Thinking history

This blog was launched alongside the book ‘Massacre in Malaya’… and I have continued to comment on the legal proceedings to do with the Batang Kali case. We are all waiting for word from the UK Supreme Court.

But other issues have caught my attention in the meantime and so here are some rumination on those.

Reading Max Hastings’ review about German citizens during the Second World War a few comments struck me forcibly. The first was the oft repeated trope that the Holocaust – and for that matter German plans to eradicate millions of Slavs also considered ‘life not worthy of life’ – somehow contradicts the fact that modern Germany, founded in 1871 was Europe’s preeminent civilisation – the land of Bach, Goethe and Thomas Mann, although only the last named was a ‘German’ in the modern sense. The implication is that it is less surprising that, say, Rwandans or Cambodians, or Turks for that matter, perpetrate genocide than that some Germans did between 1941 and 1945. It is a puzzle that the civilised descended to barbarism but not that other peoples did. The puzzle is a false one. Putting it in these terms exposes the innately racist assumption that civilised people don’t or shouldn’t commit racial genocide or other crimes against humanity and that when they do some special explanation is required. In truth, it is our common humanity that makes such slaughter a feature of the human condition.

Secondly Hastings refers to Himmler, Hitler et al as ‘criminals’. Popular historians often vie for the nastiest insult to describe historical actors whose deeds are simply beyond the scope of petty epithets. Brecht started it all off with his ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ which presents the rise of the Nazis as a gangster story.This is the work that ends with the warning that lefties like to quote even though it is utter, misogynist nonsense: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.” I don’t think the word ‘evil’ is such use to us either.
Again the question seems to be implict – why did those civilised Germans back such evidently bad? In fact, the Nazi elite, with the exception of Hitler, an academic on-starter, and a few others, was not only by and large a well educated sample of the German population – Goebbels had a PhD for god’s sake – but was punctilious about erecting legalistic fences around the various lethal master plans intended to eliminate peoples, Slavs, Jews, Roma regarded as enemies of the German state and not ‘worthy of life’. At a lower level, many of the policemen who joined the killer squads or Einsatzgruppen that murdered millions after June 1941 across the killing fields of the East were qualified lawyers – who worked assiduously to establish a ‘legal’ framework for mass murder.

Finally, the historian Roger Moorhouse has morphed into a propagandist. He has become the self appointed Tsar in charge of warning the world, or the pub snug, that Stalin was a bad man. Surprise! Oh and don’t forget he was ‘just as bad as Hitler’! He was just ‘the same’ as Hitler. How that vapid opinion counts as ‘history’ I have no idea. Perhaps Caligula was as horrible as Attila the Hun. How does Moorhouse regard the young Germans who turn up in Dresden every year screaming about the ‘bombing holocaust’? It’s the same kind of point. Conflating Nazism and Communism/Bolshevism is a crime against real scholarship – and grossly misrepresents the crimes of each ideology. After all, ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ – the two fitted together in the Nazi mind – was the mythical demon that Hitler et al set out to liquidate.

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