Studien von Zeitfragen
43. Jahrgang - InternetAusgabe 2009




Part 3: Hail to the Chief, or else

By Axel Brot

Hoisting the American flag
Germany had honed its ability to fly below the radar of international controversy to a fine art. Its dependence on foreign trade for its economic well-being required this and it resisted, moreover, for most of the last 40 years rather successfully American attempts to subject its economic relations with the world to the more extravagant demands of economic warfare. No wonder, therefore, that the detente years of the 1970s and the globalization of the 1990s are remembered with fondness. German economic interests and the philanthropic basso continuo of its declaratory foreign policy were in tune. No wonder, too, that Washington regards these GDP-cored sentimentalities as completely out-of-tune with rousing the West against the "enemies of Western values".

After the shocks the German political class suffered in 2002/2003, it agreed, be it out of conviction, opportunism or fear, with the views of the American political class. But as poll after poll reveals, both have to deal with the fact that they are the opposite of rather fundamental attitudes of the majority of Germans. Germany has gladly internalized what was preached over the decades in political Sunday sermons about peace and prosperity, about the role of Germany in the modern world, its relationship with the West and, in particular, what kind of society Germany should aspire to. This message has not only managed to take hold; it has become the prism through which many, if not most, Germans look at the world, at the government, the media - and, not least, at the US.

This is neither surprising nor extraordinary. The German lower classes have always been very reluctant heroes, having been dragged sullenly into the two world wars. It even took all the efforts of the Social Democratic and union leaderships to crush the grassroots movement for a general strike that was about to disrupt the mobilization schedule of the German army in the run-up to World War I; and Nazi domestic intelligence documented their distinct lack of enthusiasm when Germany attacked Poland and the sense of fear and foreboding when Germany went on to eradicate Jewish Bolshevism.

The German educated middle classes, still hung over from their half century of ideological debauch with its jingoism, imperialism and Nazism, from Germany's role as a genocidal ogre, and still remembering its war fright from the 1980s - that, by the way, had reached deeply into the political class itself as well as into the senior levels of the German military - acquired a reflexive pacifism and take, in general, great satisfaction in Germany's reputation as a mostly harmless global social worker. They are, to say the least, very difficult to get again behind a program of endless (race) wars, torture and an ideology of global mayhem. A strong majority may even resist it actively via another peace movement if the German government gets too eager, or too blatant, about demonstrating militarily its commitment to the global "defense of Western values".

German pundits - "opinion-makers" in German - take all this as an expression of deeply-rooted, popular "anti-Americanism", and anti-Americanism as a facet of anti-semitism, and both as the resurgence of anti-Western, pro-totalitarian attitudes. This effort in guilt-mongering has led to some interesting myth-making, amusing if it were not so sinister.

Taking their cue from former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's inanity regarding Venzuelan President Hugo Chavez that "also Hitler had been elected" by popular vote, those journalists who read the opinion pages of the correct American newspapers as well as former foreign minister Fischer repeated it enthusiastically and frequently. Notwithstanding their authority, the historical facts are, of course, quite different: after his election setback in 1932, Hitler was not elected but chosen by a cabal of leaders of right-wing parties, industry and the media, to head a coalition government between those parties and the Nazis, to save the country from the left. Any schoolchild should know this.

But delegitimizing "anti-Americanism" seems to require heavy myth-making because it has turned into a problem not only for the German political class but for the whole of the EU. The European populations are, with a few exceptions, completely out of tune with the ideological mobilization required to wage "World War IV". Nevertheless, the change has been most dramatic in Germany.

The post-September 11 spike in public support for the US was not only wiped out by 2002/2003 but the 50-year fund of popular and confident pro-Americanism had evaporated and given way to distrust, fear and loathing. The same holds true, somewhat less dramatically, for attitudes towards Israel. As a danger to the world, both countries rank with North Korea and Iran. Russia and China are still (and stubbornly) regarded as basically benign and unthreatening.

This is surprising since even educated Germans tend to rely for their news on German sources - and have no access to the many sources of critical news coverage and opinion still available in the Western world. One might have expected, therefore, a quick payoff when public TV as well as the print media, from high-brow to low-brow, rediscovered their avocation to educate the German public into "the Americans may make mistakes, but the others are incomparably worse".

An ironic or regretting undertone towards President Bush and the neoconservatives, and dismay about their ineptness - frequently slanted as basically benevolent American naivete - has nevertheless crept into the presentation of US policy. This rhetorical flourish connects easily with the stereotypes of the self -correcting permanence of American moral leadership, the brutal fanaticism of Arabs, totalitarian Russians, and ruthless Chinese, and the almost superhuman difficulties in finding the right balance between force and suasion. Nevertheless, the generalized suspicion that something is wrong - and the distrust of journalists and politicians - seems to have resisted up to now the best journalistic efforts.

Since disquiet had spread even among segments of the high bureaucracy, the leaders of the German and American political elites moved quickly and decisively to counter any consequences the breakdown of the American political image might have on the attitudes of those eligible for recruitment into elite functions. A large-scale program was set in motion to knit young civil servants, management cadres and promising students institutionally and socially to their American counterparts and to expose them to senior officials of both countries - a kind of ideological Marshall Plan that saw virtually no week without an American-German or an American-EU get-together. Indeed, the German Marshall Fund, heavily supported by the most prominent German media conglomerates - together with the Bertelsmann Foundation - came into its own by leading it. And more stringently than ever before, to be considered a "safe" cadre for career advancement in politics, the civil service, the media, business and science, requires the aspirant to have been successfully connected to the right kind of American or American -German institution at least once.

Dealing with the reflexive pacifism and the politically correct humanitarianism of the majority of Germans is still a much harder nut to crack. The print media, in particular the weekly Die Zeit, the flagship of German neoconservatives, and Der Spiegel, the middlebrow infotainment weekly, made their dissatisfaction with their readers repeatedly clear. And they give a certain depth to the main subject of political talkshows: the sorry state of mind of the average German, his lack of patriotism, his addiction to peace, and his reactionary notions about the welfare state.

It did not help that several efforts to reeducate Germans went seriously awry when the mainstream media (public TV, the German associate networks of CNN, plus newspapers) gave visibility and legitimacy to what might be termed the "occidentalist new right". Their interventions were so well tuned to American policies and performance expectations that they confirmed involuntarily the worst expectations of what was in the offing.

'Without torture the war on terror cannot be won'
Before the images of Abu Ghraib helped to visualize what "the gloves are off" implied, Americans were given the opportunity to introduce the German public to the need for torture, with the "ticking bomb" scenario. There was no talk-show format that did not have torture on its schedule - with the former director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, Jeff Gedmin (now president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) as the most indefatigable of its proponents.

But it was the German-Israeli Michael Wolffsohn, a prominent professor at the Armed Forces University in Munich, who publicly moved the subject from the "ticking bomb" to affirm the West's fundamental obligation to use torture against terrorist suspects.

Torture, however, though normal in Israel, would be in breach of the German constitution and for a civil servant to propose it, a breach of the civil service laws. He should have been fired. He wasn't.

Instead, then-interior minister and Social Democrat Otto Schily went out on a mission of damage control. In an interview with Die Zeit he presented the concerns about torture as a tempest in a teapot. Knowing full well what really was happening, having been privy to intelligence briefings about the material of the US military's Taguba Report about Abu Ghraib as well as profiting from a very close relationship with former US attorney general John Ashcroft, he still ridiculed the concern about torture as a matter of suspects who have to sit on a stool instead of lounging in an easy-chair and who have their faces illuminated to study facial expressions. Regarding Guantanamo, he ascribed it to the understandable American dilemma of what to do with the worst of the bad, a dilemma that required for him, too, the need to change international law and the Geneva Conventions.

No wonder, then, that he and Fischer obviously had no qualms about letting the CIA airlines use Germany for "rendition" traffic. No wonder, too, that both refused to lift a finger to rescue from Guantanamo a young German resident of Turkish origin, who had lived all his life in Germany, innocent even to his interrogators, or to follow up on the kidnapping of a German to Bagram. In the end, it was the images of Abu Ghraib that put paid to this effort to acclimatize the Germans to the harsh demands of the global "war on terror". But at least the legal innovations introduced by then-interior minister Otto Schily to get Germany on a civilizational war footing - and those promulgated or ventilated by his successor, Wolfgang Schäuble - are fully compatible with the mindset and the intentions of the US Patriot Act.

100 million superfluous young Muslim men
Die Zeit, once the leading liberal weekly, the standard-bearer of "secular humanism" and enlightened Atlanticism, and now the flagship of German neoliberal neoconservatism, a hybrid of The New Republic and National Review, is indefatigable in its mission to convert its mostly educated readers to the new demands of the German alliance with Israel and the US. It opened its pages to hate-mongers in social-science disguise whose wares bear an uncanny resemblance to those peddled in earlier days by the ideologues of the extreme right. Among those is sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, professor at the University of Bremen where he heads the Raphael Lemkin Institute for Comparative Genocide Research.

He maintains that the "youth bulge" - the rapid increase of un- or underemployed young men in Islamic countries - presents the West with the imperative of culling them to keep the terrorist threat from becoming unmanageable: either by instigating civil wars in these countries or by intervention (one might call them "wars of demographic sanitation"). In Die Zeit he developed this thesis with reference to the problems the "civilized" Israelis encounter in dealing with the terrorist barbarians and especially, with suicide bombers. The Palestinians, though, present for him not only the terrorist problem in a nutshell, but the spawn of a particularly depraved and defective society that even produces female suicide bombers. Heinsohn sees, therefore, no difference between the Hutu woman wielding a machete to slaughter her Tutsi neighbors and the Palestinian woman donning an explosive belt to slaughter innocent Israeli civilians.

The publicized disgust with female suicide bombers, by the way, is limited to Palestinians. The Chechen women with explosive belts who threatened to kill a whole theater full of people in Moscow were treated in the German media with a great deal of understanding and commiseration. Disgust and rage were, instead, directed against the Russian authorities for their refusal to withdraw from Chechnya and for their victimizing the innocent theater audience. And when a school full of children was held hostage in Beslan, the German media, again, made the terrorists all but disappear behind their indignation and venom directed against the Russian authorities.

Following the lead of Die Zeit, the high-brow formats of public TV offered Heinsohn the opportunity to expand on his theses before a larger audience. And contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, did not withhold his admiration for Heinsohn's bold challenge to the pussyfooting humanitarians. And bold it is. Even the economists and race strategists of the Third Reich did not anticipate the need to kill more than 40-60 million subhumans during and after the victorious campaign against the Soviet Union.

In propagandizing the need to take off the gloves in the fight against the Islamic threat, Die Zeit recruited also a Dutch writer of middle-brow novels, Leon de Winter. He exposed the hopelessly defective nature of Arab civilization, the inbred resistance to acculturation of the Muslim immigrants in Europe, and the gynophobe (or genocidal) obscurantism of Islam. Since he preached this message often enough, one of the most prestigious German honors was bestowed on him.

Die Zeit also saw to the requirements of creating empathy with Israel's struggle at the front lines of Western civilization. Its publisher, Josef Joffe, did see to it that one of his editorial team was embedded with one of the covert operations and assassination squads of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to report about the pride and the suffering of those soldiers. At the same time, Die Zeit refined the use of images, already characterizing the German media in toto, that opposes the dignified tears of a pretty young woman in an IDF uniform to the TV images of howling, old Arab strumpets and menacingly strutting young men.

Similar messages dominate the German media either in an even more vulgar fashion or somewhat less stridently. But there is virtually a complete absence of any challenge to its common denominator. The same holds true, by the way, for France - with the exception of the monthly Monde Diplomatique. Nevertheless, the German general public seems to continue to resist at least its intended consequences.

'The Germans have to learn how to kill'
Thus, "the Germans have to learn how to kill". This strange and most revealing conclusion about the German state of mind was brought back from a NATO meeting at the end of last year by Karsten Voigt, the eternal Social Democratic "coordinator for German-American relations". It was occasioned by the allied indignation (American, Canadian, and Dutch) about the German refusal to do combat duty in "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan: the mandate of the German forces is still limited to reconstruction assistance, peacekeeping in the Tajik north, as well as policing and training duties. But since the German commitment there is already highly contentious and enjoys hardly any support among the German population, this sardonic comment is addressing more directly the failure of the German political class to create the climate for getting the "Germans to the front" than just the limits of the Afghanistan commitment. And its meaning was not lost. For a while, one might have been able to enjoy the spectacle of shamefaced German opinion-leaders barely able to restrain their impatience with the rabble they are forced to educate.

To placate the allies, Germany sent six Tornado reconnaissance planes to Afghanistan, either as the thin end of a wedge or as the timid admission that more is not possible under prevailing conditions. Time will tell what it is going to be.

'The Germans have to learn to die'
What has not yet been picked up in the wider campaign of re -educating Germans is Rafael Seligmann's recent pronouncement that "the Germans have to learn to die" in the "war of civilizations". Though a prominent novelist and journalist, and richly endowed with public honors, he obviously had lost his sangfroid. The purpose of the whole effort is, of course, about killing and dying, but the cooler heads among journalists and politicians know now - from the backlash of their earlier offensiveness - that the average German needs to be much more terrorized, beleaguered and anxious to be confronted with this truth.

In the meanwhile, the dissatisfaction with the German mice refusing to roar found different venues of expression. A lead writer of Der Spiegel, Hendryk Broder, also showered with prestigious awards, took last year's failure of the Germans to rally in the streets, when they should have demonstrated their support for Israel and protested against the Hezbollah "war of aggression", as proof of the ineradicable German anti-semitism. And this is connecting well with the historical myths that have come to dominate the public discourse, particularly those which hold the German lower classes culpable for the German misfortunes of the last 100 years, the latest one being their reluctance to man the barricades for the defense of the West.

Trying to leverage the German consensus on anti-semitism has become all the rage since a majority of Germans turned against American (and Israeli) policies. The quasi-genetic disposition of Germans to "genocidal anti-semitism" has become the first and last resort for explaining their recalcitrant pacifism.

Nevertheless, though the stridency of the consensual reporting and commenting in the German media seems to have somewhat leveled off with regard to the wider Middle East, there is another front line in the war of civilizations where hostility and venom remains the only currency of media opinion - namely, Russia. So much so, in fact, that the large minority of the political class which considers normal relations with Russia possible and desirable has lost all influence on the public discourse.

The rediscovery of the Russian enemy - also dating from around 2002/2003 - and the demonization of Putin's Russia might have originated in the search for countermeasures to the crash of the American public image. But it has now reached a depth that only a large majority of the political class - unafraid, at that, of a media campaign against it - could recondition the public discourse. This is highly improbable - for domestic as well as for American reasons.

A new cold war with Russia is something the Russians fear far more than they are apt to let on and this fear has acquired a real and influential constituency. Though the West might err about the risks, a cold war's perceived benefits are simply too substantial to reconsider its wisdom. It is, of course, driven by the expectation that the Russians can be forced to return to the state of affairs that US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad dubbed "adult supervision". It may end in war born out of desperation.

And war, the German war against the Soviet Union, has become central to the myth making underlying so many of the efforts to reshape the German collective psyche. Though by the 1980s, many German generals and senior officials had forgiven the Soviets for defeating the Wehrmacht, the fashionable view now is that the Soviet victory was illegitimate - because it was achieved by "Stalinist methods" - and that Stalin and Hitler were equally responsible for the war, and equally victimizers of the Soviet population. But since democratic Germany repented its sins, and Russia didn't, Russia will remain in thrall to its totalitarian heritage, and will still have to pay for the war it finally and justly lost in 1991.

Undergirding this caricature of history with applications for the present are endless series on public TV about the Soviet barbarian ineptness in fighting the war, the suffering of German women at the hands of Red rapists, about the strafing and torpedoing of refugees and refugee ships, the driving-out of Germans, and the Soviet anti-semitic refusal to recognize the special place of the 6 million Jews among the 20 million civilian victims of the German crusade against Jewish Bolshevism.

In fact, in connecting the debate among the Israeli right and the ideological continuity in those "history" series, one might come to the conclusion that the German crime is the one of the Holocaust of "innocent" Jews - innocent in the sense of non-communist. It is, therefore, completely unsurprising that the cry of "anti -semitism" that meets any opposition to Israel's policies and its propagandists, leaves the Jewish non- or anti-Zionist left as it has always been, fair game.

Unavoidably, these tales to shape the public conscience will eventually have effect. But for now they seem to have failed their mission. The polls still show a substantial majority of Germans regarding Russia as non-threatening and basically benign. Though not for lack of trying.

Last year's climax of the efforts to take down Putin in a public relations sense - with hopes, obviously, of getting the German public to scent blood - was an interview in the run-up to the G-8 Petersburg meeting.

It was led by Maybrit Illner, a popular TV political talk show host known as one of the three "Compassionates" (as the Furies were eulogized in classical times) of public television. Since these events are always heavily scripted and choreographed with the involvement of the political appointees heading public TV, there was nothing accidental or unforseen in its conduct. Illner waged this interview like a prosecutor interrogating a defendant. Her "You don't want us to believe", "you talk too long", her pulling faces and interrupting Putin, demonstrated that her parents were quite amiss in teaching her manners.

This was not a question of evading subservience or not challenging Putin, but she behaved in a fashion more appropriate for the old American shock-talk TV Jerry Springer Show than for a serious political interview. Though Putin neither lost his smile nor his sangfroid, it was unavoidable that the Kremlin drew conclusions about the future of German-Russian relations as well as about its ability to get a fair hearing for its point of view.

This interview was even more remarkable for its contrast with an interview of President Bush by Sabine Christiansen (the second of the three Compassionates). Her demeanor suggested a coyly suppressed obsequiousness and her challenge (re Guantanamo) dissolved in the shared relief about the upswing in US-German relations and the wisdom of Chancellor Merkel. It was not "hail fellow, well met" but the demonstration of measured awe before the burdens of the president's office, of the willingness to have the world explained for the yokels at home, and of a slight willingness to succumb to the manly charms of power.

Both interviews are emblematic for the hormonal change of German policies and their public debate. It does not matter in the longer run whether the German population will vicariously partake in its thrills or not. What counts is that the German political class is gorged with the will to follow its temptations, losing in the process prudence and reason. The American political elites are already failing; the German ones are following suit.

Axel Brot is the pen name for a German defense analyst and former intelligence officer.

© 2007, Asia Times Online. Republished with permission.

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