Powerful program on facing up to ugly historical realities

The radio program On the Media had a powerful program that looked at how differently the US and Germany deal with their ugly pasts. In Germany, there are memorials and reminders everywhere of the Nazi era with no attempt to hide the atrocities committed by them, all in the effort to make subsequent generations clearly aware that they as a people were capable of doing things like that and that they must be alert to avoid any repetition. But there are no memorials to the Nazi leaders, no statues or buildings or any other monuments named after them. In other words, the Nazi history is preserved and remembered but as a cautionary tale, not honored.

Contrast this with the US and its history of genocide of Native Americans and slavery. There are Americans who refuse to accept that these were abominable periods in US history that need to be unequivocally condemned and they even oppose the removal of monuments that honor the people who participated in those things. They refuse to see themselves as descendants of people who participated in unspeakably cruel acts and find ways to minimize and excuse the actions. They seem to think that acknowledging that the nation was capable of committing such atrocities will somehow devalue themselves now. As a result, the ugly history is minimized, distorted, or ignored.


  1. says

    It doesn’t help the stories and myths the US tells itself, the greatness of its founders, that it’s founded on freedom and liberty and has always been a beacon of those things to the world. When you start seeing the truth of its history and present you start seeing those stories and myths as just that instead of an objective truth. “American Exceptionalism” becomes empty words. The United States becomes just another country, its citizens just another people. The greatest nation in the history of the world can’t be seriously flawed.

  2. DonDueed says

    Meanwhile, we criticize the Japanese for failing to own up to their war crimes in the 20th century (in Korea and elsewhere). Hypocrisy much?

  3. Glor says

    They do. So do the Belgians (the Congo), the French (Indochina and Africa), the British (honestly too many to count, starting with starving India under the company and ending with laying the groundwork for most modern conflicts), the Turks (armenian we-can’t-call-it-a-genocide (it’s a genocide)), the Dutch (Africa and Southeast Asia)… the list goes on and on. None of this is okay. All of ’em need to do better.

    @4: I think the British learned it from the Spanish who used “reconcentrados ” during the cuban war for independence. Who in turn were inspired by the US treatment of the Indians. It should be noted that the nazis took the “let’s put lots of people under guard into a camp and watch them die of starvation and disease” concept (bad and indefensible) and then went “actually, let’s kill them directly” (worse).

  4. says

    On The Media is an excellent show. Their interview with Les Gelb is mind-blowing. NY public radio, with Reveal and Snap Judgement is really killing it.

  5. says

    It’d be interesting to compare the imperial lies Rome told itself with the US’. I suspect there are amazing similarities, especially regarding foreign policy and immigration. Rome was more honest about its foreign policy though.

  6. lorn says

    IMHO, it is instructive, and illuminating, to know that the nazis, and Hitler himself, saw the history of slavery, racism, and the exploitation of bigotry in the US as suggestive of what might be done and how to advance his cause in Europe. The history and designs of the Confederacy, right down to the mythology of the ‘lost cause’ and ‘stabbed in the back’ were dressed up and reused by Hitler as the narrative explaining German loss in WWI and, in the spirit of ‘the south will rise again’, advancing the cause of a Third Reich.

    Fascists learned the ugly methods of the Confederacy and used them to refine their methods and rhetoric for demonizing and exploiting the historic European scapegoats. The Fascists learned the methods, and covering propaganda and rhetoric, of extermination from the Turks as they slaughtered Armenians.

    The influence of US race based exploitation and Turkish genocide upon Hitler’s Germany is well enough documented. I have long wondered if the US experience of racism and slavery had an influence on the Turks. It is clear that Fascists learn and use what they learn to refine their methods and rhetoric.

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