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Past is Epilog

2006-08-16 16:17:58.975426+00 by petronius 4 comments

It's a bit strange that we are still arguing over World War 2 some 60 years after its conclusion. The recent controversies over Gunter Grass's SS service and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to a war cemetery seem to become more vociferous even as the number of actual participants dwindles.

I found an interesting case here, where a painting once owned by a wealthy family of German Jews has been returned to them. We have seen many such cases recently, but this one does have questions. Was the ownership extorted from the owners due to their status as Jews, or did they sell it because they were ruined by the Crash of '29? When the painting was sold the family was already safe in Britain and the painting in the hands of a dealer in Switzerland, and the buyer was not a Nazi official. So, was it stolen? An intriguing intersection of law and guilt.

[ related topics: History Law ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-16 19:11:41.56284+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think that the further we get from the event, the easier it is to take umbrage at the situations that led people down certain paths, precisely because the details are lost to history.

Without the fear that they'll actually be fighting and dying to back up the point, it's also easy to get belligerent about the past. Were there a whole bunch of teenagers who joined the SS who later concluded that they were wrong? Would it have benefited them in any way to reveal that one-time affiliation? Are there things that I did or beliefs that I held as a teenager that I'm unlikely to want front page above the fold today?

Or, to put it another way, how many of the most strident drug war supporters actually served the prison sentences they propose for things that they did in their younger years?

In the reparations department, on the one hand I don't want to see those who took advantage of an evil political situation to profit, on the other hand, even in cases not as grey as the painting you mention, wars are collective actions, and trying to make individual situations right in situations where many of those who were harmed or killed by the war can't ever have their wrongs re-righted seems futile at best, petty at worst.

Can we ever do right by those resting under crosses in France? In the face of that injustice, a painting here and there pales.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-16 21:08:54.63645+00 by: petronius

Maybe the real point of the Gunter Grass affair is that its not really about what he did of did not do in 1945, but rather people's agenda in 2006. Nobody seems to think that he did very much in the army. However, in not mentioning it all these years he looks like a hypocrite. After all, a man who's entire career is based on getting Germans to face their past didn't take his own medicine. Then there is the issue of people perfectly happy to see the Great Man fall. Apparently Grass has a position in German public life that we don't have in America or the UK: the looming public intellectual. He is a moral, social, historical and political figure all at once. It's as if Noam Chomsky were also a close presidential advisor and a best-selling novelist. Certainly such an eminence will engender resentments; a lot of other German public intellectuals who didn't get to suggest foreign policy ideas to the Chancellor are surely sharpening their knives.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-16 22:23:03.019175+00 by: Dan Lyke

Perhaps, frighteningly, it suggests that perhaps the struggle to repress that aspect of the German sense of patriotism and nation isn't working as well as we'd like?

In much the same way that when Rush Limbaugh[Wiki] is caught doing illegal crusaders we pro-freedom crusaders use that to try to discredit his causes, the Germans taking on Günter Grass[Wiki] are attempting to do so in order to discredit his message?

Doesn't make me sleep well at night, but especially as Israel is doing what it can to destroy any positive reputation it may have built up, that could be a meaning that's gaining steam in Deutschland.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-16 23:07:16.922947+00 by: petronius

Knowing how vicious and petty artistic vendattas can be, I suspect that a lot of Grass' enemies don't really have any problems with his politics. Rather, they are furious that he got the place on the panel, the choice lectureship, the seat closest to the politician at the banquet, etc. instead of themselves. Their problem isn't with his message but the fact that its him, not them.