Tuesday, June 1, 2010

English misreports of German President's resignation

Germany's President Horst Köhler resigned yesterday in a move that took everyone by surprise, but reports about the event in English are misleading. To take just a few examples, the Financial Times writes, "German president Horst Köhler added to the pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday when he resigned over his contentious remarks that the country's military effort in Afghanistan protected German commercial interests." But that did not happen at all. (Doesn't the Financial Times realize that there's not much to be had in Afghanistan economically?)

On a trip to visit German soldiers in Afghanistan, Köhler did comment that the German public is gradually coming to accept the concept of the German military protecting the country's economic interests abroad (I italicize "German public" because this aspect has been under reported in English). His political opponents then expressed outrage at the announcement that the mission in Afghanistan might be primarily economic, which was not the goal originally stated (it was originally about the war on terror and spreading democracy). Köhler's office then cleared up the matter by stating that, although the comment had been made in Afghanistan, the statement did not apply to that particular mission, but rather to the role of the German military in general.

But those facts did not stop the Economist from writing the misleading headline "Germany's president resigns after ill-chosen remarks about the war in Afghanistan."

The political opposition was then outraged at the notion that the German military might be serving at the behest of German industry, and there were charges of imperialism. The governing coalition largely failed to support Köhler over the weekend, and the man turns out to be a bit of a lightweight, so instead of standing his ground and taking part in a Democratic debate, he nearly broke into tears when announcing his immediate resignation.

So the claim was first of all not made about Afghanistan; second, Köhler was not so much saying that this is the way things should be, but that the public was coming to accept the use of German military force in purely economic matters (such as pirate ships, though Köhler was too daft to give an appropriate example); and third, no one prominent ever called for his resignation to my knowledge -- in fact, everyone on the opposition is completely flabbergasted because no one was even considering his resignation.

So when the Guardian writes, "But those whose loud voices called for his head are now part of the problem and will never contribute to the solution," they should do us the favor and tell us who actually called for his head.

For the record, here is my translation of the spoken word (which I have tried to render faithfully, including the rambling) that got him into trouble (the German is also posted below):

I believe we, by which I also mean the general public, are generally on a path to understanding that a country of our size, with our focus on foreign trade, is also dependent upon foreign trade, so we also have to realize that in cases of doubt, in cases of emergency, military force is needed to protect our interests, such as free trade routes, such as the prevention of instability over entire regions, which would certainly detrimentally affect our opportunities to protect our jobs and income through trade.

Meine Einschätzung ist aber, dass insgesamt wir auf dem Wege sind, doch auch in der Breite der Gesellschaft zu verstehen, dass ein Land unserer Größe mit dieser Außenhandelsorientierung und damit auch Außenhandelsabhängigkeit auch wissen muss, dass im Zweifel, im Notfall auch militärischer Einsatz notwendig ist, um unsere Interessen zu wahren, zum Beispiel freie Handelswege, zum Beispiel ganze regionale Instabilitäten zu verhindern, die mit Sicherheit dann auch auf unsere Chancen zurückschlagen negativ, bei uns durch Handel Arbeitsplätze und Einkommen zu sichern.
Horst, couldn't take the heat, so he got out of the kitchen. In a democracy, people get to debate things, so if you say something, you may get criticized. And if you say something stupid, you will be criticized more. And if you're not good with words, you will say stupid things more often.

May the next German President know those simple facts.

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