Saturday, August 22, 2009

“ Only in America : Gunman waits outside town hall meeting for Obama – and Police say it’s OK “

Over the past week there have been a few things on my mind. Today marks three weeks that I have been here in Germany. I feel like I am still the new guy in town, and the novelty American in some ways, but at the same time, I am beginning to get comfortable and settle in.

Being the only American, alone, amongst a group of Germans has happened many times here already, especially with several guests of my host family, and I am very open to hearing opinions they have to share about America, or their previous travels to America. Some are funny, trying to understand what is so appetizing about a root beer float [ a “medicine flavored” beverage… with ice cream?...], or even to the fact that the tap water in America has just a bit of a chlorinated taste depending on the region one traveled to. Some issues are a little more complex, and even difficult for me to share opinion and insight on, even as being an American my whole life.

Just recently, a friend of mine emailed me and checked in to say hello. He asked if I was up to date on the current evens and what I thought about the “craziness at the town hall meetings”. That was kind of a red flag to me that, while I was working hard every day to speak German and become close with my host family, I was neglecting to read a few articles from the news. I typed in some search words on Google, and since my server now is in German, the first searches are European or German news sources.

It is ironic that the issue dealt with gun control, since very recently, I was taken by surprise and cornered by the opinions of Germans on our gun control policies. It is something that, as a Michigander especially, I don’t really think about, because to me, gun control deals almost exclusively to hunting and those who do it for sport. I had to admit my lack of knowledge behind the second amendment in the bill of rights, and express that for me, I understand that Americans in the north generally keep guns for hunting, and many states in the US have protection laws that have many restrictions on when a citizen can actually receive the gun they purchase. In terms of culture – and I am generalizing here – in the south, where there is a mindset that bearing arms is a fundamental right for protection, stemming back to the original bill of rights to protect citizens from a potential hierarchy government [kind of ironic ], so I really couldn’t enlighten the Germans too much further. I could only express the great debate over the words in our bill of rights – “The right to bear arms” – and how that meaning has been argued upon throughout America for decades. Beyond that, as the representative American, I just had to take the hits personally about the inhumanness of these laws as if I were responsible for them. It isn’t a personal attack, but rather just the upfront nature of Germans discussing politics, since in the EU, having such liberal gun laws is unthinkable for them in today’s age.

I figured that particular conversation piece had come and gone, but then after my friend Zach had emailed me and I researched the current events in America, I think my softness and attempts to rationalize the ideas behind bearing arms in America – even ones opposing my general beliefs – came back to bite me. The first article I read was titled: “ Only in America : Gunman waits outside town hall meeting for Obama – and Police say it’s OK “. This particular article proposed many new issues to me, and had my thoughts spinning for the rest of the week.

In addition, and on a side note, on Friday during school, we had a seminar with InWent (our caretaking organization here in Europe) discussing not only the rest of the year for us, but also a seminar discussing cross-cultural issues between Germany and the US. It was extremely interesting, and many of the ideas that I noted from the seminar I will try to relate to my daily experiences here in Germany in the future.

One particular image and some connections from the current events and the seminar particularly stood out for me. For one, it was the general perception of America portrayed from the European article. Just as the headline claims “Only in America,” I can’t really disagree. Europeans, I have found, really enjoy headlining the crazy and fantastic stories from America, and to relate this to my conversation on gun control the other day – how do I explain, already forgetting even attempting to defend, the first photo of a man carrying a gun clearly on his belt loop only a few dozen meters from the building holding meetings with our President inside? Let alone, this man is from New Hampshire on the east coast where apparently [and a huge surprise to me] the current law is that a weapon can be carried around in New Hampshire as long as it is not concealed, so the police legally could not do anything to prevent him from standing there. Of course this story is only in America, where citizens would protest their discontent with the government through picketing, but at the same time utilize their inalienable rights and push them to their legal limits. There is no surprise that Europeans eat this up.

The article shared the fears over America’s current discontent with Obama (based off of poles - currently under the 50% mark for approval ratings) which Europeans struggle to understand, since Germany expresses an approval rating of over 90% for him (and I must note that they speak of him as if they personally voted for him themselves). With men like the one in New Hampshire, outlandishly expressing his given right and thus causing the police to take no action to hold him back, proves just how thin the chord is with protection of our controversial, liberal president, and the changing times in American politics and the economy. The other fearful thing is the meaning behind his poster. It alludes to the quote from Thomas Jefferson during the American Revolution "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." The article shared the huge symbolism Obama holds, and the catastrophic consequences if something were to happen to him, especially related to the inferences of spilling his blood in revolt in America. The main concern is pertained to the facts that Obama has become the president with the most death-threats in history of America, and how under these circumstances, laws like the one in New Hampshire can make tensions so great.

This part of the article is easier to draw out the controversy, and the reasons why Germans can be so confused with American laws and rights. However, the connection I had to the seminar I recently attended was the imagery of Hitler within the photos of this article, and its direct connection to the history of Germany.

Within the seminar we deeply discussed, which I would like to return to at a later date more fully, the deep shame and fear Germans collectively have with capitalism, unrestricted personal power, and the country's unfaltering connection to the scars of their past with Hitler and the Nazi regime. I am beginning to comprehend just how much impact this still has on Germany, and the daily struggles a German faces when representing themselves with their country. The ironic, and highly depressing thing that I came to find this week, is how a president from America that the Germans love so much is now being emblazoned by some radical Americans with symbolism of a fallen dictator that causes them so much distraught when representing their nation proudly.

Much of the controversy in America surrounding Obama deals with the new reforms in Health Care [another issue that Germans are confused as to why we have so much controversy over, and I must research to be able to explain better] and how Americans feel that Obama is pulling too much power to the central government. Some radical Americans, as seen in the Article, have taken this protest to new levels by putting thin mustaches, ala Hitler, on Obama, as well as photoshopping the president to be shaking hands with the dictator himself. I feel that it is one thing to express fear as an American, especially for the conservative population, that the new presidential team is moving too far left, and too close to the ever feared socialism that Americans seem so unwary with. However, I feel, especially as a representative American living in Germany currently, that the Americans standing with propaganda comparing Obama to Hitler are simply naive and truly need a history lesson.

How does one, as an American in Germany, even begin to explain why Americans are comparing Obama to Hitler, especially over reforms that are not deemed as “evil” but especially modern and proactive to the German mindset? Universal healthcare and a more liberal agenda are very accepted by the Germans and do not remind them of their dictatorship past. Germans, as a people, I have noticed, collectively like order – Ordnung – and it makes sense since only order can prevent potential consequences and chaos that the country has experienced in the past. So how can Americans use this imagery and compare these politicians as the same?

This post may be long, but I think it only begins to display how a small conversation on gun control and the bill of rights in the US can open up and fester into a very complex issue across cultures. As of yet, I have not had to discuss these matters with a German person, in regards to the images of Obama as Hitler, but their growing presence should only make me more prepared for loaded questions as I continue my experience here, not only learning about Germany, but creating a better, more understanding image of America and the American people.

[ all photos come from ]


  1. i might have an answer. or at least a personal opinion.

    first off, i think "ordung" could be could possibly be construed as what started the hitler regime. the way i see it, it symbolizes "groupthink" - much like the military (and i don't mean to offend/discredit). when i think of order or "ordung" i think of something very systematized; like being a part of an assembly line. every part/person has a function, but there is no thought involved. everything is very orderly and organized, but lacking in individuality. this kind of mindset (or brainwashing) is what i think can make a people turn to fascism or any regime for that matter.

    (hold on i'll get to the point)

    one of the possible reasons the second amendment was included could have had to do with the federalist v. anti-federalist debate present at that time. the bill of rights was created as a way of insuring the people against the power of the strong central government. essentially the bill of rights was created to protect the public from a fiasco like hitler and fascism.

    and (i've finally come to the real point!!) gun ownership is a tangible symbol of the individualism/voice that americans have when confronted by the government. it's symbolic of telling the government what they can and cannot do - proclaiming individual right in the face of a strong government.

    so i guess what i'm really trying to say (not really that enlightning at all...) is that gun ownership is a visual symbol of individual liberty - it's like the line you draw between the government and your private life.

    (taking a bit of a tangent here…) conservatives think that obama is far too liberal and take this as a sign to mean that he wants to implement gun control. they see this as too far a breach on individual rights and too much a step in the direction of an “all-controlling government.” so perhaps (and notice the “perhaps”!) it is this “all-controlling government” that conservatives fear that causes them to make connections between hitler and obama.

    even with the potential dangers gun possession poses, it's too deeply ingrained into our history, ancestry, etc. and the fact that the south is so much more concerned with this supports my point (i think). most immigrants in america, coming from europe, stay in the north. those in the south probably had ancestry in the area stretching to the civil war.

    in kurilik's class i did a debate on gun control. our team was against it. not to brag, but we clearly made a much better argument than the other team - like no competition whatsoever. yet when the class voted, only four people wanted to ban guns. testament to the fact that america will never be able to implement complete and total gun control.

    p.s. root beer floats really do taste like cough syrup.

    p.p.s. sorry i wrote you a novella-type comment.

  2. took me 24 hours to mull my answer over...I had a retreat at St. Anstasia over the weekend and I brought up this paticular topic from your blog in order to gather a wider view of opinions. Please forgive me because I think my answer will be as long or longer than G's. ;)

    Remember how hard it was for the American group to decide what dish to make for International night? This is no different...everybody has an opinion and holds that opinion as a sacred right. You could not decide easily on one representative dish for America because America is a Melting Pot...we do not have one common ancestory. Most of the immigrants and especially the pilgrims left an oppressive government to begin a new life in a new world. That is a deep-seeded belief in all Americans, that we began this new world so we would not have our individual rights oppressed/denied/persecuted. When any sort of law/elected official flirts with an idea to centralize our liberities, that is what makes Americans rise up and protest.

    While I do not agree with having firearms near the President, it is a right under the second amendment. (I believe all states and the federal government should pass a law that prohibits any firearms near large public venues such as the town hall). Not sure if you know this, Michigan also has an open carry law, so anybody over the age of 18 that owns a licensed weapon can carry a firearm in plain sight.

    Remember the context of the second amendment was written for the state militia to be able to arm itself in addition to allow the private citizen to protect their family and property. Again, at the time of the second amendment this was more of a necessity....because how do you prove in a 'new world' that you actually own 40, 50, or 1000 acres???? Our history is riddled with robber barons, stealing the property of the common folk, not unlike the Bernie Madoff's of today who stole money from Corporation's and the common folk's 401k's!!!

    Also some folks from the retreat made the comment, 'That if Germany had a 'right to bear arms', then maybe Hitler would not been able to do what he did'...(mind you this comment came from the folks that own weapons and one is actually a gunsmith for a living). This again proves the wide ranging opinions on gun control. I agree with G, even with all of the sound gun control arguements, Ameria will never be able to implement complete and total gun control.

    Plain and simple American's do not like a big Central Government to tell us what to do locally. We fought an entire war over this point...state's rights versus Federal know the Civil War...all because half of the nation wanted to own slaves and the other half did not..( I did over simplify the Civil War a bit, but I don't want entire book for my comment). That is why you see references to overthrowing the government at these townhalls when the topic of health care reform is discussed.

    The health care reform bill is vague at best and written as it is, it could be difficult to execute. The biggest problem is people are not taking time to read the actual bill, they are believing the propaganda. There are no 'death panels' in the bill. The end of life care referenced in the bill is suppose to aid the dying with hospice, settling one's estate and things like that...

    Not sure if any of my comments helped or even made sense? :) But you have to remember that United States government has never been taken over by a dicatator and all of our transition of power has been handled without bloodshed assainations not withstanding :( We are not perfect by any means. I am fairly certain that any Native American would liken the Federal Government to a dictatorship and we surely let slavery and segragation/discrimination contiue too long...point in fact segragation/discrimination continue today...we are not perfect, we will continue to make mistakes, but hopefully we will work through these new/continuing issues peacefully.

    Maria K.