The No News Stories of 2011

The German Stereotype

There were lots of stories that left a lot unsaid. The Germany/EU debt imbroglio was one of them. The more Germany’s 80 million people were looked upon to bail out the 120 million of Mediterranean Europe—if not still more in France and Eastern Europe—the more in our politically-correct age we never quite were told how this could be possible.

German Octopuses?

Did Germans not sleep? Did they each have eight arms? Was Germany itself sitting on secret oil reserves? Did it have tons of stolen war gold horded in its vaults (as some Greeks alleged)? Had it harnessed a new type of energy? How strange to be told that Germany was the new heart of Europe but never to be to told how and why?

So how, in fact, did a humiliated Germany of 1919, a Germany after the ashes of 1945, and a Germany stung by a $2 trillion bite in absorbing a ruined East Germany in 1989, find itself—as Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterrand once feared in 1989—once more adjudicating the history of Europe? Were we terrified of stereotypes that were cruel to Germany (goose-stepping automatons were back again?) or that were cruel to southern Europeans (the Danes and Dutch were likewise solvent in comparison to the siesta-napping, and perennially shouting sunny Mediterraneans)?

Is there such a thing as national character or habit—both having nothing to do with race—in our postmodern age? In the 21st century, can we still say that Germans go to bed when Athenians go to dinner, or that they more likely consider tax cheating theft rather than ingenuity, or that they make things to work well rather than just make things to sell? Is it that when you go into a German bank you are served, and when you go into a Greek counterpart you witness an unending coffee break? Do tiny habits like your bus driver going down the aisle to collect trash versus throwing it out the window add up? When I see two Greek drivers scream and gesticulate at each other in Omonia Square over a tiny fender bender—as four lanes are shut down for their fifteen minutes of machismo -- and, in contrast, watch two German drivers on Neuhauser straße in Munich exchange information, shake hands, and help push their dented cars off the road, does all that 1000 times a day also make a difference?

Is there a reason, aside from weather, why one would rather relax for a week in the Aegean than in Berlin, or retire on the Costa del Sol rather than in Bremen? For all the angry op-eds about the unraveling of the EU, no one quite walked us through exactly what Germans do each day that makes them different from other Europeans—although most who have visited Athens and Munich, or walked through Rome and Copenhagen, or sat in a café in Madrid and Frankfurt might be able to offer journalists some help. Of course, throughout 2011, I did read clever essays advising readers about how not to walk into this trap of believing in archaic and stereotyped notions like national character when some esoteric and almost unfathomable “real” cause (Thucydides’s aitia) far better explained the differences.

Iran: If Only …

Iran was another incomplete story this year. As the year ended, the Iranians were once again, in North Korean style, sounding off about their great navy closing the strait of Hormuz, attacking “foreigners” and all the other 1% probability nutcakery that responsible powers must nevertheless prepare for.

Oh, the efforts we go through to explain Iranian hatred of America, as we search endlessly for the "moderates" and remain puzzled over how in the world anyone could not like Barack Obama. Ad nauseam, we hear of 1953, Mossadeq, and the Shah—never that we originally found ourselves involved in Persia not for oil (cf. the British), but in World War II to supply communist Russia against the Germans, and then afterwards to ensure the Russians did not do to Iran what they had done to most of Eastern Europe. From 2007-2009, we heard from Obama about reset and dialogue with Iran, and “face-to-face” negotiations. And we got all that and much more.