One morning, I woke as a pro-American. Now, considering my nationality, you can probably imagine, that I was in serious trouble. I suddenly got an idea of the situation Gregor Samsa from Kafka's novel The Metamorphosis found himself in:
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. (full text)Pro-american! How low can you get? How could that happen?
In order to answer this questions, I had to investigate my own personal history. This investigation resulted in the following:
I grew up with american TV series like Dynasty, Denver Clan, Hart to Hart and The Fall Guy (my favorite; I didn't hardly miss an episode) etc. Those series didn't coin my views about the U.S., though. I knew that it was only fiction.
I can't hardly blame my teachers at primary and junior high school for becoming a pro-American, either. It was not that they were overly critical on the U.S., but the stuff they taught us was simply too boring to engender any feelings at all: GDP growth, GDP per capita, social structure, class and race, geography. There were only two conclusions, if anything, bothering me about the U.S.: Apparantly, you can't survive without owning a car. And all Americans seem to love fire arms.
As for the political situation in the 80's, there was the Cold War (grumpy old men in Moscow vs. not so grumpy men not so old men in Washington) and the Reagan Administration. Since I didn't like Reagan's approach of fighting communism by supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, this period was probably my most anti-american period of all times. Then again, I tried to distinguish between Reagan's Middle America strategy and the U.S. as a whole. And the Reagonomics appeared to be a successful concept, after all. But I was young, and frankly, I didn't care much about the U.S. at that time.
In my last three years before graduation from high school, I had history and English as majors. If you think, that this must have provided a closer engagement in U.S. affairs, you are wrong. In history, we focused on the social question and the hardships of the working class in the 19th century - and the rise of Nacional Socialism in Germany in the aftermath of WW I. And the English lessons were mainly about the United Kingdom and Shakespeare. I recall one topic we dealt with: "The dissolution of the monasteries in mediaeval England".
After being graduated from high school, I started to study law, and my command of English deteriorated rapidly. Those were the years of the Clinton Administration, the war in former Yugoslavia, Somalia etc. I got annoyed by the soft character of international law and was startled by the fact, that a lot of Germans simultanously accused the U.S. of either engaging too much or not caring enough about world affairs.
And about that period of time, I made my first huge mistake: I took on American literature. Paul Auster's "Music by chance", T.C. Boyle, John Cheever, Philip Roth, John Irving, to name only a few. But the biggest mistake, the mother of all mistakes, was to read "Independence Day" by Richard Ford. [Note to all anti-Americans: Stay away from this book! Don't read it. If you do, provide books by Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky as antidotes. Otherwise it may change your views.] The story of a man, who changes his entire life, moves to another place, chooses a new new profession and starts a new life. This plot is so odd for ordinary Germans! Even fancier for Germans than the plot is the description of Indepence Day as a symbol for american values, as a cornerstone of American identity.
Well, time went by, I gratuated from university and moved from Munich to Berlin to work as a law clerk. New challenges lead to the USA not being part of my personal agenda. And then, there was the bright morning of 9/11. I still can recall the wheather conditions at the very moment the breaking news came in...
I was surfing the internet at that moment. And I kept on surfing the internet for the rest of the day. I simply couldn't move. Since I didn't own a TV set (I hate TV, to put it mildly), I turned on the radio. I sensed the growing tide of fear, anger and disbelief without myself being influenced by any pictures. It soon became pretty obvious to me, that the USA was under attack and that this day would have a deep impact on the identy of the USA and would deeply affect the transatlantic relationship.
A few days later, I attented the demonstration in Berlin to commemorate 9/11. I remember a lot of people, holding "solidarity with the USA"-signs. I remember then-ambassador Dan Coats thanking us for showing our sympathy and expressing our solidarity. I remember fighting back tears during the performance of "Amazing Grace". But one thing I found disturbing: apart from the signs calling for solidarity, there were also posters reading "No war!", and I thought by myself: "Hm. This meeting is supposed to be about mourning and commemorating. It's not an anti-war rally. It's not the right moment to tell the USA once more what to do (or not)."
We all know what happened in the aftermath of 9/11. Since the topic of this post is neither 9/11 nor the war on terror or the war in Iraq, I only want to take on one point concerning this aftermath. Paying attention to the news coverage by German MSM, I got the impression that U.S. citizens all thought alike and that their only news source seemed to be Fox News Channel. I wasn't too happy about that and I couldn't understand why the Americans deliberately dumped freedom of speech and variety of thought in favor of watching Fox News. Then again, I came across plenty of articles, colums, op-ed pieces etc. dealing with the war on terror and the war in Iraq and expressing a vast variety of viewpoints and opinions. "Who the heck is going to read all this stuff, if anyone down there is watching Fox News all the time?", I wondered.
This latter thought came on my mind again, when I got intrigued with China. German MSM don't provide much in-depth information about China. Hence, I had to use sources from the U.S. And again: loads of articles, columns, op-ed pieces on "The rise of China", "A new super power in the making", "The power of the dragon" etc. And again the question: If all Americans are such war-mongering lunatics, their heads filled with air - why all those journalists, pundits and experts care to launch all this stuff?
In fall 2004, I was given the opportunity to work as an English teacher at a middle school in Nanning, Southern China. I boarded a Britsh Airways plane in order to discover China. Well, I did discover China. But, and this may sound strange to you here, I also discovered the USA. I'll leave the explanation for that to the next entry.
part II, part III