American Views Abroad

Monday, December 06, 2004
Sundays in Advent are celebrated here with another candle lit on the wreath and a leisurely stroll through the various Christmas markets downtown. Tens of thousands showed up at the City Hall market yesterday so getting close to the booths with the exquisite goodies was a challenge. The fog was dense and the mood this year seemed somber instead of jovial. Somehow that certain Christmas spirit just wasn't taking hold. Every year the US Consulate situated in the heart of Hamburg has an enormous Christmas Tree on its balcony lit with colored lights (a rarity here). Friday was the lightening ceremony followed by a reception, but this year it was darkened by media reports that morning of the eventual closing down of the Consulate which has been here for over 200 years. A tip was reported from a highly placed unnamed source in Berlin. On Saturday a newspaper then reported that the building (one of the most beautiful owned by the State Department) will stay in US hands but all political functions would soon be transferred to Berlin, leaving Hamburg with just economic ones. Again, the unnamed source said it will eventually be closed. Other consulates are rearranging their rankings and functions because of the European Union and its impact. Still, the timing of this news seemed odd.

Weltspiegel, a foreign affairs journal on German TV, ARD, began its program last evening with pictures of the exclusive toy shop in NYC where dolls can be bought from $300 on and which can be 'cloned' to look like their girl owners. There was a keyboard for over $100,000 that two men were tap dancing on. One item it couldn't show was the $345 remote controlled tank. According to the moderator it was sold out in this the second year of the war in Iraq. It also reported on a young girl in the part of Russia plagued by turmoil who lost both her hands and an eye because the lighter she found on the street while playing was actually a mine. To compound her hardship, such disabled children are not allowed to attend school in Russia and so through donations from readers of a German daily newspaper, she was able to come to Germany and be fitted with two hands. She now can pick up a sandwich and attend school again. However, it was pointed out there are so many more young people there who have lost limbs and whom it is becoming increasing difficult to report about.

In Iraq, the Press and the Election (online at Michael Massing writes''s not clear to what extent the public was aware of just how bad things had gotten in Iraq. For while there was much informative reporting on the war, a number of factors combined to shield Americans from its most brutal realities.' On the same site Chris Hedges' essay/book review On War discusses the role of war reporters: 'These writers can, at times, evoke pity and compassion for some of the people who suffer from the effects of the war, but they do not confront what war does to societies and individuals...... War, after all, is not a natural disaster like earthquakes or typhoons. It is a devastating and violent attempt at large-scale social engineering. It changes the landscape and the lives of the occupiers and the occupied. We face a seismic political and moral upheaval. These books tell stories, often powerful stories, but in the end the writers cannot say what they mean.'

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