Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Those beastly Germans ...

Noble Readers who reside in modern Germany and folks of German descent such as my good friend Herb Muller will, I hope, forgive my recent lambasting which was aimed at the misdeeds of their country between 1870 and 1945.

I must say here and now: I am not anti-German. I have nothing but admiration for modern Germany, which I have visited many times. I think highly of their wine, their beer, their women, their scenery and their cars. I wish the English football team could be relied upon to perform as well as the German football team, and when it comes to classical music, give me German composers every time.

But ...  I guess you knew there was a "but" coming.

We would be remiss in our observance as historians, were we to overlook the behaviour of Germany during the above-mentioned period, which was, to say the least, quite disgraceful.

That blunt instrument Political Correctness, it seems to me, wildly bludgeons those suspected of harbouring criticisms of others, when a finer, more surgical approach, is called for. One hardly dare criticise a given individual's misdemeanours for fear of being taken for being anti-this or an anti-that on a much larger scale. Much casual racism, I venture to suggest, is not actually racism, but an objection to tiresome or irritating elements of culture.

We need, I suppose, to realize that all cultures - yes, including our own -- have poisonous components which need to be recognized, operated on and removed. Like diseased organs that are better out than in, we can, if we are sensible, have the bad culture whipped out and sent to the incinerator. In the same way that individual people can have unpleasant habits or character traits, so entire cultures can contain toxic aspects which often hamper the lives of people brought up within those cultures. These elements can and should be got rid of.

Like trade, this can work to advantage in both directions. How much better would it have been, for example, if the Methodists who persuaded South Sea islanders not to eat one another had been reciprocally persuaded to be a bit less, well, Methodist? Or if the Germans whom we cured of their self-destructive obsession with tracked vehicles and well-cut uniforms had, in return, taught us how to run a railway on time.

It cost us all an enormous price to put an end to one of the nastiest and most toxic subcultures in all of history: Prussian militarism. It cost us further sacrifice to stamp out National Socialism, the monster that Prussian militarism begat. But it was worth it in the end, and I'm proud to think that Britain was at the forefront of the fight both times.

That's why we must look upon the many rows of white tombstones in the military cemeteries of Belgium and northern France without tears. The men whose remains lie beneath those memorials were not the hapless victims of a "futile" war, but heroes who died to make your today possible. If you want to salute the sacrifice of those men and women, use your freedoms wisely and try to turn yourselves and your children into kinder and more considerate people.

One day, perhaps, humankind will collectively learn how not to spawn toxic sub-cultures, and having snuffed out the worst of each other's weaknesses, perhaps we'll be able to fully enjoy each other's achievements in an atmosphere of security and peace.

In the meantime, you might be interested in my novel - The Deadly Playground - a fictional account of this period.  Click on this link and get a copy

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