Germany Has Not Caused the World's Problems (Recently, that is)

Another argument that open-borders types sometimes invoke is that Germany has in some way caused the problems from which migrants are fleeing and therefore has an ethical obligation to grant all of them permanent residency in Germany.

My experience is when this feel-good argument is exposed to the slightest pressure, it crumbles like gossamer. If proponents try to back it up, they uniformly fall into two errors: (1) vastly exaggerating Germany's actual influence in the world; and (2) conveniently erasing huge tracts of recent world history which obviously show factors other than German policy to be the genuine causes of the problems they cite.

Let's take a look at the countries which make up the top 10 in current asylum applications. It fluctuates from month to month, but is generally: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and 5 or 6 West Balkan countries.

Now, the first thing to note is that all of these countries receive development assistance from Germany to the extent safety conditions permit. Germany gives away .37% of its GDP in development assistancein 2013. That amounts to €14.06 billion, making Germany the world's third-largest state donor of development aid. Germany has a sprawling foreign-aid bureaucracy employing thousands of people. I know dozens of them personally: engineers, architects, lawyers. Working for German government aid organizations is a prestigious, well-paid job. There is much competition for these spots, and those who get the jobs tend to be very intelligent and hard-working. 

Here the casual cynic will observe: 'Yeah, but don't most of the products they provide come from Germany?' The short answer is yes. The longer answer is: Leave the womb-like comfort of the graduate seminar room, André-Maximilian. Remove your nose ring. Put down the Adorno. Put on your big-boy pants and emerge into the real world. Every aid donor country mandates a preference for its own products. Standard practice. And as long as they're fit for purpose, so what? If Germany is going to give Zenobia a € 1 million hydroelectric turbine generator, it might as well be a €1 million Siemens hydroelectric turbine generator. German machines are renowned all over the world, so nobody's getting ripped off. And I guarantee you the Zenobians care more about the extra 5 hours of electricity they get every day than who made the generator.

Now there's plenty of legitimate debate about the effectiveness of foreign aid and its recipients, etc. But at a very basic level, it's significant that a country decides to basically give away € 14 billion a year to strangers across the globe. German aid programs are generally highly regarded in the international community and often used as best-practices benchmarks. Is one of the reasons for giving the aid to burnish Germany's reputation? Yes, André-Maximilian, it is. Welcome again to the real world, where individuals and nations always have multiple motives for their actions, some of which are self-interested. In any case, if Germany's trying to build its reputation, it's working, since Germany is the most-admired nation in the world right now.

But even if Germany gave no development aid, the argument that Germany's actions are causing the current migration waves does not hold water. Let's look at it country-by-country:

Iraq. Iraq's current problems are the result of the 2003 invasion. Germany loudly opposed this invasion and did not send troops. Although Germany provided tiny amounts of logistical cooperation owing to previous commitments, the invasion of Iraq was a US and UK show, full stop. 

Syria. Syria descended into civil war in 2011. Wars in that part of the region can last a while, the Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years. Germany did not encourage or condone, and could not prevent, this occurrence.

Afghanistan. Germany participated in the occupation of Afghanistan for a few years. That participation was minimal. It's an open secret that German troops are not combat-ready, so they were sent to the largely-peaceful north to do routine patrols. In any event, Afghans who are leaving their country are, I guarantee you, not fleeing oppression by Western troops. They are leaving active conflict zones or Taliban rule.

Eritrea. Eritrea is currently a repressive dictatorship. Germany did not encourage or condone, and could not prevent, this turn of affairs. 

The West Balkans. There are generally 2 arguments here. First, that Germany devastated the former Yugoslavia during its occupation in World War II. Actually, what was once Yugoslavia was occupied by all the Axis powers, not just Germany and often ruled by native Fascist movements.

In any case, as nasty as that military policy was, it ended 70 years ago. 70 years is a long time. The current status of the states of the former Yugoslavia has almost nothing to do with World War II. Take Slovenia, for example. Most historians would agree that Slovenia got the worst of it:

The Province of Ljubljana (ItalianProvincia di LubianaSloveneLjubljanska pokrajinaGermanProvinz Laibach) was the central-southern area of Slovenia, the only present-day European nation and the only part of Yugoslavia that was trisected and completely annexed into neighboring Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Hungary during World War II.

97,000 Slovenes were killed during these brutal occupations. The capital of Slovenia, Laibach in German, was surrounded by barbed wire, turned into a massive camp and cut off from the world. Tens of thousands died of starvation and disease. And now? Slovenia, renowned as the 'Switzerland of Yugoslavia', is by far the richest and most stable state of the former Yugoslavia, not only an EU member but also a Eurozone member. The recovery from the depredations of World War II has much more to do with the history, culture, and talents of the people in the occupied country than with events 70 years ago. Modern Slovenes are interested in doing business with and studying in Germany, not rehashing events from last century. It also helped that Yugoslavia was government by one of the 20th century's most ingenious statesmen, Tito.

The current relatively backward condition of many states in the former Yugoslavia is due overwhelmingly to the 10-year civil war during the 1990s. A baffling kaleidoscope of different armies, militias, and paramilitaries swept back and forth, destroying billions in infrastructure and causing massive human suffering. Germany did not encourage or condone, and could not prevent this occurrence. In fact, by its rapid and decisive recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, it is quite likely that German policy helped prevent war and destruction in these countries. That is certainly how most modern Slovenes and Croatians see it, and many historians agree.

Now, what about the bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999? Germany certainly participated in that. That campaign involved 78 days of bombing targets in Serbia and Kosovo, and killed somewhere around 500 people. A legitimate debate still flourishes over the legitimacy of that action. However, proper perspective requires acknowledging several incontrovertible facts. First of all, the amount of damage caused by the bombing campaign is a drop in the bucket compared to the damage caused by the decade-long civil war that preceded it. Second, German participation in the bombing campaign was barely above the symbolic level. Blaming Germany for the after-effects of wholesale chaos in the Balkans in the 1990s is like blaming a seagull crapping on a wave for the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Third, the bombing campaign successfully ended hostilities in Kosovo. In 1999, Serbian forces and the KLA were preparing for a bloody, epic battle to the last over Kosovo. Both sides were well-armed, battle-tested, and hated each other's fucking guts with a glowing, incandescent, white-hot rage. Both sides were prepared to engage in terrorism, atrocities and ethnic cleansing. A full-scale war over Kosovo would certainly have done infinitely more damage than the NATO bombing campaign.

So, the argument that Germany has played any significant role in creating the conditions in countries from which current migrants are arriving is simply unfounded. This doesn't mean that Germany should or should not accept migrants from these countries -- that is a separate question. It simply means that the argument that Germany (1) has a moral obligation to do so because (2) Germany caused the problems from which the refugees are fleeing is unconvincing.


“During nice weather I’m either making whiskey or selling Nazi panties”

How some of Eva Braun's underwear allegedly reached Ohio:

He had traveled with the 506th Infantry from Africa to Europe. He got to Berchtesgaden in time for the liberation of the Nazi headquarters. Underneath Hitler’s home, he and a friend found a series of tunnels leading to a nearby hotel called Platterhof. There, they discovered boxes of Hitler and Braun’s belongings that had been stored for safekeeping. The pair loaded  seven steamer trunks with the treasures and shipped them back to America.

Snyder, accustomed to seeing one or two pieces at a time, was impressed. Over the next three years, he said, he paid $3 million in installments for the entire contents of these trunks, which had been held in “a warehouse-like place” outside Charlotte. Included in this trove were 100 pieces of Braun’s lingerie, including perhaps 20 to 30 pairs of underwear.


'Er ist Wieder Da' by Timur Vermes appears in English

Jamie Bulloch's translation of Er ist Wieder Da into English under the title Look Who's Back gets an uneasy review in the New York Times:

The novel’s conceit is easily summarized, less easily parsed. In 2011, Hitler awakes (apparently not from uneasy dreams, as Gregor Samsa does) in a field in Berlin. “I remember waking up,” he says. “I was lying on an area of undeveloped land, surrounded by terraces of houses.” He has no memory of his suicide. He has no idea how he’s gotten here. Soon enough he is taken with watching “modern-day television,” but when he finds only cooking shows, he is angered that “Providence had presented the German Volk with this wonderful, magnificent ­opportunity for propaganda, and it was being squandered on the production of leek rings.”

For the next 250 pages, Vermes walks us through months during which Hitler, resurrected by unexplained means, ­overcomes every presented obstacle. A newspaper vendor discovers him in ­uniform and assumes he must be an impersonator playing for dark comedy — the word Galgenhumor belongs, after all, to the Germans — and gives him a bed. Producers from an “Ali G”-style comedy show (hosted by the unimaginatively named “Ali Gagmez”) offer him a spot on the program. His first appearance quickly accrues hundreds of thousands of YouTube views. Soon Hitler gets his own show, website, production studio, even a back-alley beating by right-wingers who assume he’s making fun of himself. Eventually he also has a deal to write about his life. “I’m calling to ask whether you’d like to write a book?” the editor says. “I already have,” Hitler replies. “Two, in fact.”

Let me just admit it: the main reason I posted this is so I could include the illustration by Doug Chayka:

10-Torday-blog427


Aurochs With and Without Questionable Ideology

A translator opines on the difficulty of rendering Aurochs into English:

Walser was prophetic about 100% Germanness. A good decade after his 1917 story, German scientists—Heinz Heck in Munich and his brother, Lutz Heck, in Berlin—started a program to breed back the massive primordial beasts, extinct since 1627. The result was Heck cattle, misleadingly announced to the world by the publicity-savvy brothers as “back-bred aurochs.”

Although the research started in the 1920s, and the first bull said to resemble an aurochs was born in 1932, the whole effort has been remembered, not entirely unjustly, as a project of “Nazi science,” madly breeding a genetically pure super-race. Lutz joined the Party early. Time magazine says “the Nazi government funded an attempt to breed them back as part of its propaganda effort.” But one English journalist, Simon de Bruxelles, seems to have cornered the market on magnificent aurochs headlines, from “A shaggy cow story: how a Nazi experiment brought extinct aurochs to Devon”—

Through the misty early morning sunlight dappling a Devon field a vision from the primeval past lumbers into view. The beast with its shaggy, russet-tinged coat, powerful shoulders and lyre-shaped horns could have stepped straight from a prehistoric cave painting. The vision is … Bos primigenius, the aurochs, fearsome wild ancestor of all today’s domestic cattle, immortalised tens of thousands of years ago in ochre and charcoal in the Great Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux in southwest France…

—to, just last month, the nearly incomparable “Peace in our time after slaughter of Nazi super-cows:”

Britain’s only herd of “Nazi” cattle has been turned into sausages because they were so dangerous that no one could go near them…. The cattle, which have long horns as sharp as stilettos, were an attempt by Nazi scientists to re-create the prehistoric aurochs, a breed of giant wild cattle regarded with awe by Julius Caesar….

Atavistic Northern European grandiosity about aurochs lives on. There’s a new effort to resurrect the ancient breed, the Tauros Project, led by Dutchman Henri Kerkdijk, and an even newer offshoot from 2013: the Uruz Project, complete with a TED event. They want to help “rewild” Holland by “de-extincting” the animals that inhabited earlier ecosystems. It all sounds pretty plausible: as this useful summary explains, scientists sequence aurochs DNA from old bones found in Britain, then go looking for breeds of cattle alive today with segments of aurochs DNA still intact. (“Tauros,” initially called “TaurOs” ≈ Taurus + Os, “Bull + Bone.”) With the sequencing of the complete aurochs genome, celebrated on the Breeding-Back Blog last year, the double-helix dictionary of the aurochs is complete. A few more generations of selective breeding and there we’ll have it.

The aurochs are not being “recreated,” as an online commenter puts it: “They are just being ‘rejoined.’ The genes are still there, spread through the population of cows.” They are being spelled.

Here's a picture I took of an modern quasi-Aurochs recently in the Neandertal Ice-Age Animal Reserve (g), where they are no longer being bred for their chthonic-Aryan qualities. Presumably.

Aurochs with Medium Length Horns


Richard J. Evans on the Use and Abuse of the Third Reich

Richard J. Evans has an interesting essay in the Guardian on changing perspectives on Germany history among historians and the public at large:

Nazism, the society it created, the world of the Third Reich and the people who lived through it all appear as a kind of moral drama where the issues are laid out starkly before us with a clarity we are no longer able to achieve in the morally complex, confusing and compromised world we live in today. It has become commonplace to classify the inhabitants of Nazi Germany and the countries it conquered and occupied as “perpetrators”, “victims” or “bystanders”, as if the Third Reich was one single, gigantic act of criminality to be retrospectively judged as if history were a court of law. Occasionally we might nod in the direction of the few who resisted, but their numbers shrink into insignificance in comparison with those considered guilty or innocent, the actively criminal and their passive victims.

Yet we have not always approached the history of nazism in this way. Indeed, the predominantly moral perspective from which Hitler and the Germany he created are currently viewed is a relatively recent one. For a long time after the end of the war he launched in September 1939 and lost five and a half years later, Hitler was a comparatively neglected topic for historians, as were the Nazi movement and the Nazi state. Evidence was piled up for the Nuremberg trials, but the focus was very much on “war crimes”, the years before 1939 were more or less out of the visual range of the prosecutors, and the death camps at Treblinka, Auschwitz and elsewhere were not the central point of the investigation.

...Sweeping generalisations about “the Germans” are out of place both in serious historical scholarship and in an informed public memory. Wartime propaganda damned all Germans past and present for the rise of nazism and the murderous triumph of antisemitism, but nazism, it should not be forgotten, was a tiny fringe movement until the very end of the 1920s. The regime had to work hard to get popular support once it came to power in 1933, and violence played as important a role as propaganda. Prominent Jews in the Weimar Republic, notably the foreign minister Walther Rathenau, were not despised, marginal figures but enjoyed huge popular support and admiration, expressed in the national outpouring of grief on his death.

It has become increasingly difficult to sustain the view, rooted in wartime allied propaganda and given more sophisticated expression in the work of the dominant school of left-liberal West Germans of the 1970s to 1990s, that the roots of nazism lay deep in the German past. Often seen against the long-term background of modern German history since the era of Bismarck’s unification of the country in the 19th century, the Third Reich is now increasingly also viewed in a broader international, even global context, as part of the age of imperialism, its drive for domination building on a broader tradition of the German quest for empire.

 


'Cloth Insignia of the SS' by LTC (ret.) John R. Angolia

Not many posts recently, because I've been in Japan for the holidays, admiring Shinto shrines, being harangued by right-wing soundtrucks, ogling Harajuku cuties, and all the rest.

Browsing the bookstalls in Jimbocho, the used-book district of Tokyo, I came across a book which brought back fond memories. Good old Col. Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) John R. Angolia was a friend of the family, and used to take me to World War II war movies. Problem was, he knew so much about Nazi insignia that every couple of minutes, he would bust out and say something like 'What kind of moron directed this piece of crap? That cadet's sleeveband reads SS Schule Braunschweig in Sütterlin script. This movie is supposed to take place in 1941! Any fool knows that from 1936 onwards, Sütterlin script was reserved exclusively for the insignia of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler!' Sometimes he began clawing at the screen, and they had to drag him out of the theater.

Fortunately Old Leatherballs, as they used to call him in the army, found a productive outlet for his disturbingly profound knowledge of Nazi insignia:

Cloth Insignia of the SS cover.52

From now on, I'll never be embarrassed at dinner parties by insisting that all the sleevebands for the Heinwehr Danzig bore SS runes, when every rube knows that some of them did not. Imagine my humiliation when my host's 11-year-old son Hartmut had to correct me on that point, and then asked rhetorically: 'Daddy, why is the fat American lying?'

Below are are just a few of the 475 magical pages of this book:

SS lady.40

SS violinist.59

As for Old Leatherballs, he went on to write Leather Insignia of the SSMetal Insignia of the SS, and his famous memoirs, My Golden Hours Among the SS Insignia. How I miss him and his delightful stories of SS insignia. Rest in peace, Leatherballs.


Freude, Zucht, Glaube in the USA

As a proud owner of a copy of the official National Socialist guide to summer camping (Freude, Zucht, Glaube -- Joy, Discipline, Faith), I was intrigued by this film, recently restored by the National Archives of the USA:

The curator notes

I have one great party trick. Anytime someone asks me if I’ve ever come across something really cool while working in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, I tell them about the time we had what looked like footage of a Boy Scout camp and then the Boy Scouts raised a Nazi flag along with the red, white, and blue. Without fail, I get the attention of anyone in within earshot. Then, I tell the assembled crowd that in the late 1930s the East Coast was home to many summer camps for the junior Nazis of America and the National Archives holds the film evidence. They might have been hoping that I would tell them about footage of the Roswell aliens, but the reaction to “American Nazi summer camps” is just about the same.

Volks-Deutsche Jungen in U.S.A. (German Youth in the U.S.A) you’ll see what first appears to be an unremarkable story of a boys’ summer camp. The film starts with the camp under construction and excited children piling onto chartered buses to make the journey from New York City to Windham, New York in the summer of 1937. The boys pitch tents, unload crates of baked beans, and perform physical fitness drills. If you pay close attention, you might notice that some of the boys are wearing shorts bearing the single lightning bolt insignia that marked the younger contingent of the Hitler Youth, but it’s not until the “Flaggenappell” (flag roll call) at 13:47 that the affiliation becomes clear.

...

Less well-known is that the DAB also operated as somewhat of a cultural indoctrination organization for German-American children, with activities that are depicted in several of the films we hold. The summer camps, complete with the official uniforms and banners of the Hitler Youth, might be the most visual and chilling example of the DAB’s attempts to instill Nazi sympathies in German-American children. Another film, intended to encourage boys to attend the camp, includes a perhaps unintentionally ominous intertitle that translates to “German boy you also belong to us.”


Gottfried Benn in English

The New Republic has a very fine essay on Gottfried Benn by Adam Thirlwell, occasioned by Michael Hofmann's recent book of English translations of Benn's poems:

The phenomenon of writers ignored, abused, cast out, disgraced, not for the disaster of their writing but the disaster of their politics, is one contribution the twentieth century has made to the history of literature. Cioran, Kipling, Gorky, you name it: the history of literature has become natty at its particular version of kashrut. We’re therefore now accustomed to the general map of literature being marked by weird absences, small oblivions, fuzzy silences. Mostly, I guess, these oblivions are now so usual that their existence is hardly noticed. Who, for instance, is exercised by the absence in their iBooks library of the German poet Gottfried Benn? And yet Benn—along with Brecht, Celan, and Rilke—is one of the great German poets of the twentieth century, the equal of Eliot or Montale. And the reason for this absence, as usual, is not the work but the life.

...

Benn, of course, chose a different trajectory in the terrible 1930s—even if, very soon, his work too, like Kokoschka’s, was condemned as 
degenerate. In the end every expressionist was to be shunned by the Nazi regime—just as Benn would then be shunned forever, for his year of Nazi temptation.

In other words, the career of Gottfried Benn is a case study in disgrace. And now the international reader, whose acquaintance with Benn might have otherwise been as fragmentary as a mention in an essay by T. S. Eliot or in a poem by Frank O’Hara, can finally examine this case study with voracious comprehensiveness, owing to this virtuosic, acidic selection of translations by the poet Michael Hofmann. Benn’s late style is one of literature’s great inventions, and the composition of this selection conditions its reader to concentrate on that phenomenon: from 1912 to 1947, a period of 35 years, Hofmann offers just twenty-four poems, while from 1949 to 1955, the last six years of Benn’s life, there are a lavish forty-eight.

...

Benn ... speaks from inside this moral gray zone. He gives disgrace its aesthetic form. He experienced life as total defeat, and in this disgrace, he discovered a kind of nihilistic truth. In Benn’s poetry, the real meaning of disgrace was not remorse. No, its real meaning was isolation. In disgrace, he discovered how easily one can be severed from every community. From this isolation, his conclusion was an absolute disillusion. The only truth in which he could believe was the truth he had always relied on: the swarming, isolated self.

I have always admired Benn's poetry, and am glad it's finally gotten a persuasive advocate in English. As Thirlwell points out, Hofmann takes risks with his German translations, but they're smart ones. I've ordered the book, but it's still on its way. Benn, like Emil Nolde, initially favored the Nazi party, but was then sidelined by the cultural commissars owing to the 'degenerate' nature of his work.

The accompanying portrait of Benn, by Ivan Solyaev, is also magnificent:

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