The Breakfast Table

What’s Worse Than a German Skinhead?

Dear Anne:

Actually, one of the most refreshing aspects of the “new” Germany for me is the taming of the German left. I spent six months as a student in Mainz during the debate about the deployment of U.S. Pershing missiles in 1981, enduring constant harangues about U.S. imperialism and dodging the latest “Demo gegen Startbahn West” (the almost daily protests against the expansion of runways in Frankfurt to accommodate U.S. forces). It gladdens my heart to see an ex-peacenik like Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer preside over the dispatch of German planes to Kosovo.

So here’s to a Germany that remains bourgeois and unimperial. Who would have thought, though, that the shards of Hitler’s legacy would cut so deeply in the United States? Plowing through the reporting on the Colorado school shooting, I was struck by a quote from one of the student bystanders in the Washington Post: “Everybody knew it was Hitler’s birthday.” I didn’t. (Did you?) As distorted as their understanding of history and ideology must be, our disaffected youth seem to be infected with a much more vicious and virulent strain of Hitler’s thinking than even German skinheads. Why do these episodes always seem to happen somewhere in the heartland, and not in those urban dens of iniquity that U.S. conservatives love to denounce? It’s enough to make you start taking David Lynch movies seriously.

No, I haven’t planned to be out of town for the NATO summit. But at least I’m out of the government. I remember these kinds of meetings as one of the hotter circles of bureaucratic hell. My Foreign Service career almost came to a premature halt when I neglected to check on the car that was to bring Warren Christopher’s Japanese-language interpreter to the airport for his arrival at a G-7 meeting in Tokyo. She didn’t make it there until his plane was pulling up to the tarmac–one of the profoundest moments of relief I experienced while working at what some State Department wags call the Forward Deployed Travel Agency. (Hey, not everyone can be like Dick Holbrooke.) When the motorcade madness starts this Friday, you’ll find me tuned to NATO-TV, waiting for someone to make history, or struggling to stay awake.