Mitten in Deutschland — German History X

A huge conglomeration of public and private foundations put together a three-part series on the early 2000s murder spree of the National Socialist Underground called Mitten in Deutschland (In the Middle of Germany) in Germany and German History X when it was released by Netflix with English subtitles.

It's basically a trilogy of feature-length movies. I found it surprisingly good. German television and movies punch below their weight in general, but have shown some intermittent signs of improvement in recent years. Deutschland '83 is much more than watchable, and so is German History X. 

The first movie, about the formation of the 2-man one-woman 'trio' which formed the core of the NSU, shows the protagonists coming together in the 1990s neo-Nazi scene in Jena. The three core performers are stellar. The film also does a fine job of demonstrating how young people in the damaged, demoralized East often sought fellowship and a sense of purpose in violent Nazi groups. The second movie focuses on the victims, and is held together by a strong performance by Almila Bagriacik, who emerges from adolescence under the shadow of the murder of her father. The police immediately seek the killer in the 'milieu' of foreign small businessmen, without considering the possibility of a terrorist motive even after numerous other foreign shopkeepers are killed with the same weapon used to kill the first victim. 

The final movie, which focuses on the investigation, is the slackest of the bunch. This is hard to avoid, since the subject is, by definition, an investigation that went nowhere. The early-2000s murder spree of the three NSU members was discovered only posthumously, when two of them committed suicide after a botched 2011 bank robbery, and the murder weapon was found in their accomplice's apartment. The third movie paints a picture of detectives who develop solid leads, only to be frustrated by the machinations of the Thuringia state Verfassungsschutz. The Verfassungsschutz claimed to have deeply infiltrated the groups supporting the NSU trio, and fought against any arrests, questioning, or surveillance which could theoretically blow their agents' cover. Which meant, in the end, that they provided an enormous amount of cover, and even financing, to out-and-out Nazis who were committing sundry violent crimes. The movies' clear implication is that the Verfassungsschutz was operating at least in part out of sympathy for the right-wingers' goals.

The English translation of Verfassungsschutz in the movies was "secret service", which obviously doesn't do justice to this peculiar organization. English-language viewers certainly missed many of the implications of what was shown in the third film. Basically, the "Agency for the Protection of the Constitution", as the title means in English, is an originally West German domestic spying and intelligence agency. As its name implies, it is theoretically supposed to monitor, document, report on, and suppress any nascent threats to the German constitutional order. This includes right-wing and left-wing extremists, religious organizations, and cults. Each German state has one of these agencies, and there is a federal one as well. To call them controversial is an understatement — they are often accused of putting far more energy into surveillance of left-wing militants than right-wing groups, and are also accused of chilling free speech by singling out politically-charged organizations and publications for scrutiny in their public reports. In fact, the right-wing weekly newspaper Junge Freiheit – successfully sued to prohibit the Verfassungsschutz from mentioning them in its reports.

The agency has also been involved in innumerable scandals involving — at the very minimum — incompetence. The most recent in a very long list is the hiring of Roque M. (g) — a German citizen of Spanish descent who was hired as a Verfassungsschutz spy in the State of Northern Rhine Westphalia despite a history of mental instability and bizarre behavior, such as acting in gay porn films even though he was a married father of 4, running his own gay porn publishing house, running a website selling "German Military Underwear. Strong. Manly. Sexy.", and converting to radical Islam. The Verfassungschutz – apparently unaware of the possibility of running a Google search — only found out about him when he bragged about being a mole in the agency and working on plans to destroy it in an online forum which was being monitored by his co-workers.

In fact, the picture of the German law enforcement authorities in all of the films is devastating. The Keystone Kops of East Germany let the three neo-Nazis go underground even after finding bombs and weapons in one of their hideouts. Cops invent a hare-brained drug-smuggling conspiracy theory to explain the totally unrelated murder of ethnic-minority shopkeepers all over Germany with the exact same weapon. (Although this isn't mentioned in the film, they also chased a phantom serial killer whose existence was based on botched DNA testing). Their attitude toward murder victims' surviving relatives is callous in the extreme; Germany still has only a vestigial state infrastructure for providing counseling and care to surviving family members of murder victims. And in the third movie, the police actively allow and sometimes even assist neo-Nazis to commit violent crimes and spread propaganda, either out of incompetence or covert sympathy for their goals.

The general portrayal of police agencies is counterbalanced by sympathetic portrayals of individual cops, but they are seen as constantly having to fight against institutional blindness, rivalry, and silo-mentality thinking. When they're not fighting against moles in their own and other agencies who actually intentionally assist the neo-Nazis. The picture of police is probably a bit exaggerated, but there is no doubt much of it was justified — there are still dozens of very strange unanswered questions surrounding the fruitless investigation of the NSU murders. And, given the authorities' mania for secrecy and the lack of a culture of vigorous investigative journalism fed by leaks from inside the government, they'll probably remain unanswered forever.

Dialog With a Mass Murderer

This video is grimly fascinating: it shows the Munich spree killer walking around on the top of a parking garage.

The guy filming him (or someone close by) begins screaming insults at the killer, and the killer responds and gives a few reasons why he is doing what he's doing. In a Youtube comment, Scalpelli provides a pretty good translated English transcript of their dialog:

Some English translations floating around on here are wrong. Here's the correct one:

Balcony     Man: "You fucking asshole you…"

>Shooter: "Because of you I got bullied for 7 years…" (referring to Turks)

Balcony Man: "You wanker you. you're a wanker"

>Shooter: "…and now I have to buy a gun to shoot you"

Balcony Man: "Yeah, you know what? Your head should be cut off, you asshole!"

>Shooter and Balcony man shouting at each other

Balcony Man apparently to people filming: "He's got a gun here, the guy has one"

>Shooter: "Fucking Turks!"

Balcony Man: "Fucking wogs" ("Kanake" is a mean term for Turkish immigrant workers)

Balcony man to someone else: "EY! HE'S GOT A GUN! He has loaded his gun! Get the cops here!"

>Shooter: "I am German."

Balcony Man: "You're a wanker, that's what you are"

>Shooter: "Stop filming!"

Balcony Man: "A wanker is what you are, what the fuck are you doing?"

>Shooter: "Yeah what, I was born here!"

Balcony Man: "Yeah and what the fuck you think you're doing???"

>Shooter: "I grew up here in the Hartz 4 area. Here in the Turk-region, in the Hasenbergl" ("Hartz 4" = social welfare benefits in Germany / "Hasenbergl" = district just next to the shopping mall)".

>Shooter says he was depressed for some time and got clinical treatment ("stationäre Behandlung" here usually refers to being under treatment at a psychiatric clinic).

Balcony Man: "Yeah treatment, you belong in a psychiatric clinic, you fucking asshole."

>Shooter: "I didn't do anything wrong. [unintelligible] Just shut the fuck up man!"

Balcony Man: "You wanker you"


Filming man goes into cover, shooter starts firing.

Balcony Man: "You're not quite right in the head / You're fucked in the head you wanker"

Unknown voice (police?): "EY, go over there!"

Balcony man: "You fucking asshole, you're fucked in the head!" – literally translated though he says "They shat into your brain", to which the shooter replies:

"No they didn't, that's the thing, they didn't"

Video ends.

“Heil Hitler, Herr Friedmann”

Mahler0001_2Timeless wisdom from The Clash: "But I believe in this and it’s been tested by research / He who f%$^s nuns will later join the church."

Exhibit A:  Horst Mahler.  He started his career in Berlin as a relatively successful business lawyer, then migrated to the far left of the political spectrum.  Because of his conservative dress and horn-rimmed glasses, he was called the "Opa der APO," the grandfather of the opposition.  On the left, we see him at a 1968 May Day demonstration sponsored by a left-wing group (the picture is from Butz Peters’ immensely readable RAF history Toedlicher Irrtum). Eventually, Mahler grew close to the RAF.  It was his silver-tongued eloquence that convinced a prison warden to let Andreas Baader visit the Institute for Social Questions to "research a book."

During the visit, Ulrike Meinhof and several accomplices broke Baader out, shooting and severely injuring an institute employee named Georg Linke in the process.  Mahler, alas,  wasn’t very good at life underground.  After some terror training with the RAF in Jordan and a few months on the run committing bank robberies,  he was arrested on October 8, 1970, after police saw through his disguise.  Bond-like, he complimented them on the arrest.  From prison, he gave interviews to anybody who came by, generally reciting the kind of revolutionary word-salad popular in the 1970s.

Has Horst Mahler changed his opinion about fascism (bad! and right around the corner!) since the early 197s0?  I’ll let you judge for yourself from the first four words of his recent Vanity Fair Germany interview [h/t Ralf] with Michael Friedmann: "Heil Hitler, Herr Friedman!" 

Mahler goes on to say lots of things about Jews (Angela Merkel is their "marionette") and the Reich and the struggle between the peoples of the world and the Holocaust.  Friedmann, former head of a prominent German Jewish organization, listens bemused, occasionally trying to make sense of it all.  I found Mahler a bit disappointing.  He’s sometimes described as "diabolically clever" or the like.  I was expecting some kind of eloquent, reasonable-sounding melange of accurate historical observation, questionable historical interpretation, and just a delicate whiff of understated anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering.  Instead, except for a few classy quotations from Buber and Goethe, it’s the kind of stuff you hear in a skinhead bar or a right-wing German fraternity.

By the way, kids, don’t try this at home!  Mahler will likely be indicted for just about every sentence of this interview, and is fully aware of this fact.  He claims not to mind, since prison is a place where you can get a lot of things done which you’d otherwise never have time for.

The Constitutional Court Expands Protection for Journalists & Sources

The Federal Constitutional Court today issued a ruling in the Cicero magazine case, which I have been following for a while. In April of 2005, Cicero, a German political magazine, published an article about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Iran. The article was based in part on confidential documents generated by the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA, or Federal Office of Criminal Investigation).

After the BKA was unable to determine the source of the leaked documents, Interior Minister Otto Schily authorized a search of the magazine’s officers and the residence of its publisher, Bruno Schirra, on the basis of being an accessory to the betrayal of state secrets. According to this article (G) in the FAZ, the Court ruled the searches unconstitutional. Any betrayal of state secrets was committed by whomever originally took the document from the BKA, not by the journalists who eventually obtained access to it. By the time they got the document, the crime had already been committed and they could no longer be accessories to it. (In fact, the local court later declined to authorize a trial against the journalists involved for betrayal of state secrets, holding that there was insufficient proof of the charge.)

The court held that the mere suspicion that a journalist may have been an accomplice to betrayal of state secrets could not serve as the basis for a comprehensive search of his offices. Further, conducting intrusive searches merely to try to pin down an informant’s identity is disproportionate and impermissible. Publishers’ groups are hailing the judgment, but also calling for new legislative guidelines to reflect the court’s balancing of interests and improve protection for sources.

I don’t have much comment on this just now except to say "me like freedom of press very much," but I thought I’d pass it along. 

German Joys Review: Die Neuen Spiesser

Dns_1 The ‘New Squares’, Christian Rickens calls them in his new book, Die Neuen Spiesser: Von der Fatalen Sehnsucht nach einer überholten Gesellschaft ("The New Squares: On the Fatal Yearning for an Outdated Society"). It’s a provocative title, Spiesser (roughly, "square") is a mildly pejorative term.

The New Squares range from the Federal Constitutional Court Judge Udo di Fabio, whose recent book Kultur der Freiheit ("Culture of Freedom") warns us that the collapse of common sense puts the "west in danger"; to Paul Nolte (G), historian at the Freie Universität Berlin, who denounces a new permanent underclass of alienated, tattoed Gameboy addicts cut loose from stabilizing bourgeois values; to Eva Herman, a peppy TV celebrity whose new book Das Eva-Prinzip: Fuer eine neue Weiblichkeit ("The Eva Principle: For a New Femininity" (G)) calls on German women to admit that the attempt to combine children and career cannot succeed, and return to the comforts of hearth and home. This is a pretty European brand of conservatism; fond of talk about ancient customs and traditional values, and skeptical of the free market. You could call the New Squares throne-and-altar conservatives adrift in a throneless cosmopolis.

Now comes Christian Rickens, an editor at Manager Magazine (G), to give them the back of his hand in this crisply-written, entertaining polemic. The tone throughout is lightly ironic, although not flippant. Rickens doesn’t intend to confront right-wing doom-mongering with its left-wing Doppelgaenger. In fact, he mocks doom-mongering. Issue by issue, he sets out the New Squares’ claims and demonstrates, by a bit of research and clear thinking, that the problems they describe are nowhere near as grim as they’d have us believe, and that their proposed solutions are generally unworkable.

Rickens acknowledges differences in temperament and intellectual caliber among the New Squares — some are university professors, others tabloid columnists. However, Rickens identifies two typical thought-mistakes (Denkfehler) common to them all. The first is a weakness for spongy pseudo-scientific phrase-mongering: stuff like "the erosion of our cultural substance," or the "declining sense of togetherness and being bound together by fate" (Schicksalsgemeinschaft). The New Squares, he comments, seem to be reading "too much Nietzsche and too little Popper." Many of their arguments are, therefore, unfalsifiable — dinner-table banter wrapped up in pretty rhetorical ribbons. How are we supposed to tell whether a nation’s "cultural substance" is disappearing?

The second error is the conservative tic of confusing social change with collapse or decay. What Fritz Stern wrote of an earlier crop of German cultural conservatives still holds true: "[O]ften they mistook change for decline, and, consistent with their conception of history, attributed the decline to a moral failing." German society is changing, argues Rickens, but many of the problems bemoaned by the New Squares are much more manageable than they let on, and some of them aren’t problems at all.

Take, for example, the extinction-of-the-Germans meme. German women now have about 1.4 children during their lifetime, fewer than the 2.1 generally needed to maintain the population. However, smaller family size accompanies increased prosperity in all societies, and Germany’s actually in the middle of the European league table here. Further, there’s no epidemic of childlessness. In 1925, 75% of German women had children and 25% did not. The same holds true today. The difference? Women choose smaller families now, and those who remain childless do so by choice, not because disease or malnutrition made them infertile. Rickens calls that progress. As for Eva Herman’s suggestion that women stay home and care for the children, fine — for ones who wish to and can afford to. However, Rickens eviscerates the idea that this is woman’s "traditional" role: human societies rich enough to permit women (and children, for that matter) to choose not to work are historical exceptions. The fact that women find it difficult to balance child-rearing and a career means we should develop better policies to help them, not urge them to stay home.

Besides, Rickens asks mischievously, if having plenty of children is good for society, then the New Squares are surely praising Germany’s baby-happy immigrants! Err, not so much. Immigrants are a focus of tooth-gnashing anguish. They do poorly in school, they don’t learn proper German, their women wear strange headgear. Yes, there are problems here, Rickens admits, but keep them in perspective. The vast majority of immigrants in German find jobs and contribute to society, although they will never memorize Schiller or buy a Gamsbarthut. Further, Germany’s immigrants are nowhere near as dangerously alienated as those in other European countries.

Many of the problems the New Squares describe can be traced to bad immigration policy — one designed largely by conservative governments. Most German immigrants are asylum-seekers or "guest workers" and their family members. That is, people who came to Germany to escape poverty or oppression, not because they specifically wanted to settle in Germany. Until recently, national policy treated immigrants as temporary visitors, instead of acknowledging these immigrants are here to stay and devising a flexible, tolerant concept of integration. Although the New Squares are concerned about the failure of a minority of immigrants (and their children) to adapt to German society, they generally offer no practical suggestions for helping them, or improving Germany’s immigration policy. This is so, Rickens suggests, because the New Squares do not wish to have larger numbers of immigrants in Germany, period.

This tribal suspicion of foreigners, Rickens argues, is much more dangerous to Germany’s future than the foreigners themselves. The numbers leave no doubt: to alleviate its demographic problems, Germany must attract skilled, adaptable immigrants. Lots of them. Starting yesterday. This means creating an immigrant-friendly society. Drawing on his experience meeting "Muslim Yuppies" in the USA, Rickens lays out his view of the issue. A skilled Indian programmer might come to Germany hoping to start a company, but she’s not going to stay if she’s constantly made to feel inadequate because of her imperfect German; people point out her ethnic difference everywhere she goes; and she can’t start a business because she’s hamstrung by cumbersome regulations. The Red-Green coalition government that ruled Germany until recently put together an imperfect but sensible immigration bill designed to attract these sort of skilled immigrants, and supported an atmosphere of cultural tolerance to make them feel welcome. Who torpedoed the immigration bill and howled with outrage at the "politically correct multiculturalism" allegedly being forced down Germany’s throat? Why, the New Squares and their ideological allies, of course.

But you don’t have to go to immigrant neighborhoods to find maladjustment. What about all those disconnected, alienated members of the German underclass, with their Arschgeweih, their alcohol problems, and their antisocial habits? To the New Squares, (especially Paul Nolte (G)) these uncouth, directionless people symbolize Germany’s cultural rot. Rickens, however, sees them as a product of social trends. Globalization has closed thousands of low-tech factories, mines, and farms in the West. German workers will never be cheap enough to compete with developing nations in these low-value added industries. Thus, working-class Germans, whose lives were once given structure by a job at the the factory or the machine-shop, now have nothing to do all day, and feel disposable.

The welfare system, in turn, discourages them from working, since their social welfare benefits may drop by 70-80% for every Euro they earn. So some of them begin drinking too much and numbing themselves with mindless distractions. But keep in mind, Rickens insists, that the problematic, self-destructive behavior of some members of the underclass is (a) historically seen, nothing new; and (b) a by-product of the social changes that pushed them to the edge of society, not a harbinger of that society’s collapse. These people are globalization’s losers, and they should be compensated by globalization’s winners: Rickens proposes a "guaranteed minimum income" model that would provide a a basic living to all and allow recipients to keep most of every extra Euro they earn.

There will still be people who dress poorly and play more Gameboy than they should, but that’s part of living in a free society, and there’s not much use getting upset about it. In the book’s conclusion, Rickens hazards a guess as to why so many middle-class Germans snobbishly criticize mass taste: they themselves feel the icy breath of global competition on their necks, threatening their comfy middle-class jobs. (Next victims: German radiologists). If the day comes when they, too have to apply for government benefits, they can at least point to their superior taste and cultivated habits to maintain that crucial sense of distinction and superiority.

And now to patriotism. Why, ask many of the New Squares, must Germans still hang their heads in shame for the 12 unfortunate years of Hitler, a "freak-accident" of history? (to quote a phrase used by Matthias Matussek, culture editor of the Spiegel and author of a book called "We Germans: Why Other People Can be Fond of Germany"). Rickens doesn’t begrudge his fellow-citizens their World Cup flag-waving or justifiable national pride in Germany’s present-day institutions. However, the New Squares have an unhealthy urge to go farther and move aside the heavy brown "bar" of National Socialism that stands athwart German history. If you’re going to evoke the lost innocence and sounder values of a bygone era, you going to have to develop some strategy about the "bygone era" of 1933-45, and everything that made it possible.

An example: Rickens catches Judge di Fabio, who really should know better, ‘reasoning’ thus: "Hitler was not a German — not because he was of Austrian ancestry, but because he had not the slightest jot of a Prussian civil servant’s sense of duty, had neither the local patriotism or the joie de vivre of Bavarian Catholicism, had no tendency whatsoever towards diligence and hard work, no feeling for the German way of life, for bourgeois habits, or Christian traditions. He was only disguised as a German, he was a rootless gutter-impostor who sucked up all the energy and cultural treasure of the German people and accepted its utter destruction with indifference." Those poor Germans! How could they have been so naïve?

The fact that Hitler was originally Austrian is, Rickens notes, painfully irrelevant, despite di Fabio’s impressive rhetoric. There are two agendas at work behind these subtle attempts to relativize and revise German history. First, the New Squares need to distract readers from the role that some of their most beloved "German virtues" (discipline, loyalty, love of order, respect for authority) played in allowing Hitler to turn Germany into a genocidal war machine. The classic formulation, which helped thousands of SS officers and Wehrmacht soldiers win light sentences before indulgent German courts in the 1950s, went something like this: "Personally, I had nothing against the Jews/Poles, and deeply regret what happened to them. But I’ve always been a disciplined person, and orders are orders." The second subtext: the New Squares’ historical arguments devalue the achievements of the ’68 generation, the New Squares’ favorite whipping-boy. The ’68 generation was the first to directly confront these excuses and rationalizations, shove their fellow citizens’ noses deep into the horror that they had inflicted, and subject some of the most-abused "German virtues" to a shattering critique.

The social ferment of the late 1960s was, of course, a mixed blessing. But one thing the ’68 generation did was to create, for the first time, a liberal, pluralistic German society which trusted its people to live their lives more or less as they pleased. Until 1957, Rickens reminds us, German husbands were permitted to decide whether their wives could work or not. Now, the mayor of Berlin can show up with his homosexual partner at public functions. It’s this freewheeling live-and-let live liberalism that is the target of many New Square arguments: in the name of Germany, they want us all to share some set of common ‘German’ values, they want us all to disapprove of people who get divorced or wear piercings, they want all foreigners to satisfy some ‘test’ of Germanness or be shunned or excluded. They exaggerate Germany’s problems, and prescribe more conformity to their own particular idea of ‘traditional values’ as the only solution. There’s nothing new here folks, Rickens assures us, just a conformist longing for some sort of conflict-free "community," an unhealthy undercurrent of German conservative thought that’s been around in one form or another for centuries.

Rickens’ book is a polemic; and it’s hardly the last word on the subject; I am sure that his targets could, and probably will, eloquently defend themselves against some of his charges. To his credit, though, Rickens doesn’t just critique the critique; he lays out some of his own reform ideas which would help tackle some of the real problems the New Squares highlight — while preserving pluralism and diversity. Rickens is by no means a traditional leftist (he writes for Manager magazine, after all). Many of his assumptions (Germany can do nothing to prevent deep social changes brought about by globalization) and solutions (a minimum income a la Milton Friedman, instead of  job-creation measures) will not please old-fashioned leftists. However, Rickens’ ideas are usually stimulating, and the final chapter, in which he sets out ten theses to explain why the New Squares came about and why they appeal to so many Germans, contained many insightful points.

I should openly declare my bias: I liked the book partially is because I agree with Rickens on many points. After hearing and reading so much po-faced fustian about ‘traditional values’ and ‘social decay’, it’s refreshing to read someone who bursts out laughing at language like this. Rickens’ style is lucid, witty, and often laugh-out-loud funny. However, he never loses sight of his argument, which is, at heart, optimistic. Yes, there are a lot more different ways of being German now than there were in 1950, but remember, that’s a good thing. Diversity, freedom, and social change raise challenges, but Germany can best meet these challenges with flexible, enlightened policies (or sometimes, no policies at all), not by shoving Germans into the straight-jacket of ‘traditional’ values.

[Die Neuen Spiesser by Christian Rickens, Ullstein Verlag 2006. All translations in this review by Andrew Hammel.]

Re-socializing Rummy

As you’re no doubt aware, German lawyers, working in concert with the Center for Constitutional Rights, have filed a lawsuit asking Germany’s top prosecutor to investigate Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes and Geneva Convention violations. If the Attorney General chooses to pursue the motion, she would use a 2002 German law (G-pdf) which gives Germany "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes and violations of international law, even if they have nothing to do with Germany.

There have already been 53 petitions to invoke the law and none has been acted on, according to this week’s Die Zeit, so there’s pretty much zero chance of Rumsfeld going to prison in Germany. This is unfortunate, since German prisons offer prisoners a wide range of therapeutic programs to achieve the legally-prescribed goal of "re-socializing" offenders. I think Rummy could benefit from some of these. Here’s a little play I wrote on the subject, which will be coming to a dinner theatre near you soon.

Re-socializing Rummy

Donald Rumsfeld is sitting at a desk in an interview room in the the Justizvollzugsanstalt Tegel Berlin. He looks angry and impatient. A middle-aged man enters the room dressed in a black turtleneck sweater, holding a file folder and a clipboard.

Rumsfeld: Good grief, young fella, where’s all your hair?

Interviewer: My hair? I have no hair.

Rumsfeld: But you couldn’t be a minute over 35! Listen, young man, just because it’s getting a little thin up top doesn’t mean you’ve gotta go whole hog and shave your head. You want to go through life looking like Telly Savalas?

Interviewer: I do not know who that is. Anyway, Mr. Rumsfeld, I am here to interview you, not to discuss hairstyles.

Rumsfeld (pointing at watch): Alright, but keep it short. I have a meeting with my team of lawyers in half an hour.

Interviewer: Let me introduce myself. My name is Detlef Klingenschäler, and I am a social pedagogue.

Rumsfeld: Deflett what? Social what?

Klingenschäler: Detlef. Detlef Klin-gen-schä-ler. I am a social pedagogue. We are persons who study psychiatric and social adjustment issues relating to persons from backgrounds of social weakness. I have been given the assignment of conducting a study of your social adjustment and social background, in accordance with Section 2 of the German Law on the Execution of Sentences, so that you will be re-socialized and be able to lead a life free of criminal acts in future.

Rumsfeld: So, if I understood that properly, you’re here to turn me into a socialist.

Klingenschäler: Nein, nein, of course not, Mr. Rumsfeld, your political —

Rumsfeld: I heard what I heard, Dr. von Turtleneck. All I can say is that you’ve got a tough row to hoe there, comrade (chuckles). Anyway, you’re about 17 years too late –perhaps you didn’t get the memo about the Wall falling. But I guess your type probably thought Communism was just fine and dandy anyway.

Klingenschäler: My name is Klingenschäler, Mr. Rumsfeld. The issue of the Berlin Wall is obviously a very complex issue which I do not here want to discuss with you.

Rumsfeld: See, that’s just the problem. Look here: (moves hands to left of table) Communism bad. (moves hands to right) Freedom good.

What’s so complex about that? Good gravy, whatever happened to Germans like good old Helmut Kohl? There was a man who knew which side Germany’s bread was buttered on, if you’ll pardon the expression. We got along like gangbusters. Heck, I even ate some of that horrible pig-stomach dish he kept forcing on us.

Klingenschäler: Oh, you mean Saumagen.

Rumsfeld: Yeah, that was it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a real pig stomach, sitting there on the plate, jiggling like Aunt Nancy’s Jello Bundt cake. I thought I was going to up-chuck. But I ate it, we signed the deal, and those missiles kept Germany safe, and the Commies on the defensive. I guess you people have completely forgotten about that.

Klingenschäler: Please, Mr. Rumsfeld, let us discuss your therapy. According to the file, you have been found guilty of violations of the Geneva Conventions and war crimes by the Berlin District Court. You apparently did not cooperate with the police investigation in any way.

Rumsfeld: No, I most certainly did not. And let’s back up a few sentences there. You’re throwing a lot of reckless accusations around, relating to a situation which you do not have the metrics for.

Let’s get a few things straight. Did I authorize aggressive investigation techniques? The answer to that question would be yes. Did some of our boys perhaps get a bit too enthusiastic now and then? Well, perhaps. Stuff happens. Did things get a little hot in there for the terrorists and murderers? Why, by golly, I just bet they did! Perhaps we ruined some mass-murderer’s day. Boo hoo hoo. But the key question is this: Did we get information that prevented terrorist attacks against our troops and citizens? You bet your bottom dollar. And if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Klingenschäler: (writing) "do not want to be right." So I now can understand that you do not believe you have done things that are wrong and that hurt other people. This is important. I will be working with you to help you develop insights into your harmful actions and to help you understand why you should not be repeating those harmful actions.

Rumsfeld: Oh. My. Goodness. Are you for real? Am I on hidden camera?

Klingenschäler: Actually, you are. This is a prison, Mr. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: Don’t remind me, Defelt. Although I must say, the exercise room’s pretty nice here.

Klingenschäler: It is Detlef!

Norbert Elias on Transition to Parliamentary Rule

A little over a year ago, Wolfgang Ischinger, German Ambassador to the United States had this to say about the attempt to install a parliamentary system in Iraq: "As older [i.e. European] societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world…[D]on’t think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues–we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let’s solve the problem in the next four years!"

I thought of this as I read the following two paragraphs, from an essay the great German sociologist Norbert Elias wrote about terrorism in Germany in the 1970s. Elias, whose specialty was the study of how social norms develop and change, had the following to say about the Weimar Republic:

The transition from the still-halfway-absolutist regime of the Kaiser and King to the parliamentary regime of the Weimar Republic came very suddenly. For large parts of the public, it came totally unexpectedly, and was joined with extremely unpleasant associations — the loss of a war. Basically, many Germans had contempt for a form of government which was based on struggles, negotiations and compromises between parties. They hated the "talking-shop" of Parliament where — so it seemed — delegates did nothing more than debate and deal. Freedom or no freedom, people longed for the comparatively simpler form of government in which all important political decisions were made by the strong man at the top. People could leave it to the man at the top to worry about the welfare of Germany. It was enough to concentrate on your own private life. From the very beginnings of the Weimar era many men and women actually did yearn for the man at the top — whether prince or dictator — who made decisions and gave orders. They yearned for him like a drug. They were addicted to him, and the withdrawal came very rapidly.

The unique characteristics of the adjustment to a parliamentary regime are easy to miss when, as often happens, one looks through an ideological lens at the advantages this form of government organization has in comparison to dictatorships. Very few people are actually aware that the weaning societies away from an order of things in which a symbolic ruler-figure bears responsibility for his subjects to a situation which requires the individual to exercise a limited form of responsibilty is a process of very long duration, which requires as crisis-free circumstances as possible, which lasts for at least three generations. European history provides many examples of the difficulty of such a re-orientation. One of the few countries in which the structure of parliament and the structure of the individual personality are relatively adapted to one another is England. And in the history of England one can well perceive the long process during which the adjustment took place. It occurred, in fact, extremely slowly, since the time when the son of a puritan dictator was required to give the reins of power to a newly-installed king who himself had been required to cede considerable powers.

[Norbert Elias, Studien Ueber die Deutschen, pp. 380-381; my translation].