German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch published a far-ranging 2003 study on the culture of defeated nations that focuses on three cases: the American South after the Civil War, the French after their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and Germany after WWI. According to Schivelbusch, defeated nations (Verlierernationen) as typified by the three cases he investigates stress myths that mitigate their defeat and create a favorable view of those who fought for their “lost cause.” Before its recent conversion to PC, the American South was paradigmatic for the way nations handle defeat, and there is little to be found in Germans’ attitudes after 1918 that does not mirror how the South saw itself after 1865.
Defeated powers, according to Schivelbusch, insist they were overwhelmed rather than really defeated, and they tend to pin the blame on their triumphant enemy’s unfair advantage or dishonorable tactics or on some internal foe who betrayed their side. The German legend of being knifed in the back in 1918 has its counterpart in the French view of the treacherous, cowardly government of Louis Napoleon that tricked them into war and then sued for peace against the Prussians; or the perfidy of General Longstreet, who supposedly showed his defeatist attitudes by joining the Reconstruction government after the Late Unpleasantness.
The only significant exception to the “culture of defeat” that Schivelbusch describes is his own country after 1945. In the introduction he suggests that the enormity and extravagance of the German exception may have driven him into writing his study. Unlike other societies he analyzes, including the Germans after WWI, contemporary Germans seem to luxuriate in “collective self-debasement.” Germans not only claim no honor for their soldiers in WWII but glorify their enemies who inflicted fire-bombing on their hapless civilians, or in the Soviet case, cut a swath across Central Europe murdering and raping. This ethic of self-rejection has gone so far that German historians and journalists delight in accepting blame for their wretched country in earlier European conflicts, and they typically view all of German history before 1933 as a lead-in to the Third Reich.
Such a mindset is evident in how German politicians present the decision to save the Greeks from their self-inflicted bankruptcy. Serious arguments could be cited for Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic government’s decision to help out the profligate Greeks; for example, German creditors’ entanglement in the Greek debacle, Germany’s centrality as the EU’s economic force, and the German economy’s present dependence on the euro. Nonetheless, German politicians and intellectuals have appealed to the image of Germany as a moral leper in order to justify further loans to Greece and other “scapegrace” EU members. A leading German economic historian and a direct descendant of Germany’s renowned nineteenth-century classicist and theologian Albrecht Ritschl has insisted that such payments be viewed as the reparation debts that Germans never fully paid for starting WWI. Ritschl is upset that his countrymen were never sufficiently fined for the Great War’s horrendous crime, which has turned them “into the greatest debtor nation in world history.” Paying off the Greeks should be only a modest beginning in compensating the world for the sins of Kaiser Bill.
Other politicians, such as Gregor Gysi of the Party of Democratic Socialists (read: retread communists) and the chancellor (who represents something that substitutes for Germany’s center-right), argue that if the Greeks do not receive German economic aid, all hell might break loose. The EU could be endangered, with Germany thereafter propelled toward a national resurgence that could threaten peace in Europe. The Krauts, it seems, aren’t quite ready for political prime time. All the wars they’ve unleashed (supposedly with zero help from the other side) show that they have to be imprisoned in some international structure lest they feel tempted to act out. From reading such descriptions, one gets the impression that the EU must be kept intact as a loony bin for a psychotic country.
Perhaps the most comical argument for bailing out Greece has come from Merkel’s CDU Labor Minister and outspoken feminist Ursula von der Leyen, who has been vocal in her support for “helping the Greeks get back on their feet.” In a recent appearance on a weekend talk show hosted by TV celebrity Günther Jauch, Ms. von der Leyen went after those who criticize Greece’s spending habits and bloated state bureaucracy. According to van der Leyen, such a captious judgment does not take into account the close resemblance between the “Greeks at the present hour and the Germans in 1945, when we were a battered people.” To the Labor Minister, assisting the Greeks seems the proper thing to do. It is “like the CARE-packages that the Americans sent us after the War.”
This last comparison borders on the lunatic, except when a German politician is trying to be “nice.” Then it simply reflects the dominant national culture. Perhaps the Germans should insist on a fundamental right which the Americans once exercised: to carpet with bombs an enemy country and then hang its leaders as war criminals. Once having done this, the Germans could get on with the good stuff, such as providing those they’ve mercilessly “battered” with chocolate bars and sewing kits. Like other German politicians, von der Leyen is accustomed to the double kowtow (der doppelte Kotau), which involves simultaneously sucking up to the Yankees and non-German Europeans. Whereas Germans were once feared for lunging at their neighbors’ necks, now they’re delighted to be at everyone’s feet.
Presumably the banks, which made loans to the Greeks at the German government’s urging, will have to be saved as a first step to dealing with Greek insolvency. An article in the relatively right-wing Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung explains a ridiculous situation: The Germans have the same representation in the EU Council as Cyprus and Malta combined, yet they contribute 28% of the organization’s available capital as opposed to the 0.3% given by Cyprus and Malta. Germans are watching their earnings decline while paying for other countries’ insolvency, yet they seem determined to make their problem even worse. Although Germans gripe about the bailout, the vast majority support leftist parties that will give away even more of their money to foreign governments. German voters snub and even despise parties such as the Republikaner which oppose the bailouts.
The Republikaner, who have been critical of Muslim immigration and bailouts and whose members favor a freer market economy, had been under the surveillance of the Verfassungsschutz, a German agency set up to monitor “extremist” parties thought to threaten the German constitutional order. The surveillance soon ended because there is nothing about the party that could possibly threaten the German constitution. The major “democratic” parties, including the former communist party, had a hand in influencing the decision to investigate their opponents’ “extremism,” and the cloud under which they arranged to place the Republikaner with the partisan Verfassungsschutz worked well. Their incipient opposition received no more than 0.4 percent of the votes cast in the 2009 general elections. By contrast, the antinational, antifascist, socialist bloc is expected to run the next German government.
Given the systematically instilled distrust of themselves and their history, one must assume that German voters will follow their antifascist chancellor, who in the face of collapsing EU economies has called for a “far more unified Europe.” Merkel hopes to strengthen the EU prison house created for her country of would-be juvenile delinquents.
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