American Views Abroad

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The Frankfurter Rundschau, a major daily newspaper, reported on protests from various peace groups in Germany on the conviction of Blake Lemoine. The article on page 4 of the print edition can be read online at in German. According to a spokesperson at the U.S. public affairs office in Wiesbaden, Blake will probably not be moved to the US, but will stay in Mannheim throughout his sentence.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Reuters reports that a U.S. military court convicted Blake Lemoine of willfully disobeying orders and sentenced him to seven months confinement, reduction in rank to private and gave him a bad conduct discharge.

We're back, and here are a few words about my impressions. Basically, Gloria's prediction was correct. It would seem like the same old America, and it did. In fact, my brief period of culture shock at all the changes, which I usually have, was missing. Maybe because I missed the old place, especially my home town of Cincinnati, so much. The signs of Bush's changes were more subtle, but I have a few things to report about, including the most brilliant sermon I can remember hearing (on Palm Sunday). With a little imagination it became a clear attack on Bush and the Iraq war, but some people may not have noticed. I think I have a more optimistic picture of the stateside events than I used to. Plus we fell in love with Starbucks.

On most days I read the newspaper (Cincinnati Enquirer). The Schiavo story dominated, even on the day of the school shooting, which received second billing in the paper and on the TV news we watched.

The airport security is quite extensive now, and in Cinci the morning of our departure there was a security breach causing several hours delay. Apparently someone got into the cleared area with a gun (how can that possibly happen?) so they sent everyone back out and rechecked them. Thousands of people. Fortunately we made our flight, and despite two very close connections (one of 15 minutes), we and our luggage made it back safely and on the same flights.

I bought circa 45 pounds of books which I sent back via sack rate (takes about four weeks and is cheap): Mostly classics, like Mark Twain, and other titles on my wish list for quite a while. I carried back a few James Thurber titles, and the first book I ever found by Will Rogers ("Illiterate Digest" from 1924)! Reading obervations like his and Mark Twain's helps put the present times into perspective. I think America is more robust than we worriedly make it out to be from afar.

I'll post my impressions bit by bit, but this should be enough to get things started.

Monday, March 28, 2005
Crisis in the Catholic Church: The Pope's Contradictions by Han Kueng in Der Spiegel's English
site at

Sunday, March 27, 2005
Easter fires which could be seen everywhere last evening are set to purge out the debris of winter. Easter marches, which traditionally take place in most major German cities this long weekend ---- thousands marched yesterday in Bremen, Dusseldorf, Mainz, Munich and Heilbronn and tomorrow marches will be held in Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, are held to demand an end to war as the immediate, primary way of solving conflicts. There was even a glimpse of the Munich American Peace Committee in action on last evening's news (

Tomorrow is the Special Court Martial of Blake Lemoine in Darmstadt. Elsa Rassbach of American Voices Abroad in Berlin has written up a background to his story. Lemoine, 23 years old and from Louisiana, entered the Army soon after the 9/11 attacks. He wanted to defend his country and like most soldiers, he also needed the pay and benefits. Things became complicated after the 'War Against Terrorism' was turned into the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Rassbach writes:

'Blake served for one year in Iraq and received the Army Commendation for a tour of dangerous duty. He was a gunner accompanying mail trucks through areas controlled by the Iraqi Resistance. In Iraq Blake became disgusted with what he calls the 'cruelty' of the U.S. military toward Iraqi civilians. Beyond the many civilian deaths, Blake saw many incidents of day-to-day humiliations that the Iraqis are forced to endure under U.S. occupation. He cites many small examples, such as this one: U.S. soldiers were forbidden to give any of their supply of bottled water to thirsty Iraqis doing labor on the military bases in 115 Fahrenheit heat, and the Iraqis were also not allowed to bring enough water for themselves. Also, U.S. soldiers regularly pointed their weapons at unarmed Iraqi civilians to deliberately and unnecessarily frighten them.'

At the moment he is due to be released from the Army on October 13, 2005, however:

'After he came back from Iraq, Blake learned that the U.S. had still not been able to find any weapons of mass destruction there. This made the cruelty of the U.S. military to the Iraqi people seem all the more senseless to him. Blake further believes that the occupation of Iraq makes no military sense. He says that, historically, no attempt to quell a guerrilla war with conventional military means has ever been successful. Even though he is due to be released a few months from now, Blake feels strongly that he would be a 'hypocrite' if he did not speak out. He has decided to take a strong stand against the U.S. military, despite the risks to him personally. He says he is fighting for freedom.'

This morning at the Easter Mass the priest spoke about standing in front of graves, more to
the point, our 'inner graves'. He focused on how a sense of resignation is a sure sign of facing one. Though he didn't mention the political arena in his sermon, I couldn't not make the connection.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Conscientious Objector and Iraq War Veteran U.S. Army Specialist Blake LeMoine who has been on a hunger strike for 41 days in protest against the Army's refusal to discharge him will be tried at a Special Court Martial on Easter Monday, March 28, at 11:00 am at the JAG Building, Cambrai Fritch Kaserne in Darmstadt, Germany. The proceedings will be open to the press. Please contact to make prior arrangements and confirm the time and place .

On Thursday, March 24 at 16:00 at OS3, Mathildenplatz 1, Hintereingang (Rear Entrance) in Darmstadt, Germany there will be a joint press conference with LeMoine (or his wife, Alayna LeMoine, should he be prevented by the military from attending) and organizations supporting him, American Voices Abroad (AVA) Military Project, Stop the War Brigade, the Military Counseling Network (MCN), Connection e.V.

LeMoine applied for Conscientious Objector status because the U.S. military invasion and occupation of Iraq are against his religious beliefs. His application is still pending. Rather than release LeMoine the Army charged him with refusal to obey orders. If convicted at the Special Court Martial on March 28th, he faces incarceration in a military jail, loss of all benefits and a bad conduct discharge. For more information, please see (in English) and (in German).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005
'....I'd say it was a long time since the people in this picture actually put themselves in Schiavo's shoes because as far as I can see, this nation's out of the habit of practicing empathy. Plastic pathos, sure, and for-profit compassion -- there's plenty -- but, actual honest-to-your-god empathy? You tell me. I think 'do unto others as you'd have others do unto you' is on life support in George W. Bush's America. Don't believe me? Ask the Afghans. Ask the Iraqis. And maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but if you could, I'd say you could ask Terri Schiavo.'
from Laura Flanders, host of The Laura Flanders Show, heard weekends on Air America Radio and read at

This quote fits in to what I encountered last weekend. The only American attending a two day music seminar, I was, unfortunately, center-of-attention during lunch and coffee breaks. At first there was cautious, subtle probes at what my thoughts might be on Bush and his politics and since I never make a secret out of where I stand, there came a storm of questions, almost pleas, about when Americans are going to start protesting -- on a large scale -- the War in Iraq or drilling in Alaska. I was at a loss for words. March 19th did not bring people out in hundreds of thousands. Trying to explain that one poor woman's plight had grabbed the attention of the media and particularly Congress and induced the President to fly back from Texas to sign a law at 1 am was met with disbelief and at times with stunned silence. Of course, I am now experienced at observing such silence ever since November when I was forced to try to explain the 'moral issues/right to life' movement and how that was instrumental in Bush being elected. There was a good sized article on 'What's the Matter with Kansas' two weeks ago in the Frankfurt Sunday paper (FAZ).

Do you feel homesick for the US these days? I was asked. The person was polite and kind enough not to expect an answer. Instead I heard how her son spent three years working in Washington, DC but today he's in Indonesia and will probably stay in Asia. It would have been too much to delve into how I feel homesick for the America of my youth, or at least parts of it.

Saturday, March 19, 2005
The Iraqi War is now in its third year . Tom at has the most complete and depressing round-up of the last two years in Deconstructing Iraq: Year Three Begins. There under The Killing Fields what was barely reported on in the US press is the estimate, made public last year just before the US elections in November, of somewhere around 100,000 Iraqi civilians, a majority of them women and children, who have died due to the invasion and occupation. Tom reports on how an article in the Columbia Journalism Review considers that figure to be 'probably conservative.' So what was in the lead article online at The New York Times this morning?

'The fevered Congressional intervention in a single individual's health crisis is being driven in significant part by powerful political forces that have converged at the bedside of Terri Schiavo.'

Schiavo is a critically brain-damaged woman who has been in a coma for 15 years now. The country, at least from press reports, appears to be in a frenzy over a seven year fight between her husband who wants her to die and her parents who reject court findings that she would not want to be kept alive.

Why is there such a sense of moral outrage over removing feeding tubes from Schiavo but a chilling, harsh, almost damning, silence about the Iraqi dead and injured? Add to that the utterly incomprehensible spin about how Bush might have been right after all. Whatever happened to the end never justifies the means?

Thursday, March 17, 2005
Welcome to Doomsday by Bill Moyers in The New York Review of Books at Moyers, a well-known journalist on PBS, writes:

'There are times when what we journalists see and intend to write about dispassionately sends a shiver down the spine, shaking us from our neutrality. This has been happening to me frequently of late.......'

'Once upon a time I believed that people will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to their health and lives of their children. Now I am not so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe this----it's just that as a journalist I have been trained to read the news and connect the dots. I read that the administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has declared the election a mandate for President Bush on the environment.'

He then lists in detail what this means. Among other things he learned 'how the EPA plotted to spend $9 million ---- $2 million of it from the President's friends at the American Chemistry Council --- to pay poor families to continue the use of pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry concocted a scheme to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.'

He read 'the fine print of a recent appropriations bill passed by Congress with obscure amendments removing all endangered species protections from pesticides, prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon, waiving environmental review for grazing permits on public land, and weakening protection against development for crucial habitats in California.'

No wonder he concluded asking what has happened to our moral imagination.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Two articles on the state of the US media post 9/11, in particular how government produced news accounts have seeped into the mainstream media and a website to combat this new trend: From the Sunday New York Times: Under Bush, a New Age of Pre-packaged Television News A column by Richard Cohen: C-Span's Balance of the Absurd Send a complaint to the FCC and the US Department of Justice to stop public money being used to disguise partisan propaganda as 'news'.

Friday, March 11, 2005
I'm off to Cincinnati for two weeks. This will be my first time back to America since 1999 and I am wondering what is awaiting me, what my impressions will be. Usually the other times I returned there was a brief period of what I call "reverse culture shock" and then I felt completely at home again. But what about now? Have things changed irreversibly since 9/11? I intend to write down my impressions and will report them here when I am back in April.

Thursday, March 10, 2005
American Voices Abroad (AVA) has set up a new international project in conjunction with Military Counseling Network (MCN) to provide U.S. soldiers in Europe and Iraq with information about their legal rights when applying for release from the U.S. military on grounds of conscience. AVA's press release with complete information including who to contact can be read at

Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Guilliana Sgrena, the Italian journalist whose release after a month in captivity in Iraq was overshadowed by the killing of the Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari by American soldiers near a security checkpoint in Baghdad, wrote for the daily newspaper Il Manifesto. Here at is a link in English to one of her articles from 1 July 2004 and is an interview with an Iraqi woman tortured at AbuGraib. My Truth from 6 March 2005 reveals how she felt in captivity and how she experienced events in the car with Calipari on the way to the airport in Baghdad. Sgrena also writes for the German weekly Die Zeit.

Monday, March 07, 2005
Two contrasting reports on US forces in Iraq were shown on German TV in Weltspiegel yesterday. The first one was an exclusive report by a journalist who filmed and was witness to house to house fighting by the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad. The scenes showed an apartment being broken into and used by the troops for surveillance of the surrounding streets and rooftops. No one was home in the apartment and all damage to it and any other, irregardless of how extensive, is later compensated with $20. The journalist interviewed the soldiers on this detail who claimed their job was to shoot at any thing or person that looked suspicious. Would they shoot children they were asked. Yes they would. Certainly any 14 or 15 year old who had what could be a weapon would be shot. Later at night houses on a certain street were being searched and all the men and boys from a certain age were being taken away. The viewers watched as they banged on the door, entered and without explanation proceeded to search every corner and under the wailing and cries of the women took their men and boys away. Nothing was found and again no reason was given why that block of houses was subject to this treatment. Any car found on the street can be broken into, taken apart and searched. A red Mercedes was totally ruined though nothing was found in it. In another case, a taxi, weapons were found and the car was put on fire. There was also a scene of an Iraqi who was severely wounded by them. He got only sparse care and the journalist voiced his opinion that the soldiers were only giving that because he was witnessing this scene. He was thrown onto a truck and died on the way. The summary of this report on (in German) claims that the Iraqis are subject to suspicion, humiliation and are killed and this, in turn, leads to making more enemies than solving anything.

The second report was on wounded US soldiers who are also victims in this war which according to the Bush government is for democracy in Iraq. A German journalist was allowed to follow the wounded from Iraq to Landstuhl, the biggest US military hospital outside the US, where immediate medical care is given. From there special transport planes carry them back to the Washington area for extended and prolonged medical attention. The logistics are far better than, say, during the Vietnam War and thus there is less loss of life. The wounded are rapidly transported to Germany and the aim is to have them back in the US within a day or two. The journalist further reported on how until now America is more or less silent on its wounded and fallen soldiers. The coffins of the fallen are not shown on TV and little is being written or reported on the wounded in the US media. At the end of these reports the moderator added the fact that enlistment for the military was down and the numbers needed were not being reached.

Friday, March 04, 2005
California Highway 190 between Furnace Creek and Death Valley Junction remains closed due to severe flood damage according to the Death Valley site of the National Park Service. The New York Times reports today on the 'the bloom of the century. The wildflower boom this year began in early February, as much as two months sooner than in normal years. As the early spring moves into the national park, the southern part of Death Valley, much of which is below sea level, is awash in a sea of flowers...... The sheer surrealism of Death Valley's current appearance is overwhelming.'

Meanwhile in Europe, Der Tagesspiegel reports on Siena, Florence and Genua covered with snow. Spain is experiencing a cold wave unlike anything in the last 50 years. In Kent British soldiers had to help hospital staff get to work because normal cars couldn't handle the streets after heavy snow falls.

Thursday, March 03, 2005
Arts, Essays, Ideas from Germany in English at It aims to present English translations of German language feuilletons in the idiom of globalisation. (via Spiegel online) It looks interesting and promising for those who don't read German but want another perspective and exchange of ideas.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Potemkin World.....or the President in the Zone. Comments on President Bush's trip to Europe and in particular in Green-zoning Germany what it was like to be in Mainz last week from a German citizen's point of view.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the execution of killers who committed their crimes when they were under 18 is unconstitutionally cruel and thus stopped a practice which was allowed in 19 states.

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