I don't understand. What does "das Vaterland" have to do with English?
Well, it's part of most Americans' vocabulary, as well as "Mother Russia." We aren't known for speaking other languages, but perhaps as a compensation for that trait, we (like our British forbears) tend to plunder other languages we come in contact with.
How many American military families have been stationed in enormous garrison posts in Germany since 1945? As a military brat who spent my early teen years as a European (thanks to a NATO assignment in Naples), I can tell you the number is in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Maybe not the "average American," but a good 20% of us, say, think of Deutschland
as a masculine rather than a feminine entity-- yes, I know the word itself is neuter in gender.
I don't mean anything offensive by this, in case you're wondering. And you have me on one point-- I can't imagine Bush saying "Germany has the right to defend himself."
But I contend the same sentence with "herself" would be a real jolt to me, along with a lot of Americans, if we heard someone say it-- and I'm sure it's because "das Vaterland," for good or ill, is resident in our vocabulary.
According to the last census, 40% of Americans identified themselves as ethnic Germans-- and digging for ones "roots" is an American passion, another factor I think is at work here.