American Views Abroad

Monday, September 26, 2005

Americans Against the War in France at their demonstration on Saturday in Paris. The strategic placement at Place Concorde allowed AAW to meet many Americans who were coming out from Tuileries and people signed up to join them and be on their e-mail list. In Florence, Italy numerous U.S. students stopped by and participated in the vigil and expressed their intention of working with opponents to the war over the next year. In Rome an American couple from Massachusetts celebrating their 25 wedding anniversary decided to reschedule a privately arranged tour to join demonstrators in front of the U.S. Embassy.

It takes lots of small steps to make a movement. Last weekend I had the opportunity of meeting a young US soldier who recently decided to apply for Conscientious Objector status. He did not take this step lightly, but rather thought very long and hard about it. He had attended and graduated from a Bible college and could quote scripture on why one shouldn't kill, in particular in a situation like Iraq. 'How', he asked, 'do I know if who I might be shooting and killing is actually a terrorist or just a simple Iraqi citizen going about his or her daily chores?' In today's Hamburg newspaper an article on the anti-war march in front of the White House quotes The Washington Post on how the image of the US abroad could not be worse. It talks about very broad, deeply felt anger at US policies and actions and how, according to polls, majorities in the Middle East see Bush as a greater threat than Osama bin Laden.

I asked the young soldier what the tone of conversation on current events on base is like. His answer was they never talk about current events or politics. His feeling was that close to 75% probably do not want to be sent to Iraq, but the Army operates on a 'buddy' system. To question or to decide not to fight means putting your buddies in danger or letting them down. There is a Military Counseling Network (MCN) in Germany run by the Deutsches Mennitisches Friedenskomitee (DMFK), known as the Mennonite Mission Network in the USA. MCN is a network of organizations prepared to provide a service to those soldiers who are questioning going to war or want to know more about military discharges and regulations. They are a non-profit, civilian organization where all conversations and correspondence is confidential. or email:

A first hand account plus interviews with 30+ protestors at Voices from the Frontlines of Protest, Washington, DC at

Saturday, September 24, 2005
Dispiriting and depressing viewing the scenes coming across the TV screen of the chaos in Texas. The Hamburg newspaper Abendblatt reports today that 120,000 Euro has been collected for the victims of Katrina in its Hilfe fuer Freunde -- Help Friends call to action. According to its report 100% of the money will be used to help the community of Waveland which is 55 kilometers east of New Orleans and was completely destroyed by the hurricane. Next week the money will be transferred to the US organization Adventist Community Team Service (ACTS). The money contributed by about 2000 citizens of Hamburg will be used for tents and food. The article in German at

A thank you from the heart letter to the people of Hamburg by the US Consul General Duane Butcher in German is at

A thoughtful article on the role of government in helping its citizens in times of disaster and the role of the larger charities is at
Ted Rall cautions 'It's time to 'starve the beast': private charities used by the government to justify the abdication of its duties to its citizens.'

Sunday, September 11, 2005
Do You Really Want Honest Religion? This essay by the Rev. Davidson Loehr first appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday 6 August 2005 under the heading: Even in the Pulpit, Religion, Politics are Sensitive Subjects. Here is the article in its entirety. The phases in bold were cut by the newspaper.

Lately, some people with long histories of love and support for religion have spoken against the state of the churches and the clergy. Bill Moyers has railed against the silence of the pulpits in America. And I recently heard Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong tell an audience of 1300 in Berkeley that America's preachers had become wimps, lacking the courage or the conviction to speak out about the sins of an illegal war, a rapacious economy or the hijacking of religion by fundamentalists.

But as a preacher, I wonder: do you really want the truth?

If 'news' is the information that keeps people free, our media haven't had much news in years. But do you really want them giving us news? Even if it means criticizing the president, the government, the economy, and the growing power of the religious right? Or would advertisers cancel their ads, and subscribers stop subscribing?

If 'economics' is about how we create a just and empowering 'home' for ourselves -- that's where the word came from -- then we are a long way from an honest or fair economy. We have monetary policies that favor the very rich and flog the rest. But who would you permit to say this, loudly, consistently, and in great detail? Your preacher?

And if politics is supposed to be the art and practice of living together under rules that empower rather than enslave the majority of citizens, then our politicians -- of both parties -- have routinely betrayed the vast majority of Americans. But do you think they'd ever get adequate funding to run a successful election if they told the truth?

Finally, if religion is about 'reconnection' with our highest and most life-giving ideals, and if preachers are expected to speak about the gods that are really running our culture -- then religion and its ministers have indeed become both irrelevant and cowardly.

But do you really want honest religion?

What if your preacher says our economy is rapacious and unfair, that it has stolen money from the earners and given it to the owners through tax cuts bought to reward only the very rich? Will you cut your pledge to get him or her back in line?

What if your preacher reminds you that our invasion of Iraq is illegal, sold through outright lies about weapons that weren't there, and tied to 9-11 when Iraq had no connection of any kind to 9-11? What if your preacher reminds you that we have killed over 100,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians, women and children? Since documents like the Downing Street Memo and others have made it clear that our president intended to invade Iraq when he took office, months before 9-11, what if your preacher compares our invasion of Iraq with Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939? Will you get up and walk out? Will you cut your pledge? And what if your preacher points out that 'all of God's children' includes gays and lesbians, and that by any honest standard they must be included among 'the least of these'? Or that Jesus never spoke a single word of judgment or hatred toward them -- but he spoke a lot of words about not judging others, and about his vision of the 'kingdom of God' as a place where we treated all people as brothers, sisters, and children of God? Will you double your pledge and increase your active commitment, in thanks for having found a place where you can feel the presence of the holy spirit rather than the spirits of bigotry and mendacity? I'm one of the lucky ministers who serves a church that knows a 'free pulpit' can cost thousands of dollars in reduced or cancelled pledges when you really think religion is commanded to serve only the highest sorts of truth: the challenging kind, the often uncomfortable kind, the kind you seldom hear from the media or from politicians. All great religions teach that this path is narrow, and few want it. But these teachings, as all honest religions know, are sometimes very troubling. They can even feel impolite, or downright rude. And so these disturbing truths that can set you free are available in any religion. Still, I wonder -- and know that many other preachers also wonder: Do you really want honest religion?

The Rev. Davidson Loehr is minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin. He holds a Ph.D. in theology, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science. He is the author of America, Fascism and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, due out from Chelsea Green Publishing Co. this month.

Saturday, September 10, 2005
An American friend here in Hamburg was elated to get a message from close friends in New Orleans this week. A resident of St. Charles Avenue and the owner of a bakery sent her this report on how her family is doing:

Thank you, Betsy. We are all fine. My husband and I are with my son in Baton Rouge. He had just graduated from LSU and luckily kept his apartment here. All of our families are fine. We actually rode out the storm at home, and by that afternoon the sun had come out, and we walked around downtown surveying the damage. By the next morning, the waters began to rise, and we heard reports of looting. So we left, via the Westbank. We went down yesterday and got two of the cars (two others had been broken into and drained of gas), and brought my computer up. We have applied for unemployment. We assume that in a few weeks (8 maybe) we will go home and restart our lives. No one will be wanting wedding cakes any time soon, but the West bank and Metaire will be up and running soon. It's the Lakeview area and St. Bernard Parish (where we are from) that are so devastated. Since there is still water in those places, they will have to be bulldozed and rebuilt. St. Bernard had an oil spill from a tank at an oil refinery, so it is also covered in black toxic gook. Luckily most every one evacuated. But there are many many worse off, who had nothing to begin with, and now have less. And I have heard many sad stories. It's hard to fathom this, so we are taking it one day at a time.

Craig Morris, a native of New Orleans who lives in Freiburg, in the south of Germany, conducted an interview with a New Orleans resident on why he and his wife refuse to evacuate. The Safest Place in America: Why 'A' Stayed in New Orleans at At one point Morris asks:

We are talking about the gangsters. What about all of the poor people who got stuck at the Superdome because they could not get out of town?

A: That is not just an embarrassment; that is a travesty. There was no contingency plan in place. The mayor told everyone to go to the Superdome as a shelter of last resort. There was no plan for what to do with them. So we had rapes, suicides, and murders there. They then had to close the Superdome because it was full, and they were putting people on the Expressway, the overpass just to keep them out of the water. Those people were up there for days without food or water. No help. No Red Cross, no FEMA.

At Hurricane Katrina -- Our Experiences paramedics Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky report on their odyssey, in particular up on the Expressway, desperating waiting for promised buses. They reside in San Francisco and were in New Orleans attending a conference when Katrina hit the city.

Thursday, September 08, 2005
A story dedicated to the wonderful city of New Orleans written by an American in Hamburg at

and another even sadder one at

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
The headline in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today claims Operation Being Run by Amateurs in a report about the hurricane/flood disaster. All weekend long German radio reported on the hurdles in trying to get food and other supplies over to the US. First came the news that an airbus had indeed landed in Florida with tons of supplies, particularly ready-to-eat meals for individuals. A second plane ready to fly out was put on hold because no permission to land had been granted to foreign relief flights. A few hours later radio reports claimed the first plane which was on a routine flight landed 'under the radar screen'. It claimed ground crews welcomed the supplies and had them distributed. However, there was still no official permission which allowed further transports. Finally late Sunday the European Union as well as the German government were given a 'shopping list' of needed material and yesterday the US Ambassador to Germany, who has no diplomatic experience and is a generous contributor to the Republican party, appeared on German TV to thank the government and public for its offers of help. Most important according to the Ambassador are water pumping machines and other supplies which were already on the list the German government had complied on its own days before.

You could be generous in spirit about the difficulties of foreign aid trying to get into the country, though it is hard when confronted with devastating, unbearable news reports, photos and films one sees here in the media. After all, the US has no experience in its modern history asking for help from the rest of the world in a time of disaster. However, the following message in an email from a close friend in Pennsylvania shows official incompetence run rampart.

'Most people I know are totally embarrassed and upset with the response of the government to New Orleans. In the paper Sunday they took a scaled map of the flooding and laid it over a map of Philadelphia area. The flooding stretched from Marlton, NJ to Bryn Mawr, PA in a horizontal strip, easily 60 miles. And that didn't include the devastation in Mississippi. You know 9/11 was terrible but it was a much smaller and confined area, easier to get to to respond etc. There is a group of doctors from Univ. of NC, Chapel Hill who got a FEMA grant after 9/11 to put together this mobile hospital. It consists of something like 50 vehicles. They can accommodate 113 patient beds and have a triage unit, clinics, etc. They all took off from work last week and headed down South, took 30 hours to get them there. And there they sit, fed up because no one can tell them where to go and where best to use them. The communication is totally a big fuck up. If they can communicate with Iraq and in Iraq, they should be able to do it here. What a total screw up. In fact most of the Guard who have been deployed there and have returned from Iraq say it is worse here.'

In the IHT's Foreign Tourists Speak of Their Fury at Being Abandoned a British man told the story of his family on vacation in the region when the storm struck.

'Stranded in a hotel - he and his wife had not brought driving licenses with them and were unable to evacuate ahead of the storm - Scott described an apocalyptic city where looting and shooting quickly broke out, leaving his family terrorized. ..... I could not have a lower opinion of the authorities, from the police officers on the street right up to George Bush, he said, but I have a completely opposite view of the American people. There were so many random acts of kindness - people would go without so my son wouldn't go hungry. The American people saved us.'

Monday, September 05, 2005
Tomgram: Iraq in America -- The Perfect Storm and the Feral City by Tom Engelhardt is essential reading. His conclusion is painful to read but right on target:

In the end this country remains in a powerful state of denial on two major matters which help explain why the elevation of George Bush and his cronies was no mistake. We are now a highly militarized society in all sorts of ways that any of us could see, but that is seldom recognized or discussed (except when the threat of base closings sends specific communities into a panic). Unrecognized and unconsidered, the militarized nature of our society is likely in the future to prove both dangerous and highly destructive. Right now, we are a weakened superpower wired for force and force alone -- and if Iraq has shown us one thing, it's that, when it comes to solving human problems of any sort, military force is highly overrated.

And of course, we are as a society in denial over the toxic sludge pool where climate change (or global warming) meets Middle Eastern energy dependence. On this, our future rests. If someone doesn't get to the frontlines of planetary security soon, we may be living not just with one feral city, but on a feral continent, part of a feral world.

Sunday, September 04, 2005
The newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt in conjunction with a well-known German charity organization, the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB), and the support of the Hamburg government has started up a fund drive to help the poorest of the poor hit hardest by the devastating hurricane and flooding. Hilfe fuer Freunde --- Help for Friends is asking for contributions to be transferred to HSH Nordbank, BLZ: 200 500 00, Konto: 505 040 000, Stichwort: Hilfe fuer Freunde. Hamburg knows only too well the catastrophe ragging flooding can bring on a city.

The blogger at reports on German TV describing Bush's 'Relief Visit' as a photo-op. Just before he visited Mississippi the journalist on the spot where he was to land reported several times on how suddenly machinery appeared and cleared up the damage. We later saw his helicopter, the Marine in full dress uniform attending it, and the place where he was roped off. On Friday evening there was a thirty-five minute special on the crisis at prime time on the other German public TV station. The headline ran Anarchy and Chaos in New Orleans. The reporter at the site tried to give an all-round picture of what was going on. He told of knowing of some small areas of New Orleans that were getting food, water and ice and where the situation was calm. He stood at a bridge where hundreds of private citizens from all over the US were trying to cross, many with boats hitched on their private cars, and reported how these people were coming on their own to help. He also showed the absolute horror of what was going on downtown, in the stadium and the convention center. In the end the conclusion he came to was as heart rendering and admirable it was to see private help, only authority and major help could provide the dire relief needed. German public TV and radio is supported by monthly fees every resident who own a radio, TV or even a car radio has to pay.

US newspapers today indicate a general sense of outrage that more was not done sooner. One German Sunday newspaper discussed the change in tone on CNN and on morning shows in the US when interviewing Washington officials last week.

The final word goes to Frank Rich in his column in today's New York Times:

But a president who flew from Crawford to Washington in a heartbeat to intervene
in the medical case of a single patient, Terri Schiavo, has no business lecturing anyone about playing politics with tragedy. Eventually we're going to have to examine the administration's behavior before, during and after this storm as closely as its history before, during and after 9/11. We're going to have to ask if troops and material of all kinds could have arrived faster without the drain of national resources into a quagmire. We're going to have to ask why it took almost two days of people being without food, shelter and water for Mr. Bush to get back to Washington.

Friday, September 02, 2005
On the head of every hour the news report on German radio brings not only the latest horrific news from New Orleans but a very contradictory signal to those in the rest of the world who very much want to help the victims. President Bush, the radio lets us know, says outside help is not needed and the US can manage to take care of its own people. The State Department, on the other hand, says all help is welcomed and will be accepted. So which is it? One hand not knowing, perhaps not even caring, what the other is doing? Two days ago a white woman in New Orleans looked into the camera, was crying and said, 'Please someone in the world somewhere, help us.' And people here do want to help.

For those in Europe who would like to help via bank wire here are two ways: The German Red Cross -- Deutsches Rotes Kreuz, Bank fuer Sozialwirtschaft, BLZ: 370 205 00, Konto: 41 41 41, Stichwort: Soforthilfe USA and Die Oekumenische Diakonie-Katastrophenhilfe
BLZ: 600 100 70 (Postbank Stuttgart) Konto: 502 707.

It is not easy for an American to start talking about 'a white woman' but there is no denying that the imagines on TV and the photos in the newspapers everywhere are showing that the victims who are the last to be evacuated and have been living for days without water and food are overwhelmingly black. In today's New York Times read From Margins of Society to Center of the Tragedy at See also the report in the following link The reports are alarming. There is untold looting and plundering going on. However, there is a world of difference between those who are simply trying to stay alive and not die of thirst and those who are criminals.

The following quote in another NYT's article Local Officials Criticize Federal Government Over Response say it all:

'.....Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans was particularly pungent in his criticism. Asserting that the whole recovery operation has been 'carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days', he said, 'the rest of the goddamn nation can't get us any resources for security. We are like little birds with our mouths open and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm.....It's criminal within the confines of the US that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us. It's like FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has never been to a hurricane.'

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