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Despite the terrorist attacks, many Americans abroad wanted to be "back home"Image: AP

"We Americans Now Feel Uncomfortable Abroad"

Louisa Schaefer
January 1, 1970

Sept. 11 shook Americans inside and outside the US. For those abroad, "home" had suddenly become unsafe. Five years on, ex-pats in Germany and other European countries still feel uneasy - because of anti-Americanism.


"When I look back at Sept. 11, 2001, it always makes me gasp," said Kelly, an American who has resided in Germany for 17 years. It's pretty much like Ground Zero. It's still like a big hole in my stomach."

Her memories of that day are vivid. She was driving to an appointment in Bonn, singing along to "Beautiful Day" by her favorite band U2 on the radio. It really was a beautiful day -- the golden September sun slanting through the window, warming her cheeks.

Her cell phone jolted her out of the musical daydream.

"A friend called to tell me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center, and then another one," said Kelly, a New York state native.

She pulled over as she was just too shaken to drive.

"I knew with the second plane that it couldn't be a coincidence," she said.

Utterly alone

Jahrestag 11. September 2001
"It still feels like Ground Zero in my stomach"Image: AP

Washington, D.C. native My-Linh Kunst was living in Brussels at the time, but was in Frankfurt on Sept. 11.

"My husband was working at a trade fair, and I was in the hotel translating," My-Lihn said. "I took a late lunch break and tuned in to CNN. When the second one hit, the reporter said it was clearly a terrorist attack."

My-Linh -- like millions around the world -- was glued to her TV for days. For many "expatriates," television was the only source of information -- and solace.

"I tried to call my family in Washington, but couldn't get through," she said. "I was completely alone."


Fiona Newman was heading an American business team in London. When the news broke, most headed from the office over to the pub where there was a television.

"Everyone in the pub was crying," Fiona said. "There was sheer disbelief that such a thing could happen to anybody, much less to America. People had felt so safe and secure there. The Americans were shell-shocked."

Home away from home

Jahrestag 11. September Trauer Hamburg
Americans gathered at the US consulate in Hamburg to pay their respectsImage: AP

Many sought comfort in other Americans, but it wasn't easy. Mary Brunowsky, the president of the American Women's Club in Cologne, called Cologne's Amerika Haus that day.

As part of the Düsseldorf-based American Consulate General, the task of the Amerika Haus in Cologne is to explain US society and policies to German audiences.

"They told us right away to not go anywhere as a group since the terrorists may be targeting Americans abroad,'" Brunowsky said.

To this day, the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas does not publish online where their meetings are held.

Even though here was not home, many Americans were touched by Germans' sympathy at the time. The solidarity eased the sorrow.

"For days and weeks after Sept. 11, there were candles and flowers everywhere outside of the Amerika Haus," said Bernd Herbert, the organization's cultural affairs officer.

Divided responses

Amerika Haus Köln am 11. September 2001
German sympathy in CologneImage: Amerika Haus Köln

But the sympathy wasn't meant to last.

"And then America blew it," Kelly said. The foreign policy course the United States chose to take in response to the Sept. 11 attacks -- the invasion into Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, allowing torture at Abu Ghraib and the manner of prisoner detention at Guantanamo Bay -- destroyed the rallying behind her homeland, she believes.

A study by the Pew Research Center, in its "Global Attitudes Project," confirmed this. In this year's survey of 17,000 people in 15 countries, the organization concluded that "America's global image has again slipped and support for the war on terrorism has declined, even among close US allies like Japan. Favorable opinions of the United States have fallen in most of the countries surveyed," the report said.

The study continued: "The war in Iraq is a continuing drag on opinions of the United States, not only in predominantly Muslim countries, but in Europe and Asia as well."

Anti-Americanism cycles

Heike Bungert, a North American history professor at the University of Bremen, said anti-Americanism comes in waves. Right now, she said, the "wave" is higher due to US foreign policy. She sees it among her students.

"The suspicion lurks that the US wants to intervene everywhere," she said.

The then German government's opposition to the war in Iraq in 2003 may have helped anchor that attitude.

"There's a sense here in Germany -- and that is a result of our history of world wars -- that global problems can and should be worked out through negotiations rather than militarily," said Herbert of the Amerika Haus, himself a German.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Krieg im Irak dauert an
Everyday life in Iraq: suicide bombers and roadside attacksImage: AP

Many leading American analysts believe that the war in Iraq has done more harm than good. American academic Francis Fukuyama, once close to the neo-conservative movement, distanced himself from the group just before the war.

"Iraq has become a breeding ground for terror," he told Der Spiegel newsmagazine this spring. "It has stimulated a lot of people to join the resistance and commit themselves to jihad."

Others point out that US power and privilege feed anti-Americanism. US Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes's job is to improve America's image abroad.

"We are a superpower and with that comes some resentment," she said in a February interview.

Philosopher André Glucksmann, a Frenchman of German-Jewish descent, pointed out that "people use the myth of the superpower America to pin the blame onto the country for everything," he told Der Spiegel last fall. "But the world has long become multi-polar; America is not able to dictate its conditions everywhere."

In fact, Bungert, Fukayama and Glucksmann all believe that it is modernism that has helped fuel frustration, resentment and, ultimately, terrorism.

"Modernization, or more precisely, the -- brutal -- Westernization of the planet, has sent three-fourths of the world's population spinning," Glucksmann said.

Guilt by association

Jahrestag 11. September Trauer Paris
Pre-Iraq war: Parisian girl at the US embassy in 2002Image: AP

Germany may have had its wake-up call about its currents of anti-Americanism at the start of this year when revelations surfaced that German spies in Baghdad had supplied the US military with information during the Iraq war.

Some Germans realized that they could no longer be pointing the finger at the US for an erroneous invasion in Iraq, when Germany itself had dirtied its hands.

Still, the urge to reproach dies hard. American Carmen Pang, a Cologne resident, was recently strolling through the city with her husband. Heeding the festive soccer World Cup mood, her husband donned his cowboy hat. As the couple passed by an outdoor café, someone called out "F--- Bush."

Though Carmen had to swallow hard over that one, she said most Germans can distinguish between American policy and the country's people, and that they welcome her here.

One might think that Americans abroad have a distant stance toward their native country. Au contraire, some ex-pats say -- many feel themselves to be unofficial ambassadors to their country of origin.

"It's so easy to America-bash overseas and distance oneself from it all," My-Linh said. "But actually, while I don't defend US foreign politics right now, I find that when I'm abroad, I'm quite patriotic and proud to be an American. I just shut out the America-bashing."

But Mary said it is sometimes hard to turn a deaf ear.

"We as ex-pats --whether we believe in American politics or not -- we as Americans feel uncomfortable now abroad," she said.

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