Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Monday, February 03, 2003
A view from the German street. Occasionally I'll still get an email from someone who's read our Fallaci translation. (When this happens, of course, I always tell them it was unauthorized and urge them to go buy the book.) This time it was from a German fellow by the name of Johannes Kiessling, an art teacher in Öhringen, Germany. (You can see some of his cool computer art here.) He had some interesting things to say about the atmosphere in Germany:

As to the content [of Fallaci's article] - as a German (not from choice but there it is) I can only heartily agree. Alas - this morning there was a "peace demonstration" only 50 yards from where I live in a small/tiny town. Peace for Saddam? Or maybe it was an "Anti-American demonstration"??? I didn't go to listen - someone might have thought I were part of it. But I listen to e.g. my colleagues who sputter fury and hate if you just mention America or Bush (not all of them - "only" most of them). I wish I could sit them down and read Fallaci's article to them - even if it would not help any...

I wrote back and asked him how widespread he thought this attitude was. Here's his response:

Let me begin by describing my (limited) field of vision: - I am a teacher in a small (provincial) town - 90 % of my contacts are - teachers. And, of course, students. - like everyone's, my information stems to a large extent from media (I have chucked out the telly and listen to the radio). - Among the teachers I talk to, there is a large majority who repeat "mantra-like" that "America"/Bush just wants to rule and exploit the world. Iraq is just interesting for the oil. Globalization is an instrument of exploitation etc. (Americans are stupid anyway, uneducated, their schools are bad etc.) – Regarding Israel - the Israelis are a strong ruthless power who suppress the "poor Palestinians". There is always a feeling of indignation in this. They are prepared to say that suicide bombing is bad - but immediately return to this view so that I get the impression that there is little sympathy for Israeli victims and lots for Palestinian problems. (Like: after all, the Israelis bring it on themselves like it's the US' own fault that September 11 happened.) –

What you have to know: teachers in Germany (worldwide?) are the most unrealistic group of people I have met. They are masters of the lie - to fool themselves. Hardly any perception of reality. Like they fancy themselves as brilliant paedagogues while their students have a totally different view. They fancy that all they do is "very important" while it is only important in that it enhances their self-esteem etc. Observing these bigotted ways - regarding politics you find that they desperately follow straits which in the end will "make them look good". Palestinians? Ah...underdogs. Therefore: if we are for them, we share a high moral point of view. Additionally: The majority is of middle age. People who demonstrated against the Vietnam war in their youth. And as teachers - in charge of learning - hardly ever learn themselves, they have just retained the view of the US as the huge power murdering "poor Vietnamese" etc. On top of that all - there is a scattering of Nazi-thought, unrecognized by the people themselves, which lurks at the back of their judgement. (Not only in this respect). In all - a mixture not geared to straight thinking!!! (Dreadful US sells weapons all over the world and causes trouble. They refuse to see that perhaps 1/3 of their income comes from German weapons sales...). What I tried to refer to here appears to me symptomatic for a certain strata of society - and I can't judge the size of it. But I do meet up with it a lot and therefore conclude that it is a considerable number of people. Like e.g. in the Islamic world, "America", being strong, is made into a symbol on which you can project every trouble you might have in your life. You don't have the guts to criticize the authorities in front of you? Well, "let fly" at the US... This seems stupid and one might think unimportant. BUT in Nazi times the very same mechanism was applied to the Jews. (There is a a cabaret song: "Die Juden sind an allem Schuld" = it's all the fault of the Jews. The weather is bad? The Jews. Your wife tells you off? The Jews. etc. etc. Wish it were only funny...)

I also believe that the character of it all is very Christian: Not what you DO matters, but what you think. So, generally, it is to be taken as "blabb" rather than a base for actions. Like they go to this peace demo, hold up a placard and feel good afterwards for weeks - their moral plate is clean. Whether it has consequences or not matters little. Only... it MIGHT have consequences - and if it has, they'll probably not like these either. So what do you do with them??????? - The media - again and again, not exclusively but frequently - I hear e.g. reports on the Palestinians which might not be untrue but lie in the respect that they lack the sympathy and detailed reports on how this must feel for people in Israel. What it means to go on a bus, to send kids to school and not knowing whether they'll be back etc. In short: lopsided reports. Another example: This year we had this large art exhibition, the "Documenta" in Kassel (it is huge). Almost a whole exhibition building was dedicated to "the plight of the Palestinians". The usual lopsided view... (I hear 5 interviews with Palestinians before I hear one with an Israeli). I have little contact to the "general population" and can only refer to isolated incidences. From these I would say that "the uneducated" are a lot less Anti-American (?) but on the other hand even more blatantly consider Jews (they have never met any!) as the force behind "evil world economy"... thoughtlessly repeating Nazi-positions which they probably are unaware of as to their source. But - ignorance is probably a worldwide affliction in those circles anyway, only that here it is particularly unfortunate because it prolongs ancient propaganda... You do get a minority of people who think (more or less) differently. Like I took part in a group who demanded and succeeded to have put up a bronze table at the former synagogue (a provincial one, not recognizable as such) to remember what happened, and, as there is a memorial of war victims incl. WW I in the church here, a tablet commemorating the Jewish soldiers who died fighting then just beside the German tablet. So you do get a number of people who think differently - only they are normally not seen and seldom go public...This group is not very large, I presume.

So that's one man's impression. I'm always wary as to how much stock to put into such perspectives. So is Johannes:

Problem: no individual person has enough knowledge to give an overall picture. But if you collect impressions, the picture nevertheless will become clearer. And as my friend, the old lady, always tells me and "kicks my butt if I do": "You can't generalize!!!". Like her cousin who lives in Israel, was saved from extermination by an SS-man. So...reality is complicated indeed. And yes, I tend to generalize off and on, I like a bit of polemics and might need to be reminded! :-) If I should try and generalize (!) - I have the impression that the combination of a lack of realism and bigotry is very strong in this country. I go to England a lot - I think the majority tends to see things as they are, maybe the percentage of realism-unrealism is like the other way round... (Even though I was surprised to see the Brits go sentimental when princess Diana died. The "stiff upper lip" suddenly melted away...).

If any other native Germans happen to read this and think Johannes is off the mark, I'd love to hear from you. It would certainly be a relief to be told that things there aren't everywhere as bad as he perceives them.

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