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"We are the Greatest Backwoods of the World": Interview with Norman Birnbaum

"I am astonished or shocked at this total submissiveness toward my country. Intelligent people fade out the shady sides of our country, the broad trails of blood of our military interventions abroad and the cynical contempt of the government for its own citizens.. The empire allows no deviationism.. The red-white-and-blue flag should flutter in every brain and nothing else." Translated from the German
"We are the Greatest Backwoods of the World"

Interview with Political Scientist Norman Birnbaum

[This excerpted July 2003 Stern interview is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.politikforum.de/forum/showthread.php?threadid=34036. Norman Birnbaum is a US professor of political science. His country is put through the grinder under Bush and Germany and Europe are much too submissive.]

Stern: America is the model for many. Recently the journalist Alexander Schuller urged in FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, Sunday edition): "The US must become the hegemon of humanity. This is our chance. We don't have another."

Birnbaum: I am astonished or shocked at this total submissiveness toward my country. Intelligent people fade out the shady sides of our country, the broad trails of blood of our military interventions abroad and the cynical contempt of the government for its own citizens. Over 40 million Americans are without health insurance.

Nevertheless our country transfigures itself. Astonishingly people like Josef Joffe (editor of DIE ZEIT, respected Hamburg weekly newspaper) warble this spineless praise of America. This servility reminds me of the political elite of the DDR (East Germany) that was always willingly subject to the Soviet hegemon.

I recently heard Angela Merkel (CDU leader, CDU is the center-right party of Helmut Kohl) at my university. In her address, she emphasized untiringly the importance of the transatlantic alliance. At the end, an American student said he was bewildered: "What you say is very beautiful. But I have the impression that when you speak of cooperation this means Germany bravely says Yes to all White House commands." She said nothing about that servility. Instead she made a getaway. Germans could slowly grow up or become come-of-age.

Stern: One must be thankful to America, it is said. Your country ultimately brought democracy to Germany after the war.

Birnbaum: That is nonsense. Germany has had a living democratic tradition since 1848. Germany was a democracy before 1933.

That this phrase could become deeply anchored in consciousness here is an expression of political-historical obliteration.

Thinking is a torment. Studying sources is arduous. Repeating rituals is simpler. Americans were gentle and ready to help after the war because they wanted a great deal from Germans.

Stern: You speak in riddles.

Birnbaum: West Germany was a showcase of Americans to the East. Moreover the soldiers or many soldiers wanted a skilful pro-western army. Look up the 1946 Stuttgart address of Secretary of State Byrnes!

Stern: The American people, he said, want to "help the German people find their way back to an honorable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world".

Birnbaum: Yes, that text made possible rearmament after the war. A cool power-politics calculation was behind the nice-sounding words.

Once again, there is no reason for an exuberant gratitude of Germans toward America. This is nonsense even if it is like a national consensus. G.W. Bush now punishes France on account of the Iraq war. However the French could say, Wait a moment, you Americans have to be eternally thankful. Without us, you wouldn't even exist! French troops saved Washington in the War of Independence against the English!

Stern: Instead "freedom fries" are increasingly replacing "French fries" in America.

Birnbaum: This shows in a nutshell both the trifling intellectuality and the danger of my state. My state is somewhat totalitarian.

The empire allows no deviationism either inside or outside. Either you are for us or you are against us. The red-white-and-blue flag should flutter in every brain and nothing else. And it should flutter worldwide and everywhere.

Stern: You exaggerate.

Birnbaum: No, not at all. The people around and behind Bush - and this is still underplayed worldwide - are really dangerous. They don't give a damn what other think. What others think is irrelevant or peanuts to them.

Therefore Wolfowitz can say unmoved and indifferently: Sorry folks, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were only a practical pretext to wage war. That is the chutzpa of Imperators.

Stern: Wolfowitz, the assistant secretary of defense, already used the term "total war".

Birnbaum: For him this is rational though it may sound mad or crazy to others. He began his academic career as a war theoretician. He studied scrupulously the German philosopher Carl Schmitt, an ideological precursor of fascism. He seeks American world hegemony. Wolfowitz thinks perspectivistically. For him the Iraq war is a little first step. This war doesn't only involve the Middle East. A lesson is issued to the Chinese: "We won't sit back and take it!" or "We won't stand for that!"

Stern: The Chinese? Mr. Birnbaum, that is paranoia!

Birnbaum: No, America has been interested in China since the 19th century. On one hand, China is a great market. On the other hand, this country is an objective danger for America in the future, in 20 or 30 years in Wolfowitz' mind. He knows America can't simply march into China. China is too vast. Thus he prepares himself for a new cold war. All the people around Bush have this imperial vision of the US. That the economic interests of many members of the government are also fueled by fundamentalist-Christian views heightens the peril. All this creates a degree of self-righteousness, complacency, smugness, arrogance and dangerous aggressiveness.

These ideologues have a very exact picture of how America should be. They see America as their church.

Stern: American young persons "cannot read any more", Norman Mailer laments.

Birnbaum: Yes, that is true. Most people get their information from the television. The great multitude is brainwashed. We are a people without knowledge. Look at the list of Nobel Prize winners. Most are foreigners who did their work in America...

Stern: But in Germany politicians and economists rave about the American job wonder and rejoice in the flexibility of American employees.

Birnbaum: Come on now. I don't know if these experts know a great deal about our country... The American model is anything but successful. Since Bush became president, we have two million more unemployed.

The jobs created in the last years are not productive jobs. A new caste of servants without rights arose. The people must struggle and slog away more than in the past. They lead breathless lives. The fear of falling is in the back of their minds.

There is a joke about ex-president Clinton who in a speech praised himself for creating three million jobs. A Puerto Rican waiter says: "Mr. President, congratulations. I have three of them."


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