Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

The Reaction… or lack thereof

Obviously the item dominating the news for the past week has been the death of Osama Bin Laden. Every time I go online, the BBC, CNN, and New York Times (among other websites) flood the screen with new headlines “Pictures to soon be released” “Pictures too gruesome to be released” “Was Pakistan aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts?” “How will this affect US/Pakistan relations?” and so on. I understand there’s much more to know surrounding his death and we’re going to have to wait and see how this all plays out, but I’m just hoping for the most peaceful solution. Anyways, the point of this entry is just to discuss the reaction I’ve received over here in Germany, or what I more aptly call the “non-reaction”.

September 11, 2001 is a day that will always stand out in my memory. We all have stories of what we were doing, and we recount them just about every year. I was in the 8th grade, in Mr. Townsend’s science class. There were suddenly whispers floating around of an attack on New York City, and we had the tv on in time to see the second plane hit the towers. The feelings surrounding that day are something extremely difficult to explain to a non-American, as I’ve learned. You can tell your friends and your students how speechless, shocked, scared, and vulnerable you felt. You can try to explain how you believed your country was impenetrable and impervious to attack and how this all came crashing down in a matter of minutes. How the next things to go through your mind was wondering who was responsible, who could ever want to do such a thing and destroy families, cause so much hurt and grief, then wonder if we were at war. As an 8th grader (and history not being my favorite subject) talk of war immediately conjured up images of World War II- atomic bombs, men being deployed by the thousands, hundreds of thousands of deaths; was your world going to change so drastically?

But, even after you’ve exhausted yourself attempting to explain all of this and more, no matter how much sympathy a person is capable of giving, they will never understand exactly how we as Americans felt on that day and the following weeks, months, even years. The oldest of my students were 8 years old in 2001 (how old does that make you feel?!) and additionally, they’re not American. Maybe the news of the attacks didn’t even reach them until much later. So, after reading the news of Bin Laden’s death Monday morning, I felt a conflicting wave of emotions- relief, pride, patriotism, trepidation, nervousness, and lots of questions. More than anything, I wanted somebody to talk to this about but upon arriving at school Monday morning; it was mentioned once, once,┬áin passing in the teacher’s lounge. Normally I’m the go-to for all things concerning the US, seeing as I’m the only American at the school, and the only American a lot of the students have ever met. So I was pretty surprised to see it being almost brushed off, or very quickly digested, and everyone moved right on. Okay, I thought, maybe not everyone knows about it yet, since we just got back from Easter Holidays, or is just waiting for a better time. Nope, nothin the entire week, nada, zero, zilch.

While, from what I’ve seen and heard from friends back at home, the reaction stateside was quite the spectacle. I’ve watched countless youtube videos of the celebration (and the one in Bapst was particularly emotional, I’ve gotta say) and I understand completely where the emotions are coming from and why the reaction is how it is. But being over here, removed a little from the situation, ever in “ambassador mode” representing my country, it’s been interesting to see how people have reacted not just to Bin Laden’s death, but to our reaction. They’re shocked at how Americans have been so jubilant about a death. They want to know why he was killed and not tried in court. They’re keeping the bigger picture in mind- the possible retaliation from Al Qaeda, the fact that one man does not represent terrorism, and that this is far from over. They’re worried this may only incite more fighting and killing, and they may be right. As more information is being released, the questions are being answered.

It’s been an interesting week, to say the least, and by Wednesday morning the headline on the homepage of the S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung, Southern Germany’s major newspaper, had nothing to do with Bin Laden but rather nuclear power plants. This is not to say the Germans are disinterested or apathetic; it’s actually the opposite as they’re quite invested with thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan. They just seem to have accepted the recent information and realized we’ve still got quite a fight ahead of us, with this and the recent battles in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria, it shows how much the world is changing. Just want to end with a big Thank You to all of our soldiers and troops fighting for the US, our values, and keeping us safe. We can never be grateful enough for all you do.

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Germany, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment