Sanity vs. Insanity

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Two articles that illustrate the yawning gap between the two increasingly delineated Western sides of World War 04:

The Nazi Seduction by Jean Bethke Elshtain.

The deluge of books about Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler apparently knows no end. In addition to those here under review, dozens of others have appeared in the past two or three years alone, and many more are sure to come. By contrast, scholarly study of Stalinism and the gulag is relatively neglected. As Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag, although “some eighteen million people passed through this massive system,” we pay far less attention to Stalin’s victims than we do to Hitler’s. Many of the millions killed during the Stalin era were simply “driven to a forest at night, lined up, shot in the skull, and buried in mass graves before they ever got near a concentration camp—a form of murder no less ‘industrialized’ and anonymous than that used by the Nazis.” But no archival film-footage records these scenes that played out behind the Iron Curtain, no harrowing photos comparable to those that followed the liberation of the Nazi camps. Stalin’s victims “haven’t caught Hollywood’s imagination in the same way. Highbrow culture hasn’t been much more open to the subject.”

Why is it, Applebaum wonders, that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger “has been deeply damaged by his brief, overt support of Nazism which developed before Hitler had committed his major atrocities,” yet “the reputation of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has not suffered in the least from his aggressive support of Stalinism throughout the postwar years, when plentiful evidence of Stalin’s atrocities was available to anyone interested.” Her answer is that the literary Left, many of whom were enchanted by the Soviet experiment, did not want to broach the subject. Indeed, this has been so much the case that decades after Stalin’s death, it was still possible “for an American academic to publish a book suggesting that the purges of the 1930s were useful because they promoted upward mobility. … It is possible—still—for a British literary editor to reject an article because it is ‘too anti-Soviet.’” It is impossible to imagine a literary editor rejecting a piece for being “too anti-Nazi.” The terror famine of the 1930s killed more Ukrainians than Hitler murdered Jews. Why so little attention? Literary and academic bias is one answer, the tendency of a “small part of the Western Left … to explain and sometimes to excuse the camps” is another, but neither fully suffices.

Perhaps, Applebaum muses, because the Soviets talked about a classless society and a utopian world without division, they seem more attractive to us. “Perhaps this helps explain why eyewitness reports of the Gulag were, from the very beginning, often dismissed and belittled by the very same people who would never have thought to question the validity of Holocaust testimony written by Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel.” So the subject is repressed. Then too, “no one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another.” Better not to acknowledge that in the talks that ended World War II and decisively shaped the postwar world, the Western allies gave their blessing to Stalin’s stranglehold over Central and Eastern Europe.

The American ‘Good War’ vs. the German ‘Bad War’: World War II Memory Cultures by Marshall Plan Professor of Austrian Studies and Director of CenterAustria at the University of New Orleans Günter Bischof.

A post-Nuremberg memory culture was forced on the Germans that stressed the horrid war crimes committed by Germans during war. The German memory regime of World War II for the past fifty years has stressed the “bad war.” The concentration camps and the memory of the Holocaust have become central sites of German World War II memory. While in 1994 the Anglo-Americans celebrated their fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion at the cemeteries in Normandy in their usual martial fashion with parades and presidential speeches of soldierly sacrifice and valor, the Germans commemorated a rare “good” memory event of the war - the assassination attempt by officers on Hitler on July 20. In the second half of the 1990s a powerful exhibit documenting the war crimes of the German Wehrmacht traveled through Germany and Austria. Veterans organizations tried to stop it but failed. It is this memory of the terrible German World War II past more than anything that has so deeply ingrained the postwar pacifism among younger Germans.

Meanwhile the United States has become a militarized society in peacetime and sports a martial pride and attendant hyperpatriotism in its mainstream culture and ethos that is reminiscent of old Prussia. As the leader of the Western world, the U.S. has built the most powerful armed forces and destructive weapons systems the world has ever seen. During the Cold War the Americans spent up to 30 percent of its budget on the military. They established an awesome global base system that allows the U.S. to project its power swiftly and devastatingly when needed. It has fought long wars in Korea and Vietnam and intervened dozens of time around the world when it saw its national interests threatened.

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