Friday, September 22, 2006

"...and will come again if ever needed" - Remembering JFK in Berlin

Last week, I joined a group of about 50 people for a four-days-tour to Berlin. The trip was organized by the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government (Federal Press Office) to show us citizens and taxpayers how the politicians are using our money. It was an interesting journey which most informative parts were about German history. The first site we paid a visit to was Checkpoint Charlie, and among other places, we also visited the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, the Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum - and the Rathaus Schöneberg, the location where then US President John F. Kennedy held his famous speech in 1963, proclaiming "Ich bin ein Berliner".

A few years ago, I worked near the Rathaus Schöneberg for almost a year, and visiting the building used to be an everyday business to me. I knew about the Kennedy speech including the famous quote, but I didn't really pay attention to back then. Therefore, it was quite a strange experience to enter the building as part of a guided tour. We even entered the balcony, from which we had a similiar view as JFK on June 26, 1963, when he delivered his speech from a platform some feet below. The guide told us about the historical context of the speech and how important it was that JFK was accompanied by General Lucius D. Clay, the "father" of the Berlin Airlift. After I've watched the video of the speech, I think that the opening remark

And I am proud (...) to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

was the most important part of the whole speech, at least for the audience at that time, giving them exactly the boost of confidence and reassurance to be under U.S. protection they needed.

JFK's interpreter, Robert H. Lochner, remembers:

Clay, whose interpreter I had been, had recommended me to Kennedy, and I interpreted for the president during the whole trip to Germany. The reception Kennedy received in Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt had already been enthusiastic but paled against the reception by the West Berliners.

As we walked up the stairs to the city hall in West Berlin for Kennedy's major speech, he called me over and asked me to write on a piece of paper in German, "I am a Berliner." I did, and when we got to West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt's office, while the hundreds of thousands of Berliners were cheering outside, Kennedy practiced it with me a few times before going out on the balcony for his historic speech.

The most powerful part of the speech, of course, is the following, ending with the second German phrase used by JFK, which even made it to youtube, as you can see below:

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin.

Robert H. Lochner, again:

To Kennedy's political adviser, McGeorge Bundy, if nobody else, it was immediately apparent that making the famous "I am a Berliner" pledge in German gave it considerable additional force. Some historians argue it wouldn't have gone around the world and into history the way it did if he had said it in English. When, after the speech, we again briefly assembled in Brandt's office, I stayed close to the president in case he should talk to any Germans. I could not help overhearing Bundy saying to Kennedy, "I think that went a little too far."

I hear some, if not many Americans complaining that Germany seems to have forgotten about German-American post-war history, especially about the airlift and the contribution of John F. Kennedy and his successors as presidents of the United States. It might well be that we don't remember this history as it would be appropriate - but it is not forgotten. To illustrate my point, I want to close with a quote from a Deutsche Welle article back from 2003, dealing with the 40th anniversary of the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech:

Today, 40 years later, Kennedy's legacy lives on in Germany's collective memory - for example in school books, documentaries about the cold war and in an exhibition at the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn. There, the most famous excerpt of Kennedy's speech is displayed on a television monitor, and there is a copy of the piece of paper John F. Kennedy held in his hand when delivering his speech, complete with the lines "Ich bin ein Berliner" and "Let them come to Berlin" scrawled on it in his own hand-writing.

Herman Schäfer, a custodian at the museum, says the document still elicits a deep response today.

"The reaction of our visitors is very enthusiastic, still enthusiastic, even though this 40 years ago. Everybody - be it young or old people - have in mind that this is a quotation from John F. Kennedy. So they hear this quotation and then the look into the glass case and see with even more surprise that there is this little document with the phonetic transcription of John F. Kennedy. So there is still this enthusiasm about this quotation that (puts) so much emphasis on the German-American friendship during the 1960s."

Submitted to Carnival of German-American Relations

Update August 16, 2009: Since the originally embedded youtube video was removed, I replaced it with a similar, albeit longer, video.


Thursday, September 07, 2006


Atlantic Review points to a new survey by Transatlantic Trends conducted in selected European countries and the U.S.

Transatlantic Trends 2006 is a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo in Turin, Italy, with additional support from the Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal), the Fundación BBVA (Spain), and the Tipping Point Foundation (Bulgaria).

To grab just one finding from the press release:

China threatening: When asked to rate their feelings of warmth toward China on a 100-point "thermometer" scale, Americans and Europeans rate China virtually identically (46 degrees to 45 degrees). But 38% of Americans, compared with 27% of Europeans, feel that the rise of China is an "extremely important threat" in the next ten years. In the United States, the largest percentage of respondents is more concerned by the threat posed by growing Chinese military power (35%), while in Europe, the largest percentage of respondents is more concerned by the threat posed by the growing Chinese economy (37%). Among Europeans, the highest perception of the threat of the Chinese economy is in France (53%), Portugal (52%), and Italy (51%). Within the United States, Democrats are more concerned about the economic (37%) than military threat (28%), and Republicans are more concerned about the military (42%) than economic threat (21%).

Considering the fact, that the U.S. has much stronger military ties than Europe with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the different perception of China does not come as a surprise. Apart from that, I don't like phone-conducted surveys.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Those Asian Americans at Richard Montgomery High

Yesterday, I did a little WaPo archive diving (Yes, my early sunday morning habits are somewhat strange. Just in case you didn't know that.), and I came across a typical piece on Asian Americans. Excerpts:

Asian Students Contend With Expectations. By Marc Fisher, Washington Post.

"How many of you play piano?" I ask. Nearly everyone raises a hand.

"Been in an SAT prep course since seventh grade?" Oh yeah.

"Go to Chinese school on Saturdays?" Check.

By this point, the Asian students who fill a room at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville are laughing -- at their stereotype, at themselves, at life as immigrants' kids.


The students summoned me here because there's a story they want told, a story about lives that others assume are copacetic -- straight A's, top colleges, smooth sailing.

Other kids at RM may see the Asians -- who make up 23 percent of students there, and 14 percent countywide -- as a privileged class, and there's something to that.

"We can get away with things that other kids can't," says Maddie Jalandoni, a senior. "They never stop us for a pass in the hallway. In ninth grade, I lost my calculator and went to the security office. Normally, they ask you for ID before they give you anything. But she just said, 'I trust you.' "

"That just happened to me today," adds senior Jessica Dinh. "Security stopped this African American girl in the hall, and I was right there and I didn't have a pass either, but nobody says anything to me."

I heard three more stories along those lines before we switched to the flip side. Asian students say teachers hold them to higher standards because they know Asian parents press their kids hard. The students say they put harsh pressure on themselves as well: Non-Asians may see 18 Asians among 26 students in a BC calculus class and think, "They have it made." Asians look at that scene and, as Dinh puts it, "you feel this pressure: I'm surrounded by Asians who are really studying hard, so now I really have to study even harder."

That attitude stems from a life of competition and striving. "I took every lesson possible," says senior Jamie Chen. "Ice skating, gymnastics, violin. Later, I asked my mother why she made me do all that, and she said she always wanted those chances."

Add the punishing quotas that Asian students face in the college admissions game -- colleges don't admit to using quotas, but the numbers tell the story -- and the result is pressure through every step of childhood.


I would love to add some rants on pressure and paternal expectations and stuff. But for me, it's back to "How can we integrate muslims into German society?". And how "We" ("the" Western world, that is) are humiliating them and how we can change our attitudes towards them to make them feel more accepted.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Zero Tolerance And Education: Crucifixion without Christ

NO MERCY. By Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker


This past summer, Rhett Bomar, the starting quarterback for the University of Oklahoma Sooners, was cut from the team when he was found to have been “overpaid” (receiving wages for more hours than he worked, with the apparent complicity of his boss) at his job at a car dealership. Even in Oklahoma, people seemed to think that kicking someone off a football team for having cut a few corners on his job made perfect sense. This is the age of zero tolerance. Rules are rules. Students have to be held accountable for their actions. Institutions must signal their expectations firmly and unambiguously: every school principal and every college president, these days, reads from exactly the same script.


Somewhere along the way—perhaps in response to Columbine—we forgot the value of discretion in disciplining the young. “Ultimately, they have to make right decisions,” the Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops, said of his players, after jettisoning his quarterback. “When they do not, the consequences are serious.” Open and shut: he sounded as if he were talking about a senior executive of Enron, rather than a college sophomore whose primary obligation at Oklahoma was to throw a football in the direction of young men in helmets. You might think that if the University of Oklahoma was so touchy about its quarterback being “overpaid” it ought to have kept closer track of his work habits with an on-campus job. But making a fetish of personal accountability conveniently removes the need for institutional accountability. (We court-martial the grunts who abuse prisoners, not the commanding officers who let the abuse happen.) To acknowledge that the causes of our actions are complex and muddy seems permissive, and permissiveness is the hallmark of an ideology now firmly in disgrace. That conservative patron saint Whittaker Chambers once defined liberalism as Christ without the Crucifixion. But punishment without the possibility of redemption is worse: it is the Crucifixion without Christ.