`Communicator of American ideals' returns to his native Germany with a mission
Bonn — When ``Tom'' Tuch retired recently, a whole generation retired with him. He is one of the last of those Europeans who fled to America as refugees from Hitler -- then paid back their debt with a lifetime of service to their adopted country.
For Hans N. Tuch, that service included jumping into Normandy with the 101st Airborne, backstopping Richard Nixon during his famous ``kitchen debate'' with Nikita Khrushchev, directing the Voice of America (VOA) for four years -- and, most recently, circulating more up-to-date texts about America to West German schools.
In all of his posts as a ``communicator of American ideals,'' said the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in presenting Mr. Tuch with the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy last year, he exhibited ``integrity, sensitivity, vision, intellectual honesty, and excellence.''
He also had a lot of fun, as the montage of photos on his wall attests. There's Nixon and Tuch being admonished by Khrushchev, Tuch with Willy Brandt, Charles Lindbergh, Leonard Bernstein, and one photo of Boris Pasternak taken by Tuch himself.
Tuch was born into a Berlin Jewish family just in time to enter his teens as Hitler came to power. He was 14 when he and his mother emigrated to join relatives in the United States in 1938. He was 18 when he enlisted in the US Army, 19 when he became an American citizen and parachuted into Normandy, and 25 when he joined the State Department and was sent off to his first post in Frankfurt.
Now he is finishing his career in Germany -- with affection and respect for his native land.
After Frankfurt, Tuch had an interlude of a dozen years in Soviet-bloc affairs -- picking up the Russian and Bulgarian languages, running the US Embassy's cultural programs in Moscow, then supervising VOA broadcasting to the Eastern bloc, and, as charg'e, the US mission in Bulgaria. His next stint in Germany was as public affairs officer in his native Berlin at the end of the '60s. After another decade away -- as Portuguese-speaking charg'e in the US Embassy in Brazil, then acting director of the VOA in Washington -- Tuch came back to Germany for his final assignment in 1980 as minister counselor for public affairs in Bonn.
Altogether, his 14 years of professional experience in West Germany have made Tuch optimistic about the country. ``I really feel that democracy has taken hold in Germany,'' he comments in a retrospective interview in his office overlooking the Rhine. ``I personally do not think that what happened in the '20s and early '30s would happen again even if the combination of [bad] economics, politics, and cultural'' trends repeated itself. ``I just feel that democracy has taken hold in Germany and is strongly embedded, especially among the young people.''
Tuch attributes the political learning process in Germany to a happy combination of circumstances. First, the US, instead of seeking revenge, helped rebuild Germany as a democratic society ``and went at it in a typically American way.'' There were ``a lot of mistakes, but the enthusiasm and commitment were there.
``Second, Germany rebuilt itself economically. Third, . . . there were some very committed democrats in Germany (after the war) who brought along the younger generation and inspired'' them.
Was Tuch troubled by the high cost of West German reconstruction as the cold war settled in and various ex-Nazis were rehabilitated?
``You know, I was not. The fact that there were some ex-Nazis that were brought back and were prominent came upon me [gradually] and not immediately. I did not know then. The news came out later. I had the feeling the people I was dealing with at the time were all really clean. Either they were too young or had been persecuted themselves. To this day, when I meet somebody that I discover was a member of the Waffen SS [the unit that ran the Nazi concentration camps] I have pangs, definitely. I don't know too many, but a half dozen certainly. You think, well gee, he has been a good friend. But would he have been the same way in 1940 or 1939? . . .
``The thing I feel strongly, thinking about the young Germans, the Germans we deal with nowadays, is that almost all of them should not have any personal guilt complexes. They were not personally involved, and I do not think you can or should transfer guilt from one generation to the next.''
By the same token, ``young people today should not feel ashamed of their parents, [though] some of them still do. . . . The present younger generation's parents are the first postwar generation, the one that created this society for them and made it possible for the young people of today to live a fairly pleasant life. . . .
``Nor should young Germans blame their surrogate parents, the Americans, for the imperfections of Western society, the way quite a few of them do.
``I think in the '50s and '60s the American society was oversold, as more of a Camelot than it ever was. When the [backlash] came, through the assassinations [of the Kennedys], the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, it came . . . too abruptly and too radically, so the pro-Americans [in West Germany] were too `pro' and the anti-Americans too `anti.' The '68 generation of teachers and [journalists in] the electronic media [and] news magazines has created a real problem for us.''
In particular, they created a problem for the minister counselor for public affairs, the man expected to refute anti-Americanism.
Tuch's approach has been highly selective. He has ignored both the ideological attacks of the few and the more frequent legitimate criticism of US policies echoing what one would hear in America itself.
Instead, Tuch has focused on those people who are ``ignorant about America. They don't know enough about us. Therefore they are influenced by prejudicial views of their elders, their teachers. . . .''
And has he succeeded in this concentration?
``I don't think you can tell for another 10 years. [There are no quick fixes in public diplomacy.]
``Four or five years ago we decided we should make a real push to reestablish [the ties that] existed in the '50s and '60s, by getting as many young people as possible engaged with the US, either directly through exchanges or indirectly in the formative years in high school'' without waiting until university age.
In this endeavor Tuch has fostered as many exchanges as possible, in order to give young Germans and Americans the experience of living in each others' lands. A model of this sort -- the pilot operation has just begun this year -- will have each member of Congress select one American teen-ager to live in Germany with a host family and each member of the Bundestag select one German youth to live in the US for each academic year.
In working on such exchanges Tuch has perhaps just been doing what any good cultural affairs officer would routinely do. But in tackling the content of classroom teaching he has had to take innovative leaps. He first surveyed materials in use and found to his dismay that quite a few English-language pupils were discussing as their regular fare a 1950 essay by James Baldwin about the barring of blacks from all New Jersey restaurants -- as if this represented today's reality.
Tuch then set to work to provide a more up-to-date picture of America through seminars for groups of West Germany's 20,000 teachers of English or American studies, and through making more appropriate teaching materials available. The US Embassy and several West German states now sponsor jointly up to 20 such seminars per year. The US Embassy has also set up six centers with audiovisual materials for lending.
This sort of thing is Tuch's idea of what public diplomacy is all about. It's not a PR blitz to win friends for the policies of the day, he suggests.