Ed Driscoll

The Specters Haunting Germany

A couple of years ago, the great Theodore Dalrymple wrote that “Collective pride is denied” the modern Germans, causing a painful sort of schizophrenia:

I went to dinner with a young businessman, born 20 years after the end of the war, who told me that the forestry company for which he worked, and which had interests in Britain, had decided that it needed a mission statement. A meeting ensued, and someone suggested Holz mit Stolz (“wood with pride”), whereupon a two-hour discussion erupted among the employees of the company as to whether pride in anything was permitted to the Germans, or whether it was the beginning of the slippery slope that led to . . . well, everyone knew where. The businessman found this all perfectly normal, part of being a contemporary German.Collective pride is denied the Germans because, if pride is taken in the achievements of one’s national ancestors, it follows that shame for what they have done must also be accepted. And the shame of German history is greater than any cultural achievement, not because that achievement fails to balance the shame, but because it is more recent than any achievement, and furthermore was committed by a generation either still living or still existent well within living memory.

The moral impossibility of patriotism worries Germans of conservative instinct or temperament. Upon what in their historical tradition can they safely look back as a guide or a help? One young German conservative historian I met took refuge in Anglophilia—his England, of course, being an England of the past. He needed a refuge, because Hitler and Nazism had besmirched everything in his own land. The historiography that sees in German history nothing but a prelude to Hitler and Nazism may be intellectually unjustified, the product of the historian’s bogus authorial omniscience, but it has emotional and psychological force nonetheless, precisely because the willingness to take pride in the past implies a preparedness to accept the shame of it. Thus Bach and Beethoven can be celebrated, but not as Germans; otherwise they would be tainted. The young German historian worked for a publishing house with a history lasting almost four centuries, but its failure to go out of business during the 12 years of the Third Reich cast a shadow both forward and backward, like a spectral presence that haunts a great mansion.

Jules Crittenden agrees that the condition lingers on:

I heard that from a German woman whose father didn’t come back from Stalingrad, who had to flee the Russians as a little girl. So I didn’t say anything, though I had just come back from war myself, had friends who hadn’t managed to do that, and couldn’t believe the gall of this woman. I’m missing an uncle. Crashed and burned into the Belgian landscape at age 20. Compliments of one Helmut Baure, ME 110 pilot, Luftwaffe. Reader Corndog (an old friend, and yes, as big a dolt in person as he is in comments) is missing an uncle. Sucking chest wound at El Alamein. A guy I work with, down two uncles. A woman I used to work with, her father was the only one in his family who didn’t go up the chimney at Auschwitz. That’s all history now. War’s over. But, my coalbucket-helmeted friends, I don’t care to be lectured about war. Not by Germans.It turns out we didn’t entirely scrub the stain out of the Krauts. We just turned them into PC racists. There is something pathetic, when the once mighty and feared Wehrmacht, now the declawed and idle Bundewehr, is reduced to swearing in English about imagined enemies they will never encounter … except maybe around the American bases that have protected them for the last 60-odd years … unlike the actual enemies they are ignoring at their own doorstep.

It’s got to be confusing to be a German today. Maybe we need to cut them a little slack. Maybe it is hard to understand that it is possible to fight for good causes. Liberating nations. Removing murderous dictators, giving millions of people the chance to vote freely for the first time in their lives. These things aren’t easy, and there are evil men who would subvert these efforts. I thought that should be relatively easy to grasp. But to understand these things, it may be necessary to advance farther in one’s thinking, and that last war hasn’t been over long enough. Maybe the Germans don’t understand war, because they haven’t suffered war. Not like we have.

Read the whole thing.