American Views Abroad
Expatica.com/Germany reports via the DPA that US Senator Hillary Clinton will attend the Munich Security Conference on February 12 & 13. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also plans to attend. This year's conference will focus on 'soft power' issues such as 'peace through dialogue' and conflict prevention. Donald Rumsfeld cancelled plans to come to Germany after a US human rights organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a complaint with the German Prosecutor's office accusing him of war crimes and torture. 'The organization alleges violations of German legislation which outlaws war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide regardless of where the crime takes place in the world or the nationality of the accused.'
I haven't posted since around the election and I apologize for that, since it is my desire to help out here from time to time. That general feeling of hopelessness that permeated the post election situation grabbed me as it has so many others. I want to know that I am doing something effective in voicing my opinions, but it all begins to seem like "Beschaeftigungstherapie", what the German language calls occupational therapy. But I feel that I am slowly finding my voice again and although I still don't know the answer of what is the best thing to do in the current situation, where everything I hold dear about my country and its ideals seems in the process of systematically being ripped to shreds, I know I can't resign myself to it happening. I think sometimes of the exiled German authors of the 1930's who published in the Netherlands after it became impossible for them to live and work in Germany. What did they achieve? I'm afraid it wasn't much. As an answer to his exile, Kurt Tucholsky gave up writing and eventually committed suicide. (No, I am not contemplating suicide!).
Anyhow, I would like to share a link with you I read yesterday at the Democracy Now Website, found through Buzzflash. I'm afraid it is neither encouraging nor positive, but it perhaps shows what we are up against, and maybe why can't resign ourselves to giving up:
Seymour Hersh: "We've Been Taken Over by a Cult
The Senate will be voting on Alberto Gonzales' confirmation as Attorney General next week. During the Judiciary Committee hearing, Gonzales' responses to questions about the actuality of torture were evasive, full of 'I don't remember' in regard to a very important and unprecedented memo on torture he gave the President . He explicitly repeated the Bush Administration's assertion that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to people the Administration labels 'enemy combatants.' Nor was he willing to repudiate the definition of torture contained in the memo, a definition so extreme that it permits most forms of torture.
NOW is the time to act if you don't support Gonzales for Attorney General. Call the two senators from your state and urge them to vote no on his nomination. If you don't have phone numbers for them, call +202-224-3121 and ask for their offices. Be sure to get your message to the staff person who is handling the confirmation issue.
Peace Action: http://www.peace-action.org
Center for Consitutional Rights: http://www.ccr-ny.org
Human Rights First: http://humanrightsfirst.org
This week's Harper's online Weekly Review (www.harpers.org
) reports that three quarters of respondents to a poll in France and Germany and 64 percent of Britons felt that U.S. actions would have a negative impact on the world, and for the first time it appeared that an international dislike of Bush is metamorphosing into a dislike of Americans in general.
A Newsweek International report claims 'the anti-Bushism of the president's first term is giving way to a more general anti-Americanism.' Further on it states 'the truth is Americans are living in a dream world. Not only do others not share it's self-regard, they no longer aspire to emulate the country's social and economic achievements.'
'To the long list of what separates the United States and Europe these days, add the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps to be marked Thursday in a solemn ceremony that will bring together almost all of Europe's most important leaders, but not President George W. Bush.' www.iht.com/articles/2005/01/25/news/camp.html
This front page article reports on how many veteran intellectuals think 'that with the passing of time, Auschwitz has come to play an increasingly important role in forging a kind of European identity almost separate from the United States.' Some 'go so far as to see the liberation of this Nazi death camp as one foundation of the European Union.'
Last Sunday a leading German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, chose to publish an Italian journalist's report of an interview with one of the few surviving Red Army soldiers who first entered Auschwitz very early on that day in 1945. Jakow Wintschenko, who was 19 then, recalls how, on first entering the camps and having no idea what he was actually witnessing, he first thought those standing opposite him were ghosts and he was suddenly afraid he had been shot or was even dead. He had been drafted at age 15, given a bayonet and some hand grenades -- his army was so poorly equipped that only one out of 15 soldiers even had a bayonet --- and without further training spent four years in a brutal war feeling despair, hunger and mortal fear. At first it was very difficult for him to come to terms with what he saw there. His immediate reaction was not to want to believe it. But then he realized that to forget and not remember would be even worse. At the heart of the report is the fact that as a common soldier, he does not recall the liberation of the camps as anything heoric and on that January 27th it was not at all understood by him or the others that a certain boundary had been crossed that day from which there would be no turning back.
His unit had to move on. Later that evening he heard from others that only after the Soviet flag was flying over the camps did a few children cautiously start to come out proclaiming freedom. He, however, found neither life nor hope there. That night he felt compelled to wash his uniform. He'll be attending the ceremonies on Thursday along with two other comrades.
The original article was written by Giampaolo Visetti for La Repubblica, Rome.
A Counter Inaugural was held in Berlin on Wednesday evening, a candle light vigil of about 50 people stood at the west side of the Brandenburg Gate which is also called the March 18th Place, commemorating the German Revolution of 1848. A joint statement released by the organizers, Democracts Abroad and American Voices Abroad, explains why:
'Traditionally, Inauguration Day is a day on which we Americans celebrate the vitality of our democratic system and values - whether or not 'our' candidate won. Today, however, many Americans fear that this very vitality is at risk, that George W. Bush's second term will put our time-honored system and values sorely to the test. It is not a question of partisan differences of opinion, it is a matter of principle. We, as critical Americans, wish to express our sorrow and anger at the prospect of four more years of Bush's catastrophic policies....
We feel we have no reason to celebrate Inauguration Day this year. We join with other Americans who throughout the week will be celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr, thus upholding the positive democratic traditions of our country. The lesson Dr. King taught us is that when a democracy betrays its own values, citizens must take action and defend these values through peaceful protest. We grieve to see the continuation of policies which place more priority on killing people and cutting back their rights than on helping them.'
In Florence, Italy, about 50 US Citizens Against the War and many representatives of Italian peace groups held a Counter Inaugural Vigil in front of the US Consulate. In addition to holding up a 'Not In Our Name' banner and peace flags, the group read Langston Hughes' poem 'Let America Be America Again.'
An interesting note is in Der Spiegel's summary of German newspapers' comments on Bush's inauguration. The center-right FAZ ran no editiorial on Bush's speech, but a reporter provided an interesting comment on how some here view the grand scale of that celebration. 'This event is actually a paradox in itself because normally the idol worship of a ruler is generally reserved for monarchies or dictatorships, in which the potentate has either gotten his or her legitimacy as a representative of God or by using violent, god-like hubris.' www.derspiegel.de
(in the English site).
A Statement of Conscience: 'Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression....' Not In Our Name http://www.nion.us/NION.HTM
'No election, whether fair or fraudulent, can legitimize criminal wars on foreign countries, torture, the wholesale violation of human rights, and the end of science and reason....' from the new Not In Our Name statement www.nion.us
In this week's New Yorker now online - Annuals of National Security: Ready for a Fight by Seymour Hersh. Pentagon plans for Iran and for expanded covert activities.
'This is a war against terrorism and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone......' www.newyorker.com
In the week before 40 million dollars is spent on a lavish celebration in Washington, the search for WMD in Iraq ended, not with a bang but with a whisper. In the build up to the war and afterwards, one person stood out, alone, adamant there were no WMD to warrant the havoc wrecked on Iraq, Scott Ritter. An editorial writer in Kansas suggests he be nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as someone who really deserves it. www.commondreams.org/views05/0114-40.htm
Ritter gave a riveting speech at the American Voices Abroad conference in Prague in November 2003 which I attended. He spoke for about two and a half hours on his experiences in Iraq and elsewhere and why he was convinced there could be no WMD there anymore. I recall that he also very often referred to the Constitution reminding us that we should look there for guidance rather than any one individual.
He also wrote a passionate essay for The Guardian in November 2004 which can be read in
. Here a few sentences from the last paragraph:
'But we all are moral cowards when it comes to Iraq. Our collective inability to summon the requisite shame and rage when confronted by an estimate of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians in the prosecution of an illegal and unjust war not only condemns us, but adds credibility to those who oppose us. ....Our continued indifference to a war that has slaughtered so many Iraqi civilians, and will continue to kill more, is in many ways an even greater tragedy: not only in terms of scale, but also because these deaths were inflicted by our own hand in the course of an action that has no defense.'
U.S. citizens living abroad who voted or tried to vote in the last election are urged to take part in a Voter Survey For Americans Overseas at http://www.americanviewsabroad.org/survey.html
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A very convincing argument is made in Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: How to Bring the Troops Home and Internationalize the Peace at www.ips-dc.org/iraq/bringthetroops.htm
Anne Applebaum, columnist in The Washington Post, discusses The Torture Myth in her column today.
'Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works. At the moment, there is a myth in circulation, a fable.... ....Radical terrorists are nasty, so to defeat them we have to be nastier. Perhaps it's reassuring to tell ourselves tales about the new forms of 'toughness' we need, or to talk about the special rules we will create to defeat this special enemy. Unfortunately, that toughness is self-deceptive and self-destructive. Ultimately it will be self-defeating as well.' www.washingtonpost.com
Der Tagesspiegel reports on Dangerous Old Munitions in and around Berlin today. Yesterday 1000 patients and 5000 inhabitants had to be evacuated from a hospital and their homes because a 50 pound unexploded bomb from the Second World War was found by construction workers in Potsdam. It was the 58th bomb defused there since 1990. In Oranienburg, an area just north of Berlin, unexploded bombs are found at a rate of about one a month. That area was bombed particularly heavily in 1945 because it was a center of the Heinkel airplane industry. Today the entire area has to be systematically searched for such duds because they contain a long-term chemical detonator and are considered particularly dangerous because they can blow up on their own. This has happened twice since 1995 without, fortunately, large scale damage.
Like with land mines, the effects and dangers of war linger on in many forms.
Posted today at www.desimediabitch.blogspot.com
'We may even have created this Tsunamin. We didn't create the seismic waves that caused the natural disaster, but Sea-probing sound bombs, and whale-killing sonar whispers, oil tankers split open in the sea belong to us. If there is responsibility to be taken, it shouldn't go to one single corporation or nation. We are all responsible for fixing this mess. We created the corporations and the conglomerates and the countries. We gave them our passion, sweat and our money and the longest hours of our lives. We, the people. We are beginning to find ourselves affected by each other in ways we cannot fathom or even begin to understand. We are all connected to the same destiny, and the choice is ours to make.'
From The Guardian: $2Billion Pledged, But Will the World Keep Its Promises?
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On New Year's Eve we had tickets for the last performance of Die Dreigroschenoper by Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weil based on The Beggar's Opera by John Gay. Unfortunately that performance wasn't at the St. Pauli Theater in the heart of Hamburg's famous red-light district and in its original building which remained unscathed by the bombings of World War II. It's an intimate theater with plush and rather small seats and a bar next door where in nicer weather one can sit outside. (It's also the only theater I know of that receives no subsidies from the government.) Instead it was in the huge Congress Center. The music, singing, acting and the lyrics were great and the play seems to fit right into our times. The characters are so totally egocentric and engrossed in their own survival in rough times.
New Year's Day usually starts off with the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert on TV which features the music of Strauss, the most beautiful scenes of Vienna and this year the accent was on the horrible catastrophe in Asia - the orchester contributed 150,000 euros to WHO for water and decided not to end the concert with its traditional and joyful Radesky March. It also asked all viewers to please contribute to show solidarity in these times.
An old tradition in Hamburg is for neighbors to come visiting on New Year and the one couple we are particularly close to came around at 5 pm. It was more an embracing in hard times than anything else. First the events in Asia which has everyone here numb were talked about and, of course, since here people have a tendency not to want to invade anyone's privacy in bad times, I was now consoled about Bush's re-election. 'We kept thinking about you, but didn't want to bother you at such a time.' However, we didn't dwell on Bush or US politics. They talked a lot about their past and history, Asia, trying to get meaning out of it, the future of our children and how times have changed...... We also managed to polish off a couple of bottles of red wine (French) and a bottle of Cremant.