American Views Abroad
Grim and staggering is the news of misery and anguish, of a sheer unimaginable number of people left homeless without food or water, any infrastructure for that matter, and all so suddenly.
The looters, however, are out there according to newspaper reports. Eerie that along with all the tales of destruction and suffering that one undeniable ingredient never fails to turn up.
A few years ago when the eastern part of Germany was ravished by floods there were reports about people refusing to leave their homes, even in the most dangerous situations, because of looters. Widespread looting at such times is difficult to imagine unless you happen to get a first hand report of it. Well, back then I actually met someone who worked day and night on a rescue team. The looters, he reported, were constantly lurking in the background --- huge numbers of them --- just waiting for the owners to leave.
And in Baghdad today 650 people died in a stampede because they feared a suicide bomber in their midst.
Grim and staggering ....
Just before Christmas last year, this site put up Living Under Fascism, a sermon, by Davidson Loehr. This sermon can now be read in the soon to be published book America, Fascism and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher. More information on Loehr's work can be found at www.chelseagreen.com/2005/items/americafascismgod
Der Spiegel in cooperation with Salon.com has Iraq: The Unseen War. The photos Washington doesn't want you to see. It is the grim reality of Iraq which rarely appears in the American press. www.spiegel.de
Harper's Magazine, which has been turning out excellent issues continuously since 1850, has a most interesting piece in this month's edition. None Dare Call It Stolen -- Ohio, the election and America's servile press by Mark Crispin Miller. Until recently it has been difficult finding Harper's abroad, though I have recently sighted it at the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof press shop. It doesn't normally carry entire articles on its website. Excerpts from this article can be found at www.harpers.org/ExcerptNoneDare.html
. A summary of the article can be read atwww.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0507/S00353.htm
The American flag is represented as well as the Peace flag read the caption under the main photo on page one of Sunday's FAZ, a Frankfurt newspaper. It shows young pilgrims under grey skies streaming toward the outdoor area where a Saturday vigil with the Pope was held. The American flag up front seems out of reach, way up on a bent pole while the colorful PACE one is posed on a shoulder as if it's carrier, a young woman, in intent on catching up.
The Pope's visit to his native country attracted enormous media attention here. Christianity is divided along a north/south line: south, mainly Catholic; north, mainly Lutheran, with many in both parts claiming no religion affiliation on their tax records. Here church taxes are automatically deducted from your salary. You can, of course, declare no religion or you have the option of cancelling your affiliation. At that point the citizen and the church have nothing to do with each other. Should you decide to join or return to the fold, you need to apply to the church as well as informing the local authorities. In a speech a couple of years ago, Hamburg's Lutheran Bishop, the first woman elected to this post, described the statistics here as 10% Catholic, mainly newcomers to Hamburg, 40% Lutheran, 50% no official religious affiliation. Religion is taught in the schools but more as the history of religion or world religions. After a certain grade, students can opt out of religion and take ethics instead. It was not uncommon to hear parents at PTA evenings voicing their dissent about religion even being taught in schools. Ditto the opinion that religion can limit freedom and personal development.
In Bavaria, the part of Germany the Pope calls home, crucifixes still hang in most public classrooms and a storm of protest was heard when a few parents legally questioned if this is correct in a modern democracy. However, my experiences down south showed rather empty churches on Sunday and often the priest saying Mass was Polish. Twice we found ourselves in Bavaria on the feast of Corpus Christi, a public holiday no northern German enjoys. The citizens seemed in a jovial mood, the beer gardens were full, and as we small-talked with the waitress at a cafe, we were informed that drinking had been going on since early morning. A small article in yesterday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung revealed a decline in students studying Catholic theology, but an increase in Protestant theology. Two Catholic parishes in our area will be joined into one when one of the priests retires.
This stands in stark contrast to the revival of Jewish communities in Germany mainly due to the enormous number of Jewish immigrants arriving from the former Soviet Union. As in the rest of Europe the number of Muslims has also substantially increased. How was Germany going to balance the Pope's reputation as a theological hard-liner who put strict limits on Christians taking Communion in each other's church with the sheer unbelievable historical coup of a German actually being elected Pope at this time? The German media welcomed him with open arms and with a warmth this rather formal nation rarely shows. The President of Germany, himself a Protestant, was present not only at his arrival, but he and his wife were there at his departure as well, something the Pope went out of his way to thank him for. Very professional journalists seemed overwhelmed by the occasion.
Benedict XVI appeared genuinely humble, soft-spoken, shy, and graceful. His visit to the oldest Jewish synagogue north of the Alps was an extraordinary moving display of reaching out to others. His message was so clear, yet simple. 'We must come to know one another much more and much better.' He managed to tell Moslem representatives that all terrorism must be condemned. He was, perhaps, a bit less appealing to Protestant leaders by declaring that a unity of Christians can only be obtained through the Catholic Church which brought a prompt refute from the Bishop of Bremen, also a woman. He talked about social equality to German politicians and while he sought to bring religion more into the daily lives of young people, his message was spoken softly, not with fire and brimstone.
Watching him these last four days brought a welcomed respite from the language of spin and the all too normal manipulation, manoeuvring and jostling of run-of-the-mill world leaders. What was totally lacking was any element of arrogance.
A hardened agnostic here, a former Protestant, was smitten by him. Why, I asked, are you even interested in him? He told me there was something about a Pope that draws your attention, particularly for those not involved in Catholicism. He then told me about a game his generation used to play, many years ago, in decidedly non-Catholic Hamburg. He couldn't quite remember how it went, but it started off by one being a Count, then a Duke, a King, then Kaiser, but the one above them all was the Pope. You know, he said, we didn't have an inkling what or who the Pope was, but our aim was to be one.
The protests taking place down in Crawford, Texas are beginning to touch buried nerves that once exposed are awfully painful to treat, like in root canal work. In America's Good Germans? -- A Mercenary Society, Robert Jensen discusses this:
'Can we in the United States come to terms with the fact that we are the 'good Germans' of our era, routinely allowing pseudo-patriotic loyalties to override moral decision-making?'
He begins by asking if the failed war in Iraq will push the US public 'to fundamentally rethink the role of force in US foreign policy....(and) whether this questioning can mature and deepen.'www.counterpunch.com/jensen08172005.html
Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson in Guzzle Gas, and Pretend writes in today's paper:
'We have allowed a president to send off the sons and daughters of the working class and the poor to invade Iraq, killing thousands of innocent Iraqi working class and poor along the way. As each day passes, the fact that no Osama has been flushed out, the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and the fact that there was never a tie between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 becomes not just Bush's responsibility but ours as well. Americans probably know this deep down. It is almost as if we are binging to distract us from the needless killing. We build bigger subdivisions as far out as we can, no matter what it means in commuting time and $2.55 gasoline.'http://www.boston.com/
Cindy Sheehan's speech at the Veterans for Peace National Convention is at http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=7436
It's a powerful moving speech. Here a few of her words:
....It's up to us, the people, to break immoral laws, and resist. As soon as the leaders of a country lie to you, they have no authority over you. These maniacs have no authority over us. And they might be able to put our bodies in prison, but they can't put our spirits in prison.
....And we demonize the Iraqi people, where, most of this country doesn't even think we're killing innocent people. Because, 'Oh Cindy, don't you remember what happened on September 11th?' 'Yeah, but, were any of those people in Iraq? And the people who flew those planes into the World Trade Center, were they from Iraq? When I was growing up, it was 'Communists'. Now it's 'Terrorists'. So you always have to have somebody to fight and be afraid of, so the war machine can build more bombs, guns, and bullets and everything.
But I do see hope. I see hope in this country. 58% of the American public are with us. We're preaching to the choir, but the choir's not singing, if all of the 58% started singing, this war would end.
....The opposite of good is not evil, it's apathy. And we have to get this country off their butts, and we have to get the choir singing.
Sheehan mentions Kevin Benderman in her speech. Sgt. Benderman was sentenced to 15 months confinement, loss of rank, forfeiture of pay and a dishonourable discharge for refusing to serve a second tour of duty in Iraq. Amnesty International declared him a 'prisoner of conscience' and is seeking his immediate release. Monica Benderman, his wife, has written an open letter making the case for peace in There is No Enemy Greater Than Ourselves at www.truthout.org/docs_2005/081205D.shtml
Is this the August of discontent that proves to be the turning point ---- the melt down of public apathy or timidity at speaking out? Page three of today's IHT has a good sized photo of anti-war protesters near Bush's ranch who are there to show their solidarity with Cindy Sheehan. The headline reads Bush gets first look at antiwar vigil in Texas. In a nutshell on his way to a Republican fund-raiser (ever wonder how many attending that fund-raiser - or any other - has any family member, friend or acquaintance serving in Iraq????), he passed hundreds of small white crosses along the side of the road, each hand-painted with the name of the fallen soldier. One of Germany's leading newspapers, the FAZ, had an interview with Philip Roth last Sunday. When asked to comment on why compared to the Vietnam War there is little protest heard from the US this time around, he mentioned how the middle class is not touched by this war. There is no draft which confronts families up close to the life and death issues of war, no photos of the fallen returning home and little media attention being paid to a war too far away. On the other hand, the LATimes covered in detail the many military funerals which took place in Ohio this past week and in these reports there was real pain, sorrow and at times bitterness about why. There was no escaping a feeling of being trapped between mourning and honoring and, depending on personal political views, wanting to cry out why. Only you can't so easily because you want to mourn and honor.
At the 50th anniversary of the end of WW II, German public TV did an evening devoted to all phases of the war. The horrific fire bombings of Hamburg were covered by having a mother and daughter recall what they experienced. After the actual bombing but before the torturous fireballs started which is how most civilians sitting at home lost their lives, they tried to escape their cellar. The building's nazi watchdog refused to let them leave under plenty of death. They fled not knowing which to fear most, the nazi neighbor or the horror around them. Even the water in the channel which they dived into to survive was on fire. Did they hate the British for doing this they were asked? Surprisingly, their answer was no.
Black, White, Good, Evil, with us or against us. Good friends visited us today. She is Australian, but living here in Germany and her husband is German with a PhD from MIT. They married in Boston. He often travels to the US. He was attending a conference in Austin, Texas where he encountered graffiti on street after street that proclaimed Bush Lied. In Texas, he said and there it was. Obviously it's become a trend. American Graffiti: Sign of the Times is an interesting read atwww.commondreams.org/headlines05/0812-01.htm
Another interesting read is an American in Japan doing his best at http://aliberaldose.blogspot.com/
Dan Wasserman's political cartoon today -- BRING 'EM ON (except mothers of war dead) at www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/wasserman
'It's getting harder for the president to hide from the human consequences of his actions and to control human sentiment about the war by pulling a curtain over the 1,835 troops killed in Iraq; the more than 13,000 wounded, many shorn of limbs; and the number of slain Iraqi civilians - perhaps 25,000, or perhaps double or triple that. More people with impeccable credentials are coming forward to serve as a countervailing moral authority to challenge Mr. Bush.'
From Maureen Dowd's Why No Tea and Sympathy (for, among others, Cindy Sheehan who is camped by the side of the road in Crawford, Texas waiting for a chance to get a first hand explanation of his war policies from President Bush. Sheehan's son was killed in Iraq last year.) in today's New York Times. http://www.iht.com/protected/articles/2005/08/10/opinion/eddowd.php
Friedens Forum is a magazine of the German Peace Movement and the current August/September issue devotes twenty-five pages to a wide-range of articles by American activists on the Peace Movement in the USA. The editors introduce this special section by reminding their readers that social movements have a history in the US and refer to the Civil Rights Movement as well as the Anti-Vietnam War Movement and how they influenced real change in society. Websites mentioned in some of the articles are www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org
An international conference Thinking with Einstein: The Responsibility of Science for Peace in the 21st Century will be held in Berlin October 14 -16. Admission is free and information on speakers, themes and forums can be found at www.thinking-with-einstein.net
Network of the German Peace Movement which publishes Friedens Forum is at www.friedenskooperative.de
. Last month's issue of the magazine is available online in German.
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TomDispatch quotes a passage of a letter Sgt. Kevin Benderman wrote on why he was refusing a second deployment to Iraq and informs us that Benderman has been jailed for 15 months by the military for his stand. The Benderman quote is in reference to how video games distort the reality of war. Tom further writes:
'But I was also reminded to the degree to which journalism -- especially the TV talking-heads variety -- sometimes has the sterile feel of a video game in which points ping back and forth without anything of great human import ever seeming to be a stake.' He also includes a link to the overwhelming applause peace activists at a Maine Fourth of July parade get and claims 'something is slowly changing in this country.' What follows in the rest of his report is a letter from Texas about a local son killed in Iraq and buried on his 19th birthday. http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?emx=x&pid=9439
German radio just reported 14 US soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed in a bomb explosion today.
In They Just Never Meant Very Much to Us -- Samples from an Ocean of Suffering, David Edwards discusses what's behind our emotional responses when hearing of yet another bombing and more killings:
'The truth is that we are trained to value the lives of our countrymen more highly by a socio-political system that has much to gain from a restricted, patriotic version of compassion, and much to lose from an excess of popular concern for suffering inflicted on 'foreigners' by our governments and corporations. It was a very real disaster for the American elites when ordinary Americans became outraged by the catastrophe inflicted by US power on the people of Vietnam. This concern seriously obstructed US realpolitik, stirring previously slumbering democratic forces and threatening elite control of society.' www.informationclearinghouse.info/article9592.htm
Uwe E. Reinhardt in his Who's Paying for Our Patriotism op-ed piece in the Washington Post sees this from another angle:
'A policymaking elite whose families and purses are shielded from the sacrifices war entails may rush into it hastily and ill prepared, as surely was the case of the Iraq war. ....Moral hazard can explain why, in wartime, the TV anchors on the morning and evening shows barely make time to report on the wars, lest the reports displace the silly banter with which they seek to humor their viewers. Do they ever wonder how military families with loved ones in the fray might feel after hearing ever so briefly of mayhem in Iraq or Afghanistan? Moral hazard also can explain why the general public is so noticeably indifferent to the plight of our troops and their families.'www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/31/AR2005073101080.html
Today's NYT reports that a Republican state legislator narrowly won a special Congressional election in southern Ohio on Tuesday, ending a bid by her Democratic opponent to become the first combat veteran from the Iraq war to serve in Congress. She won by 4,000 votes.
Details and comment on this at www.truthout.org/docs_2005/080305A.shtml