Germany’s N word

Various German commenters in my prior post about my talk in Berlin are taking me to task because I dared hark back to World War II in a discussion of government-required identity cards and how that enables the state to monitor the people — and a discussion of the value of publicness and how that enables the people to monitor the state.

“I really don’t think it it necessary to pull the ‘Nazi-card,’” said one. “Please don’t even in an article about Google make strange references to the Nazi history…” said another. “Can we please let the nazis peacefully burn in hell? K thx,” asks one more. “It’s always the krauts, blitzkrieg and all that,” complains the last.

So apparently Germans are allowed to say Nazi. I’m not.

Let’s examine that. In Friday’s discussion in Berlin, it was the German politicians who alluded to World War II and East German oppression. Thilo Weichert, the privacy commissioner, raised the allusion in his opening remarks: “Of course, we have a Nazi history in Germany and we have the DDR history, which makes clear to us how information can bring oppression.” A reporter in the crowd asked whether in decades we’d believe that “pixelated buildings were taken away from historians and the public, so Germany would look worse than after the war.” Renate Künast, the Green leader in the Budestag, huffed in reply that “the reconstruction of the pixelated buildings is much easier than what the Trümmerfrau [women who cleaned up rubble] did after the war.”

As I said in my post, every time I talk about privacy in Germany, I am reminded by Germans that I must consider the context of the Nazi and Stasi past. It is in this very context that I raise the spectre of police stopping citizens on the street to demand identification for reasons that cannot always be predicted and protected against. It has happened before. It is in this context that I raise the idea that what’s public is a public good that can nonetheless be destroyed by government’s actions. It has happened before. It is in this context that I raise the warning that the people should not give anyone, especially government, the right to hide in public by forbidding us to picture what happens there. It has happened before. And it is in this context that I pointed to what I confessed was the too-obvious — but very, ahem, concrete — metaphor of a bunker just at the corner as a warning of a society that closes inward in defensiveness. It has happened before. But apparently, I’m not allowed to say that. Only Germans are.

(And note well that in my book, I will also spend considerable time talking about another part of German history, Gutenberg’s, and the transition from one way of cognating and expressing the world. Because it has happened before.)

More context: I’m a friend of Germany. I love the place. I married into a German family. I am fascinated by the people. I go there as often as I can find an excuse. I am grateful that my career and the internet have enabled me to make friends and have colleagues there. I hold the nation and its accomplishments in high esteem while I learn lessons from its past. I have studied the nation’s history with shelves of book at home on the subject. I have studied the language but to little avail and I apologize for that every time I am in Germany.

I do not apologize for my affection for Germany. But I must tell you, my German friends, that many Americans expect me to. I get funny looks when it comes out that I took German in school and I am asked why I would do that. People ask about my politics as a result. I know Americans, still, who won’t buy products made in Germany. I defend Germany to them. And part of that defense is to tell them how much the Germans talk about their past and consider it. Tucked all over Berlin are memorials to the victims of that past. At the Topography of Terror exhibit in the remains of the basement of the Gestapo headquarters, the list of those memorials — a plaque of plaques — is amazingly and tragically long.

But in the discussion here, it is as if my critics are saying, “We talk about our past and that is enough. So you shouldn’t.” Or worse, they are saying we should not talk about the past. It is as if they are saying that for me, Nazi is the N word.

But as someone from a nation of oppressors myself, I think we need to examine the etymology and ownership of words of oppression. Here, the American N word was a tool of oppression whose ownership was taken over by its oppressed. As a white American, I may not use it and that is as it should be.

But in Germany, I am hearing that Nazi is a word Germans may use but not others. Sorry, but the word no longer belongs to Germany; in Germany’s hands, it was a tool of oppression. So now it belongs to its victims, to the rest of the world.

If that word is used only as an insult — see: Godwin’s Law — then it is being misused. But that was not the case in the present discussion. Here, all of us — the German government officials and I — were trying to find context in history for changes in our world brought on by digital identity and its impact on privacy and the tools of publicness and their impact on our power in society. That is a perfectly legitimate discussion. It should not be shut down, my German friends, because you don’t like hearing someone else use what you think is your N word.

My points about the past are serious indeed. Beware government using your identity as its tool against you. Beware the precedent of telling Google it may not picture what’s public as that enables those in power to stop the rest of us — the public — from picturing what is public. And beware bewaring too much, talking just about what could go wrong and missing the opportunities change brings because we keep looking back instead of forward.

  • http://www.aqute.com James MacAonghus

    Interesting, even if I don’t agree with all of it. I would point out that while discussing the Nazis was relevant because you were in Germany, they are not the only ones who need to be wary of over reaching with identity cards, privacy, etc. In the UK under Labour, we went pretty far in becoming surveilled and being encouraged to rat on each other.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Yes, James, certainly … and the ID card in the UK met with, for me, a more expected response.

  • http://twitter.com/joefitness JJ

    Great post Jeff!

    I’m curious, how is the Nazi era taught in the German schools? Or is it? Or is it a ‘hush hush I heard my grandma talk about it once’ topic.

    • Paul

      No, it’s a big topic in schools. Repeated in different classes and stages of your school carreer (getting more detailed as the students get older). I’d even say, you hear it so much that you get tired from it.

      • Klaus

        Totally agree, Paul.

      • Tine

        I agree with previous comments that despite your impression, it’s totally okay for you to use the word Nazi, especially since you have enough knowledge about this subject not to be all superior about being a citizen of a Siegermacht, and will probably not use either historic comparisons or the word Nazi lightly. (Like many others on the internets do: “I’m a grammar nazi! *proud*” Seriously? That’s an appropriate use of that word?)

        However, what I object to is not the comparison as such. It’s your “It Has Happened Before”, which, to a German, coming from you as an American, strongly implies an “It Could Happen Again.” To which I say bah, humbug, and also, NO. Not here, not under our current constitution and body of laws, with the current political and NGO actors. Not when all Germans are trained again and again and AGAIN to notice signs of the state creeping into places it doesn’t belong. Other comments have mentioned the extensive education we get about the Third Reich, mainly focusing on the questions of how did this happen, how did the people not notice, how could they let it keep happening once they noticed and how do we make sure this never happens again. [Genocide and xenophobia doesn't just get discussed in history lessons, repeatedly and as early as third grade, but also in German, English, politics, sociology, ethics, etc. - hardly a year in German schools goes by without it cropping up on a lesson plan somewhere.]

        I actually think this training to beware an(y) entity who has great power over you is partly responsible for the anti-Google hysteria. “With great power comes great responsibility” always gets neglected for “absolute power corrupts absolutely” – small wonder given our experience as the people who totally missed our government turning evil, and then didn’t fight back. The constitution imposes a regime of checks and balances that’s rigidly enforced not only by the courts, but also by a host of organisations who watch the government very closely for any sorts of rights infringement and cry foul as soon as anything seems evil-ish. Only they’re not only watching the state anymore, but also other powerful entities – Google by the virtue of its size has a gigantic target painted in the center of the yellow ‘o’. Germans tend to forget that just because an entity does have great power, it must not automatically also be evil, or at least become evil over time.

        Hope this gave a little more context on why we’re so sensitive when anyone suggests we would just let it happen again.

  • Christoph

    I must say I agree with nearly all of your thoughts. Using RFID technology for identity cards and collecting biometric information for all citizens is madness. More than that, it can very well be set in context with pre-world war 2-history, since such technology makes oppression at a later point much easier.
    I also agree that there should be no taboo for anyone outside Germany to make comparisons to the Nazi-era. And I totally agree, that the public sphere should not be endangered by arbitrary laws forbidding or restricting any company to publish what is public.

    What I think your posts lack is a more differenciated view of the German public. Only because the governement is using Google as a tool to obfuscate their own privacy debates (and the media play along), I don’t see nearly all Germans being paranoid about it. Except Jens Best, you don’t mention that there are opinions in Germany that mostly agree with your point of view. You have met them yourself at the re:publica.

    So please, don’t write as if all Germans have lost their minds and don’t want you to talk about Nazi-era.
    Thanks.

  • http://www.kostblog.de Ingolf Griewank

    If you ask me, you can say or write “Nazi” as often as you want. But when I think about it: Ice T is allowed to call himself “Nigger” and I am not. That’s OK. I laughed about Mel Brooks and his line: “Hey Marty, why don’t we throw a little nazi party?” – OK, Germans are making a mountain out of a molehill in the Street View discussion. But perhaps privacy or data privacy is dying bit by bit if we don’t watch out. I don’t like people who say: if you have nothing to hide, you can’t be against total observation. I have nothing to hide and nevertheless don’t want to be observed.

    • Guerson

      Observed by a one single photograph of your house taken sometime in the past???
      This can’t be the reason.
      An even if you don’t like to be observed, you don’t have to choose if someone wants to watch you. Or should all of us close our eyes on you? :)

  • Maetthy

    In my 13 years of school, I had at least 6 years focussing on “3rd Reich” in history lessons. Unfortunately we missed therefore important parts of European, American and especially Asian history (which is a total blank spot to me!). Therefore in my school time (which ended 1991) it always lacked a linkage to other historic context – ‘no reasons or explanation possible for this horror’ it seamed. Fortunately this changed during my studies (Psychology, check Helmut Moser at Hamburg University). I will see how it is at school in 10 years, when my children are in that age to be thought this part of history.

    • Mona

      I think it will be the same. Even in 10 years they will be teaching childrens about the 3rd Reich the way they do it right now. I gratuated in 2008 and I can say: yes, they still concentrate on this part of our history. It is not only in history class, you also read books about the Nazis in German class and talk about art and stuff like that. One year of my whole school career was totally covered with the 3rd Reich except in maths and biology.
      I agree with you, that children are missing important parts of the worlds history in general, but on the other hand I think it is absolutely necessary to remind people of what happend in Germany. This period of time has still so much influence of the Germans today – the way they behave and their national identification.
      I’m afraid that if we stop talking about it, it could happen again. Since you can see that there are a lot of new groups and parties in Germany that support the Nazi ideology. With teaching the children we have a chance to prevent them from joining such movements.

  • http://twitter.com/evilhackerdude Stephan Seidt

    It’s a fear of the past.

    The Third Reich remains a strong, ever-present memory here. German students study it several times at different ages from different angles (I myself had three separate lectures about the topic). It’s a good thing.

    I disagree with something: In my experience even Germans avoid using the N word. It instantly causes some kind of indisposition – if it’s mentioned in the wrong context.

    Context: There are movies and comedians making fun of Hitler and the nazis – both German and foreign. Again and again. All over the media. Why is someone allowed to do that? Different context. Generally accepted.

    It seems that with certain things, German politicians/citizens, are instantly reminded of the Third Reich and the Stasi. It’s like a mental jump that short-circuits any common sense.

    And I can see how people derive their ideals from past learnings. It is what our beliefs are made of.

    But never should one do so blindly – as purely political rhetoric it’s a disgrace.

  • Florian Behr

    I wouldn’t say that you are forbidden to refer to the Nazi regime, but one shouldn’t use it lightly. It was a very dark time in our history, bad things happened and that is why we feel easily offended if someone compares us and our country now with the things that happened back then. And it doesn’t matter if you are from Germany or another country, if you make those comparisons you need to be careful. Even if you have all the facts right it’s still an emotional topic.

  • http://www.squirm.com William Thirteen

    I’ve lived in Berlin for six years and never experienced any of the issues you mention. The Germans are perfectly aware of their history (for the most part) and cognizant of the cationary lessons to be learned from it. As a amateur historian myself I have had countless discussions with Germans regarding the history of their country and many others and have never experienced anyone taking offense when I’ve used the word ‘Nazi’. I enjoyed your discussion with Frau Kunast and Herr Weichert, though I feel your characterization of them here is somewhat unfair. (“huffed”?)

  • Matt S

    My advice: watch the Fawlty Tiwers episode about mentioning The War. Turn something that’s been annoying you into comedy.

  • http://www.epenis.de Marcel

    using the word “Nazi” is fine, discussing matters at hand with a third reich context is fine, but drawing wrong analogies is where you should be cautious. and rightly so.

    just because you don’t get our system of an ID (of which I told you that similar things exist in the US today and have existed there for quite some time) it doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to draw an analogy to the use of the ID in 3rd Reich/ DDR times. because the consequences and practices then where totally different to those of today, and some of those consequences were very grief.

    in a nutshell, at that point you just didn’t know what you were talking about and still pulled a Nazi analogy which is exactly what some commenters wanted you to beware of.

  • http://caasn.de/blog Carsten

    Sorry, I think you do overstress the point. The point is, some german responsible disputants don’t want to be liable for Nazis, not identifying this as ignoring the heritage of german history. Now, within this post you make “Germans” liable for these disputants in saying they may use “Nazis”, you not. The hint in telling you not to play the Nazi card is stressing the argument only to use “Nazis” as those evil people they were and not as an contemporary figure of argumentation, because no one really knows what that means nowadays. This is a form of historical responsibility. But of course your free to use “Nazi” the way you think it’s useful.

  • Christian Just

    Why do you try to make a nationalist debate from what really is a debate about privacy with arguments from people of different backgrounds. Just by saying, that germans might think different about privacy that does not mean that the arguments are not worth thinkimg about. But you seem to join Eric Schmidt who simply did not understand the worries of german journalists while holding a meeting on IFA. You might even be right on our passports but that is a different story._

  • Hans Suter

    Jeff, before you get lost in a completely useless discussion remember that Heidegger was a nazi asshole AND a great philosopher.

  • evaclaudia

    Using the Nazi card is basically a racist stereotype, and the fact that there are Americans worse than you does not make it better.

    Let me try to explain it to you in a way you can understand: America has a history of killing millions of Native Americans and stealing their land. Everybody in the whole world knows that, and that is a big part of American history as taught in schools, and seen in movies or written in books.

    So, that’s your history. That is what you are. I am not holding it against you. But how would you feel if every time you are making an argument about anything at all, people would put it in that context? For instance, if you tell someone that you prefer to fly to L.A. instead of taking the train, that person would say: “I bet you prefer that because your grandparents killed all those Indians, and you feel guilty if you travel the Great Plains.” Or if you argue about privacy on the internet, and you would be told that’s because your ancestors forced Indians to have driver’s licenses (actually, even today!)? Or if you would make an argument for vaccination, and you would be asked if you are doing this because you feel guilty since your grandparents handed out small-pox infested to Indian babies? Or if you are complaining about your rent in where ever you live, and you would be reminded that you stole the land from the Indians to begin with?

    I guess that’d be pretty annoying even though these are all valid points. And don’t get me started on Vietnam and Iraq.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      It’s not the “Nazi card.” It’s a legitimate discussion of historical precedent of government action. You calling it the “Nazi card” is what’s immature and dismissive and an attempt to cut off legitimate debate with a sicko version of PC. The German government used identity cards for nefarious ends and there is a current discussion about digitally enhanced and mandatory identity cards. Gee, see the damned parallel? Man.

      • http://www.epenis.de Marcel

        german government didn’t use mandatory ID cards since ’45 to nefarious ends. we had mandatory ID cards since then, and the discussion about the digital enhancement is more about security than privacy. in a nutshell the coming digitally enhancement contains the same information that the ID already has with the option to store a finger print and this really is optional.

        you are drawing an analogy from a good practice of the last 60 years to laws and practices of a criminal government before and this is what disturbs some including me. afaik you married into a german family, maybe you should ask them about the german ID system of the last 60 years before making such statements.

        i know that there is some kind of cultural difference here, but really, it is just a card which let’s the government know who you are and where you live, nothing different to a US SSN or similar.

  • http://www.epenis.de Marcel

    and let me add: evaclaudia’s points are totally wrong in rhis discussion.

  • http://www.no1onsports.com Antonis

    I have to agree with the comments of Florian above. I think germans they are easily get offended -some of them- if you refer too much on that era of their history

    but in the end i think we are missing the point over here…its not about germans /nazis /americans its about privacy and how should we use all what the net is offering us. People see just the word “nazi” and not the examples or the points that are made. The world is changing fast…we better keep up

  • http://www.newrules.de/ Sir Charles Lytton

    And I do agree with Antonis, saying that it is about privacy. Going away from the nazi topic – althogh it is hard because every German has to say some thing or the other – I want to cite some movies which I think are a better picture for the risks. And they are not German movies:
    First it’s V for Vendetta – how some terror leads to a dictatorship in the UK with persecution of homosexuals etc.
    Second it’s Gattaca – how you could get judged by your genes
    And third it is Brazil – how a simple fly can make the police think you are a criminal.

    I think it is more important to discuss the risks of what could go wrong: what if some Bushies gain control over Homeland Security and confiscate the servers? What if someone sells information to other nations which aren’t democratic? What if Google forgets not to record WLAN data in their Streetview cars (as happened)?

    And one last point: it is interesting that so many people from Germany are responding to this article – shows how intense this discussion is!

  • http://oetting.posterous.com Martin Oetting

    In Germany, there is a fairly common (and understandable) knee-jerk reaction to any American making references to the Nazi era. That is because for decades, we had to live with the notion that in the US, the majority of people associate *only that* with Germany. Nothing else. The only image millions of people in the USA seem to have about this country revolves around Swastikas and Hitler and millions of slaughtered innocents. Or, worse actually, around a satirized miss-representation of that. While we still try, in our educational system and in most public discourse, to come to terms with that past, it pains many to think that in the US – in that great, complex, paradoxical, world-leading nation that has so much impact on world politics, technology, and culture – the only thing so many can associate with our country are these simplifications of a vile past from 60 years ago. Which is why many will, in a knee-jerk reaction, jump at *any* American who, they feel, uses the term(inology) to easily.

    And so you, Jeff, simply get lumped in with lots of people who are a lot more naive and ignorant about the whole thing. Without my wanting to blame them for it – it’s a horrific heritage our forefathers left us with, and I cannot expect anyone to be especially interested in our country, or to know more than they do about Germany. There are many things to know and be concerned about in this world, and this here place doesn’t need to be one of them.

    But I hope this explains the reactions you get sometimes. It has nothing to do with you, and it completely ignores your delightful interest in and knowledge about Germany. Instead, it has a lot to do with a past of sixty years in which we have learned to live with a very different discourse coming from many Americans the moment they start throwing the N word around.

    I think that may be where evaclaudia’s rage above is coming from, even though I agree with Marcel that she’s basically talking out of her … behind. And I whole-heartedly disagree with Tine who thinks that nowadays using the term Nazi is acceptable if in a self-deprecating ironic way – no, I don’t think it is. And I don’t think we can simply reject the notion that it can happen again any time. It can indeed.

  • http://www.triathlon-tipps.de/ stephan

    Just let’s see what “nazi” means: We are talking about a regime that killed millions (please say the number loudly).

    But that’s not all to it: This killing was fullfilled with such bureaucratic power, it was done with german exactness, it was planned by ingenieurs, it was fullfiled by industry, medics were involved… know what i mean? “Nazi” bears all this horrific terror, that is really unique in worlds history (and hopefully it will be unique forever).

    Every german ist raised with this history in mind.

    Now let’s see, why we are a little oversensitive. Just an example: A friend of mine worked in london for several years. She always was mocked by her colleagues – she was greeted with “Sieg Heil!”. Funny, eh? Only one of many stories.

    She had a killing of millions in her head, pictures of KZs that we visited as part of school lessons. Tortured people, starved prisoners, dead body on dead body. We take these lessons seriously. And we should.

    But the colleagues in London had fawlty towers (great series by the way) in his head. A little funny joke. See the problem? We are not able to make such Jokes (ok, we learn -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL4CPewSqT4 it is getting better).

    Every time some politician in the world (and it happens very often) is called a nazi or hitler, we germans think: Never! You all are not aware of what you are talking about.

    Every time, we see the next hollywood movie and the evil one ist – surprise – a nazi, we just sigh.

    And every time after 65 Years we have to explain, that we are not all nazis, makes us sick.

    Yes, we are oversensitive in a way.

    Everybody in the free world is allowed to say, whatever she/he wants. But in my sense, he or she should think twice drawing any analogy to nazi germany.

    Mr. Weichert also should have known that… a little plastic card with a chip on it has nothing to do with our history – east or west.

    @martin: I disagree, we shoul all learn to make fun of nazis. humor is a strong weapon against any neonazis. it depends on the kind of humor. obersalzberg is great! Don’t you think?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Well-said, Stephan.
      What happened here is something in reverse: I tried to have a serious discussion about historical precedent regarding the lessons of that bureaucratic machine in the mundanity of its detail and I get accused to “playing the Nazi card,” which is really just a tactic to play victim (rather offensive, that) and cut off discussion (dangerous to do, I’d argue). These people are treating me as if I casually throw out their N word. They weren’t discussing the substance, then.

      • http://www.triathlon-tipps.de/ stephan

        I see. Ending any discussion like that is unproductive.

        And I think we should think more carefully about our new Ausweis as well. By the way: We also mistrust the government in terms of privacy. Have you ever heard of the “volkszählung”?
        http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksz%C3%A4hlung#Die_Volksz.C3.A4hlung_von_1987
        Very long dispute way back than…

        But regarding to the post of yours (oh those germans) my old reflexes came out here:

        “As I listen in German, I hear the card called an “Ausweis” and I shiver just a bit that no one seems to recognize the ghost in the word. In America watching war movies, there was never a more frightening phrase than “Ausweis, bitte”…”

        This is really a kind of stereotype I mentioned above (Hollywood Movies). And an Ausweis is really just a normal word to us.

        After all: You are right about the substance and mostly you are right about thilo weichert. so let’s return to the substance and the presence. let’s talk about the new Ausweis, not the nazi card.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          I never called it a Nazi card. That was in the ears of the beholders.

  • http://oetting.posterous.com Martin Oetting

    @stephan I wasn’t talking about making fun of Nazis. I was referring to people who too easily say “I’m a ‘this-Nazi’ and he’s a ‘that-Nazi’.” Like Tine was saying above, that she may refer to herself, semi-ironically, as a ‘grammar nazi’ because she tends to be strict about grammar rules.

    That is exactly the type of laxness that I don’t think is appropriate. As you rightly said, there has to be a certain sense of ‘negative respect’ for the term. That we still don’t use it too lightly. And that, if we do make fun of Nazis, we do it with a purpose and with a clear sense of why – maybe because we want to discredit neo-Nazis, etc.

    • http://www.triathlon-tipps.de/ stephan

      I agree. Except for this part: “if we do make fun of Nazis, we do it with a purpose and with a clear sense of why – maybe because we want to discredit neo-Nazis, etc.”

      No, not only. I just laugh about a good comedy. :o) AND it is good laughing about Nazis, instead of having a dark fascination. Which I also often observe in other countries.

      • http://oetting.posterous.com Martin Oetting

        But isn’t that an incredibly fine line to draw? I agree – dark fascination is not helpful (but probably difficult to get rid of – ultimate evil will always inspire curiosity). But how do you make sure that you will draw the right distinction between making fun of Nazis but not taking the whole issue too lightly? Something you can make fun of may strike others as something that’s not that dangerous. Something not to take seriously.

        I fear people may confiuse “making fun of s.th.” with “taking s.th. not very seriously”.

    • Bine

      This is what Tine said:

      > I agree with previous comments that [...] it’s totally okay for you to use the word Nazi, especially since you [...] will probably not use either historic comparisons or the word Nazi lightly. (Like many others on the internets do: “I’m a grammar nazi! *proud*” Seriously? That’s an appropriate use of that word?)

      Note the quotation marks and the question marks. Hint: it’s a rhetorical question. The answer “no” is implied.

      This is what you made of it:

      > And I whole-heartedly disagree with Tine who thinks that nowadays using the term Nazi is acceptable if in a self-deprecating ironic way
      > Like Tine was saying above, that she may refer to herself, semi-ironically, as a ‘grammar nazi’ because she tends to be strict about grammar rules.

      No, she may not and did not refer to herself, and she wouldn’t say “grammar nazi” except when quoting people she disagrees with, and she didn’t say anything about her own attitute towards grammar rules.

  • http://www.triathlon-tipps.de/ stephan

    @martin:
    I Like this: >>I fear people may confiuse “making fun of s.th.” with “taking s.th. not very seriously”.<<

    Just depends on the context and of the idea behind it. I think you can feel the line. For instance some jokes about jews and kzs aren't funny to me, seeing hitler as stromberg ist :o)

  • Christoph

    I wonder if you guys figure that the nation creating the term “enemy Combatants” to create a law-free space is just as disoriented, and wrong, as the German nation was when the Nazi regime existed.

    Because if you don´t, you are just trying to provoke.
    I suggest instead of trying to find yesterday´s traces in today´s reality, we should learn from yesterday and argue against all attempts of doing quite a similar mistake again. Anybody figured that the U.S. citizens lost most of their civil rights after 9/11, with striking similarities to what happened before and during WWII to the German people? And that the privacy loss etc. some people fear will come with today´s ID cards is NOTHING compared to the measures the American executive can take against their own citizens?
    *That* should alert us more than any N-word or ID card in a law- and constitution-driven country like Germany, or U.K., for that matter. It really touches *me* more, at least. This gives the word “Gleichschaltung” a total different, and absolutely current, meaning. But sorry — not as much in Germany as in the U.S.

  • Christoph

    >>As I said in my post, every time I talk about privacy in Germany, I am reminded by Germans that I must consider the context of the Nazi and Stasi past. It is in this very context that I raise the spectre of police stopping citizens on the street to demand identification for reasons that cannot always be predicted and protected against. It has happened before.<<

    And it happens today. Youtube is a good source for videos where American citizens deny to answer questions like "Where are you heading" to the cop in a traffic stop — and maaaan they get in trouble *real* fast. At least there we see the ugly face of the powerful police state you are constructing — but you don´t have to warn about this for Germany. Start fighting it in the U.S.A. right away. There, what you are warning about *is* already in existence, and astoundingly in widespread acceptance. And is not emerging in here in Germany. Except for if you (or the Germans as a spectator to the U.S. factual reality) make that the new "standard" by accepting, or not identifying it.

  • Per

    I truly believe that Jeff is “a friend of Germany”, he is very much interested in Germanys modern culture, its language and this is exceptional for any Anglo-American. I am myself German, have been living in the UK for more than 10 years and I’ve married into an English family.

    Fact is that there are great differences between German and Anglo-American cultures, businesses and governments. My experience is that neither culture is better or “more right”, they are simply different. Germans tends to trust government more and businesses less, Americans are often the opposite they seem to trust Government institution less and businesses more.

    I understand Jeff’s point of view for what it is. It is an observation from a friend who means well.
    Germans should take his opinion about the N-word, Google Street view and publicness on board and discuss it without prejudice.

    Admittedly Jeff’s own level of publicness is by most peoples standard extreme, but I simply cannot understand Germanys position to Google in general and Google Street View in particular.
    Google Street View has been in the UK for almost a year, I’m working with it almost on a daily basis within my job and quiet honestly the benefits clearly outweigh possible issues.

    Germany, like many other European countries have a simple choice.
    The Internet is by far the most innovative, creative and fastest growing sector in the world.
    Google and its ideas are on the forefront of this development.
    Germany needs to choose if they want to support and lead this pioneering spirit or if they want to continue to fall behind the US and Southeast Asia.
    The same old “we are the world #1 exporter of manufactured goods” will soon not be enough anymore.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Per,
      Thank you so much.

  • http://wanderinginla.blogspot.com Jim

    As an American I’m somewhat surprised. In 1977-78 I spent a year in Germany with the University of California’s Education Abroad program. Of all the many countries with which UC had this arrangement, Germany was one of the most popular. Hardly ever, afterwards, did I have to deal with negative reactions from any of my countrymen on mentioning that I’d lived in Germany.

    OTOH one does encounter this attitude occasionally among Jewish people, and one can’t entirely blame them. A great many of these people’s parents were first-generation refugees from Europe. Although on a rational level I would like to tell them the Germans then are not the Germans of today, it’s understandable on an emotional level that they are still uncomfortable in regard to Germany. So’s Poland for that matter, and one of the preconditions for the 1989 reunification was that the Oder-Neiße border would be recognized by everyone once and for all.

    On the other hand, this doesn’t mean one doesn’t see many Jewish doctors and other professionals that own German cars!