American Views Abroad

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine in Germany, has an article on US soldiers against the Iraq war who are seeking a way out of the military. This article has now been posted on Spiegel's International site in English. Casualties of Conscience can be read at,1518,468740,00.html.

......But soldiers looking for a way out rarely feel heroic. More often, they say, it is a painful choice: the kind you wrestle with alone, in the dead of night, when people who have never had to cut off a friend's leg to get him out of an exploded Humvee are sound asleep.

Sunday, February 25, 2007
Happy End - Eine Magazingeschichte - Bertholt Brecht / Kurt Weill

On March 1st-3rd, 8th+9th, and 14th-17th at the St. Johanniskirche in Altona you have the chance of seeing a presentation of "Happy End - Eine Magazingeschichte" by the Hamburg theater combo Elfen im Park. Price of admission: a donation - "pay as much as you can."

The piece is credited to Dorothy Lane, with compositions by Kurt Weill, and texts by Bertholt Brecht. It was the immediate sequel to the Three Penny Opera (Dreigroschenoper), but was a flop at the time of its first performance in 1929:

"The show's 1929 premiere was an unequivocal disaster: star Helene Weigel departed from Hauptmann's unfinished book to read from the Communist Manifesto, the press couldn't tell if the ad-libbing was scripted or not (it was, after all, a Brecht and Weill piece), and ripped the show to shreds in the papers. It closed in a week, and has only received a few revivals since then."
Source: Broadway World

We now know Dorothy Lane to be Elisabeth Hauptmann, at that time one of Brecht's assistants, and loves. When Brecht married she refused to finish the piece, so Brecht finally did, but no one wanted to have their name attached to it - hence the pseudonym. So much for the history.

I saw the show last night. The story is simple: in the Chicago underworld of the 1920's a girl in the Salvation Army tries to save the soul of Billy Cracker, a notorious gangster. Throughout the performance, we are accompanied by "Bertholt Brecht" himself, in leather tie and jacket, looking very much as he did in that famous series of photographs, sitting at an antique typewriter stage left, writing down notes on a sheaf of papers. Occasionally we become aware of him as he converses with the players on stage. This added a necessary dimension to a story which itself does not go beyond light entertainment.

The performances were convincing, lovingly done, and there was much attention to detail. The characters of Billy Cracker (Bo Lander) and Lilian Holiday (Saskia Junggeburth) were convincingly played, as were the rest of the characters. I loved the stern, puritanical looks on the faces of the Salvation Army women. The set was very sparse, hardly more than a platform and a garderobe. In this context much of the mood was set by the authentic costumes, Billy Cracker standing out especially in pin striped suit and patent leather shoes.

The real prize was the music, performed by the Dreipfennigsorchester (directed by Axel D. Wolf) to the right of the stage, titles including "Das Bilbao Lied," "Matrosen Tango," and "Surabaya Johnny." From what I've read, it's rare to hear these performed in one place and in their original context. So for that reason alone, if you like Brecht & Weill, you don't want to miss this.

Musical Zentrale has further information (in German) about the piece and performance.

Friday, February 23, 2007
This site reviewed the German film, Das Leben der Anderen when it was released in 2006 This film, under its English title The Life of Others, has been released in New York City and according to Hamburg radio reports it is sold out even in its earliest showings and audiences have given it rave reviews. Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported today that it has touched a raw nerve among American viewers. Americans who as citizens never used to question their democracy seem to view the film as a prophecy of things to come in these times of the Patriot Act. Its director, Donnersmarck, expressed surprise at the many open outbursts of displeasure directed at Bush from viewers in the US.

Anthony Lane reviewed it in The New Yorker this month. 'If there is any justice, this year's Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Life of Others, a movie about a world in which there is no justice.' Further, he writes: '..... being German, he has an overwhelming subject: the postwar sundering of his country. For us, the idea of freedom, however heartfelt, is doomed to abstraction, waved by politicians as if they were shaking a flag. To Germans, even those of Donnersmarck's generation, freedom is all too concrete, defined by its brute opposite: the gray slabs raised in Berlin to keep free souls at bay.'

Lane expressed initial shock that the action doesn't end in 1984 but in 1993 and past the fall of the Berlin Wall. 'You might think that The Lives of Others is aimed solely at modern Germans...... A movie this strong, however, is never parochial, nor is it period drama. Es ist fuer uns. It's for us.'

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Anatomy of a disaster -- Bush the arch-unilateralist by Strobe Talbott:

Iraq has the potential of becoming the most serious, consequential foreign-policy blunder in the history of the American republic. Precisely because Iraq is a policy disaster, one consequence may well be a national abandonment of the attitudes that brought it about.

Monday, February 19, 2007
The Nebraskans for Peace website has a well documented and very troubling article on US Strategic Command (StratCom) and the Impending Attack on Iran:

For over half a century, the seemingly remote Omaha Air Force Base in the American heartland served exclusively as the command center for the U.S.'s nuclear deterrent. After 9/11, however, StratCom underwent a significant transformation of its role and mission, becoming in effect the 'war room' for waging the White House's 'War on Terror'. StratCom retained its historic responsibility for overseeing the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. But it acquired the additional charges of 'full-spectrum global strike' (staging offensive, preemptive attacks); combating weapons of mass destruction; space and computer warfare; ballistic missile defense; and surveillance and reconnaissance (the 'warrantless wiretaps' conducted by the National Security Agency, for instance, were a StratCom project).
......The role and mission of StratCom has changed so dramatically in the past five years that most of the world has little idea of what is currently going on there.

They are urging the international media to take a closer look at what is indeed going on there.

Seventeen Republican Congressmen broke with their Party to vote for a resolution opposing escalation of the war in Iraq. The Political Junkies names them and highlights in red their winning percentage points. In North Carolina both Congressmen won re-election by 71 and 69%.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007
What is justice and what punishment fits a crime? How much punishment, in particular, how long should life in prison be? The rest of a human life span or are 24 or 26 years enough? Are former terrorists now nearing 60 still a danger to society or is it more productive for a society to draw a line and close the matter by pardoning or giving early release? These are some of the issues being hotly discussed these days here. Possible Presidential Pardon Reawakens Memories of Terror at,2144,2180783,00.html, for example.
Here comments from readers which vividly show the trans-Atlantic divide on public attitudes toward punishment at,2144,2324724,00.html.

What's the purpose of capital punishment these days? It certainly isn't to protect society anymore. People can be locked up in high security prisons and society can be adequately protected from them. Crime victims' families need a tremendous amount of support in dealing with grief and trauma. Should they, however, have the right to decide if capital punishment or life in prison is the ultimate goal when prosecuting because of their need for closure in dealing with their grief? 'Families of the executed are victims too', the report published by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights stresses. 'The pain of one group of survivors should not be redressed by causing pain to another group of survivors. Society needs to address the emotional and physical harm that is being done.' Executions Create Generations of Victims at

In California one can be sentenced to life in prison under the three strikes out law for stealing a box of Pampers or for trivia drug offences. Is this justice? Obviously not. Releasing a former terrorist who shows little to no remorse is on another level. Perhaps a society that shows greater wisdom in dealing with these issues and does not lower itself to the level of the crimes committed is the one that ultimately takes the wind out of the sails of terrorism. In order to do that, though, it needs to recognize a public response where the majority does not approve its decision. Recognizing a negative public response means opening a discussion on the issue and is a far better move than a knee-jerk act of harshness which is nothing more than pandering to the mood of the day.

Thursday, February 08, 2007
Watada Court-Martial Ends in Mistrail: 'In a stunning defeat for military prosecutors, the military judge said he had no choice but to declare a mistrail because military prosecutors and Watada's defense attorney could not reach an agreement regarding the characterization of a stipulation agreement Watada signed before the start of his court.martial.'

In essence agreement could not be reached if what he signed was an admission of guilt or a statement of fact that he believes the Iraq war is illegal.

'I hated to leave my troops, but something had to be done to stop this insanity, he said. How could I order men to die for something I believe is wrong? Wearing the uniform is not, and is never, an excuse.'

Further details on the trial at Watada Lawyer Rebukes Judge at

Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Hamburger Abendblatt, one of the city's main newspapers, reports on the court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada, the first officer to refuse to be deployed to Iraq because he believes the war there is illegal. The article takes up almost half of page 6 with a good sized photo plus a drawing of a scene in the courtroom in Fort Lewis, Washington. Er verweigert Marschbefehl in den Irak at

Making an Example of Ehren Watada by Norman Solomon at

'The judge in the case against the first US officer court-martialed for refusing to ship out for Iraq barred several experts in international and constitutional law from testifying Monday about the legality of the war, the Associated Press reported.'

Where Checkpoint Charlie used to be in Berlin there is still a large photo of a Soviet soldier and a US soldier, each facing his political-geographical direction, East or West, over the former border crossing. The US soldier's name is prominently positioned on his uniform and the message is perfectly clear. Each and every soldier ultimately takes responsibility and is held accountable for his/her actions. Officers have a higher bar since they give the orders. Continue up the chain of command and the air gets thin as far as taking responsibility and being held accountable. Way up the top there is ducking, denial, distortion of words and facts.

Friday, February 02, 2007
Impeachment by the People
An article by Howard Zinn in the Feb. 2007 edition of The Progressive says what needs to be said.

Thursday, February 01, 2007
One of America's most liberal, progressive and honest writers, Molly Ivins died after a long bout with breast cancer. Her voice will be sorely missed. John Nichols writes in Remembering Molly Ivins:

The warmest-hearted populist ever to pick up a pen with the purpose of calling the rabble to the battlements, Ivins understood that change came only when some citizen in some off-the-map town passed a petition, called a Congressman or cast an angry vote to throw the bums out. ....For the people in the places where no one famous ever came, Molly Ivins arrived a couple of times a week in the form of columns that told the local rabble-rousers that they were the true patriots, that they damn well better keep pitching fits about the war and the Patriot Act and economic inequality, and that they should never apologize for defending 'those highest and best American ideas' contained in the Bill of Rights.

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