When America Stood Tall: The Berlin Airlift of 1948

Posted June 26, 2008 on 1:45 pm | In the category Germany, Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Sixty years ago, on June 24, 1948 Josef Stalin blocked all routes through East Germany into the divided city of Berlin in an attempt to force the Western powers (Britain, France and the U.S.) to give up their sectors of the city and turn all of Berlin over to East Germany. The alternative seemed to be the slow starvation of the more than two million people of Berlin.

But two days later American and British pilots began flying in the food and other essentials needed to keep the city alive. Over the next 11 months nearly 300,000 flights provided one of the greatest humanitarian lifelines in history. The effort was not without its dangers with flights landing every two minutes regardless of weather conditions and potential Soviet attacks. That the airlift could be operational within days of Stalin’s actions was a tribute to American and British political will (the French initially declined to participate, joining the effort months later). At its peak the airlift consisted of 1500 flights daily, each one carrying tons of food and supplies. Berlin citizens, working around the clock, organized the unloading of planes. 39 British and 31 American pilots died in accidents during the airlift; a memorial to them stands at Berlin’s Templehof airport.

In some ways this was the opening shot of a 40-year Cold War. The fact that it stayed a ”cold” war was due in part to President Truman’s reluctance to confront the Soviets with a direct military action, which would have risked a new “hot” war in a war-tired Europe. The airlift became a powerful symbol of American and British resolve and commitment in the face of a new and dangerous threat and and represented the first serious resistance offered by the West to the expanding hegemony of the Soviet Union.

In the early 1990s my wife traveled to Berlin to visit the father of a German friend. After WWII he had become a policeman in Berlin and when introduced to this young American woman literally broke down in tears of thanks for the airlift’s contribution to the freedom of his city some 45 years earlier. This year Germans will once again commemorate this singular American/British act of humanitarian relief and in May 2009, Berlin will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the lifting of the Berlin blockade.

During the current period when there is much discussion of the need for a strong American public diplomacy program, the Berlin Airlift reminds us that strong public diplomacy begins with a sensible foreign policy and that for now we need to wait for a new group of national leaders to move America back to its core values.

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An apology that might mean something

Posted June 19, 2008 on 8:22 pm | In the category Canada, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

My brother Doug and I are suspicious of official apologies by governments who are convinced by election polls that they might win some ethnic votes if they recall how miserably a specific ethnic group was treated a century ago. But this week the Canadian government made an official apology that might actually have been meant and which might have a meaningul impact. Prime Minister Stephen Harper read off an unambiguous apology to the assembled First Nations Chiefs in the House of Parliament regarding the way native peoples have been treated since Canada existed and in particular with regard to what happened during the lengthy period when residential schools were used to “take the Indian out of the Indians” as Harper put it. Children were removed from their families and their homes and transported to remote live-in schools where they were punished for using their native languiage, taught the ways of the white man and untaught the ways of their parents. Even worse, if that can be imagined, is that these children in far too many cases, were also sexually exploited by the people who were supposed to be teaching them.

It was a miserable cultural performance of the highest order, and its abject failure can still be felt a generation after the last residential school was closed. Not only have many of the former students never really recoverd from their ordeal, in many cases they have passed on their existential disillusionment to their own children. The results can be seen in many of the poverty-stricken reserves, particularly in the north, that remain Canada’s darkest secret, though it is no secret to any alert Canadian living today. For the problems are also sadly present in the drug-dominated sections of too many Canadian cities. where the attempt at enforced assimilation has led only to despair. Some natives were not interested in Harper’s belated apology, but many more seemed to be genuinely attentive, no doubt in the hope that a page is finally turning and that the native peoples can soon regain their rightful place on their home turf. Let’s hope they are right.


Shipping Up to Ontario

Posted June 14, 2008 on 1:08 pm | In the category Canada | by Jeff

Our pals the MacKenzies have for some time tried to lure us north of the border but rumors of walrus blubber meals, national curling championships, screech cocktails, dollars called “loonies” and an insufficient number of liquor stores kept us for the most part happily ensconced well south of the 49th parallel. But seven years of George W. Bush, the tediousness of the Democratic primaries, and the lure of the great singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen conspired to get us on the road – headed north.

Leonard brought his “golden voice” to the concert in Hamilton, Ontario and his lyrics were as darkly powerful as ever. While the current tour includes only dates in Canada and Europe, he did dedicate “Democracy” to his “friends in the United States” and the implicit irony was not lost on the mostly Canadian audience. At 73 some worried that Cohen would not be up to a full concert but 3 hours after the concert’s start he was going at full strength. He began the concert with a gracious thank you to the crowd for coming out “on a school night” and ended it with another gracious thank you for allowing him to sing to them. The Canadian press often refers to him as “our Bob Dylan” but to this friendly neighbor from the South it might really be vice versa.

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left nor right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A

L. Cohen in “Democracy”


Sports and Politics – Part Four – Demographics and Football teams

Posted June 13, 2008 on 1:17 am | In the category Europe, Immigration, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

The current European football championships offer a fascinating look at the changing demographics of nations both in and out of the European Union. Some of the countries offer team rosters in which every single player has a name that reflects the traditional ethnic line that once formed the critical mass of almost any country in the map of Europe as we know it. Turkey, Greece, Romania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Austria and Poland are all nations without colonial ambitions (in two cases we should probably add “since the end of World War One”), and none of them has a team that includes any sign of the immigration of populations from former colonies. And none of them has been much interested in encouraging new immigrants, though Poland has a rushed-through a New Pole from Brazil on its roster (he has scored their only goal so far), and Austria has a collection of names from the old Habsburg Empire, plus a couple of Turkish ones. But none of these countries has a single non-Caucasian player unlike the rainbow teams of the powerhouses.

In general one can conclude that the lesser football powers have not benefited from either having had a former colonial empire or a desire to bring in fresh blood, while the major powers have. France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Germany – the favourites – all certainly do, as would the English team if it had managed to qualify, which it didn’t. There is an exception that proves the rule, world champion Italy, which certainly has had colonial ambitions in the past and has much immigration these days, but no player on its national team has a non-italian name. And Switzerland, with a team as multicultural as France, plays a neutral role, even on the football pitch, and has already been eliminated. Russia is a world of its own, more in Asia than in Europe, but its football team seems to be made up of European Russians.

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