The Sermon to the Germans

Obama’s sermon to the Germans has been much discussed in the blogosphere. In this post, I’d like to focus on one thread of the speech: Obama’s words about the Berlin Airlift:

Sixty years ago, the planes that flew over Berlin did not drop bombs; instead they delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children. And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust – not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.

Actually, of course, a very large number of bombs had been dropped on Berlin and other German cities, just a few years earlier. Americans were in Berlin at all only due to the application of military force, without which, Berlin would have continued to be a Nazi city–and one in which a Barack Obama, if he were allowed to continue living at all, would certainly not have been allowed to give a political speech.

And Berlin–along with the rest of West Germany–avoided Soviet invasion and domination only because of American military force. The unarmed transport planes that supplied Berlin would not have survived had the Soviets not been aware of the armed fighters and bombers–and nuclear weapons–that were in American possession.

What Obama is clearly attempting to do in this speech is to paint the Berlin Airlift as successful example of the one-world/kumbaya strategy favored by “progressives,” here as well as in Europe. It wasn’t. The Berlin Airlift succeeded because of Harry Truman’s toughness and resolution, backed by American military power.

Jeff Jacoby:

But not once in his Berlin speech did Obama acknowledge Truman’s fortitude, or even mention his name. Nor did he mention the US Air Force, or the 31 American pilots who died during the airlift.

Indeed, Obama seemed to go out of his way not to say plainly that what saved Berlin in that dark time was America’s military might. Save for a solitary reference to “the first American plane,” he never described one of the greatest American operations of the postwar period as an American operation at all. He spoke only of “the airlift,” “the planes,” “those pilots.” Perhaps their American identity wasn’t something he cared to stress amid all his “people of the world” salutations and talk of “global citizenship.”

Andrew Ferguson:

The West’s victory in the Cold War, (Obama) said, proved that “there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”

This will come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the Cold War or has even read about it. The thing about wars, even cold ones, is that the world doesn’t stand as one; that’s why there’s a war. And in the Cold War the Soviet side was as united as the West; more so, probably. Left out of Obama’s history was any mention of the ferocious demonstrations against the United States in the streets of Paris and West Berlin during the 1960s and 1980s, when American presidents were routinely depicted as priapic cowboys and psychopaths. Probably a fair number of the older members of Obama’s audience had been hoisting those banners themselves 25 years ago.

If Barack Obama rather than Harry Truman had been President of the United States at the time of the Soviet blockade of Berlin, can anone seriously think he would have prevented a Soviet takeover of that city, or indeed of all West Germany? A sustained U.S. presence in Europe was by no means unaminously popular at the time–indeed, the Progressive Party candidate of 1948, Henry Wallace, opposed both the Airlift and the Marshall Plan–see also here. (Wallace’s slogan, “one world,” sounds a lot like something Obama would say.)

In his speech, Obama referred to the planes that “delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children,” and went on to say, “And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust – not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.”

Do you think maybe Obama could tell his wife this story? Might it possibly get her to rethink her conclusion that America is country that is “just downright mean?”

18 thoughts on “The Sermon to the Germans”

  1. golly…and just think: 200,000 Germans did not know this and if they read this they soon will. You might also note that Truman was of the Devil’s party–a Democrat, as was FDR, the party that you maintain doesn’t understand foreign policy or war.

  2. Hi, Fred. You can’t assume that because there is something called “the Democratic Party” in 2008, which has organizational continuity with something called “the Democratic Party” in 1948, that these entities stand for the same things.

    Analogy: Suppose Apple Computer were taken over by people from the nether regions of the consumer electronics industry, and refocused itself on very-high-volume commodity products. It would still have the same name, and have legal continuity with the Apple we know and love–might even have many of the same employees–but would not be the same company in terms of values and strategy.

    Another analogy: Many people in the 1930s were familiar with a “Germany” that they rightly remembered as an advanced and civilized nation, and assumed–quite wrongly, as it turned out–that this entity could be counted on to maintain certain minimum standards of behavior.

    Do you honestly believe that Harry Truman would have had high regard for the foreign policy ideas of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, et al?

  3. Fred Lapides,

    There is a sharp discontinuity between the democratic party pre and post 1968. Pre-1968, the democrats where the socially conservative party of the middle-class. Post 1960, they represented inherited wealth, and pseudo-intellectual urban elites. More importantly, they stopped being the party of the everyman and started aping the elitist based politics of continental Europe.

    It is the hated and reviled Reagan and Bush who stand in the shoes of Truman and JFK when it comes to foreign policy. People in Obama’s intellectual tradition opposed the U.S. fighting the Cold War and offering any resistance to the Soviets at all.

    The Democrats are not what they used to be.

  4. Indeed, David gives us a clue in his post:
    A sustained U.S. presence in Europe was by no means unaminously popular at the time–indeed, the Progressive Party candidate of 1948, Henry Wallace, opposed both the Airlift and the Marshall Plan–see also here. (Wallace’s slogan, “one world,” sounds a lot like something Obama would say.)
    Henry Wallace had been FDR’s vice president but had become the Progressive Party’s candidate in 1948. We might see a similarity with Lieberman, who was Gore’s running mate but has since become an independent. The Democrats in the late forties marginalized fellow travelers; the Democrats in the 2000s marginalize those who would embrace such actions as the Berlin airlift.

  5. Slightly off topic but quite a lot of those people were not Germans. What with the rock bands and the hullaballoo around Obama, various touriss and visitors flooded there. Maybe not important but worth noting. They were also mostly rather young by the sound of it and not very interested in history. Obama, as we know, is a little weak on his history anyway so there was synergy between the two.

  6. So, David Foster and the Chicago Swine’s message is be afraid of an Obama presidency? So scary. Almost as scary as four more years of (r)epuke leadership.

    Should we all be as scared as the people of South America whom your idols terrorized not long ago? The Chicago Boys ideas proved failures when put into action, as your current Obama smear campaign will in all likelihood.

    Keep wasting those fine educations, boys.

  7. Interesting, the personal abuse and rather strange unfunny puns one gets from people of a certain political persuasion instead of argument. However, anyone who has actually looked at certain parts of the world would have noticed that it is actually socialist ideas that have proved to be a complete failure when put into practice.

  8. Oh good, another revisionist historian. I guess the “personal abuse” has Helen’s panties all in a bunch. The physical abuse handed out by Chicago Girls disciple Augusto Pinochet Ugarte likely didn’t bother her though. It was all in the interest of “free markets”. And they take precedence over human life and dignity.

    $$$ and mayhem over peace and stability, right Helen Keller? Open up your eyes, you’re blind to the ways of the world.


  9. Bunny, the rabbit who lives in my backyard requests that, if you’re going to use the brand name of her species, you should study rhetoric, so as to be able to better present your ideas in a way that will help maintain the reputation of the brand.

  10. David,

    The rabbit in your back yard has enlisted my help in avoiding a torturous death in your house of horrors. It spotted your Pinochet posters and waterboarding table through your back window and it’s now terrified. Please show some compassion toward this poor creature, it has assured me it believes in privatization.


  11. Um, Pinochet was not evil because of his economic policies. He was evil for political oppression, and if anyone is saying that it would have been OK if he was a communist, then they are at least twisted, and at most evil. The most you can say is that the US supported people who were as bad as the communists.

  12. Obama’s speech underlines the problem with many American politicans and that is they speak as if they were part or memory an historical event before their time. With Senator Obama, who was born in 1964, he discovered America 16 years after the berlin Airlift and now must approach it as history and not from memory.

    I believe Obama biggest problem will be convincing the largest generation in American – the Baby Boomers, the generation of perpetual youth – that he is their candidate. The Baby Boomers will for the first time, if Obama should be elected, will collectively be older than the President. Baby boomers don’t like to think of themselves as old and McCain could be the fit to keep themselves from feeling too old.

    Danny L. McDaniel
    Lafayette, Indiana

  13. Well, well, a misogynist as well, eh Bunny? Can’t talk to a woman without going into very nasty personal insults. Pinochet was not a nice man but curiously enough Chile did not disintegrate into an economic mess under him and he also handed power over to a democratically elected civilian government. Can you really say that about any socialist leader? And if you do care so much about people being tortured then you might like to think of the ones in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea etc etc. There political oppression went hand in hand with economic disaster.

  14. Actually Helen, misogyny has nothing to do with it. Had your name been Harry rather than Helen, I would have said “Harry has his whities all in a bunch”. Or “Harry has his boxers all in a bunch”. Nothing sexist about it, honey.

    Such thin skin for someone who advocates violence and torture and whose hero Uncle Milty turned a blind eye from such horrors. If you want the chit-chat with me please save your crocodile tears for the murdered masses of South and Central America. And all others terrorized in the name of the almighty Dollar.

  15. So——since Bunny is talking about the “almighty” do I take it that she would rather worship at the alter of the almighty Ruble–and the entire social construct that goes with it? As long as you are suggesting that people are terrorized under a capitalist system, would you care to point out any non-capitalist based economy where LESS people have been terrorized since, oh, since of the invention of market capitalism? Or, Bunny, do you believe we would all be in a far better world if we reverted to a non-capitalist, barter economy? Or, alternatively, is it that you believe that other, non-dollar based capitalist social systems are somehow more pure than dollar based ones? How about mixed economies,i.e., present day China? I’m confused. Please explain.

  16. I’ve never said that people were not terrorized under other systems. I just find it amusing that such an educated group of people hold Milton the horrible Friedman in such high regard. You won’t find me praising Mao or joining the Ho Chi Minh fan club.

  17. Some dude calling himself “Bunny” wrote:

    “I just find it amusing that such an educated group of people hold Milton the horrible Friedman in such high regard. You won’t find me praising Mao or joining the Ho Chi Minh fan club.”

    I was not aware that in his long life and distinguished career that Dr. Friedman ever managed to establish himself as the ruler of a totalitarian state. Furthermore the number of Western apologists for various leftist tyrants from Lenin forward have not exactly been small. Some still laud Castro and now Hugo Chavez, himself a former putschist ( had the Venezuelan democrats had the nerve to shoot Col. Chavez for treason after his failed coup, they’d have spared themselves much trouble).

    Pinochet was a thug but a smarter one than the dilettante Marxist and KGB-backed thug Salvador Allende whom he and the Chilean army overthrew ( and probably had murdered). Pinochet is remarkable only in two respects as a dictator: first, he was a successful counterrevolutionary who eventually gave up power to a democratic system. Secondly, Pinochet listened to good economic advice instead of nationalizing everything in sight, as was the spirit of his times.

    A bad man, certainly, who indifferently killed numerous innocent people along with the hard-eyed Allende supporters who were working to make Chile into a Soviet satellite and were playing for power. A figure comparable to most 20th century dictators ? Not by any rational yardstick that doesn’t also involve shilling for socialism.

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