The title of tonight's edition of CBS Reports, "Our Friends the Germans," has an irony inside. Our friends the Germans regularly stage virulently anti-American rallies, dislike the presence of 350,000 American troops who are there partly to defend them from the Russians and, on a more official level, are beginning to get antsy about the NATO alliance.
Bill Moyers is the correpondent for the report, at 8 on Channel 9. It looks at the protests of the shaggy German young, who denounce America as an abomination but precisely mimic American peaceniks of the '60s with their dissent; at that scar on the planet, the Berlin Wall; and at the somewhat precarious American military presence in the country.
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, in an interview, cautions Moyers not to "overdo and overdramatize the situation," and, whether or not that advisory was needed, Moyers and the producers have complied. Pegged to the arrival of President Reagan in Bonn today for a meeting with NATO members, the documentary finds "not very much anti-Americanism" in Germany but, Moyers says, "a lot of anti-Reaganism."
The street protests are directed against the middle-range missiles that could turn Europe into a playing field for the superpowers' nuclear war--yet, suspiciously, few if any of these alleged "peace" demonstrations are directed at the Soviets. A German student tells Moyers that a teacher asked the class to contribute pros and cons about America and wrote them on a blackboard, and when this exercise was over, the only pro's were "Coca-Cola and hamburgers."
This posture sounds like bitter, and flagrantly forgetful, ingratitude, especially from the descendants of those who wreaked nightmare on the world 40 years ago. But then it is noted in another interview that German young people have few nationalistic symbols to revere; they feel rootless, and they resent the idea that their country is thought of as merely the neutral turf in which two heavily armed gangs will one day meet for a cataclysmic rumble.
Haunting aerial views, meanwhile, are a reminder that the Berlin Wall extends out of downtown Berlin and into the countryside, desecrating nature as well as the notion of liberty. "Broken Dream" is one of the scrawls of graffiti on it; yet, later, bubbly tourists pose against it for snapshots. The students denounce it as "a human perversion" and for the fact that even this perversion has become a sightseeing attraction.
In similarly eerie time-capsule footage, American and Russian soldiers stand within yards of each other, staring and taking pictures, as they patrol the German-Czech border. The plight of the American military man stationed in Germany is recounted by GIs, one of whom says German girls will date him but never take him home to meet the folks, and by the proprietor of an "off limits" bar, who says if he serves American servicemen, they steal glasses and scare his German customers away.
The accomplishment of this report, which was produced and directed by Catherine Olian and cowritten by her and executive producer Perry Wolff, is that it appreciates and illuminates nuances of a situation that had seemed irritatingly simple on the surface. Like the best journalism in any medium, it offers more than troubling and compelling information; it is a contribution to human understanding.