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Bob Hoover
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Bob Hoover
Children's Corner
Militias, home issues lure writer back to U.S.

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

For nearly 30 years, journalist Jane Kramer has observed events in her country through a filter -- the reactions of her European neighbors. She writes about Europe for The New Yorker magazine, following in the footsteps of the legendary Janet Flanner.

 
 

Jane Kramer's appearance is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series of the University of Pittsburgh. Her talk is free and open to the public.

   
 

Every so often, however, the pull of her native land is too hard to resist, and she returns to write about America. And, although her stay in the States is almost over, Kramer is taking time tonight to visit Pittsburgh and report on her latest project.

She speaks at 8:15 p.m. at the Frick Fine Arts Building Auditorium in Oakland.

"I came back because I wanted to listen to my own language again," she said in a recent interview from her New York apartment.

Her project is a book on the rise of the militia movement in America, but the spark for the idea started in Germany, she said.

"I was writing [for The New Yorker] about the right-wing movement in Europe and began hearing about similar things in the United States," she said. "What I was hearing broke my heart. That's what stirred my interest."

She took a leave from the magazine, returned home and began following the activities of a militia group in Washington state. The group eventually was brought to trial on various weapons charges.

Kramer would not identify the group, saying only its headquarters is near the Canadian border.

"In their ideology, along the border is where they think the first battles are going to happen," she said. "They think some 'new world order' army will sweep out of Canada to take over the country."

The rise of these anti-government groups is part of a trend in contemporary America, which Kramer identified in her latest book, "The Last Cowboy."

"Living abroad, you really get the sense that America is still the land of promise, but back home, you discover that that notion has somehow failed," she said. " 'The Last Cowboy' was about the collapse of that promise, and I found the same sense in the rise of the militia groups. What I'm looking for is where that sense of promise failed."

America's internal struggles, Kramer said, are not of much interest in Europe, however. "America is viewed by Europeans for its dealings with the rest of the world. They don't have much interest in our social policies. Their judgment is based on what we do or don't do in Kosovo, not about what life is like at home."

Europeans were particularly confused about the Gore-Bush election impasse, she said. "Just try explaining the Electoral College or why different counties in each state have different kinds of ballots," she said.

"For a European, understanding America's incredible interpretations of states' rights is as difficult as understanding the fuss over Monica Lewinsky."

Among Kramer's other books are "Allen Ginsberg in America," "Unsettling Europe" and "The Politics of Memory." She returns to Europe next month to resume her writing for the magazine.

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