Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In the 21st Century, the German military still provides honor guards for decorated WWII personnel

The other day, the blogster had a chat with OMG (old mustached German, you may remember him from earlier posts) and found out that the German military, including the happily reunified one, has quietly provided honor guards at the funerals of highly decorated World War II Wehrmacht folks through the decades. These honors were extended to former WWII personnel, irrespective of whether they later joined the newly formed democratic Bundeswehr or not.

According to Wikipedia, the number of honor guards between 2000 and 2011 was just over 100, adding up the three different flavors of honor guards.

Of course, high ranking later politicians, like former Chancellor Kohl get one too, said OMG.

Oh, I thought they were Kohl's funeral to make sure he was safely boxed up, the blogster quipped in a fit of reverence.

OMG raised an eyebrow but continued to talk.

Turns out, he once served as a community outreach officer at a large Bundeswehr installation. Part of the job was coordinating honor guards for funerals of highly decorated Wehrmacht and Bundeswehr veterans.

To qualify, a WWII man had to have been awarded a "knight's cross" or equivalent, such as the 'Deutscher Orden'. Being the military, the different versions of honor guards are well regulated and usually go smoothly, except for, well, possible issues with the pesky swastika the Nazis stuck on every medal.

In Germany, it is a felony to display a swastika in public (unless you are a museum). Of course, violations of the policy have occurred, sometimes reported, more often unreported like one incident in which a West German general pulled a bunch of flags from a museum and various Germans and Allies saluted those flags.

But the Bundeswehr was well prepared for funerals of old WII folks and has maintained collections, throughout the country, of all the highest Nazi medals with their swastikas dutifully removed.

The standard 'small honor guard' of six soldiers plus a drummer and a trumpet player for decorated folks includes a medal and awards cushion, carried by an active soldier, displaying the medals during the funeral procession and at the grave site.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well. OMG explained, one day he kind of dropped the ball when some old geezer explained he was intimately familiar with the honor guard procedures and that he, the geezer, would take care of the cushion.

I arrived literally a couple of minutes before the ceremony, OMG explained, and checked the uniforms, the flag and the helmet on the casket and the medals cushion. Imagine my horror when I saw that a big Order of Germany was sitting in the center of the cushion with its swastika! I mean, we have had press and photographers at such funerals, imagine the uproar.

The blogster figured there was simple solution. Just remove the medal, and you are good.

OMG was  lot more creative. I checked my wallet, he elaborated, and found a 2 Euro coin. I took it out, put it on top of the swastika, and it fit. It covered it. I instructed the carrier to lift the cushion to be perfectly horizontal, not facing slightly down as usual. And I told him not f***ing move.

OMG was very pleased with his workaround.

So, folks, if you ever need to bury some old Nazis and show off their decorations, make sure to have a 2 Euro coin on you.

Even better, keep some chewing gum handy.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The myth of envy of the poor towards the rich and the rich folks' demand for gratitude

Germany just saw another storm in a beer mug about its poor. This is an annual ritual when charities and social service NGOs publish their annual reports, but the current episode was started by thoroughly average 'conservative rebel' Mr. Spahn when he claimed that people on the means tested basic social benefits program did not go hungry.

With great empathy, he added praise for food banks as "a great way to avoid that perfectly edible food gets thrown into the trash".

Faced with sarcasm and outrage, the gentleman decided to highlight the cost of social programs, declaring them highly desirable and adding that there are no unlimited funds, and that it is all about providing the right level of services without ignoring tax revenues.

Pointing out, as some did, that Mr. S. happily voted for an automatic increase of compensation of German federal MPs while insisting that any increase in benefits is subject to an annual review, would not sway anybody.

Neither would pointing out that the German poor, including those on the means tested bare bones benefit Hartz IV, have about the same tax burden as the very wealthy relative to their income.

The blogster finds two perennial aspects of the debate very revealing: alleged envy towards the wealthy and a more or less clearly stated demand of gratitude towards the "top earners of our well financed social state".

A commentary by one of the folks of conservative daily Die Welt can serve as a wonderfully phrased example of the mantra of envy. Declaring Germans to be "world champions of envy", the author bemoans that the recent arguments about Hartz IV and food banks on the one hand and upset about the compensation of the chief of automaker VW were being instrumentalized and clearly showed the alleged envy.

Nowhere in the debate has there been any question as to whether this envy is even real. The blogster cannot claim to be the ultimate authority, but it* has lived among poor Germans, and it has read up on the definition of envy: "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage". 

And guess what?

It has not found "the desire to possess the same advantage". Ever. Also not among the poor in India. Or those in the United States.

What it has found, though, is the desire of the poorer folks to have enough money to get to the end of the month without skipping meals in order to feed their children, without fear of using too much electricity, without praying that the old car will make it into the next month.

Which is not the same as the desire to possess the same advantages as those who are well off.

In fact, resentment often goes in the other direction. Why do they need a smartphone, is an often heard question in the debate over benefits levels.

The commentary in Die Welt really shines in its use of impersonal statements to buffer increasing inequality. The gem is "modern capitalism accelerates the differentiation of society". 

In short, "modern" is the new modern, and we are not seeing inequality but "differentiation". It comes as no surprise that "there are more and more rich people in this economically successful country. Still not enough, but there is improvement in times of growth."

Lamentably, "it does not matter how much they pay in taxes, how comprehensive their contributions are for social security, how many jobs they create or secure: hardly anybody has any sympathy for the rich."

We all, the blogster included, use umbrella terms like "capitalism" and others, but we should be weary of turning to impersonal usage to nefarious ends.

On a positive note: the blogster would love to pay a million or more Euros or dollars in taxes every year, because it would mean a more than comfortable income. If you meet modern capitalism, ask him to help out a hard working blogster. 

* In praise of gender neutrality.