A New Generation for War Guilt


I’m at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week; the World Cup, Super Bowl, World Series of all book fairs. The scene at book fairs would surprise most readers because it does not involved authors or readers but rather agents, publishers, and distributors. There are stalls in the tradition of all vendor gatherings where companies display their brightest wares. Whether the Cairo, Abu Dhabi, or Frankfurt book fair, there are deals being made by the back offices of the publishing industry from rights sales of books into various languages and markets as well as bookstores agreeing to take on specific numbers of copies of various titles.

Being in Germany is always interesting and this trip is no different because there is always a small shadow that falls across a conversation that includes references to the Second World War, Hitler, the death camps, or any combination of the above. In my current job I only have two German speaking colleagues but also many people with ties to Germany living in Qatar. I know this generation feels no personal guilt over deeds done long before they were born; movies/books such as THE READER are examples of the disgust and horror the younger generations feel about what happened.

I was as surprised as anyone last night at dinner when a reference came up to a Nazi run labor camp that I suddenly felt a similar twinge of guilt. Not for Germany’s misdeeds but America’s in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last near decade of America pursued conflict has left me cringing anytime anyone mentions recent presidencies as well as shrinking away from questions about why Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

I am fully aware of the depth of the next sentence but will write it anyway: in the last few years it has been embarrassing to be American. If you’ve been to a comedy night at the Ramada in Doha you’ll hear comedians call out everyone in the room by nationality. When it’s the Americans turn things are uncharacteristically silent. There’s always a joke about this and a lot of ducked chins and sheepish grins around this time. I’m suggesting for a moment that two Iraq wars and incursions in Afghanistan equal anything near the death machine of the Third Reich; the comparison is not to scale but rather as symbolic. At the very least, as in recent observation, the result is the same conversation stopper for the person of that nationality during a discussion.

The good news is that regardless of the Nobel committee’s motivation – leftist conspiracy to under Obama or international prodding to hold true to promises – it is easier to lift my head in the world as an American now than It was in 2005 when I moved to the Middle East.

But our sins are not erased, they are just diminished.  I do pray for wisdom for the man who might be the most scrutinized individual in the world. He has become president at the lowest moment in American history. But already he is demeanor, passion, and character give me much to be proud of.

Stop victimization

Given current events, you might think this is a subjective piece, for or against one side of the unfolding conflict. But this is actually a plea for objectivity. I was driving to work today and shocked at the language the journalists were using on the radio news. As long as countries consider themselves victims and others the enemy, this language promotes entrenched conflict. If you want to stop being taken advantage of, this oppositional, or as cultural theory says, binary opposition (two bipolar perspectives) then this language must stop.

Before we can see a solution to this conflict – the same one that causes people to throw up their hands and say, "it’ll never end or change" – we have to change the language we use. Everyone. Politicians, the media, everyday citizens.

Then we’ll pull aside this smokescreen of conflict to deal with real problems.

Like where does the money go that’s donated to these ‘victims"? And how can a democractially elected government take action that is so harmful to its people? Or where is the boundary between defense and aggression?

Your thoughts? What can we do to see a different pattern of behavior in the occupied territory?

All in all, a scary way to start 2009.