18 May 2010

De-Imperialising German History

Today's LRC offers a reprint of historian Ralp Raico's talk Nazifying the Germans. I have no bones to pick with the piece regarding its main point. I do not know nor much care for what purpose American left-wingers, Zionists or internationalists invoke the Nazi period and whether it constitutes an obsession of sorts. But I will concern myself with aspects of Raico's response. He states:
"The German role over centuries in transmitting advanced culture to the peoples to the east and south was critical at certain stages of their development. The Hungarian liberal, Gaspar M. Tamas, speaking for his own people, the Czechs, and others, wrote of the Germans who had lived among them and were driven out in 1945, that their 'ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities, and railway stations.'”
It is difficult to see how Mr. Tamas, as a Hungarian could speak for people other than his own. Particularly seeing the history of Hungarian-German interactions is much different than the history of German-Polish, German-Czech, German-Slovene interactions and so on.
 
Another German role over centuries critical for the shape of development of the peoples to the east and south of the Germans was the aggressiveness and expansionism of German-speaking political entities towards them. It is arguable if the German push eastwards had the effect of spreading culture or arresting it. 

Most likely the effect of German settlers moving east was a very positive one, but the havoc wrought in the attempts of German realms to extend their political borders eastward was not and the retardation of local, Slavonic cultures followed where these attempts succeeded.

Further Raico writes:
"There has been no outcry for the Russian people to seek atonement and no one speaks of their “eternal guilt.” It goes without saying that the misdeeds of Communism, in Russia, China, or elsewhere, are never debited to internationalism and egalitarianism as those of Nazism are to nationalism and racism."
This is a poor argument. The problem for Raico is that notion of 'Russian gulit' can be easily rebuked without having to rebuke the (ludicrous) idea of collective guilt. It was the Russians who were the principal victims of the Communists. They can not "atone" for being killed by the millions.

The crimes of the Soviet Union were enormous, but they were also overwhelmingly committed against peoples within its borders, Russians included. In the Soviet leadership almost all nationalities were represented, furthermore the internationalist Bolsheviks - who gained power not due to popular support, but in a coup d'etat with clandestine support of Germany - held the Russian nation and its national sentiment in contempt. Until the mid 1930s the Soviet Union was carrying out a set of policies of "de-Russification" aimed at suppression of Russian national feeling and the simultaneous bolstering of the identities of peoples other than Russian. 

The peoples in Soviet dominated East Europe experienced nothing like the terror Stalin visited upon 'at home'. So can it be asked of Russians to "atone" for a torment that they endured? Can it be demanded of the Russian people to atone for the actions of its own executioners? To whom would they owe this atonement? Who can demand it of them? 

We enter into an absurdity where the Russians being the aggrieved party should demand atonement from themselves, and where the murder of millions of Russians means that Russians have to eternally live with the 'Russian guilt'. This is non-sense and already nonsense without having been shown that collective guilt as such is nonsense.

Raico would do better to compare the Germans not with the Russians, but with the Americans. He would do better to illustrate his point by pointing out that no one speaks of "eternal guilt" on the part of the Americans. Where Soviet atrocities were overwhelmingly self-inflicting, American atrocities have in common with the Nazi German atrocities that they were chiefly visited upon others. Like the Nazis who chiefly murdered non-Germans, American Imperialists opted to visit death and destruction upon peoples other than their own.

Raico continues:
"Pointing to Communist crimes is not meant to “trivialize” the destruction of European Jewry, nor can it do so. The massacre of the Jews was one of the worst things that ever happened. But even supposing that it was the worst thing that ever happened, couldn’t some arrangement be worked out whereby Communist mass-murders are mentioned once for every ten times (or hundred times?) the Holocaust is brought up? Perhaps also, if we must have publicly-financed museums commemorating the foreign victims of foreign regimes, some memorial to the victims of Communism might be considered, not on the Mall itself, of course, but maybe in a low-rent area of Washington?"
This is perhaps closer to what the basis of Raico's argument is. He is complaining that the talk about German guilt is out of balance since the crimes of the Communists are downplayed in comparison. This may be true for the left-wing, but in the case of many on the Old Right, and many of the Cold War warriors actually the opposite is true. 

And theirs lack of balance is probably more crucial since it had also tangible results rather than just being another battle of the culture wars. It had as a consequence in the immediate post-war period that numerous Nazi officials guilty of atrocities particularly on the Eastern and the Balkan Fronts were able to evade punishment due to the requirements of the Cold War rearmament of Germany and the Old Right critique of the post-war trials.

Equally important, while the Jewish Holocaust invokes powerful images, other crimes of the Third Reich have become almost completely absent from popular awareness in the West, or had never entered it in the first place. How often do is heard the mention of Bandenbekämpfung, of the Hungerplan, or the Generalplan Ost? How many people in the West are aware of 7.4 million civilians killed in the Soviet Union, victims of Nazi genocide and anti-partisan reprisals (included in this figure some 2.5 million Jews - victims of the Holocaust), of 2.2 million dead from among the slave labourers deported from the Soviet Union to Germany, of 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war starved to death in German camps, 4.1 million dead of hunger and disease in German occupied Soviet territories, of a further 3 million dead of hunger in unoccupied Soviet Union as the result of the war? This makes for 17.5 million people killed not included in the Holocaust figure just in the Soviet Union (1945 borders). How many are conscious of the equally horrible crimes of the German occupation in Poland and in Yugoslavia? How often is mentioned the genocide conducted against Europe's Gypsies?

Today these crimes get less mention in the West than the Allied terror bombing of German cities or the rape of German women by Red Army troops in occupied Germany. How is that for an imbalance? So we must conclude that actually it is not really Nazi crimes which get a great amount of play, it is only some Nazi crimes that do. Others however get far less mention than the crimes of the Soviet Union - particularly where they can be seemingly pinned down on Russians as such.

Further, by way of saying that the Germans did not necessarily know about the annihilation of Jews — unlike the Russians who it is pointed out were aware of the crimes against the kulaks — it is mentioned Helmut Schmid, a former West German chancellor of minor Jewish descent, has always maintained that he knew nothing about it until the end of the war. Considering all the other savagery taking place besides the Jewish genocide, this is a red herring even if we found it plausible that someone who took part in the initial attack on the Soviet Union did not known about the activity of the Einsatzgruppen. Whether Germans knew about the whole extent of National Socialist depravity or not, all adult Germans had to know enough of it that it should have turned their stomachs upside down. And yes, so the Russians had to know enough of Soviet crimes to make them sick, after all they felt the repression on their own skin. But the cooperation of Germans like Helmut Schmid with the Nazi regime in fighting the Third Reich's wars of conquest was what made the most heinous of the crimes of the Nazis possible. The same can not be said of Russians whose fighting in the war spared their people destruction by a genocidal enemy, it did not enhance the ability of Stalin to murder kulaks.

It is not justified to assign blame on today's Germans for something that happened before they were born or on collective terms, it can not be a crime to be a German, now or in any other time. But some of the argumentation employed by Raico in the service of conveying this message is flawed.

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