The recent demand by the Greek socialist government of Alexis Tsirpas for “reparations” of €279 billion from Germany comes at an interesting time.
Seventy years ago, Germany was being overrun by the combined assault of the Allied armies from East and West, and its people were being subjected to unspeakable atrocities, especially in the East where the Red Army was raping and killing its way through Eastern Germany.
Next month will also see the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2 in Europe, the last important anniversary that will feature considerable numbers of survivors from those events. Accordingly, we can expect to see a number of ceremonies, speeches, and TV specials commemorating what will be presented as an uncomplicated triumph of “good” over “evil.”
In particular, we can expect to see that peacenik and champion of moral virtue, Vladimir Putin, exulting in the heroic role that the equally peace-loving and virtuous Red Army played in the defeat of the “unique evil” of Nazism.
Russia Today will probably go into overdrive, and could even melt down like an over-excited hadron collider, creating a hole in the space-time continuum leading to a parallel universe in which Stalin actually was the good guy.
As we are regaled with badly-written and emotionally-manipulative content about the triumph of the “the democratic spirit” and how the millions who died fighting Germany did so because they implicitly believed in mass immigration and gay marriage, no mention will be made of the atrocities and inhumanities committed by the Allies – the mass rapes, the fire-bombing of cities, the maltreatment of POWs, the forced repatriation to certain death of Russian Cossacks, and the post-war starvation forced on Germany that killed millions.
Instead we are sure to hear again and again the old, shop-worn, and legally protected stories of the Holocaust. These will be dusted off and rolled out to ensure that we feel the right mix of moral euphoria and smug assurance about what were complex and multifaceted historical events.
Also no one will dare mention the highly significant fact that whatever deaths occurred under the Nazis, occurred under the strain of the greatest and most terrible war ever, nor that our “noble” Russian allies succeeded in killing millions of innocents not in the throes of war or revolution, but in the middle of peacetime. ( http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1983/228321.shtml )
As we wade through this lukewarm bilge of WWII triumphalism, what will become apparent is the degree to which Germany, the dominant economy and heart of Europe, has been morally disarmed and deprived of its 20th-century history. Any German voices that chime in will acclaim their country’s past evil, and express gratitude for their brutal “liberation,” even if it was by the likes of Bomber Harris and the Red Army.
As Brennus the leader of the Gauls who once conquered Rome proverbially said, “Vae Victis” (woe to the vanquished). Yes, the Germans, despite being pound-for-pound the best military force in Europe by a long way, were ultimately the losers, and we all know who writes the history. So, should we even care, especially since modern Germans do so little to challenge the narrative? Weren’t they perhaps correct to just write off the period 1914 to 1945 as wasted time?
In 1945 and the years after the war it could be argued that there was little else for Germany to do but appease the victors and accept their version of events. Everything had been thrown into the war, so there was nothing left to bargain with. War had been total and so was defeat. For the reason surrender too had to also be complete.
To avoid extinction, the Germans had to accept the narratives of the victors. If they didn’t there was every chance of the Morgenthau plan or something similar being dusted off. Resisting the myth of Germany as absolute evil would only have lengthened and deepened the occupation and threatened Germany’s post-war boom. It would also have made rapprochement with its European neighbours and the foundation of the European Union extremely awkward.
From a pragmatic point of view, there was every reason for Germany to knuckle under and take its bumps in the post-war order: “Yes, mea culpa, we were wrong. Sorry . . . Now, can we interest you in a Volkswagen Beetle?”
Also, how long could it have been expected to last anyway? On past experience, it would seem only a few years. But, here we now are, seventy years later, and it’s not just the victors of the war who are lording it over Germany, or the Israelis with their privileged position. It is also minnows like Greece, a country that, in the post-war period, went through its own mini version of the great 20th-century battle between Communism and Fascism, only to wake up in the 21st-century, as a bankrupt social-democratic capitalist state, run by Cultural Marxists too terrified to implement actual Marxist economic policies.
Driven by a combination of economic obsolescence and Euro parasitism, it is this country that has belatedly latched onto Germany’s historical blind spot, in the hope that it might be worth some money or at least serve as a “moral” counterweight to German demands to repay debts.
Why is the Greek government now demanding €279 billion? Quite simply because it can and because it needs to.
When Germany decided to allow its wartime enemies a virtual monopoly on the historical narrative, it basically granted them a moral blank cheque that they could fill in and cash anytime. In the Cold War period, the Western powers, keen to foster German goodwill and bolster NATO, were careful not to overuse the privilege. The Soviet Union, by contrast, used it to justify the existence of its zombie East German state for four decades.
Nowhere was it ever imagined that the Greeks would make use of this moral blank cheque to demand “reparations” long after the vast majority of those involved in the war had passed on.
As a simple rule, reparations – if such a thing can be admitted to exist in international law – should be paid by the vanquished to the victor in the years immediately after a conflict. To diverge from this principle, opens up all sorts of problematic possibilities, as most countries have at one time or another attacked, invaded, occupied, and abused others. To allow any country, therefore, to claim reparations at any time from any country that wronged it is to abolish the distinctions between peace and war, and a recipe for global chaos.
There is also blatant injustice involved in these demands. While being conquered by the Germans and then mainly occupied by their Italian allies could not have been pleasant for the Greeks, they were treated no worse and in fact a lot better than many other European countries occupied in the 20th century. If Greece can demand €279 billion for four years of relatively mild Axis occupation, then what does Russia owe Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for their 50-year occupations?
You could also throw in the fact that the Greeks were treated a lot worse by the Turks. As recently as the 1920s, millions of Greeks were forcibly expelled by the Kemalite Turkish state, losing much of their wealth and property in the process.
Should Greece demand reparations there? Of course they won’t. Turkey, despite the genocide it committed against the Armenians, which actually started 100 years ago this month, is a country that makes considerable efforts to defend its historical narrative and is not prepared to be told how it should view its past.
We see the same thing in Putin’s Russia, which celebrates its Stalinist past along with its Tsarist one. China, too, is not shy about pushing a moralizing historical narrative that serves to justify Chinese power.
From an objective point of view, it may seem odd that China obsesses more about the tens of thousands supposedly killed in Nanking by Japanese troops than the tens of millions who died on the communist government’s own watch.
Japan, too, despite sharing “Axis pariah state” status with Germany, has made efforts to retain a positive sense of its past. Military and government personnel damned as “war criminals” by the occupation authorities are “enshrined” in Yasukuni Jinja, and history books are rewritten to give a more morally acceptable picture of Japan’s actions.
These countries – Turkey, Russia, China, and Japan – all realize that national history is less about objective truth and more about an expression of will to exist. For this reason, the Greek attempt at moral extortion is useful because it reminds us not only that Germany has neglected its past for too long, but also points to the consequences of this moral pacifism and historical masochism.
In the past, it may have suited the interests of post-war Germany’s powerful export industries to accept such a negative characterization of the preceding period, and it probably that such an attitude played a part in Germany’s tremendous economic success. But, while Germany has apparently achieved economic and a degree of political dominance in Europe by following this path, it has also left itself open to easy attack, rather in the same way that the incompleteness of the Maginot Line left the French open to a devastating flank attack. Germany’s economic power has a great and glaring weakness – the country’s dangerous moral disarmament and weak sense of itself. As Tsipras’s behaviour demonstrates, any country that wants can effortlessly insult and denigrate modern Germany.
This not only leaves Germany weak but also Europe, because Germany lies at the heart of the continent and is its most important country. A morally weak Germany, ashamed of its past and which believes itself to be uniquely evil, is a void at the heart of Europe.
But to avoid this, Germany does not even need to lie about its history in the way that Turkey and Russia so obviously do. It does not need to go to the trouble of creating a positive myth. So negative is the negative myth that just by switching to an objective and proportionate view of its history, the German sense of moral worth can be immensely bolstered.
For this reason, it is time for Germany to stop apologizing, to stop allowing the likes of Tsipras to kick it in the shins with their tardy and insolvent demands. It is time for Germany to face its history and that of its rivals with a sense of objectivity and balance. It is time for Germany to stop seeing itself through the wartime propaganda of its enemies – not because that generation has died off, but because that idea of Germany was always wrong and one-sided. It is time that the idea of Germany being the only “uniquely evil” country in world history was bulldozed into a pit and covered with quicklime.
If Tsipras’s inopportune and improvident demands can help push Germans in this direction, then the billions he is demanding may well be a fee worth paying.