The menacing photo of armed guards – blown up to consume three entire columns across the Sunday opinion page of the Washington Post and sitting beneath the meaty headline of Here’s How America Looks to the World – says it all. Or one could only wish it did. Josef Joffe, editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit, then proceeds to eat up endless more ink writing sky-is-falling hyperbole and revisionism about everything from post-war Germany to post-9/11 America. And in the midst of all his hysteria he chides the United States for … well, its hysteria.
There is no question that the United States has implemented some self-defeating laws in its drive to “secure the borders.” Those that gnaw at our civil liberties are the most disturbing. And the American economy has yet to feel the constricting noose on international trade that will be set in motion by last year’s congressional mandate to physically scan 100 percent of all cargo within a few short years.
The author, however, gives flight to the shallow and all-too-common emotions that have taken root among a certain class of American and European culture. Seven years after the horror of September 11th, these cultural sophisticates exude a kind of national-security ennui, bored with the hassles of visa paperwork and ready to go back to the way it was on September 10th. For them, even common-sense security measures are viewed with resentment and are held up as evidence that America is no longer that shining city on a hill but one turned inward with in fear and loathing.
In making the case that America has succumbed to a “fear tax,” Mr. Joffe laments the “extra half-hour millions of airline passengers waste standing in security lines” or the “human indignity” of being searched at a security checkpoint. And if waiting in line weren’t enough, just look at the massive photo (helpfully provided by the Washington Post) of guards armed with automatic weapons patrolling American airports. This, says Joffe, is the face of America!
Really? I have travelled through an awful lot of airports, and not since the days immediately after the attack on our country have I seen anything as mercenary and intimidating as the picture published in the Post. There is no doubt, however, that many Europeans do indeed hold such stereotypical perceptions of American airports as hostile and weaponized holding cells. Could it be due to so many misinformed articles like this one?
And then the author gets to his real point – the bloody extra paperwork to get a visa to the United States.
Mr. Joffe cites damning statistics showing that tourism to the United States is down, and fewer international scholars are coming to the United States – clear evidence that the terrorists are winning.
Well, not exactly. While European travel to the States has dropped some, travel from China and Asia is up, as the author admits without evident irony or self-awareness. He has a sophisticate’s (and rather nativist) theory for this as well: “the richer a country, the less willing its scientists are to brave the indignities they face before entering the United States.” So the poor, ignorant Chinese and Indians – the emerging behemoths of international markets – are too dumb and desperate to shun America in the way of the savvy and affluent Europeans?
And international students to the United States? Well, they are actually on the rise, but the author notes: “Again, the rise is led by Indians, the Chinese and the Koreans.”
Ah, well. We all know what that means.
There is no question that the anti-immigrant hysteria that at times raises its ugly head in this, of all nations, built upon the genius and industry of successive generations of immigrants, must be faced down. But this nasty side of the American personality existed long before 9/11 and has little to do with common-sense standards to improve security.
The efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to close the vulnerabilities in our foreign student visa process, which Mr. Joffe implicitly criticizes, has been long needed. Quite a number of the murderers in both the 1993 and the 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center entered this country by declaring themselves to be students wanting to study in the United States. Nobody ever bothered to check or notice when these individuals never even showed up on campus and disappeared into the American underbelly until the resurfaced to kill. A little extra bureaucracy is worth the price of preventing another Mohammad Atta.
Mr. Joffe concludes that his alarmism is not “wooly-headed idealism” but based on sober realism. “Just imagine how the U.S. Army would have fared in liberating my home continent, Europe, if the blinkered commissars of DHS had been calling the shots in 1944.”
Josef Joffe should thank god that the folks at DHS weren’t the ones attempting to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany. Does he think that Hitler was defeated with extra visa paperwork and longer lines at security checkpoints?
No, his is not wooly-headed idealism. It is wooly-headed revisionism. One that rewrites the sacrifices of 1944 as easily as it rewrites those of 2001.