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May 9,  2003


Take It from a Native (Part 2)

By Richard Lombardi (richard.lombardi@web.de)

It has been a little more than 20 years, and I did not get back by way of the Pacific. But since I am here in Germany and you are in my home city, I would like to share a few thoughts from this side of the pond. You may want to listen; after all, I am a product of you, only I am a little farther away than 12th and Clement.

First, I am not sure what you think about Germany or even France at this moment. I have not been reading your daily news lately. So maybe you have no opinions. However, they have some opinions about us. I have experienced non-democracies like Egypt and Eastern Europe and have lived under three democracies and have learned that, as long as a government and people remain democratic, a country will suffer its own stupidity and climb out of it in its own way. It is just a matter of time and economics; that applies to America as well.

Let me sum up the German situation for you. East Germany was an occupied country till 1989. Since then, they have been spreading their wings a little. They are not as experienced with democracy as America, though through their arrogance (like all peoples in the world, including us Americans) they think they know what is best for everyone. They have not been behaving very intelligently lately, and often quite ugly. anti-Americanism was the way their politicians got voted in because they had nothing else to offer. Big mistake, but they do not and cannot see it.

I have had discussions lately that in the end just make me wonder if a whole population has lost its ability to think. Ask them what alternative is there for getting WMD out of Saddam Hussein’s hands. Their only response is, “not war.” So you ask, then what? “Not war.” OK, no offer, then shut up. No, they are right, we must submit to the UN, etc. They feel because now they are no longer the Germans of the past, they know what is best for everyone. So they have a right to tell America through the UN how we are supposed to behave. They have demeaned themselves so deeply that their Nobel Laureate in Literature, Günter Grass, makes comments on TV saying that President Bush and Osama bin Laden and Hitler all speak the same speak.

If that is what the German Nobel Laureate has to offer for the world’s solutions, then really there is no reason to even consult them. Their prime minister, Gerhardt Schroeder, has been saying things lately that I would usually attribute to a madman or someone who lacks a little something upstairs. One day he told his people they need to discuss the defense budget because when he says no to the U.S., he must have something to back him up. Does this mean that to prevent America from going to war, he is going to start a war with America? Isn’t this like, “the only thing I hate is hatred”?

The other day Germany’s defense minister, Peter Struck, warned America, that if we do not let the UN handle the post-war Iraq situation, he will not give us 1,500 soldiers for Iraq. Delusions of grandeur? We put more than 300,000 soldiers in the Gulf and he thinks he offers some irreplaceable, invaluable resource to solve the world’s problem and we need to negotiate with him.

As you can imagine, it is not much fun lately to be an American on this side of the pond. I do not worry; after all Germany is a democracy. They will suffer in the long run. They are even suffering now, though they are just beginning to see it. You must also understand, they inherited 18 million unemployed some years ago; their social system is falling apart from their laziness, abuse of the system, and protection of incompetence. Their social security system is destined to failure by promising too much. They have no vision for themselves, let alone the world. Let them be. This seems to be Colin Powell’s policy, and I support it and understand it. The Germans are impotent in world politics, which is why they assign their destiny to the UN and expect everyone else to as well. They have also miseducated themselves and think the UN is the ultimate judge and prosecutor, that only it can somehow authorize a war.

I do not think wars can be authorized or legitimized. If people want to fight, that is what they will do; they do not ask permission. Some control and a forum is what the UN is for, and it has helped even though it is at a low point at the moment. No one would or should suggest destroying it. It is we after all; it merely needs somebody to give it a shock, which is what President Bush did. Of course, Germans are not willing to discuss why one-quarter of a million people were murdered in ex-Yugoslavia, only 600 miles from Munich, where I live. They, NATO, and the UN watched this for three years while they talked their grand talk. After President Clinton bombed without UN permission, NATO was finally able to react. Most people agree what President Clinton did was probably against the UN Charter, but because of its success, no one dares bring up the issue. It is too humbling for Europeans to say, “You were right in the end.”

If you think Germany offers any political or military voice in the world, consider this. After the war started, after Germany worked behind NATO’s and President Bush’s desire to make Turkey a launching pad for U.S. troops, the German government was still in hot debate about who has the proper authority to order AWACs planes under NATO command and whether their constitution can override NATO policy, etc. Really, boys! The house was on fire and their parliament was still debating whether to call the fire department or perhaps this was not a fire after all, but only a minor conflagration or minor irritant. They are quite lucky that NATO still exists, because if Russia were ruled by a Stalin, Germany would exist only in history books.

In fact, much of Europe is in a similar position. However, the others, besides France, realized that if a Franco-German alliance were to set Europe’s foreign policy, they would be left voiceless in the world. Just look how the French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, treated the newcomers to the European Community: “They should know to shut up if no one asked them their opinion.” That sounds democratic, huh?

I think Colin Powell is doing quite well with Europe now. By NATO’s measured response in April, I think the message got through. Powell came to negotiate with NATO, and America’s position in the UN does not and should not interest NATO. If NATO thinks it is the arm of the UN, then America would probably withdraw its membership. Time to readjust! Old thinking in Europe is not working and reality will bite hard. Something like that must have been said, because there was literally quivering in NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson’s voice when he said they were in listening mode. They know what is at stake. Franco-German dominance, no NATO, read no friends.

It is quite interesting to watch failing governments fail. I hope I have communicated a little bit of the picture from this side of the pond. Bush and Powell are doing well for us here, though it may appear otherwise. The Germans and French will adjust to the new situation; no one, including Europeans, trust them anymore. There is much democracy here, though. Their lack of vision has brought them to this point, but their democracies will adjust in time. We will be friends again one day. Nevertheless, I can’t see Schroeder even being shown where the bathroom is if he had the courage to set a foot in America. Don’t worry. He doesn’t have the courage and he only goes where he gets votes.

Why did people do those things in those other neighborhoods? Lack of democracy, lack of free speech, control by terror. No free elections, no free press, no free markets. If people are free, they will learn themselves. Democracy, if exercised, is a self-correcting mechanism, like the science of physics. Others will find out when you lie or cheat or plan something stupid. The Germans are free to behave as if intelligence need not be addressed, they are free to believe they have a right to tell America how we are supposed to behave, and we are free to ignore them. We all must adjust; but we must adjust without violence and insults. Much of the world has not learned this yet and laughs at us for holding this as one of our ideals.

The world has a few criticisms about us that it would not hurt to listen to. Watch the old westerns, where you will see problems being created and solved with a gun. We still have a problem with violence. That is what Europe thinks of us. We Americans should look at ourselves once in a while, too. Napoleon is trying to enforce a new empire in Europe and we are impressed with Doc Holliday and the OK Corral. Get real! On the other hand, watch their “Heimat” films, where all the problems of the world are solved by Heidi’s grandfather in the Alps.

What do I see now coming from my old neighborhood? I see if the peace movement in America really believes in the Carlyle conspiracy, then it should take it to court and not interrupt other people’s lives. In my days, it was the Council of Foreign Relations who controlled our minds and destinies. Or was it the Trilateral Commission? Or just David Rockefeller, or the Warburgs, or who knows what? I keep forgetting who is controlling us and it keeps changing anyway. God forbid, it turns out just to be us. Anyway, I think you can compare the IRS returns of the accused government officials with what such theories are claiming. Go ahead, I dare you. Look, I know your argument already. It would be thrown out of court because the courts are controlled. Go on; take that logic further and you get everyone is directly controlled by your conspiracy. Even your belief in such things. My god, evil lurks everywhere in this jungle. However, please do not interrupt business or other people’s lives. Violence begets violence. If there are those who do not believe you and your peace message, then it is your job to convince them. If you threaten those who do not believe you, they will not listen. This is fundamental, I think. Be thankful that they do not use real bullets.

I am happy that you are free to express your opinions without your families being hauled off and murdered. I do not care if you go to a church, synagogue, or mosque. I do not care if your skin reflects or absorbs heat. I do not care what you consider is pleasurable in private. But I do care that there are so many kinds of you in San Francisco. I am happy that San Francisco is still a very diverse community. It was when I was small kid. That was its strength then, that is what welcomed me into the world, and that is what I never forgot. It is one of America’s strengths in the 21st century: many kinds of people, many ideas, many trials and errors. Take it from a native who has put a few miles and years behind him and has seen homogenous, “only us” societies.

I am happy to have grown up on 12th and Clement and to have known all those people from all over the world, who loved me when I was not even old enough to cross the street. I am happy and proud for you San Franciscans as well, that in all the years and miles behind me, everyone I have met who has visited you, loves you. Please do not disappoint the world and me. Show the world what I was shown as a child -- love, tolerance, and discussion, not violence, screaming, and guns. Believe me, you are special city, and not just in my memory. The world thinks so, too. For those old enough to remember, I quote a song from my time:

dedicated to the city
and people of San Francisco
who may not know it
but they are beautiful
and so is their city.


San Francisco, I miss you; I love you.

[Part 1 of this essay appeared in the Call on April 28.]