When Americans pay attention to Germany at all, which is rare, they often display no curiosity about the German political landscape, except perhaps for its fringes. Many journalists also seem to follow an unwritten rule that the only things that qualify as ‘news’ from Germany are neo-Nazi hi-jinks and tales of economic woe.
An American named Kali, who lives in Berlin and runs an interesting blog, argues that if Americans looked harder, they could learn something from Germany:
Yes, there is a racist, fascist element in Germany, and I believe that it’s good that it’s public enough to expose its ass in front of a generally disapproving nation. But the percentage of Germans who support those right-wingers is demonstrably tinier than the percentage of U.S. citizens who support repressive racial and social policy. Germany has no Guantanamos, after all, and no recent history of wars of aggression, and no Christian fundamentalist power bloc capable of preventing the teaching of science, rationalism, and critical thinking in its school systems. It isn’t proposing legislation to legalize torture and secret military tribunals. This is because Germans are not in danger of being led into political action by blind patriotism; they have been burned by that before.
Finally, there is a huge difference between maintaining a complex and realistic view of life under communism and being an apologist for it. The truth is that there were both good and bad things about living in the ex-Soviet bloc, and it’s pretty natural for progressive Germans to want to keep or re-establish the good things (universal access to education and health care, a working welfare system, full employment, legal sanctions against discriminatory behavior towards individuals based on their race) while wanting very much to ensure that the violations of human rights, legal rights, and the abridgment of political rights under those regimes is never repeated. It’s hard for many Americans to understand such a nuanced approach to the world of politics and social culture and, in that area, I think the Germans are far more sophisticated and reasonable than we are. I, for one, am happy to learn from them in this regard, without giving up my right to critique them when I think they are wrong.