The Stasi Way of Life
by Steven Geyer
[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT 30/2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de/2002/30/Politik/print_wodka_whiskey_0722.html.]
"A spy in every household", the Bush administration urges providing new evidence that the West is becoming ever "more similar to the East".
Everything totters. The Russians become God-fearing and Americans orthodox. Where will this end? East and West will meet in the middle, a new middle so to speak. Every second package tourist complains that Eastern Europe is becoming increasingly western. The US is becoming increasingly eastern.
When I led several American friends through the "1989 exhibition" in the Leipzig contemporary history forum, they were very impressed above all by the Stasi-equipment and tricks. Now they don't have to be envious any more. Firstly, the "Spy Museum" in Washington opened its doors. Now they can marvel at East German espionage tools. (Why is there so much East German and so little CIA?) Secondly, the Bush administration is anxious that the US finally have its own Stasi.
The US Department of Justice has planned building Stasi-structures in America since August. Ashcroft's troop of mailmen, plumbers, bus drivers and train conductors earn a dollar patriotically in the "Terrorism Information and Prevention System" (TIPS) by keeping their eyes open and "reporting anything suspicious". Signing up one of 24 Americans as "IM" in large cities is the long-term objective according to investigative journalist Ritt Goldstein. The SED (East German secret police) wasn't so ambitious. "The TIPS program will have a higher percentage of civil informants than the former East German secret police Stasi", Goldstein writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Understandably extensive East German equipment and few CIA instruments are displayed in the Washington Spy Museum. America resembles the late DDR; museums are propaganda. There are hundreds of other signs. For example in music, children sing worker struggle songs. The American version provides country music stars like Toby Keith who sings ideologically charged about September 11: "We will kick you in the ass, that's the American Way."
The first similarities between the US and the DDR struck me when I saw a completely flag-covered US city on "Labor day", the day of labor. This fatally recalled the hammers and sickles on the East German May 1. The technical superiority of America is similar, nothing but a legend that the rest of the world has to buy. Gas stoves, top loader washing machines with "hot", "warm" and "cold" settings as well as toilet designs from the early fifties are actually far below the DDR standard...
President Bush displays more and more Honecker fads, the popular black-white rhetoric, class enemy-brotherly country, good-evil, axis of evil, capitalist counter-revolution or this penetrating reference to "the American people" in Bush's speeches. "The American people know that we react fast." "The American people understand that the battle against terror will last a long time." "The American people want the government to act quickly." He often uses "I" and "the American people" synonymously. Dabbejuh pretends to be the people's true voice who does "everything for the well-being of the people" as it was said so beautifully in the East.
America appears as an eastern zone in celebrating its brilliance and superiority without noticing that its downfall has long been underway. We remember the 40th birthday of the DDR. The readers' letters in DIE ZEIT and the political scientist Immanuel Wallerstein already see the end. "The Pax Americana is over" and "the eagle has crash landed or fallen flat on its face". Wallenstein, the best-known American voice of the academic left, wrote about the downfall of the US years ago. Now September 11 and the thoughtless saber-rattling against Iraq serve as arguments.
Is this spine-chilling? No, be not anxious. I left out one detail that makes a great difference. the states don't mutate into the eastern zone. Americans have video-recorders, fast cars and western money. That is the essential difference. They are satisfied. That's the American Way.