Friday, October 8, 2010

The Conquest of Space and Time

Professor Peter Günther's talk describing how the Puritan heritage developed into a political religion made me think about two points: Possible future developments in America's drive to new frontiers and as Herman Melville saw it: the political Messiah having come in the American people.

Reaching New Frontiers
Once the settlers had arrived at the West coast of the American continent and had in a first phase pitched up their tents on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean had they not reached their final goal? No, to me President Kennedy's call to make it to the moon within a decade was a manifestation and continuation of the pioneers' spirit of conquering space and time. And even today there are frontiers to be reached, e.g., in science where the US has the highest rate of Nobel Prize winners.

What about old and new social challenges and how to meet them? The Puritan attitude, i.e.,those who in this life count themselves already among the chosen people, clashes with charity for the unsuccessful and miserable neighbor. Is this the reason that for some Americans socialism is the devil in person? In 1848 Theodor Mögling a leading figure during the German revolution in Baden-Württemberg gave the following definition, “Socialism wants the unification of forces on a voluntary basis to reach goals that cannot be reached by an individual alone. The freedom and self-determination of an individual however must only be limited to a degree necessary for reaching the goal.” What could be wrong with that?

Spreading Freedom and Democracy
Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George:
You too have the right of self-determination.
Would you like your pockets being emptied before
 or after your death?
Contemporary cartoon by Th. Heine
We Europeans and particularly we Germans will never forget America's intervention during two world wars where in a second attempt the US succeeded at "imposing" democracy in Central Europe. The first attempt had to fail because President Wilson somewhat naively left the execution of his 14 Points to the Europeans. As Stephen Clarke writes in his book 1000 Years of Annoying the French, “Britain's Prime Minister, Lloyd George, thought the Allies should be less lenient on the Germans. He wanted to punish them while keeping their country healthy enough to act as a barrier against the new Communist state of Russia in the east. The French, though, were obsessed with bringing Germany to its knees. Remembering the Franco-Prussian War, France's Prime Minister, the 77-year-old Georges Clemenceau, was determined that the Germans should never be strong enough to invade France again - which makes it hard to understand why he insisted on a peace treaty so harsh that they would come back looking for vengeance only twenty years later.”

After the first aborted attempt followed the second that was successful. In 1945 Europe was in such a shambles that only massive American help (the Marshall Plan) prevented the Western half of the continent from drifting under communist rule too. The American seed mostly fell on fertile ground. Germany now is a stable democracy even to the point of being admired by some less fortunate countries.

The next international hot spot where the US successfully missionized was South Korea. The following, Operation Vietnam, however failed leaving deep scars in how America sees itself. I will skip the Iraqi War so next comes Operation Enduring Freedom focusing on Afghanistan. Here a Western Alliance is fighting the Taliban both militarily and politically together with the US with the latter providing the lion's share as usual. Defending the US and Germany against the Taliban at the Hindu Kush? With respect to our troops more than two thirds of the German people deny that statement and would prefer to pull our personnel out by tomorrow. My personal conclusion is: at the bitter end the Alliance will not have established a democratic regime in Afghanistan but will count thousands of lives lost and billions of U$ and euros burned.

Is there another way to meet the aggressiveness of the militant fraction of Islam? The question is not answered. The latest remark of our federal president, “Germany has a Christian-Jewish (yes!!) past but in the meantime Islam belongs to Germany too,” neither helped nor calmed down the debate.

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