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Two More Americans Accuse Germany of Historical Revisionism

David Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, who served in the U.S. Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, wrote the op-ed "German for Chutzpah" in the Wall Street Journal on April 16, 2007. Access for subscribers only, but a reprint is available at History News Network. The authors start with:
Call it a humanitarian offensive, or call it historical revisionism, but Germany is on the march again. Seventeen years after German reunification, and 61 after top Nazis were condemned at the Nuremberg Trials, Berlin is taking a newly assertive role in attempting to define permissible international conduct. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel claims that there is no effort to "reinterpret" Germany's checkered history, the evidence suggests a determined campaign at rehabilitation.
They consider for instance Germany's initiative "to promote a new version of its own highly restrictive 'Holocaust denial' laws across Europe" as "actually trivializing" Germany's own "crimes against the Jews." Does anyone agree with this peculiar line of thought? Why do they read mean intentions into this? Just like Tyler Cowen, who accuses Germany of "whitewashing the past" because of two movies about defiance against the Nazis (Sophie Scholl) and against the East German Stasi system (The Lives of Others), see the Atlantic Review post Historical Revisionism in Germany? This post attracted many interesting comments: An excerpt from Bill L' comment
Responsibility was never owned. It was all dumped on the Nazis. The Solution of Caiaphas. Germany's repentance was to point the finger at a small segment of their society and say, "They did it. They are the ones to blame. We are innocent."
I don't think that is the case. Bill, I think you are confusing Germany with Austria. Germans have faced their awful past in a much more honest and soul searching way than the Japanese or Austrians or Russians.
Fuchur has brought a great example in one of his comments:
Undoubtedly, dealing with such a painful and dark chapter in history as the Nazi era is an immensely difficult task. But overall, I think Germany has done a pretty good job. Here's an example that came to my mind: A few years ago, a proposal was put forth to name a school in my vicinity the "von Stauffenberg Gymnasium", after one of the "heroes" of July 20th 44. It was turned down, mainly on initiative of the history teachers, who pointed out that the role of von Stauffenberg and his accomplices had been quite questionable in the long years leading up to 1944. IMO that reveals a high level of awareness, and it is not at all the blind hero-worshipping that Cowen feels to perceive. It is not at all the black-and-white "the Germans against the evil Nazis"-view that you accuse Germans of. Instead, it shows a very distinctive and mature approach.
Excerpt from GM Roper's interesting comment:
My grandfather was an ethnic German, I was born in Germany, though my parent's were American and as a a child in the United States, I remember being called a Nazi by kids who were only acting as kids act and repeating the crap of their parents.
Back to the Wall Street Journal piece: Messr. Rivkin and Casey end their op-ed by accusing Germany "to obtain a measure of the victim status that, in the modern world, has become a necessary badge of moral authority. That, of course, is how rehabilitation works." I agree to the extent that there is more talk about German victims than there was before, but I don't think this means that Germany aims to have a "victim status."

Related post in the Atlantic Review:
Germans said to be more afraid to kill than to get killed
Historical Comparisons: Fritz Stern Publishes "Five Germanys I Have Known"
Bad News from Germany


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Zyme on :

"Two More Americans Accuse Germany of Historical Revisionism" Maybe tomorrow there will be even two more! I just noticed that if this trend continues, we might have something to report about for the next 150 million days. Thank God that our sun will last this long. Jorg seriously, why do you care?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I care for the same reason, which makes many Americans care about Anti-Americanism in the European media.

David on :

I also oppose criminalizing Holocaust deniers, but Rivkin and Casey make it sound like a diabolical German plot. In fact, there is widespread EU support for this. I rely on the Wall Street Journal for my business, and the reporting is generally quite good, but the Op/Ed section has become the mouthpiece of the authoritarian right. Rivkin and Casey are attacking Germany to divert from the lawlessness of the Bush administration.

2020 on :

Quote: "Germans have faced their awful past in a much more honest and soul searching way than the Japanese or Austrians or Russians." Or the Eastgermans...

Shah Alexander on :

I am surprised to read this post and "Historical Revisionism in Germany?". Actually, revisionism is rising moderately in Japan, as you understand recent dispute on comfort women during WWII. In my impression, Germany has become a complete good citizen after joining the EU and NATO. Europeans accepted postwar Germany, unlike Asians continue to complain Japan's wartime conducts. Therefore, I thought Germans are utterly future-oriented. It is an odd world that people talk so much about the World War II, although the Cold War has ended, and we are in the era of the War on Terror. I would like to mention these two posts in my forthcoming post.

Zyme on :

Maybe people think so much about WW2 because before (and during) that war, every major industrial power also was a major military power in the world and was used to military interferences once in a while. While Japan and Germany have their economical ties all over the world today, their military does not. So I guess people will think so much about the past until these distortions are corrected.

Fuchur on :

How does the saying go: You can provide people with arguments, but you can't force them to think?! On the one hand, we have the era of imperialism and colonization, resulting in suppression, numerous genozides and in last consequence two ghastly world wars that brought unfathomable suffering on mankind. On the other hand, we have an unprecedented half a century of peace ("minor" incidents excluded), economic growth and prosperity in Europe. I thought that might give some hint as to what the "distortions" were that had to be corrected... But hey, maybe I'm wrong. Probably Japan was really stupid to put so much effort into advancing its economy - instead, it should have concentrated more on its military power. Like North Korea, for example.

Zyme on :

Half a century of peace - created by the biggest military arsenals in mankind´s history. And tell me - was it the peaceful economical powers that had the biggest influence during those decades? It is very important that Germany is modernizing its military so that it can operate world wide. We are extremely dependent on ressources and trade routes all over the planet. And partly because we are the biggest exporter of goods, no other country has more containerships moving across the seas - the blood veins of world trade. This situation cries for maritime protection. If you like to "think ahead" by putting that status at risk - go ahead. But don´t be suprised when more responsible ones disagree. Neglecting military options means neglecting vital options in politics. Foresighted statesmen cannot afford to throw those away.

Pat Patterson on :

Historical revisionism is necessary for any free society to learn of its past. As new information becomes available, or sometimes even new interpretations of old data, a better understanding of an individual nations history or even its national myths can become clearer and more truthful. In the American South the idea of the "Lost Cause" can supplant the recognition of the South being a slave state because of popular historical revisionism. I don't think that is really the issue as Germany still attempts to rationalize the events of WWII. I know there are neo-Nazi groups active in Germany today but they do not have the same popular podium as defenders of the ante bellum South does. While Germany, to its credit continues, to grapple with the events of WWII, even today. With I might add a sometimes concerned world constantly looking for any sign of irredentism and revanchism. The discovery of the Wannasee Minutes was a terrible shock to many post-war German historians as the notes exposed how systematic and public the works of the Final Solution were. Claims of ignorance had to be reconciled to the widespread knowledge of what transpired in the camps. This is an example of historical revisionism that creates a new common interpretation of a shared history. The danger comes when the heroics of previously unknown resisters becomes the fantasy identity of the reader or viewer. We can believe that no one would admit to identify with the Nazis but unfortunately we can look to many nations and see that this is simply not so. I believe that the White Rose consisted of only six members and as another commnnt noted, on the other thread, that a "Good German" reported them, which clearly would have been the reacion of many rather than a few.

Don S on :

A quote from Rifkin-Casey "Call it a humanitarian offensive, or call it historical revisionism, but Germany is on the march again" I have a big problem with that last part of the phrase 'Germany is on the march again'. It's simply not true. There is a problem between Germany/France/Belgium etc - but the real problem is the precise opposite. Germany is NOT on the march unless one counts endless tongue-wagging and scolding in lieu of action to support allies to be marching - which it isn't. When Germany sends a half-million soldiers to squash Poland or the USSR I'll count it so - not otherwise. But that doesn't mean there is no problem. The choice is not between 0 (or 3000 non-combatant whatever-they-ares) and 500,000. There are shades of gaey - or should be . But not in the German world-view this generation, or so it would seem. NATO is dying a slow death - this is a major reason, though probably American over-militarism is another. German antimilitarism and American overmilitarism are two sides of the same coin - the lack of balance within the alliance.

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