I’m sure many of you are horrified at the latest attack by terrorists on our civilization, this time in Berlin. At the beginning of this month, my wife Marie and I visited that very Christmas market several times, as it was just down the block from our hotel where we were staying on business.
For Marie and I, this was our third brush with terrorism.
On 9/11, Marie evacuated the congressional office she was working for and made certain that everyone had a place to go outside of the city; one of the staff stayed with us in Virginia. I learned in the following days that I knew three people on the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon. Later, after my speech in London at a conference on the transnational narcotics trade, Heathrow airport closed the morning of my flight because of the discovery of a bomb plot against transatlantic flights.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany – the three most important nations in the free world and in the story of German-Americans – all have seen their citizens killed in an effort by jihadi terrorists to strike at our liberties.
Threats against freedom are not new, and our civilization has dealt with it for centuries.
Two thousand four hundred years ago, Athens was locked in a military struggle that held grim consequences if it failed. Pericles was chosen to speak over the war dead at Athens military cemetery, and he took the opportunity to remind the Athenians that there was more at stake for them than for others who did not enjoy their hard-won liberties. Pericles reminded his fellow citizens that:
“Our form of government does not imitate the laws of our neighboring states. On the contrary, we are rather a model to others. Our form of government is called a democracy because its administration is in the hands, not of a few, but of the whole people. In the settling of private disputes, everyone is equal before the law. Election to public office is made on the basis of ability, not on the basis of membership to a particular class….The way we live differs in another respect from that of our enemies. Our city is open to all the world. We have never had … laws to exclude anyone from finding out or seeing anything here… For our security, we rely not on defensive arrangements or secrecy but on the courage that springs from our souls, when we are called to action.”Despite a chasm of nearly two and a half millennia, the words of Pericles speak with clarity and power to us in America, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Whether it be an Athenian bustling in the agora, a German-speaking colonist tilling his field, or a German family enjoying a Christmas market, free men and women have always understood that there is more at stake than our enemies ever could.
I wonder if there is something deeply inscribed on our hearts that every individual is infinitely important, that every person who ever lived is part of a drama that has purpose and meaning. Perhaps it is our long historical perspective that makes us a little different than other people. I think that is why people are called to come together through the German-American Heritage Foundation, and safeguard things of the past that are a precious heritage of the future. What Pericles said of the Athenians, let it be said of the people of the GAHF that:
“Our love for beauty does not make us extravagant, and our love of things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used and not as something to boast about.”
My recent trip to Berlin was precisely to building the legacy to preserve our heritage, through closer transatlantic relations. It is the time to build those strong ties and this latest attack demonstrates it.
During my time in Berlin, I met with friends old and new to discuss developments in America and how the GAHF and our network of member clubs could serve as a source of reliable friendships in these periods of rocky transatlantic relationships.
I am pleased to report that the meetings all went well, though some that were focused more on the recent U.S. elections required “a full and frank exchange of views” as the diplomats might phrase it. It was a busy and promising week: I spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Aspen Institute – Germany (ably led by GAHF’s former executive director Ruediger Lentz); met with eight Bundestag members (including Max Straubinger from Bavaria, to whom I was attached as a Congress-Bundestag Staff Exchange Fellow in 2006, and Volkmar Klein, whom I have known since he was in the Nordrhein-Westfalen Landtag in 2003), the head of policy ad planning for President Joachim Gauck, a staff member to Chancellor Angela Merkel, three staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for Europe and North America, and two officers of the German-American Club Berlin. Two surprises: Volkmar Klein invited me to a meeting and then dinner with the Foreign Minister of Togo (a former German colony in West Africa), and while waiting at the security desk at the Chancellory I ran into my friend Uli Gamerdinger, executive director of the German American Business Council!
We enter the New Year eager to set forth what the German-American Heritage Foundation founders had envisioned: a strong presence in Washington, D.C to represent the interests of our members in all fifty States seeking to use our legacy to preserve our heritage and build a stronger America. Join with me in redoubling our efforts in pursuit of this mission. Wishing you a joyful life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in 2017!
President, German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA®