The Sunday Salon: How German is It?


Two years ago, a burst appendix sent me to the hospital. It was the first time I was ever hospitalized for a serious illness, and the first time in years I had needed health insurance. It also was the first time I understood how lucky I was to have insurance.

I thought about this yesterday while catching up on my magazine reading. The Dec. 7 New Yorker has a “Talk of the Town” piece on the never-ending saga of health care in the U.S. The saga’s history is long, extending back at least to 1916. “Health care has been on the docket longer than most Americans can expect to live, with or without it,” the article says.

Universal health care in the U.S. also has a long history of being demonized, as the article notes. In 1883 Germany was the first nation to extend health coverage to the masses. When the U.S. plated the idea in 1916, that plate quickly froze after the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917.

Health care became an idea of the enemy. “Critics,” the article says, “said that [universal health care] was ‘made in Germany’ and likely to result in the ‘Prussianization of America’.”

As much as history is a progression of events and ideas, it also tends to repeat itself like a bad burrito. Or in the U.S. it becomes a case of recycling, opponents spinning out new (old?) devils to label a perceived evil.

“How German is it” in 2010 translates oddly to cries of Bolshevism, Fascism, Nazism or Communism. At some point the opposition should perhaps propose the Devil is behind health care reform, taking a prompt from that great agent of recycling his garbage, Pat Robertson. Or perhaps this time history will make some progress.

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