"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Monday, July 25, 2005

Useless History?

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.

And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

Pastor Martin Niemoller

"In his remarkable diaries of his life as a Jew under Nazism — escaping the gas chambers by a near miracle — Victor Klemperer writes these words about a German professor friend whom he had much admired, but who had finally joined the pack: “If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not known what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lamp posts for as long as was compatible with hygiene.”

Klemperer’s reactions were merited, and generalised to a large part of recorded history.

Complex historical events always have many causes. One crucial factor in this case was skillful manipulation of fear. The “ordinary folk” were driven to fear of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to take over the world, placing the very survival of the people of Germany at risk. Extreme measures were therefore necessary, in “self-defence”. Revered intellectuals went far beyond.

As the Nazi storm clouds settled over the country in 1935, Martin Heidegger depicted Germany as the “most endangered” nation in the world, gripped in the “great pincers” of an onslaught against civilisation itself, led in its crudest form by Russia and America. Not only was Germany the prime victim of this awesome and barbaric force, but it was also the responsibility of Germany, “the most metaphysical of nations,” to lead the resistance to it. Germany stood “in the centre of the western world,” and must protect the great heritage of classical Greece from “annihilation,” relying on the “new spiritual energies unfolding historically from out of the centre”. The “spiritual energies” continued to unfold in ways that were evident enough when he delivered that message, to which he and other leading intellectuals continued to adhere."

Noam Chomsky