Friday, February 17, 2012

A Portrait of European Sophistication

AKA: A Sad Tale of Ill-Timed and Awkward Smarminess

Unlike Americans, a great many Europeans who should know better are prone to leaping to compare present day Germans to the Nazis. That is, when they weren’t quietly wishing that they had “finished the job,” that is.

Bernd Ulrich wrote in Hamburg’s Die Zeit:
At a book reading in Portugal the sensible East German writer Ingo Schulze was even asked if the Germans intended to take with the euro what they had failed to take with their panzers, i.e. become the masters of the continent. From Greece we can hear the same sort of remarks every day, often put more dramatically.

Elsewhere the reproach is dressed up with more gentility, when for example Germany’s current austerity policy is compared with that of Reich Chancellor Brüning, whose successor was Adolf Hitler. Frequently, too, German’s “special path” is brought up, as when the Merkel government fails to print as much money as the others are demanding. The so-often quoted “special path” ends where, historically? In Auschwitz, of course. Thus is the circle closed.
And that’s just a normal daily tidbit from the paper, so you can imagine what chatter among bar patrons and neighbors to whom Euro-Ur-man regularly grumbles recreationally with must be like.
It does not take long, really, to work out the riddle of why the Nazi comparisons are being flung about so thick and fast. It’s because for the first time since 1945 Germany is back at full strength, not because it wanted to be, but because the European debt crisis has left it the economically strongest and politically most powerful country in Europe. German interests now reach deeply into the internal affairs of other states.
In other words, like the United States they are through the underperformance, negligence, and dependency of others, the only entity left among their allies with enough power to be begged, or beggared as the case seems to be.

Ulrich recognizes the need for realism, not just in outlook by Europeans in vaunted “national imagery,” but in simple understanding of other humans:
What should we do now? Ask the others to quit this Nazi crap, to please insult us Germans in every imaginable way but that one? Yes, that could be done. The Germans could also admit that they want to be loved, much more than the French or the British, who already love themselves very well indeed. However, the Germans cannot deny themselves out of the sheer need for love, if only because the others would despise us even more.
It’s a silly thing to have to waste time on to repair the public regard of Germany when those who need to learn the lesson are broke, saddled with delusions about economics, and pusillanimously paralyzed by their own envy-laden forms of national cultural identity.