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The Tucson Shootings: A German Perspective

'Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Movement are morally responsible for the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.'

3:55 PM, Jan 27, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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I can usually find an interesting article or two in the Atlantic Times. (In fact, the story about Hitler's plot to bomb New York is quite intriguing.) The front-page column by co-editor in chief Peter H. Koepf, however, is not one of them. Entitled "Reaping the whirlwind: How Germans view the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords," Koepf writes:

The verdict was pronounced just as quickly in Germany as it was in the US: Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Movement are morally responsible for the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Putting political opponents in the crosshairs and confusing political discourse with war prepares the ground ideologically for the kind of outrage carried out by Jared Loughner – whether he was politically motivated or mentally disturbed.

Does Koepf know the "verdict," at least according to a CBS poll, is that 57 percent of Americans say the "harsh political tone had nothing to do with the shooting" while a mere 32 percent believe it did? And that our own president agrees that a lack of civility "did not" cause the tragedy? And is Koepf aware that Loughner is without doubt mentally disturbed and had targeted Giffords since 2007—before Obama, the health care debate, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party? Or that Loughner's few friends have told the media that he was in no way political?

No matter. Koepf goes on,

They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind, goes an old biblical saying. That is how Germans interpret the events in Arizona. And it has not escaped German public opinion that there has been plenty of sowing by the above-named parties. Two issues bother people in the heart of Old Europe:

From the German point of view, the mood of public debate in the US has been poisoned. The martial choice of words and the war rhetoric is offensive. Many increasingly see the US as a hysterical, divided nation where too many fundamentalists – including those on television and the radio – are allowed to spread their polarizing and destructive nonsense.

The Germans have always felt uncomfortable about our use of the word "war" (or Krieg) for understandable reasons. But such language had been used for years and by both sides. After all, it was Bill Clinton who ran his campaign out of a "war room." It was Barack Obama who said "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." But perhaps most disturbing is the line about the "fundamentalists—including those on television and the radio— [who] are allowed to spread their polarizing and destructive nonsense." Is he suggesting Germans would like to see members of the Tea Party deprived of their right to free assembly? Rush Limbaugh banned from the airwaves? And who exactly are these fundamentalists? Pat Robertson?

Koepf further explains,

Comparing Barack Obama to either Hitler or Stalin testifies to a lack of awareness about dictators or dictatorships and is more an attack on democracy than proof of democratic credentials. On a number of occasions, politicians in Germany have had to resign as a result of improper comparisons of people or events to Hitler or the Nazis.

What about comparisons of Bush to Hitler? There might have been a few. Or a movie called Death of a President about the assassination of George W. Bush that came out while Bush was still president?

While Koepf's point about the lack of civility in politics is well taken, he can go even further back—say, to the protests against the Pershing missiles stationed in West Germany and banners with messages like "F—k off Haig!" (which I came across in Alexandra Richie's Faust's Metropolis).

Throughout the column, I kept waiting for Koepf to say that while this is what many Germans believe, there is another side to the story. Except that side never appears. Still, I'd like to think there are others who know there are two sides—those who are better informed. I know a few of them. I just hope they aren't the only ones.

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