Sunday, 18 March 2012

Meditating on Hitler and the euro

Three newspaper stories about Germany caught my attention this morning. 

First a review by Nick Cohen in the Guardian of a biography of Hitler by A.N. Wilson. A biography of Hitler by A.N. Wilson? I thought I would like to read it. Bringing a novelist's eye to history is exactly what I am trying to do. It sounded like it would teach me some things about Hitler and the modern world until I read this wonderfully damning review in the New Statesman. How satisfying to have written that.

As for Nick Cohen's review, well, of course decline in religious belief brought forth monsters like Nazism and Communism although religion, especially but certainly not only Islam, has brought forth its own monsters. Fascism was very certainly the antithesis of liberalism (Dr. Goebbels said 'This is the end of 1789') but it was the apotheosis of nationalism, another French revolutionary idea. 

Digressing, it is because people read no history, reject the idea that Man is inherently bad which priests and psychologists both teach us, preferring Enlightenment ideas about human perfectibity, that they cannot understand the very terrible slaughter by the Germans of the Jews and single it out from other terrible slaughters, in Russia for example. Germany is one of the homes of the Enlightenment, the land of Goethe and Heine. Turkey, Syria, Cambodia and Rwanda are not. 

As for race and racial hierarchy being widely discredited that depends where you live. Most people in Romania where I live believe in both. They place Greeks fairly near the bottom for example, slightly below Turks but well above Indians. They confuse Indians   with Gypsies whom they place at the nadir. They place the English near or at the top. This used to amuse and slightly shock me but it no longer does. Of course ethnic groups (also known as races) have their characteristics.

I imagine Wilson probably has fun with the sheer boringness of Hitler, his lower middle classness, the dull autodidactic table talk recorded  by Martin Bormann and used to comic effect in  Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler. George Wyndham before the First World War said the gentlemen of Europe must not abdicate but they did and were replaced  by men like Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and Franco. All such dull and insignificant men who became, thanks to the First World war and its sequentiae, very significant indeed.

The third story was a thought provoking article by Jonathan Friedland also in the Guardian about Germany the reluctant giant. It made me see how the whole history of the post-war period until this moment is a meditation on the Second World War and Nazism. This is the reason for the European Union and the euro. It was also the reason for the Cold War and America's engagement with the wider world. Cold warriors viewed Communist Russia  as the equivalent of Nazi Germany, overlooking the distinction that Russia unlike Germany was a satiated power and not given to military adventures within Europe. It was much of the reason why Stalin forced Communism on Eastern Europe in the first place. It is the reason why talk of races and racial superiority and the psychology of nations became profoundly unfashionable and why the colonial empires were dissolved. It is the reason for an unprecedented migration of brown-skinned people to make their homes in the formerly white countries where they will presently form the majority. It is even the reason, by extension, why discriminating on the grounds of sex, religion, sexuality, even age are no longer permitted by law. By further extension it is part of the reason why hierarchy can only be publicly justified by meritocratic arguments, why traditions are  considered oppressive and the masculine and martial virtues such as patriotism and love of battle are no longer considered virtues at all. 

For it is not just Germans that feel guilt for Nazism but, strangely, all the Western world including the countries that defeated Hitler at such terrible cost. And yet there is no such feeling in any of the former Communist countries, including those such as Romania which aided him.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the Western world ought to feel ashamed for having created the contidions that took Hitler to power, while Romanians shouldn't be ashamed of that.

    Romania sided with Hitler under pressure, and for fear of the USSR. And when the - albeit controversial - opportunity arose, we had no problem with switching sides.

    In May 1945, Zagreb fell after Berlin... Croats were 'beneficiaries' of their alliance with Hitler, while the Fuhrer had been the one who gave Northern Transylvania to Hungary.

    No one, not even general Ion Antonescu, was thrilled about fighting alongside Nazi Germany...