Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dear President Obama,

Yeah. This makes sense, because I remember when some European country the name of which escapes me went through "a dark and painful chapter in their history" mid-century or thereabouts and then afterward made up for it by pretending it didn't happen and not prosecuting anyone. Oh, wait, didn't happen? Well I'll be!

Seriously, fuck this shit. I'm not even demanding that we haul out the guillotines; a South African-style reconciliation process would go a long way towards getting us where we need to be. But this is just high-grade BULLSHIT that virtually guarantees that this kind of fucked up behavior will continue.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Well, that particular country hardly did those things of its own volition. Moreover, I believe that it's only a matter of time (and not a very long time) before Hitler's image is rehabilitated in Europe. Heartfelt contrition is too inconvenient to engage in, I am afraid.

SK

12:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

You think? Someone like Caligula remains pretty damned unrehabilitated after two thousand-odd years, so...admittedly my knowledge of contemporary European geopolitics is scanty, but without some concrete evidence, that seems like a pretty wild accusation to me.

12:21 AM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

...and while you're right that they didn't undertake Nuremburg under their own initiative, but I learned enough in my twentieth-century German history class to know that they DID engage, on their own initiative, in some pretty substantial self-flagellation. And unless I'm wrong, and I don't think I'm wrong, nazi regalia is still illegal there. So.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I don't see how it couldn't happen. Right now, Germany has ambitions to become a dominant power within the EU. In order to openly assume this dominant role, it has to shake off all that unpleasant wartime baggage.

The process of doing this will not be an instant, flamboyant rehabilitation. It will proceed gradually, as follows. First, they need to exonerate the German people, i.e. "sure, the government was evil, but ordinary people were merely misled." To this end, they play up various home-grown resistance movements and plots to assassinate Hitler. "See, see? We did our best, it wasn't our fault!"

The next step will be to create moral equivalence between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This will be a good way to satisfy any liberals who might still want to remind everyone that, hey, the Allies did some bad things too. They'll get what they want. Europe will make a big show of contrition, that yes, the Allies did do some bad things too, but all of those things will be blamed on the Russians, conveniently the ones who will never be invited to the EU's table. This will shift a large part of the blame away from Germany.

The next step after that is very simple. If we've already accepted that "Hitler was bad, but Stalin was equally bad," it's easy to move on to say, "Stalin was worse than Hitler," and then, "Stalin was much worse than Hitler." And there you go. Sure, it will be acknowledged that Germany also went overboard, but the war will be blamed on Stalin, the emphasis will be that Hitler really wasn't that bad _in comparison_.

I think this is already happening. The new Eastern European members of the Soviet Union are willing instruments in this process. For years, the Baltic states have practiced vicious apartheid against their Russian minorities. In order to humiliate their ethnic Russian population, they frequently profess their love for Nazi Germany. In Latvia, for instance, they hold rallies for SS veterans.

To be sure, Nazi insignia is illegal in Germany itself. But the EU has no trouble pretending not to notice when the governments of Latvia and Estonia glorify Nazis. They are very useful in that sense. Western Europeans despise Eastern Europeans, so they can always pretend that the latter do not speak for them, whenever these actions run the risk of drawing too much attention. But it does its part in gradually revising the reigning interpretation of the war.

It may sound far-fetched to you, but I think I've described the situation fairly accurately. I suppose we shall have to see where it goes in a few years.

SK

12:46 AM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

Indeed it does, but indeed we will. If nothing else, however, I think Hitler's name has just WAY too much semiotic force as a signifier for "evil" for him to be rehabilitated. Even though there are plenty of rational reasons to despise him, I think that people's sentiments in this regard tend to be more emotional than logic-based, which makes them much more difficult to uproot.

1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Well, I don't think Hitler could ever be turned into a hero or a role model. But I do think that his aura of evil could be subtly decreased. He could be "rehabilitated" in the sense that he'd be turned into "an evil guy, but not really the most evil." The governing interpretation of history would be revised to push him gradually into the background, while continuing to admit his general badness, and nudge the Russians (who conveniently happen to be the EU's current rivals) to the fore.

As I tried to explain, I think the process of shifting the blame away from Hitler has already begun. But where it would be impossible to completely exonerate him, it is possible to create an image of him as a sort of darkly absurdist, bumbling comic figure. Such a portrayal would still have a negative connotation, and would still evoke disgust, but it would downplay his ability to cause harm.

Historical memory is a very fragile thing, I think. It's fairly easy to revise. I discussed this a bit in my recent review of Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which actually does quite a bit of that in the war chapters.

SK

1:47 AM  

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