Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Another peek into the German mind (updated)

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum makes some very precise observations concerning the current state of affairs in Germany. She notes (emphasis mine):
As in the United States, many of the books that have recently found their way to the top of German bestseller lists concern Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike those in the United States, many of them also argue that the Bush administration was responsible for Sept. 11. One book, by a former German government minister, argues that the planes that hit the World Trade Center may have been secretly steered from the ground. Another -- translated from the French and titled "The Appalling Lie" -- says that the Pentagon was never hit by a plane at all but was instead deliberately blown up with a bomb. Germany's establishment press has studiously debunked these theories, to little avail: Recently, an opinion poll showed that one in five Germans believe them.
Indeed, look at the current Amazon.de bestseller list concerning political books. The first two books are, of course, the usual Michael Moore stuff, and at rank 4 and 5, we find the two most disgusting conspiracy books, both of which claim that the American government was behind these attacks to fortify its world domination.

The parallels to anti-Semitism are obvious; the US strife for world-domination, the CIA as the spin doctor behind 9-11, the assumption that no Jews were killed on 9-11 etc. - the boundaries between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism become blurred. The mindset of those disgusting conspiracy freaks whose ideas have been fisked into the ground for several times now are nevertheless hard to extinguish in 20% of average German's minds. And their books still rank high on German bestseller lists.

Apart from the revisionist tendencies of the conspiracy theorists, there have been some other tendencies in the German literature too. Applebaum states (emphasis mine):
But if German bestseller lists reveal a German reassessment of the United States, they have also in recent years revealed an even more vigorous German reassessment of Germany. Not one but two books have become popular through their descriptions of the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, which resulted in fires that caused tens of thousands of deaths. One of the authors used the word "crematoria" to describe the burning buildings, described the Allied bomber pilots as the equivalents of Nazi police units that murdered Jews and concluded by wondering whether Winston Churchill, who ordered the bombings, ought to have been condemned as a war criminal.

These books have also been effective: According to another opinion poll, more than a third of the Germans now think of themselves as "victims" of the Second World War -- just like the Jews.
Germans as the victims of WW2 - this is a nauseating streak of revisionism, and it can be considered as one of the fountainheads for the fundamentalist pacifism in Germany. As Dennis Prager noted in an excellent article (emphasis mine):
It is therefore incredible that all that education about evil has produced a generation [in Germany] that shies away from judging, let alone confronting, evil. It boggles the mind that a nation that was liberated from Nazism solely by armies waging war should embrace pacifism, that a nation that saw what appeasement of evil leads to now embraces it. I was sure that some German leaders would stand up and say, "My fellow Germans, we know a Hitler when we see one, and Saddam Hussein is one." But no German stood up to say this. Instead one of your leaders compared the American president to Hitler. I was sure that some German leaders would stand up and say, "My fellow Germans, we know genocidal anti-Semitism when we see it, and we see it in the Arab world." But no German leader stood up to say this either. [...] How could you have produced a Hitler and not recognize another one just one generation later? How could you know firsthand about torture chambers and children's screams and not ache to end them in another country? How could you side with amoral France against your friend America? There is, it would seem, only one answer. Nazism taught you nothing. Instead of learning that evil must be fought, you learned that fighting is evil.
Prager absolutely nails it, but the fact that Germany learned "fighting is evil" also shows that it has been largely suppressed in German minds why Germany was attacked: a horrid dictatorship with the most brutal genocide in history, a country that waged war all over Europe. But this is neglected. A very good example of this behavior can be found in this German blog (written in English), where the author states, concerning the bets on Arafat's death:
You're talking about the dead of a human being. You're talking about the dead of a father, grandfather, son, uncle, husband brother-in-law, best friend.... whatever. Yes, I know what you want to write: He's also a terrorist and murdered or is responsible for the murder on oh so many innocent people. Yes, that's true and that is what will make the world without him a better place, sure, but it is still absolutely tasteless, styleless and ... impossible behaviour to bet on someone's dead.
We notice a slight mention of Arafat being "also" a terrorist, of killing "oh so" many innocent people, but above all, Arafat is a "father, son, uncle". This was not written in Ramallah but in Germany.

The most dangerous tendency of this revisionism is represented by the tendency to create a "memorial" of the German sufferings of WW2. Applebaum notes:
Lately momentum has gathered behind a movement to build a new museum in Berlin dedicated to Germans expelled from their homes at the end of the war -- just like the Holocaust museum. It's not wrong for Germans to remember their relatives who suffered, but the tone of the campaigners is disturbing, because they seem, at times, almost to forget why the war started in the first place.
This is amazing and shows how dangerous it is to be or to become ahistorical - and how appaling. As Marek Edelman notes,
Many people suffered during World War II, Germans among them. But let there be no mistake: To label as victims the millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from their homes in Eastern Europe after the defeat of the Nazis is to make a mockery of the Holocaust. [...] Despite my past, I do not seek revenge against Germans. I do not have a quarrel with them, and count among them some of my dearest friends. But as a Polish Jew, I cannot view German expellees as victims. To do so would be to consider myself an executioner.
Indeed, such a "memorial" implies a moral equivalence between German expellees and victims of the holocaust - which is, to say the least, nauseating. The "memorial" discussion has, btw, poisoned the atmosphere between Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany; a Polish spokesman said the atmosphere was now as bad "as in the seventies". I can very well understand that. Nothing is more horrifying to Poland or the Czech Republic than a Germany indulging in revisionism. I'm glad Schröder has spoken out against Berlin as the location. And I'm disgusted that Stoiber, Schröder's opponent in the last election, has uttered support for Berlin as the "memorial" location.

On a lighter note, many Germans have been content with Schwarzenegger's election victory in California. Reuters mentions:
Manfred Guellner, managing director of the Forsa polling institute, said there is widespread discontent with politicians. "The dissatisfaction is growing every day," he told Reuters. "Germany and Europe are ripe for the same sort of phenomenon. People feel they're being messed with. They want simple language and simple remedies."
I tend to agree, though I'd like to see some results in California first.

UPDATE: An excellent satire on the issue can be found here, it starts with "WARSAW--A Volkswagen delivery bus explosion yesterday destroyed its cargo of 20 crates of premium Kielbasa in the latest round of understandable German reaction to Poland's audacious attempts to preserve its illegal, oppressive, and probably petroleum-motivated occupation of German lands." Highly recommended.

UPDATE: Richard Bernstein has a fine column in the NY Times: Honor the Uprooted Germans? Poles Are Uneasy.

ANOTHER UPDATE: As could be predicted, the already-mentioned Lilli Marleen goes the first steps on the path of white-washing, concerning German "victims". We find such statements like:
I'd say Hamburg had its average share of Nazis, idiots, supporters, anti-Nazis, weasels and whatever. But the bombing of Hamburg was extraordinnaire, even when there was no military goal to hit. Most of the people in Hamburg also never before had harmed a soul, but they got killed by that bombings because the Brits wanted revenge for what german pilots had done to the UK.
"Hey, sorry for the bombings there in Southern England! I mean... yeah, civilians died, an' we're very sorry, but bombing HAMBURG??" Ah, the double standards, the one-sidedness; history in the making. Another interesting statement:
[...] there are something between 5.000 and 7.000 people who died by that bombing [of a German ship with refugees] or later in the cold water. Did all these people deserve to die there and then? We just can seriously doubt it, if we will not climb down the ladder and claim "All germans deserve dead". Sure - this is nothing compared to 6.000.000 killed jewish people by the Nazis, but can suffering be compared?
Umm... how many British ships were sunk by German submarines? How many innocent civilians in Poland were slaughtered, exploited, killed? And again, a "sure... but..." sentence, this time comparing the holocaust to the sinking of a ship... this comparison, even if only indirectly conducted, i.e. perceiving the sinking of a refugee ship in war times (in war there are often mistakes) and a deliberate act of bureaucratic machine-like genocide as being even comparable, is sick and distorted, to say it friendly.
It is this whining, one-sided navel-gazing that is so dangerous. And it is this tendency that would be strengthened if a "memorial" to the German "victims" would be installed in Berlin. Even the tendencies of German revisionism - which lead to the self-victimization in the 1930s, and we all know what happened after - must be fought.
Plus, of course, we have this moral equivalence of "bombing", which denies who started it - the Germans. The self-victimization of Germans is dangerous because it plays down the fact who started the war, and fades out what the Germans themselves did. I greatly loathe it. In her comment section, Lilli tries to reduce my line of reasoning to a "guilt" complex:
Sorry Hans, but when I was younger I was about the same than you are today. Full of guilt and feeling bad for all and everything any german ever has done. Believe me, this is stupid. You are responsible for what you do and you ought to think objective about what your ancestors did.
The irony is: I'm far from a guilt complex, I simply hold my opinion just BECAUSE I objectively judge the German past. My conclusions are: stand up to fascism, or its supporters, even if they hide under the cloak of pacifism to shield a fascist dictator; defend democracy, and fight etatism and socialistic (Volks-)tendencies; and never forget. I don't know if I'm the only one who thinks thus, but in my opinion, these are the only rational conclusions that can be drawn from the German past - provided that one embraces the ideals of democracy and freedom, which I do.
It appears Lilli projects her own guilt complex onto me, and at the same time evades it herself by means of a dangerous moral equivalence that she herself appears not to grasp in its entire ugliness.