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October 15, 2003

The sins of the fathers

Honor the Uprooted Germans? Poles Are Uneasy asserts the headline. As the article notes, over 10 million Germans were expelled from the nations of central Europe after World War II. Of course the Germans in places like Sudetenland were no patriots in the nations created from the break-up of Austria-Hungary. Then again, after the creation of the new nation-states in the 1920s a cabal of authoritarian nationalist regimes came to the fore which marginalized ethnic minorities. Before that the Germans had dominated the Poles, Czechs and other peoples politically and culturally. Ad infinitum....

Here is an interesting snippet from the article:

But once history has happened, it has happened forever, and as long as people wish to forge their identity on the basis of collective memory there can be no annulment of its consequences.

Individualism to my eyes is the escape from the imagined slights of the past. But then, can individualism survive its own freedoms?

Posted by razib at 12:01 AM

The analytical mind tends to be uncomfortable with collective self-identifications, rooted as these are in inchoate emotions that, to it, can seem sincere to the point of pathology. This always suggest to me a certain war between a dominant intellect and suppressed emotion. If one rejects the notion that collective identification is wrong per se, how else can one explain the frequency with which intelligent and educated people are individualist in outlook or collectivise on bogus internationalism? I would suggest that this tendency is nowhere more common than in academia, particularly in the humanities. And there, it's a pretty safe bet that it is most evident among minorities who, in addition to the aforesaid intellectual bias, have virtually no choice but to recoil from that from which they are forever excluded.

The result is what we see: an unending emphasis on the crimes committed in the name of collective identification and on its purportedly retrogressive shadow that darkens the world even today. These could be cogent reasons for rejecting it, for sure. But I prefer not to divorce product from design. The analytical mind adopts its positions from inchoate emotion, too. It is merely gifted with the capacity to rationalise.

In any case, such rationalisation means less than nothing to the common herd. Individualism is a rare orchid, and like an orchid is the very devil to keep alive. It is simply not a meaningful alternative to national and racial identification, with all its historical richness - and its slights, imagined or otherwise.

Posted by: Guessedworker at October 15, 2003 02:57 AM

...after the creation of the new nation-states in the 1920s a cabal of authoritarian nationalist regimes came to the fore which marginalized ethnic minorities

While Poland did turn authoritarian, Czechoslovakia did not. The German minority there continued to enjoy full civil & political rights, which they abused in the most henious matter by conspiring the breakup of the state in alliance with a state where they would have enjoyed no political & civil rights. The ethnic cleansing of Germans from Czechoslovakia is certainly the most justified in history.

On the other hand, the ethnic cleansing from Prussia & Silesia is not that easy to defend, since these lands where German for hundreds of years (interstingly, the lobby of the Sudeten Germans is much stronger). Still, regarding the title saying 'Honor the Germans?' - considering what the Germans did to the Poles in WWII, I think not.

Anyway, the late tendency in Germany to see themselves as victims of WWII makes me sick to the stomach. Since I don't think blame should be placed on German individuals (certainly not today, anyway) I don't think individualism at all comes into the equation.

Posted by: Danny at October 15, 2003 11:01 AM

After WW1 the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire left Germans who were not of German nationality in a bit of a limbo. I believe the Austrian parliament actually voted to unite with Germany in @1920 - needless to say the big powers (well France really) were not tolerant of that. I presume the Sudeten Germans thought they were going to be part of Austria or maybe even Germany itself. The big powers in their infinite wisdom decided that having invented the new country of Czechoslovakia it would be "stronger" for having the prosperous German region added to it (we know what a success that was!) as if a country were just a collection of people and resources, that history, language etc counted for nothing.

Maybe if Germany, Austria and the other German territories all been lumped together after WW1 then, in the long run, it would have saved a lot of hassle. Of course this overlooks the reality of French objections both to the potential power of a larger Germany and the petty need to punish Germany by making Germans unwilling citizens of other countries.

Posted by: Matt at October 15, 2003 06:06 PM