German Callousness Kicking Hurricane Victims While They're Down

Hurricane Katrina has cost the lives of hundreds and devastated the US Gulf Coast. But instead of aid donations and sympathy, the Americans have heard little more than a haughty "I told you so" from Germany. It's another low point for trans-Atlantic relations -- and set off by a German minister. How pathetic.

By Claus Christian Malzahn

Hurricane Katrina was, says one German minister, America's own fault.

Hurricane Katrina was, says one German minister, America's own fault.

For the record: German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offered his condolences to US President George W. Bush for the Hurricane Katrina disaster that has hit the Gulf Coast. Both he and his fellow Germans, Schröder wrote, feel "great sympathy for the fate of those people affected by the hurricane."

Nice words to be sure, but that was it. No pledges of aid money, no announcements of immediate help -- although finally, two days later, the German interior minister did manage to come out with a hesitant offer of assistance. And let's be honest, the crisis region this time around isn't in the Third World, but is in the United States of America. There really isn't much of a need for German helpers -- experienced as they may be from aid missions from Kosovo to Afghanistan -- because the American authorities are already doing as much as can be done.

Nevertheless, German aid money delivered to American aid agencies would surely be welcome on the other side of the Atlantic. But apparently, people over here believe that the Americans over there don't really need help. Strange. The same people who normally spend their time pointing their holier-than-thou fingers at the ghettos and slums in the US, the same ones who describe America as an out-of-control capitalist monster, are now, when the Americans could really use a bit of help, oddly quiet.

Cold and malicious

Apparently the Americans had it coming: "The American president has closed his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes such as Katrina -- in other words, disasters caused by a lack of climate protection measures -- can visit on his country." Who wrote this? None other than Jürgen Trittin, Germany's minister of the environment.

German Minister of the Environment Jürgen Trittin.

German Minister of the Environment Jürgen Trittin.

At a moment when the dead on the Gulf Coast are still being counted, the German minister of the environment could think of nothing better to do than -- in an essay published Tuesday in the center-left daily Frankfurter Rundschau -- to blame the US itself for the catastrophe. The piece is 493 words long, and not a single one of them is wasted to express any sort of sympathy for the victims of the storm. The worst of it is that Trittin isn't alone with his cold, malicious tenor. The coverage from much of the German media tends in the same direction: If Bush had only listened to Uncle Trittin and signed the Kyoto Protocol, then this never would have happened.

Bullshit. Trittin's article is a slap in the face to all the victims. Let's just assume that the environment minister is right, that there is a direct relationship between greenhouse gases and Hurricane Katrina. Even still this would hardly be the time for yet another round of America bashing and finger pointing. Three years ago, just before the US election, former Minister of Justice Hertha Däubler Gmelin compared US President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. This time, with German elections looming, the environment minister is using a natural catastrophe as an excuse to once again campaign with subtle anti-Americanism and to unabashedly pat himself on the back. A "Kyoto Two" is "desperately needed" screamed the headline over his insensitive attack.

There are scientists and Nobel Prize winners who see the problem of global warming totally different than Trittin. Many consider the fight against AIDS, hunger and malaria as higher priorities than a reduction of carbon dioxide output. Last year, some of these experts jointly published the "Copenhagen Consensus," in which they outlined the greatest problems facing the world. Global warming figured low on the list. And believe it or not, the scientists are not on the payroll of the Texas oil industry. But that's hardly the point at the moment. Right now, the situation calls for empathy with the people in the American south who are suffering the after effects of the massive storm.

It's not the American people's fault that the storm hit and they couldn't have stopped it. The Germans, on the other hand, could have done a lot to prevent World War II. And yet, care packages still rained down from US troops. Trittin's know-it-all stance is therefore not only tasteless, it is also historically blind.

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