Sunday, April 3, 2005

Germany: The past that is still present

I usually try not to do just lists of links.  But I've been accumulating a few links on German history from recent articles that I want to get posted.  Hopefully I can expand on some of them later.  And this post isn't entirely links; I do manage to get in a few words of my own.

Hitler and the Third Reich

Cornell University's Nuremberg Archive has recently posted a 1943 report by Dr. Henry Murray called "Analysis of the Personality of Adoph Hitler."  It was commissioned by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), one of the predecessors of the CIA.  This is not the same as the wartime psychiatric study of Hitler by Walter Langer that was published in book form in 1972 as The Mind of Adolf Hitler.

Both of these studies were speculative, made without direct access to the "patient" being analyzed.  And they didn't have access to the wealth of material on Hitler now available and that is still being analyzed by historians and biographers.  This news article sketche the findings of the report: Neurotic, hysterical, schizophrenic: the psychology of Hitler by Charles Bremner Times of London 04/02/05.  His article concludes with this useful observation and caution:  "The report, with its uncompromising diagnosis of personality disorder, contrasts with the opinions of recent psychologists and biographers, who have argued that Hitler, while paranoid, was not mentally ill."

The still-popular assumption that Hitler was a "madman" may have a large element of truth in it.  But it tends to obscure Hitler's shrewdness as a politician and the fact that it took a lot of people who were not suffering from clinical psychiatric problems to make the Third Reich and its deeds possible.

For anyone still under the misimpression that "Germans don't want to talk about the war," this article provides some good perspective: Germany's Nazi Past: Why Germans Can Never Escape Hitler's Shadow by Michael Sontheimer Der Spiegel (English) 10.03.2005

In Berlin, the former seat of Nazi Germany, a scandal is currently brewing that has nothing to do with modern Germany and everything to do with the nation's Nazi past. The brouhaha is over how May 8, 1945, the day Nazi Germany capitulated, should be remembered. Local officials of a wealthy Berlin district just passed a motion stating that victims of Nazi oppression are not the only ones who should be memorialized and honored. Regular German soldiers and civilians who were killed as well as women who were raped by the advancing Soviet army, too, should be remembered, they declared.

The resolution has provoked harsh criticism, especially after one lawyer and local politician said that in some matters, he can't help but agree with one of the nation's neo-Nazi parties. Critics charge that lumping all victims together, and going so far as to turn war criminals into victims, dangerously blurs the question of guilt and responsibility for the war.

The message of the debate is clear: For us Germans, whether we like it or not, the past is always present. One only has to take a look at a German bookshop these days. The shelves are overflowing with new publications on every imaginable aspect of the Nazi period. Newspapers and TV channels are running dozens of documentaries on World War II. The conflict cost about 60 million lives and obviously it still haunts us.

In my own limited experience, the average German is far more able to have an informed discussion about the Third Reich and the Second World War than most Americans.  They are also more likely to be able to articulate the implications of that period for democracy today.  Seeing how easily so many Americans seemed to swallow the bogus historical analogies comparing the preventive war in Iraq with the Allied cause in the Second World War only reinforced this impression for me.  To German voters and newspaper readers, the problem with preventive war doesn't need to be explained from basic concepts up: it's one of the main lessons of the Third Reich.

"Das Dritte Reich kann wieder passieren": Interview mit Brigitte Hamaan Der Spiegel Online 03/13/05.

Brigitte Hamaan is an Austrian historian whose Hilters Wien (available in English as Hitler's Vienna but I believe the English translation is abridged) explored the early formation of Hitler's ideological views in detail.  Hitler's ideology was formed in the poisonous soup of the anti-Semitic Viennese politics, bitter ethnic conflict and sham parliamentarianim of the last decade of the Habsburg empire.

And here's more proof that crackpot history never dies:

How Close Was Hitler to the A-Bomb? by Klaus Wiegrefe Der Spiegel (English article) 03/14/05.

In his new book, "Hitler's Bomb," Berlin historian Rainer Karlsch claims Nazi Germany almost achieved similar results with only a handful of physicists and a fraction of the budget. The author writes that German physicists and members of the military conducted three nuclear weapons tests shortly before the end of World War II, one on the German island of Ruegen in the fall of 1944 and two in the eastern German state of Thuringia in March 1945. The tests, writes Karlsch, claimed up to 700 lives. ...

The only problem with all the hype is that the historian has no real proof to back up his spectacular theories.

His witnesses either lack credibility or have no first-hand knowledge of the events described in the book. What Karlsch insists are key documents can, in truth, be interpreted in various ways, some of which contradict his theory. Finally, the soil sample readings taken thus far at the detonation sites provide "no indication of the explosion of an atomic bomb," says Gerald Kirchner of Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection.

Der Spiegel seems to still be practicing that quaint old journalistic convention, that was also the norm in America in the pre-FOX News days which now begin to seem long ago, that says when you're reporting on a claim that totally bogus that it's a perfectly legitimate and professional thing to point out that the claim is totally bogus.

Dresden articles

The following article were published around the recent commemorations of the 60th annivesary of the firebombing in Dresden.  The Dresden bombing has ideological implications in German politics and history that normally don't immediately register in American accounts.  The Nazis at the time used the bombings of German cities for propaganda to claim that the Allies were barbarians who intended to crush the German people ruthlessly.  They even used it as a justification for killing Jews, since in their political dogma "the Jews" were behind their enemies, both Communist and capitalist.

Though the Soviets were allies of the US and Britain at the time, postwar communist and East German government propaganda held up the bombing of Dresden as an unnecessary and brutal act by the Americans and the British.  Germans and Austrians who are inclined to minimize the guilt of the Hitler regime for the war have also tended to focus on the Dresden bombing as an unneeded and particular reprehensible act, and have tended to exaggerate the casualty totals in a grim body-count game.

Kurt Vonnegut made the Dresden bombing also seem like a cynical, nightmarish and deadly farce in his popular novel Slaughterhouse Five, in which he relied on the inflated casualty figures in David Irving book The Destruction of Dresden.  At the time of the original edition of that book, Irving was only a German sympathizer who was perhaps overly careless with the facts, although that's probably puttint it too generously.  Later, he became a full-blown Holocaust denier.

I linked in an earlier post on The Bombing of Dresden to a British court judgment against David Irving in a libel trial which goes into detail about how Irving dealt with the Dresden bombing and how the event is used idologically by the Holocaust-denier and pro-Nazi extremists.

Historiker sprechen von 25.000 Toten Der Spiegel Online 03/24/05

Die von der Stadt Dresden eingesetzte Historikerkommission kommt nun zu einem anderen Ergebnis. Das Gremium unter Vorsitz von Rolf-Dieter Müller, Leiter des militärhistorischen Museums Potsdam, hat alle schon bekannten Unterlagen und auch bisher noch nicht analysierte Archivdokumente durchforstet. Wie Stadtsprecher Kai Schulz heute mitteilte, gehen die Experten nunmehr von 25.000 Menschen aus, die bei den britisch-amerikanischen Luftangriffen am13. und 14. Februar 1945 getötet wurden.

The article just linked reports on the interim findings of an historians' commission that the City of Dresden had commissioned to look again at the evidence on the bombing.  Their conclusion was that the number of deaths caused by the bombing was 25,000, which was on the low end of the range that was already accepted by legitimate historians.

Idological arguments over body-counts are always morally ambiguous.  A death is a death, no matter how many times over it occurs at the same time.  I would refer again to the British court's analysis of how the issue in ideologically manipulated in this case.

Here is another German report on the commission's interim findings from Dresden Online: Zwischenergebnis zu den Angriffen auf Dresden vom 13. bis 15. Februar 1945 (24.03.2005).

Here are several article on the 60th anniversary commemoration:

Alemania conmemora el 60 aniversario de los bombardeos sobre Dresde en la II Guerra Mundial El Mundo (Spain) 02/13/05

From Der Spiegel:

Geschichtsklitterung auf der Straße 02/13/05

"Ich hatte nicht einmal Angst, ich erwartete das Ende" 02/13/05

"Die dubioseste Form der Kriegsführung" 02/13/05
English translation:
"Dresden Bombing Is To Be Regretted Enormously"  02/11/05

Schröder warnt vor Aufrechnung der Kriegsopfer 02/12/05

Bittere Tränen 02/13/05

Surviving the Firestorm (From the diaries of Viktor Klemperer) 02/11/05

A Multimedia Overview of the Firestorm Der Spiegel 02/11/05

From Deutsche Welle:

Remembering Dresden 02/13/05

Confronting Myth in Dresden by Ute Thofern 02/12/05

The Struggle Over Dresden's Symbolism 10/02/05

Neo-Nazis Cloud Dresden Commemorations 02/13/05

Erinnern in Dresden 02/13/05

From the Frankfurter Rundschau:

Gedenken in Dresden von Bernhard Honnigfort 02/13/05

Rettendes Inferno von Bernhard Honnigfort 02/13/05

Irritiert von Matthias Arning 02/13/05

Der Untergang einer Stadt vonIrving Fetscher 02/11/05

Kraft zur ganzen Wahrheit von Stephan Hebel 02/11/05

773 Lancaster von Ernst Piper 11/02/05

Die Phosphorleichen waren gelb und zusammengeschrumpft 11/02/05


fdtate714 said...

That thing that Der Spiegel does, where they poke holes in the bullshit...that's an interesting concept.  I like it.  I wish our news media knew how to do something like that.
Here, we've got the wingnuts up in arms over the "liberal media" because the New York Times accidentally put an unfinished Pope story on the Internet that had a notation where they wanted to put a favorable quote...
As Yakov Smirnov would say, "What a country!"

bmiller224 said...

Yeah, the Republican obsession over the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press! seems to get weirder by the day.

I'm not sure if anyone should take much comfort in it, but at least a lot of them are deluding themselves, too.  If you actually do convince yourself that only the partisan press (FOX, OxyContin radio, PowerLine blog, etc.) are giving an accurate picture, then you're more likely to do reckless and unpopular things like the whole Schiavo mess and the subsequent hysteria - and worse - over the federal judiciary.

The Schiavo grandstanding was very unpopular, including among white evangelical Christians in the South.  They gave many of their voters reason to take a good look and rethink the role of the Christian Right theocrats in their Party.  And the rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth over federal judges is more than a little bizarre, since most federal judges are already Republican appointees. - Bruce