 1997, as well as three excellent German movies, which were submitted for the Academy Award, but did not receive a nomination: "Run Lola Run" (1998), "The Experiment" (2001) and "Good Bye, Lenin" (2003).
Three more decent movies ("Manitu's Shoe," "Edukators," and "Rosenstrasse") are included as well.
My favorite German movie is "Run, Lola, Run."  What is your favorite German movie?
German Films has a list of German films submitted for the Academy Award (OSCAR) for Best Foreign Language Film.

• "German films are riding on a wave of critical and commercial acclaim as directors find that they can make people laugh—to everyone's surprise," writes the Economist.com (via: TheYellowDuckPond)

How Good or Bad is the US Media Coverage of Germany?

"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 following: weather in europe, jewish property returned, dax earnings, holocaust survivors, merkel on the eu constitution, some soccer news, holocaust archive and more sports briefings, oh wait another one on nazi germany. I could bet that you’ll find some news of the weird in there too, more of those funky orgelplayers and cannibals. The point is that the American media paints such a simple/negative image of Germany that you’ll rarely find positive news - never mind a diverse picture.
Such press coverage would explain why quite a few Americans associate Germany primarily with Nationalsocialism according to one survey, see the end of this Atlantic Review post.
Another "
favorite theme in foreign coverage of Germany" is, according to the American blogger Andrew Hammel: "The nation's calcified bureaucracy is driving all the clever, ambitious Germans to Britain and the U.S.."

Moreover, foreign affairs coverage in general has been on a decline in the US, according to a Harvard working paper by Jill Carroll:
Coverage of foreign affairs dropped from 27% in 1987 to 14% by 2004, according to a month-long study of 16 newspapers’ front pages by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The same study found the nightly broadcast news devoted 19% of all stories to foreign affairs in 1987, slowly dropping off to 10% by 2002 then spiking to 25% in 2003 before dropping again to 14% in 2004.
Related post in the Atlantic Review: Media Coverage and our Understanding of International Politics.

Personal opinion: I think the US coverage of Germany could be better, but in my humble opinion the NY Times and CNN are not as bad as Gerd claims. I guess, he was exaggerating a bit on purpose to make his point.  Read his entire post at Anglofritz and please come back and let us know what you think.

Endnote: For some examples for postive US coverage of Germany, see the latest Atlantic Review post about environmentalism.

"Eurabia" and "German NeoNazis and the Taliban in Iraq"

A few, but popular authors and journalists as well as many bloggers write a lot about "Eurabia." An extensive Wikipedia entry with many footnotes describes Eurabia as "a dystopian scenario where Europe merges with the Islamic world, and the alleged process of political and cultural Islamisation of Europe." One of the prominent supporters of this theory is Mark Steyn, who recently publilshed "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It" (Amazon.com, Amazon.de). (Some have assumed that Mark Steyn is a Jewish American, but he is actually a Canadian, who attends a small rural American Baptist Church.)
The Chicagoboyz' James McCormick has written a detailed book review with many quotes from the book, including this one:
Two forces are facing off on the European continent: on the one side, the modern social-democratic state that the American left thinks should be our model; on the other, the resurgent Islam that the American Left insists is just a scam cooked up by Karl Rove. We now have an excellent opportunity to test both propositions. How bad is it going to get in Europe? As bad as it can get — as in societal collapse, fascistic revivalism, and then the long Eurabian night, not over the entire Continent but over significant parts of it. And those countries that manage to escape the darkness will do so only after violent convulsions of their own.[p.104]
The best-selling author Ralph Peters disagrees, but has a distorted view of Europe nonetheless: According to him, Islamic fundamentalists will not conquer Europe. Rather Europeans will practice genocide or ethnic cleansing. Muslims are an "endangered species," he opines:
Continue reading ""Eurabia" and "German NeoNazis and the Taliban in Iraq""