American Views Abroad

Monday, November 09, 2009
There are rare moments in politics so riveting people struggle accepting them, at first. Immediate reactions are disbelief and shock though signs of change were there. However, most don't expect change to happen at a fast pace. The US has been trying for 50 years to get some sort of health care for all its citizens to no avail, until now perhaps. Then there are those scenes that defy the imagination. The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of them. Basically most of Europe was asleep and the news the next morning on the radio was simply not believed. It took a couple of hours to get it to seep in and it took more than words spoken, it took images on TV before one realized it had happened. The Wall was opened ---- by normal everyday people. Opened almost by political exhaustion, it seemed. A movement too great to stop and it wasn't only a German one. The central eastern Europeans paved the way that summer.

They are now taking a well deserved walk down memory lane this week and why not. It's rare to have something good and peaceful to celebrate. It was the end of the Cold War which was painful and dreary and called for sacrifice, but it was certainly better than a devastating military one. A couple of years after the fall, in Cottbus, a town in the eastern part of Germany, and one is sitting around a table discussing what life was like on both sides of the Wall. He had been in the East German army on the border. On the other side was the US military. Strict orders were given never to return any basketballs which landed on the wrong side. The urge was too great. When the officers weren't looking, they made a point of returning them.

Monday, November 02, 2009
In the op-edit piece Chronicle of a Death We Can't Accept in the NYT on November 1st, Thomas G. Long writes: People who have learned how to care tenderly for the bodies of the dead are almost surely people who also know how to show mercy to the bodies of the living.

Last Friday on the front pages of both the IHT and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung were photos of President Obama saluting the 18 fallen Americans as their bodies were brought back to Delaware in the middle of the night before being taken to their home communities for burial. It was a somber and tender gesture at this moment when he has to decide on what course to take in Afghanistan.

Long further writes in this commentary: funerals often involve processions, sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, a form of community theater in which we enact publicly the journey from here to there, thereby enabling both the dead and the living to process the reality and the meaning of mortality.

In this case one should add to process the reality and meaning of war. To bring it home, up front and close. War is first and foremost about death and destruction. Recently a very old and most likely one of the last veterans of World War I passed away in Great Britain. He took part in some of its most horrific battles. Yet late in life he spoke out in harsh words wondering what all that destruction and loss of life brought. It was, of course, the next war.

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