This article was originally posted on RealClearWorld.
I will never forget my first trip to Germany.
My father-in-law was at the wheel as we drove across the Polish border into the German state of Brandenburg. The countryside highway was immaculate: Free of potholes and lined with trees for as far as the eye could see. It was crystal clear from the scenery alone that we had entered a very different land.
As we made our way into the nation’s capital, I saw two things that shocked me, but for entirely different reasons. The first was a bumpersticker advertising a website called dildoking.de. “Huh, dildoking, that’s an interesting German word,” I thought to myself. Then, it slowly dawned upon me that it wasn’t a German word at all. It was English. And it was two words, not one: Dildo King. Trust me, don’t visit that website.
The second shocking thing I saw was a man wearing a shirt that said, “American Military Tour,” and it listed many of the cities that U.S. forces had bombed over the past several years. It was not meant to be a compliment.
As it turns out, anti-American sentiment is on the rise in Germany. The Economist recently noted that “anti-Americanism has always been endemic in Germany,” mainly on the ex-communist Left. But now, it has become more mainstream. The euroskeptic Alternative für Deutschland party, which has made international headlines for its opposition to the EU and Muslim immigration, isalso anti-American.
Anti-Americanism in Germany has become such a problem that it appears to be affecting policy at the highest levels. Many Germans oppose the U.S.-EU free trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) largely because of anti-Americanism. As the WSJ reports, the same irrational thinking applies to the war in Ukraine, a conflict that is clearly an act of aggression committed by Russia. Despite this, Germans are reluctant to side with Uncle Sam in supporting Ukraine.
Polling has shown a calamitous drop in support for America in Germany. A recent high point, achieved in 2009, was in reaction to the election of Barack Obama. Then, more than 75% of Germans saw America as a trusted partner; today, that number has been cut roughly in half. (A Pew poll on U.S. favorability shows a similar drop, but not nearly as large; the favorability rating dropped from 64% in 2009 to 51% in 2014.) The NSA spying scandal, in which it was revealed that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone had been tapped, is largely to blame.
German outrage over the incident has now manifested in blatantly anti-American public art displays. In Alexanderplatz, one of my favorite destinations in Berlin, members of the Green Party recently erected statues of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and borderline traitors Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Many Germans find their harmful acts praiseworthy.
From these events, there are two points worth making. First, Germany is so repulsed and guilt-stricken by its Nazi (and then Stasi) past, that it has completely lost its appetite for strong action by either military or national security forces. Thus, the country shies away from taking moral stands on even black-and-white issues, such as the war in Ukraine. And because the U.S. remains the world’s only superpower, German angst is directed at us.
Second, then-Senator Barack Obama’s campaigning in Berlin, in retrospect, seems rather pointless. Not only do Germans still distrust America, but they provided no electoral votes. Trying to please Europeans, and Germans in particular, is not always time well spent.