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More on the Americanization of Germany



     A basic tenet of WAIS is that the world sees events from different perspectives. The U.S. media are full of stories about Elian, whose face appeared on the cover of Time, and comments too numerous to reproduce have come from WAISers.
     In Germany, the lead story today (Sunday!) was about the cult of Elvis Presley, whom apparently Time chose as man of the century. Mankind has always had a sickness of the soul, but today it is spread by the mass media. The story opened with pictures of Americans laying flowers on the tomb of the rocker who fell off his roller. Then came a section about his German imitator, a gross individual with big rings. In Elvis Presley Platz (where is that?) there was a meeting of his male German admirers. I have seldom seen so repugnant a group of young men, which is quite an achievement.
     Then came a proud section on the latest piece of Americana: thanks to a firm in Hamburg, Germans can now play the lottery (lotto-toto) on the internet. It explained the electronic miracle which has made this possible. It made the Spanish lottery look like simple fun. This came on the heels of the news that a short-order cook had won $100 million in the New York lottery, proof that America leads the world.
     By accident I then selected a non-German station which told the story of Maximilian Kolbe, a German Roman Catholic priest who in a concentration camp took the place of another prisoner selected for execution. He has deservedly been canonized, and he silently testifies to the distortion of history which singles out the Catholic Church for complicity with the Nazis. The Nazi guards in the film reminded me of the young men in the Elvis Presley Platz. Progress? Excuse me if I report that the dreams which I remember often show me beautiful landscapes. Last night I dreamt that I saw a line of children walking down a country road against a background of beautiful daffodils. Strange; the same flowers which haunted William Wordsworth, whose poems I have not looked at for over seventy years. Was it a memory of my youthful country walks in England?
     I thought of the Mayan peasants I saw years ago in the church at Chichicastenango in Guatemala. A family knelt on the church floor around the father, who placed flowers in a beautiful pattern on the stones paving the nave. He was gesticulating and arguing with God. The German priest who knew Mayan explained to me that he was wondering why his cow had died, even though he had prayed for its recovery. I did not hear God's reply to the eternal question about his justice. The scene was a moving demonstration that man has a deep yearning for beauty, love and justice.
     More appropriate than Elvis Presley to Sunday were films about the hard life of coconut pickers in an island of El Salvador, who seemed like nice people, and a film from Peru about the cult of the Virgin of Mercies in the north coast town of Paita, which has spread to the whole county. The myths about the miraculous little statue may be silly, but behind them was the same longing for love, peace and justice. Progress?

Ronald Hilton - 1/9/00


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