I reply to your letter in bold print after each paragraph. VDH
Dear Mr. Hanson,
After reading your article “Reflection Day” I can only come to two conclusions about you and neither of them are very flattering. I feel you are either sadly brainwashed in the red, white and blue freedom and wealth myth or you are one of the classic brainwashers who perpetuate that myth.
VDH: It’s a reflection on your powers of perception that you cannot even determine whether one is an active perpetrator or a passive victim.
I say that from the perspective of being an ex-patriot. Born and raised in the U.S., I now live in Germany and must say that freedom and wealth for the average person here are much stronger than anything I have ever experienced in the U.S. and I have lived in the North, South, East and West there.
VDH: I have been to Germany a number of times, and admire the country, but putting aside the matter that the U.S. for over sixty years has protected Germany and provided for its defense, we apparently saw a different country, at least in terms of cars, consumer goods, size of houses, the price of food and gas, and other barometers of the standard of living.
A word of warning, I don’t think you wish to make this comparison apply to the 20th century, not with 1914-18 and 1939-45. I’ll pass on the Berlin airlift and six decades of NATO. I grew up with stories of cousins, and uncles who went over to Europe to save millions from Germans, including my grandfather who was gassed in 1918 in the Argonne. I don’t recall any German coming over here to protect Canadian democracy from American Nazism. I’ll take a Pershing, Ike, or Petraeus any day over Hindenburg, Sepp Dietrich, or Jaschka Fischer.
Take freedom, you are either free from something or free to do something. Consider healthcare, most probably you saw the film Sicko. Well, here we are free to live our lives without the fear and worry of how to pay our health bills no matter how high they might be. In the U.S. you have the illusion of heathcare, once you really get sick you’ll see how the insurance companies will toss you under the bus. And then think about all those automobile workers from the big three who got pink slips in the last 2 years and were forced to move on to lower paying jobs and had to lose their insurance. How many of them now have preexisting conditions and will consequently never get insurance again? No matter, right? The myth must be perpetuated at all costs.
VDH: Case closed: anyone who evokes Sicko is, well, sort of sick. U.S. companies pay more for their employees healthcare than anywhere else in the world. I have been hospitalized abroad both in Europe and in the Middle East. I can assure you that any sane person would prefer U.S. healthcare. Getting something inferior “for free” through high taxation is no bargain.
As for employment here, how could the slave master U.S. system ever hope to compare with what our employees take for granted here. First, they mostly get better paid, then, they have much more job security, and, of course, all of them get the luxury of 6 weeks paid vacation annually. Believe me, being “free” to pay your rent or mortgage, and also being financially free to just fly away somewhere for a vacation is a reality here and mostly a pipe dream in the U.S.
Granted, working for Burger King is a poor example of a gratifying job, but let’s compare working for this company in both countries. In the U.S. a beginning Burger King employee earns minimum wage and gets 2 weeks vacation per year with no healthcare benefits. The same Burger King employee here earns 6 Euros per hour (a terribly low pay but still at least $2.00 more per hour than in the U.S.). He also is guaranteed full health insurance with half paid by his employer.
Finally, he gets almost 6 weeks paid vacation by law. How can you compare? Which employee is better off? Which employee is freer?
VDH: Most here who work at Burger King are in entry level jobs, and when they buy a Burger King Burger it is far cheaper, as are almost all their consumer goods. Try comparing prices at Walmart here and a German Store or filling up your car. If you look at German labor laws, taxation, and government entitlements, I think you will understand why real economic growth and employment rates have been stronger in the U.S. the last two decades.
The only thing I can actually point to in the U.S. where there is more “freedom” is in your insane gun laws. Just drop your money down, load the bullets and voila you’re a MAN who supposedly can protect his family. Except all those sickos out there are also armed, so when your kids or wife are out about town they are basically at the mercy of all those gun-toting sickos. Here, I live without the fear of gunners. Yet in the U.S. that is part of your urban experience and now based on the mass murders that seem to be always taking place in the rural areas there, I guess there’s no place left to move to except Canada to be certain to avoid being a gun violence victim.
VDH: Perhaps had you had constitutional rights to own private guns, you might not have ended up with either Hitlet and Co., or Stalin in the East. It’s ironic to suggest that a country that gave the world Marx, Prussian militarism, Hitlerian Nazism, and European socialism would compare favorably on matters of freedom with the world’s current oldest democracy.
A few comments to your article directly:
1) immigration in Germany is easily as strong as in the U.S. Immigration in Britain and France is also very high.
VDH: The U.S. takes in more immigrants, legal and illegal, than any other country in the world — largely because we are the most favored destination. From my visits to Germany, compared with what I see in the U.S., I see in your adopted fatherland far more racial separatism, unassimilated minorities, and problems with radical Islam than here at home. I’ll pass on Germany’s demographic crisis.
2) Your political system is stable indeed. From the perspective of our multi-party sharing of power system, your “one” party (democrats and republicans both belonging either slightly left or right of a frighteningly red neck center)) dictatorship looks like living in the former Communist Russia. Take the rise of our green party, or the current rise of the “Die Linke” party as examples of real freedom. We actually have a choice and actually get proportional representation.
VDH: I suggest that the ACLU would have a field day in Germany, if it examined the number of video cams, government control of the media and its reception, and the far weaker constitutional protections for the accused. I wouldn’t evoke “communist Russia,” given that a third of Germany was communist Russia’s ally, and West Germany was free only to the extent the U.S. military was willing to protect it from Russian aggression.
Most of Germany’s current anger at the U.S., as your letter seems to reflect, is itself a reflection of the end of the cold war, when American guarantees were seen as no longer vital. If you are worried about morality, I suggest you examine German appeasement of current Russian aggression, best typified by your former Chancellor Schroeder’s employment of Russia’s Gazprom, and the political shilling he does on behalf of Putin.
3) Your merit system in education is a farce. There, starting in the 1st grade, rich kids go to good schools and poor kids go to poor schools based on local taxation. Then, when you get to the university the division becomes even greater. Except for the token black or Latino kid from the ghetto or the token genius, the best schools are pretty much reserved for the upper classes. Here we have a true merit system where sports ability, wealth and who your parents are will play no part in your getting into any university.
VDH: As someone who taught 20 years in a public university, I don’t know what “token” means, so-called “whites” are minorities in many California colleges, Asians are the largest group of students at UC Berkeley. Germany doesn’t seem to have many black, Arab, or Asian secretaries of state, national security advisors — or chancellors, and won’t. We don’t have anything like your skin-head, neo-Nazi youth movements.
Race in the U.S. is an advantage in universities, whether in hiring or admissions. The ability to place minority students into Ph.D. programs, law or medical schools, or MBA programs, in my experience, was far easier than was the case with white males. Anyone who does not know that, knows essentially nothing about American higher education. In most surveys, 15-18 of the top 20 world universities are American, their campuses are as diverse as Germany’s are lily white. I suggest you look at the two countries respective Olympic teams for tutelage on this question.
In Germany, the most any student will pay for “tuition” is 500 Euros a semester. My son studies medicine and pays the same! That’s a real merit system and freedom from debt to boot!
VDH: There is no such thing as free anything. What is not paid for by tuition, is paid for by higher taxation, as is true in Germany. Furthermore, the vast majority of American students simply do not pay the full price of their educations, which are often discounted in the case of public universities, or subsidized by grants, fellowships, and student loans.
4) A note on all that “U.S. wealth” you were bragging about. I guess you…uh…kind of forgot about the millions and millions of poor and worse yet the homeless who dig around in your trash cans at night.
VDH: In all honesty, I don’t see the contrasts. I live in one of the poorer areas of the U.S., southern Fresno County, at ground zero of illegal immigration. And what is striking is the number of people from Mexico, who in a mere decade have cars, good housing, jobs, and in many cases, government entitlements and subsidies — and apparently a lot of disposable cash to send home, if the $50 billion a year sent as remittances from illegal aliens to Mexico and Latin America are any indication.
After being panhandled daily in Brussels this summer, in the past nearly robbed by assailants in Naples (amid the garbage), and lost in the Arab Quarter outside Paris, I don’t think you really want to go there.
5) Yeah, 1979 was indeed a terrible year. The Russians were invading Afghanistan and now you are invading the very same country. Are you really so blind sir?
VDH: Perhaps, but I can at least distinguish a Stalinist power invading without provocation a neighbor to impose communism — from a democracy retaliating against an al Qaeda attack — based in Afghanistan and aided by the Taliban — that killed 3000 of its own, and staying on to spend billions to foster democracy and economic development. (Remember, the Marshall Plan and German Recovery? Do you really think, given German history from 1870 to 1945, that Germany would either be a democracy today or its neighbors safe from it without American postwar reconstruction?)
I could go on in much more detail, but suffice it to say, I have never met an American who wasn’t either brainwashed or a brainwasher. The only exceptions are the numerous fellow countrymen I have meet who live somewhere overseas of their own choosing. Only they seem to have been able to rip off the cultural shackles and American blinders and are able to see their country in some sort of realistic way.
VDH: Thank God, you are no longer here in America, and can at last enjoy the socialism you so clearly appreciate. I suppose when Iran sends one of its missiles your way, or an ascendant Russia moves ever closer, or you are hit by terrorists originating from the Middle East, your adopted country will be clearly able to take care of itself. I suggest you compare German experience in Afghanistan for guidance on all this.
So which is it? Are you brainwashed or a brainwasher?
VDH: Neither, just an appreciative rather than ashamed American. But I am gladdened that you matched word with deed and at least left America, and therefore made both of us happier.
P.S. I suggest you reread 1984 once again. Don’t you see that you are a classic example of O’brien in that novel. So, I don’t want to keep you any longer, I’m sure you have a lot to do in the “Ministry of Love!”
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson