Yesterday, my sister published an article about American exchange students’ perception of the Iraq/media induced rift between the the Bush and Schroeder administrations in the local edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [it’s not online, unfortunately].
I’m glad she found some American students to talk to. There are not too many of them. At the Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz, only seventy-nine Americans are enrolled. Seventy-nine out of a student body of approximately 30,000. Seventy-nine out of approximately 4,000 non-German students. But let me be clear here – this is by no means an unusually low number. All those US students here at the moment must have made the decision to go to Germany a fair amount of time before the anyone used the word rift to describe German-American relations.
Sure, talking to people is not quantitative research. But it does give you some idea of what’s going on, if those you talk to do have an opinion. I’m glad my sister found some who had. I met two American undergraduate students in Munich early in Febuary who replied to my question about their opinion of the ongoing quarrel that they were not sufficiently well informed about the issue to have an opinion of their own. That was on the day when another American, Donald Rumsfeld, was in town and was told by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, that he had not yet been convinced of the necessity of war in Iraq.
In their defence, I don’t think the two girls were particularly interested in politics in general, so their reply also had a touch of intentional modesty, rather than just one of unfortunate ignorance. Actually, their ignorance shows that there are Americans in this country whose personal reality has only marginally been affected by the international politics, if at all.
It shows that at least those not professionally involved in shaping opinion have learnt to differentiate between those governed and those who govern. The students who were interviewed by my sister basically stated the same – they very much enjoy their stay and have never been bullied by anyone because of their being American, the only notable difference being more political discussions than before.
Those discussions, on the other hand, may not have become too heated, as the Fulbright Commission’s American programme manager Reiner Roh reckons that less than ten percent of the American exchange students who receive Fulbright scholarships support the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq.
Sure, not all American exchange students are Fulbright scholars and there are clearly a lot of possible reasons for such an extreme divergence from the general American attitude, not the least of which is the fact that these students do understand foreign media.
But personally, I believe that there likely is a significant correlation between a person’s willingness to learn about different cultures and her political acceptance of an international order constraining even the most powerful, which is fundamentally at odds with divide-et-impera policies of a Kagan-style (neo-Bismarckian) system of ad-hoc axes and alliances.
So I would like to repeat something rather important these days – there is German-American life beyond governmental quarrels. And it’s a lot more fun. I really wonder what the American students dressed up as for yesterday’s raving Monday parade?