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Germany Stinks

A U.S. Capitol food worker holds up a sign renaming French fries "Freedom fries," March 13. Some Americans have been boycotting French and German products to protest those countries' antiwar stance. (Photo: AFP)

Just imagine: The United States wants war, and Germany and France simply refuse to go along. Many Americans find that ungrateful, and so they are increasingly calling for a boycott of imports from Germany—and the news is being spread by harassment Web sites such as germanystinks.com.

“Welcome to germanystinks.com!” it says at the top of the browser window, and “USA Uber [sic] Alles!”

That almost says it all. Germanystinks is not one of those Web sites praising the beauty of the German countryside, the delights of German cuisine, the umlaut, or the reputed technological superiority of Teutonic automobiles. But this does not mean that you cannot learn a surprising amount here about all the products offered by German manufacturers and service industries operating in the United States. Because one must list and publicize those companies if one is going to call for a boycott.

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And that is what this unusual catalog has as its goal: punishing the ingrates of the “axis of weasel.” This axis runs from Berlin to Paris, as is evident when you notice the mirror Web site devoted to our ally and friendly neighbor nation. Its name makes it clear that France smells, too, and not as nice as the Motherland of Tolerance and Freedom of Opinion.

America wants to import this freedom of opinion to Iraq via tanks, and ungrateful governments such as that of France and above all, Germany, do not agree. This is precisely what “Yankee Doodle,” the site’s webmaster, means when he writes about stench. “It is the stink of collaboration and cowardice emanating from Berlin and Bonn that we’re talking about, where a communist cop-battering gangster foreign minister [Joschka Fischer] and a ‘win-at-any-price’ anti-American poppinjay of a chancellor [Gerhard Schröder] lead the nation that we rebuilt from the ashes of fascism further and further away from our friendship and forgiveness.”

This is not well written, though quite clear: The people here are speaking from deeply held convictions, which they support with few, often-repeated, facts.

There are semi-satirical references to German eating habits, such as “fatty wurst and overcooked sauerkraut” (which apparently is served at Oktoberfests in the American Midwest), and a raking-up of every conceivable old resentment, prejudice, and stale joke. But there is no need for us Germans to read any of the jokes, because we wouldn’t get them: Germans—and the webmaster has hundreds of e-mails to prove it—have no sense of humor. Otherwise we would realize that it is not American ignorance at work when we see only one German article used throughout the site—“das.” The site offers “Das News,” “Das Photos,” and “Das Jokes.”

The kernel of this Web site is a call to boycott every product that is made in Germany: wine, cars, insurance, and so on. This germanystinks and francestinks have organized the “Great American Tea Party of 2003.”

Germanystinks reports that on March 4, 34 percent of American households allegedly rose up in protest against the irresolute and ungrateful behavior of Germany and France by flushing their German- and French-made consumer products down the toilet at midnight. The exorbitantly high number of households taking part in the event (which for unknown reasons was not covered by the American media)—the percentages correspond, roughly, to all the Americans who are vehemently pro-war—have apparently been measured by observing the fluctuations in the pressure of the water supply and sewage pipes.

Some of those water-supply pipes belong to RWE [a German electricity, gas, water and wastewater, waste disposal, and recycling conglomerate], which just bought American Water Works for US$4.6 billion. According to Business Week, there were almost no objections to this deal until the final stages—when suddenly environmental and consumer groups rushed in to protest. The business weekly believes that this backlash may be the result of carefully placed statements by a number of low-level American politicians. Their message is the same: Boycott France and Germany and companies associated with them.

This, according to Business Week’s incisive analysis, is complete nonsense, “balderdash,” but it has borne fruit. RWE is not the only company to have felt this backlash in recent weeks. Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the German arms maker, also has been affected. It found its contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense suddenly reduced without warning.

But this endangers the exports of the “axis of weasel” nations in Europe far less than it affects the U.S. economy: 4.9 million American jobs, according to Business Week, are linked to French and German companies. And even speaking of companies or products as belonging to one nation is nonsense: American firms are so intricately interconnected with German and French corporations that a complete boycott would affect 25 percent of the U.S. economy.

But Web sites like germanystinks are not about arguments; they are about principles. The anonymous webmaster, who claims to be a private individual, is also behind “Big Boots.” This thoroughly patriotic Web site operates like the “stinks” sites, representing the hard rightist fringe of American political life. The high point of the site is its list of “Bad Guys,” which includes “traitors” and their fellow travelers, such as Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Julia Roberts, and, needless to say, Sean Penn.

These Hollywood stars, all “liberals,” are a thorn in the side of the red-blooded patriots. About 60,000 Internet users so far have signed an online petition called “Citizens Against Celebrity Pundits,” which would like to gag all these disloyal actors. The simple, to-the-point design of this site states its purpose upfront: The online demonstration last Wednesday against the looming war against Iraq was a “virtual attack on America,” and any celebrity who dares to take part will be labeled a “leftist.”

Although this seems to represent real intolerance, one should not overestimate germanystinks and the others. Yes, there are other Web sites like “Boycott the Feckless French” and the “Axis of Weasels” site, but that is about it. The people behind these sites hide in anonymity, and their ideas have not found fertile ground on the Net. Even their own lists of links find it hard to gather many sites with similar views.

Things look different on the other side of the ideological spectrum: Anyone visiting the [American antiwar grass-roots movement] “Not in Our Name” campaign site finds not just a FAQ, but also a background page with the names of its sponsors. This petition also boasts about 55,000 signatures, and last week’s temporary breakdown of telecommunications at the White House and the Senate has already entered World Wide Web history books. Nor does the “Artist Network” site have any problems in posting positive news, sponsors’ addresses, and links to related sites.

Germanystinks.com is thus no more than scurrility online. But the thoughts expressed by these hard-line patriotic Americans have not remained without resonance: Lederett, a leather-goods company in Saxony, is apparently the first German company to suffer an overtly political abrogation of a business contract. “We were satisfied with your quality, service, and prices,” the letter by its American suppliers stated. However, the suppliers were stopping shipments “because of Germany’s lack of support for the United States.”

 
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