On a video that was shot last summer but recently surfaced on the web, a German army training officer instructing a green recruit in the proper use of a machine gun tells him to imagine himself in the Bronx. The soldier snickers. "A black van stops in front of you. Three Afro-Americans get out and insult your mother in the most vulgar way." (That last phrase sounds less prissy in German, though the use of the term "Afro-Amerikaner" is a surprisingly genteel touch, in this context.)
The gunner opens fire, and, obeying orders, also yells an English obscenity, one that likewise attacks the dignity of his imaginary interlocutors' mothers.
Here's the quiz: Officials both in the US and Germany are outraged because a) the officer is training his charge to fire indiscriminately on civilians; b) he is suggesting that soldiers should respond to verbal abuse with deadly force; c) he is eliding the difference between war and crime-fighting; d) he appears to have learned his strategy from training manuals such as "Grand Theft Auto"; e) the scenario presumably takes place in the context of a German military occupation of the US; f) none of the above.
The correct answer is f). The irrepressible Al Sharpton focused on the fact that the mother-insulters in the scenario are black, while Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión complained that the video reflected unjust assumptions about his turf. "Clearly these folks don't know anything about African-Americans or the Bronx," he complained.
Now it should be noted that the worst thing Carrión's imaginary constituents did in the scenario was to use foul language. I appreciate the borough president's main point, which is that the Bronx is a peaceable part of the city and a good place to do business, but I believe that vulgar comments on the sexual practices of mothers can still occasionally be heard on the streets of New York. The most appalling thing about the scenario has nothing to do with prejudice, or with a more thorough knowledge of the Bronx, but with the idea that a soldier is being trained in techniques of wild, panicked shooting in a densely populated area.
On the bright side, perhaps Don Imus could have a second career as a cultural sensitivity consultant for the German Army.