Reasons to rebel

Jason Webster is the author of five books on Spain, including Duende, which has been translated into a dozen languages. Or the Bull Kills You is the first in a series of detective novels involving Chief Inspector Max Cámara of the Spanish National Police. The second novel, Some Other Body will be published in UK by Chatto & Windus in February 2012.

I’ve recently been in Germany, travelling with a tour group to visit sites associated with the Nazis and the Third Reich. (If you’re interested, it was organised by Historical Trips Ltd – – I can highly recommend it.)

It was a very intense journey – perhaps the most intense I’ve ever been on. We went to Munich (the birthplace of the Nazi party), Dachau, Berchtesgaden (a kind of Nazi playground in the Alps), Nuremberg and finally Berlin to visit Wannsee, where the Holocaust was thrashed out during a ninety-minute meeting over cakes and cigars, and Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

And what we saw was chilling, in more ways than one.

We’ve been so saturated in our culture by the Nazi story and the Holocaust that the figures cease to have any real meaning. As Stalin famously said, ‘One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic’. Nothing, however, none of the books, films and TV documentaries, prepared me for the awfulness of seeing gas chambers and ovens for myself. So much of that period of history – which has shaped the world we live in to an enormous extent – begins to make more sense when you see places associated with it in situ. Would the Nazis have been so adolescently pompous and bombastic if they hadn’t grown out of Bavaria, with its twee and rather odd folk customs (two men in lederhosen cracking whips in a Munich beer hall in time to oom-pah-pah music is a sight I shall struggle to forget)?

It sounds flippant, and it’s not the kind of thing we’re supposed to say any more – criticising a national or regional culture is tantamount to blasphemy in these obligatorily tolerant times. But I’m trying to make a serious point.

Because what I saw in Germany makes me think that despite beginning to recognise what happened in their country in the 1930s and 40s, and opening up some new and quite marvellous museums centred on the period (the Nuremberg Rally Grounds is a case in point), I wondered, while I was there, if Germans have really learnt the lessons from that time.

Try crossing the road in Munich when the little man is still on red and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll be lucky if all you get is an earful; the chances are you might even get pulled back to the pavement. Berlin is slightly better, but you’ll be on your own while the other pedestrians hang back, waiting for the man to change to green.

OK, so Germany isn’t the only place where this happens; jaywalking is illegal in some countries. But it’s relevant.

The point is that you have to wonder how much of the success of the Nazis was due to a conformity and adherence to rules that characterise German culture. Talk to anyone who’s spent time in Germany and it’s a bit of a joke – how you can’t park on the wrong side of the road, or hang out your washing on the third Sunday in the month – or whenever it is. We laugh about it.

Yet this strictness about laws and regulations and its ultimate consequences came home to me when we were visiting the Wannsee Villa. A very thoughtful Dutch woman showed us around, and she mentioned two things I shall never forget.

Firstly, that many of the men in the SS death squads operating in eastern Europe, rounding up and shooting hundreds of thousands of Jews, were not paid-up members of the Nazi party. A large number of them were ordinary policemen, lawyers, doctors and architects with wives and children at home, who had been drafted into the Einsatzgruppen. They did not have to do what they did. No one was pointing a gun at their heads ordering them to commit mass murder. Yet they did it nonetheless. (Several books have dealt with this, including Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, and Christopher R Browning’s Ordinary Men.)

The second point our guide mentioned was that German Jews who were ‘deported’ weren’t harried on to the cattle wagons; they were sent a letter telling them to report at a certain place at such-and-such a time, carrying no more than 50kg of luggage, and all of this preceded by the ‘legal justification’ for why the deportation was taking place. And the vast majority did what they were told. They showed up, they got on the trains, and almost none of them were seen again.

Isn’t that just a bit odd? Of course they didn’t know they were going to death camps, but even still.

Obeying the rules.

Another statistic: 0.2 per cent of Germans were active in the anti-Nazi resistance. That’s not a huge percentage. And when you visit the Museum of the German Resistance in Berlin, the photos of those who tried to defy the regime barely fill one wall. Of those the most well-known, Claus von Stauffenberg, only made his move in July 1944, eleven years after Hitler came to power and at a time when it was clear that Germany would lose the War.

Museums are all very well, however, but what about the culture and norms of behaviour that only increase the chances of an authoritarian – and brutal – regime? What about dealing with that?

As the writer Christopher Hale, author of Hitler’s Foreign Executioners, wrote to me, ‘The Germans present these very ‘neutralised’ exhibitions, like the one at the Topography of Terror [in Berlin]. It’s as if they are saying, “We will atone by revealing what our forebears did, but won’t tell you why they did what they did. If we did that, we’d have to acknowledge aspects of our political/national culture that we refuse to discuss”.’

From what I saw over the course of an admittedly short trip – eight days – I think he’s right.

At the end I left Germany and headed home to Spain. And here people park in the middle of the road, they drive through red lights, they laugh at their leaders and generally disobey the rules. It’s chaotic, annoying, and it doesn’t work. But I thank God for it.

All countries at one time or another can go through a dark, authoritarian period. That’s not the point. The point is to ask what exists in the culture that kicks against that, that can prevent it ever coming about, or at least limit its progress or success.

Forget balance sheets and GDPs. The more I saw on our tour of the Third Reich, the more I felt that rebelliousness and bolshiness – with a strong sense of humour thrown in – is the best measure of how healthy, or otherwise, a society really is.

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29 thoughts on “Reasons to rebel

    July 4, 2011 at 12:40

    I think the percentage of people who resisted the Nazis is a measure of enormous bravery in the face of a terrifying totalitarian regime – and the percentage you mention, although tiny, is admirable. I think you are right about the importance of questioning authority but wrong to stick the boot into the Germans and their fondness for crossing the road in an orderly fashion. Humanity is capable of cruelty; it is definitely not something limited to the Germans.

    July 4, 2011 at 12:54

    The question of why the German public went along with the Nazi project is perhaps the most troubling of the 20th Century, and not just for Germans. I’m dubious about all the positions, including ‘it could have happened anywhere’… but I do think that the line from being anal about jaywalking to death camps is a far from direct one; and would also say that, just as everything looks like a nail to a man with a hammer, going on an intensive tour of Munich (the birthplace of the Nazi party), Dachau, Berchtesgaden (a kind of Nazi playground in the Alps), Nuremberg and finally Berlin to visit Wannsee is likely to induce visions of the sinister in things that are harmless or even meaningless.

    • Worm
      July 4, 2011 at 14:05

      agree with your comments Brit and ZMKC- whilst there seems to be some parallels that can be drawn, I think it flatters ourselves to imagine that we wouldn’t be capable of roughly similar sort of things. The british cheered on their bombers as they flew off to indescriminately kill hundreds of thousands of german civilians when the war was already all but won

    July 4, 2011 at 13:03

    As regards the deportation of German Jews. Very true, no cattle trucks, but it wasn’t simply ‘doing as they were told’. They had been systematically deprived of civil rights from 1933 and what the Nazis played on, at least at home, was hope. Even as they whittled away the civil rights and freedoms of what had been a wholly assimilated Jewish citizenship who had seen themselves as Germans first and only then Jews. For a book on immigrants to Britain I interviewed a lady whose father, a wealthy banker, had been head of Frankfurt’s long-established Jewish community. He could not accept that this was real, that this could be happening. In the end the opportunity to leave Germany, however nebulous the destination, especially in a normal (maybe in his case first-class) rail compartment with at least some luggage, merely extended that hope a little further. He died in a camp. His daughter had got out in 1938, just in time. I saw her passport, her first name replaced by the ubiquitous ‘Sarah’ given all female Jews. The typography was, of course, superb.

    July 4, 2011 at 14:10

    Thank you for this Jason. Though unable to comment with any depth on the wider meaning of national obedience, I do remember being spooked several years ago, when visiting Koln regularly, by this obsession with the rule book. Staggering back from beer-drinking boutique early in the morning, and unable to locate the particular Rhine barge I was sleeping on, I lurched across one of the main roads that was car-free in both directions. It was raining katzen und hunde, and on the other side of the road, facing me, were a well dressed couple of perhaps middle age, who may have been to the theatre, followed by a nice dinner. They appeared to have taken root by the road side, and it was only then that I noticed something similar to the picture above, fixing them to the spot. Not a soul to be seen, nor the Old Bill, or even a camera. They may be still there.

  5. Worm
    July 4, 2011 at 14:45

    I haven’t experienced it anywhere else in Germany but It’s true that in Bavaria they do like to obey the traffic lights, even on empty roads at 2am – this apparently stems from 2 things, firstly you can get fined if a policeman sees you jaywalking, and secondly the times when I’ve been ‘tutted’ for crossing at a red light was if there were children nearby as this might give the kinder the impression that it’s ok to cross whilst the light is red….that’s what I’ve been told anyway

      July 4, 2011 at 15:10

      I was given the ‘wrong impression to the children’ speech when I jaywalked – repeatedly – in Berlin. It’s a rubbish speech and slightly loses its effect due to the priggish self-satisfaction with which it was delivered.

      Jaywalking in Germany is a fine occupation and a clear badge of identity for Brits, Irish and Spaniards.

    john halliwell
    July 4, 2011 at 16:41

    It is such a complex subject, well beyond any deep understanding on my part, but surely the trotting out of national stereotypes is, in large part, superficial and unhelpful. The most moving account of the period that I have read is Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen’s Diary of a Man In Despair, an account of a rising tide of evil as witnessed by a Prussian aristocrat. Reck-Malleczewen’s astonishing bravery in outspokenly condemning Nazi ideology was ended by a Gestapo bullet in Dachau in 1945.

    Regarding Jason’s point about Nazism growing out of Bavaria, it is interesting that Norman Stone, in his Introduction to Diary of a Man in Despair, states: ‘There is a common misapprehension that Bavaria was the most enthusiastically Nazi part of Germany: not so. The small Meistersinger towns of the romantische Strasse south of Wurzburg, which were preserved by geography from the otherwise shattering Allied bombings of 1944 – 45, were indeed quite strongly Nazi, and were Protestant islands in a countryside that was a Catholic sea. But most of Bavaria voted for the Catholic party, not the Nazis.’

    Reck-Malleczewen’s Diary, and the diaries of Victor Klemperer, are two of the greatest accounts of Nazi terror ever written, and by two Germans, one an aristocrat, the other a Jew.

    July 4, 2011 at 17:10

    There is an increasing tendency these days not to talk about certain subjects because they are deemed offensive, or unfashionable, or ‘incorrect’, etc. Take that to an extreme and you end up with censorship.
    I wrote this article, not to attack Germans. Come on. There’s a more important idea here – that authoritarianism creeps up on a society, and that seemingly unimportant details of everyday life – such as crossing the road – may well be indicators of how prone a country is to falling under the spell of an authoritarian regime.
    If I didn’t get that across well enough, then it’s my fault. But don’t skim-read the article and condemn it as just “trotting out national stereotypes”.

    July 4, 2011 at 17:14

    I’m rather glad I haven’t taken this tour, Jason, but thanks for an engagingly written and thought-provoking post… For the record, German drivers are just as obedient as pedestrians. John, I shall take a look at the Diary of a Man in Despair. Have you read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning?

      john halliwell
      July 4, 2011 at 18:03

      Reck-Malleczewen’s diary is a wonderful book, as is the Klemperer account, Susan, and Jason’s post, which I read from first to last, without the slightest urge to skim, has done me quite a favour in that it has prompted me to read the diary once again.

      I have not read Frankl’s book but will seek it out.

    July 4, 2011 at 18:28

    The subject is ultimately beyond comprehension it’s study undertaken for various reasons from why dear lord, why through to morbid curiosity.
    I would suggest to anyone wishing insight that a whistle-stop guided tour around the crime scenes is pointless, take a walk up Friedrichstraße, past the hotel where some of the Bourne movie was filmed, turn left and cut through to the Jewish Museum, this is the only building in which I have stood where the atmosphere bled with grief, it needs to be done. You can if you wish hike through the Taunus and note the bomb craters, missing Frankfurt by 25 kilometers thereby saving the lives of countless Germans who, it would appear, revel in the glorification of their past.
    I would further suggest that as an aide and prior to any sort of meaningful statement regarding the German psyche being made an association with a representative cross section of it’s population over a number of years would be advisable.
    The following reading matter may be of some help………………
    If nothing else is read then Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich and, more especially Moral Combat are the definitive works.
    Adom Toze’s The Wages of Destruction does the sums.
    For character reference…Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel’s Doctor Goebbels plus Gita Sereny’s .Albert Speer followed by Albert Speer’s Inside The Third Reich. Of further interest will be IBM and the Holocaust, as the Germans bunged the Zyklon-B down the chimney the American shareholders counted the profits made from leasing the Hollerith’s, counting the stiffs with clinical thousand six hundred and five, six, seven…. The same shareholders may also have held GM stock, unfortunately they had to wait until it was over, Georg von Opel’s cheque then, via the Deutsche Post Rüsselsheim, in the post.
    Of further help will be the insertion of say, Fidelio into the CD player as general aide background.

    It would be of some use to ask ourselves how far back should we go? the French intransigence over reparations creating the primordial swamp from whence slithered the Nazi’s? World War 1? The Hapsburg’s perhaps, via Metternich, autocrat extraordinaire, who created the conditions, or at least left Europe in such a mess, that ultimately led to WW1?

    As the finishing line approaches and you reach a meaningful conclusion, you are a better man that I, Gunga Din.

    We are no better or worse than the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants, I have known over many years, and still know, a reasonable number of Germans, the statement The point is that you have to wonder how much of the success of the Nazis was due to a conformity and adherence to rules that characterise German culture. Talk to anyone who’s spent time in Germany and it’s a bit of a joke – how you can’t park on the wrong side of the road, or hang out your washing on the third Sunday in the month – or whenever it is. We laugh about it.

    You obviously Jason, are aware of aspects of the country that apply universally, that I am not.

    July 4, 2011 at 19:13

    The Jewish Museum in Berlin is indeed an extraordinary place, Malty. I’ll never forget the Holocaust Tower.

    July 4, 2011 at 19:24

    I too spent some time living in Bavaria and thinking that many aspects of german ‘efficiancy’ pointed to a fertile breeding ground for extremism, and to an extent I still feel that way, but then I kept bumping into contradictions – like the fact that whilst Germans stand at red lights on empty roads, they also drive like lunatics and make us look like obedient wimps in comparison. Likewise how could I explain how this rule abiding country has Berlin as a capital- surely the most graffitoed, libertarian and unlaw abiding city in Europe, and a magnet for youngsters who want anarchy and freedom. And just try queuing in orderly Bavaria…again it would seem us Brits are the more law abiding…

      July 4, 2011 at 20:55

      Graffiticity, rivals the approach to Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof, the one that starts in Koblenz, as one of my guys who was accompanying me said “so much graffiti, I can hardly see the hookers arses hanging out of the windows”

      You have heard this one before but bugger it, here it is again………..

      It was a glorious evening, the REWE from Maintz to Koblenz was slowly winding it’s way through the Rhein Gorge from Bingen. beautiful scenery, near deserted carriage, basking in the afterglow of a day spent poking around the Gutenberg museum and meeting friends from Wiesbaden.
      Stopping at Sankt Goar we noticed that the platform was heaving with red and white, oh no!, it’s the Essen support, they had been playing away that day and had, apparently, lost. The omens were not good, within seconds the heaving platform transferred itself to the train, jam packed, Frau M and myself trapped in the corner seat surrounded by burly, boisterous, boozy, well, pissed out of their minds, some of them.
      What followed was the funniest, most enjoyable ninety minute train journey we have ever had. As ever Frau M opened the proceedings “what was the score” I thought here we go the ice was broken, the die cast. From the Rhur they were a mixed bunch, young professionals, ex steelworkers both old and middle aged. There followed as wide ranging a conversation as it is possible to have, from Alan Shearer to Adolf Hitler and their new pride and joy, The Zollverein Museum (well worth a peek BTW) some older Germans across the aisle became magnificently shit faced when Onkel Addie’s name crept in, especially so when young Jurgen started telling Hitler jokes.

      Herein lies the key, the young Germans openly and honestly discuss the past, they have genuine feelings of sorrow both for what was done to others and what had happened to their country as a result. The older Germans, those old enough to remember having been there are cagy, sometimes truculent and who the f..k can blame them.

      By the time many had realized something should be done it was too late, would you have done anything, knowing that if you did your entire family would be slaughtered, That being the case and with the knowledge that many in this country would be little different………………..


  12. Gaw
    July 4, 2011 at 21:11

    The English are Germans who live on an island. From this all else follows.

    Hey Skipper
    July 4, 2011 at 23:05

    To Malty’s list I add William Shirer’s brilliant “Rise And Fall of the Third Reich” (available used for about two quid).


    Mr. Webster’s article brings to mind how the term “the good German defense” came about, and the real difficulty of imagining any other country’s name in its place.

    July 5, 2011 at 03:43

    I was struck by the point about obeying red lights – and children. I have a 5 year old growing up in Berlin – and I am grateful for the respect shown to cyclists and pedestrians by German drivers – at least, when they have to obey the rules.

    It would be reasonable to argue that since 1945, Germans have respected a political culture that abhors racial hatred (though seems not to want its guest workers to stay, sure), values peace not war and in Berlin at least asks big questions about authority figures.

    Having said that, I don’t like the way Berlin has turned Holocaust memorialisation into a spectacle for tourists – and wonder about the lack of empathy that implies. Germans will be impatient and/or angry with discussions like this one because we Brits always seem to harping back to ze nazis and the ze war… We bear responsibility too for trivialising the discussion in countless movies.

    The central fact of 20th history is the Holocaust – and the planned murder of at least 25 million other human souls. The human mystery of that is very well implied at the Wannsee Villa.

    Nigel Jones
    July 5, 2011 at 07:25

    As one of the two tour guides on Jason’s trip, and someone who has spent more years living in both Austria and Germany than I care to remember, I’d like to contribute to this discussion.

    While national stereotypes are a crude way of characterising nations and their cultures, there can be little doubt that they exist. The current crisis in Greece, for example, and the reason why the Euro – and indeed the whole EU – is such a misbegotten conception is that, put crudely, Greeks aren’t Germans ( and vice versa). Nor are Swedes Spaniards, Irish Italians etc.

    Nor, to my mind, is there any doubt that certain aspects of German culture made Germany extremely easy meat for the Nazis to feast upon. Long before Hitler came to power, the Jewish writer Carl Zuckmayer satirised the Teutonic tendency to obey orders, especially if they came from someone in uniform, in his p[lay ‘The Captain of Kopenick’. Based on a real incident before the Great War, this told how a con-man dressed himself in a military uniform and ended up getting the Mayor and officials of the Berlin suburb of Kopenick to obey his increasingly absurd commands – just because they believed him to be a figure of authority.

    This tendency, of course, carried over from the Nazi times into the postwar DDR and the Federal Republic. Jason’s point that mocking authority is indispensable to a healthy democracy is, in my view, unarguable, and it is significant that the German sense of humour, as Mark Twain remarked, ‘is no laughing matter’.

    MInd you, if you think the Germans are unable to confront their past honestly you should try living among the Austrians. But don’t get me started…

    • Worm
      July 5, 2011 at 09:20

      Oh I agree that ‘Jason’s point that mocking authority is indispensable to a healthy democracy is, in my view, unarguable’, and on the face of it, the Krauts do seem to be exceptionally fond of annoying and petty rules. There’s many a time when I came up against some seriously bone-headed German authority, causing me to swear under my breath and make a mental connection between their finger-wagging officiousness and jack boots.

      It’s just that there also seems to be so many incidences where the opposite happens. Some more examples – my german wife is constantly amazed at how beholden we brits are to the State and how frequently we pass health and safety laws and how strictly we adhere to them. Look at the smoking ban – here in the UK it was banned and people grumbled but it stopped overnight, the majority of people were too scared to kick against it in any meaningful way, but in Germany they banned smoking in bars over 2 years ago and in some areas people are only now starting to enforce it as most Germans, including all the bar and restaurant owners, with very little fuss, just decided to flout the rules.

    July 5, 2011 at 09:16

    If the Germans didn’t mock Nazi authority, the new book by Werner Herzog’s son, Dead Funny – Humour in Hitler’s Germany, would not exist. What it does demonstrate is not that people were unprepared to mock authority but that they were severely punished and therefore learned fairly quickly not to bother. A combination of economic circumstances, ruthless political personalities, manipulation of information and propaganda, plus the ever-present human capacity for apathy, could allow a government to carry out atrocities anywhere at any time, I reckon. Another wonderful book, this time about Jews in Vienna who had the illusion that they were not Jews but Austrians brutally stripped from them, is Last Waltz in Vienna by George Clare. If we start saying the Germans as a nationality are more capable than we are of becoming Nazis, we are really no better than they were when they assigned particular characteristics to the Jews.

    Nigel Jones
    July 5, 2011 at 09:38

    TO zmkc:

    The Germans as a nationality ARE (or rather were) more capable of becoming Nazis than we are because….ahem….they DID become Nazis!

    In the last free elections under the Weimar Republic the Nazis got 43% of the vote, and became by far the largest party in the Reichstag.

    And no serious historian doubts that in his heyday – say between 1934-1942 (after which Germany started to lose the war) – Hitler enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the overwhelming majority of Germans.

    The highest vote scored by the British equivalent of the Nazis, Oswald Mosley’s BUF, was 17% in a municipal election in Shoreditch, east London.

    The culture for fascism was simply not present in Britain – in Germany, tragically, it was.

    July 5, 2011 at 09:43

    Fool that I am for asking but wasn’t Nuremberg, as well as accountability for the guilty, about forgiveness for the person on the Leverkusen omnibus?. This and the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral the greatest acts of reconciliation ever attempted, an intact civilization holding out it’s hands to a broken one. Acts apparently who’s message appear not yet to have reached every nook and cranny.

    Did I ever tell you about my old mate Brian, did his national service in the RAF regiment, whiled away his time throwing young Cypriots into pits and urinating on them and, as an encore beating them within an inch of their lives. Terrorists, we were told to call them, they would see it differently.

    His great grandmother came from Schleswig-Holstein, I suppose, though but, we would already have guessed that.

    July 5, 2011 at 11:37

    But surely, given that Britain was on the winning side after the First World War and dictated the peace conditions, it did not experience the economic circumstances which were such an important factor in the rise of Fascism, (which anyway first captured the hearts not of the Germans but the Italians.)

    Nigel Jones
    July 5, 2011 at 16:41


    Britain was certainly on the winning side in WW1, though it did not dictate the Treaty of Versailles – which was an uneasy compromise between America’s Wilsonian Liberalism and France’s desire for Revanche.

    Many people blame the alleged ‘severity’ of Versailles for Hitler’s rise. Personally, I believe that it was not severe enough. Had the Allies occupied Germany in 1918 instead of stopping short at her borders, there would have been no Hitler. If nothing else it allowed the Nazis to cultivate the ‘Dolchstosslegende’ – the stab in the back myth that she had not been defeated, but betrayed by the Jews, Communists etc in the rear.

    The Allies did not make the same mistake in 1945, occupied the country, and significantly there has been no latter-day Hitler or Nazi party since.

    Britain suffered the economic depression of the 1930s, and so did the USA – whose economic suffering put even Germany’s in the shade. The point is that Anglo-American culture – because of its much stronger Democratic tradition was inimical to the growth of Fascism. Both Italy and Germany, with no democratic tradition to speak of, were not.

    July 6, 2011 at 04:20

    It’s time to ask a stupid question – what do we mean by ‘Germans’ here? Come on, ‘Germans’ did not become Nazis because of some innate German-ness. What would that be in any case? Some expression of ethnicity – surely not. As any reader of Bild and the Sun can now tell you most of us are descended from Germans.

    The point at issue here is a national political culture which may or may not encourage or facilitate a culture of obedience – and down play empathy. ‘Germany’ and Germans (in a national sense) have existed only since 1871 – and to be sure German unity was forged by war. Germany played a significant role in the unleashing of the Great War – and provoked the Second.

    These events led to catastrophe on a previously unimaginable scale. After 1945, the condition of being German was transformed. And then again in 1989 – and then again in 2006 and so on…

    Ironically I suspect Germans would like to be a special case of some sort. They are not – they are, as Marx would have put it, actors in history.

    To be sure, there are relics of pre 1945 mentalities – perhaps German economic success is a consequence of Prussian discipline plus 21st Century greed. Discuss. But I suspect the red light waiting stuff is precisely that – a relic.

    Let’s not be too complacent about ‘our’ history – slavery, empire building, opium wars – and, yes, the terror bombing of German civilians. Who feels comfortable with all that on our national plate?

    Nigel Jones
    July 6, 2011 at 07:32

    > Chris Hale

    It is very convenient to deflect an uncomfortable truth – viz. that German culture uniquely produced Nazism which in turn produced WWII and the Holocaust – by beating yourself up over the alleged sins of our own culture.

    Personally I feel extremely comfortable and quite proud of Britain’s legacy. Not many other small states (Greece is the only comparable example) have exported progress, democracy and the values of the Enlightenment across half the Globe. You mention slavery – which shamefully all countries and cukltures have used – without also mentioning the fact that Britain was the first power to actually abolish slavery,

    The British Empire, whatever its undoubted sins, has, on balance, has left a benign legacy of progress and democracy. Ask yourself whether the average Zimbabwean was better off under the wicked Colonial rule of Britain or that of Bob Mugabe. The average black South African – better off under Lord Milner or Apartheid’s Dr Verwoerd? The average Indian, better off under the Mughals or the Raj? The average American : better off under King George or George Bush? IT’s a no-brainer.

    And as for ‘terror bombing’ (interesting that you use the phrase coined by Dr Goiebbels) well, who started that? The residents of Guernica, Rotterdam and Coventry could give you an answer.

    Enough of such masochistic sub-Marxist bullshit. We are NOT all guilty!

  23. Worm
    July 6, 2011 at 09:38

    I don’t think anyone on this website is a masochistic sub-marxist, but I do think that on a subject like this that involved millions of people with their own personalities and agendas, arbitrarily delineated national borders and the global forces of circumstances, it would seem that the reasoned stance to take would be that everything is shades of grey rather than black or white.

    July 8, 2011 at 00:54

    Obedience to authority is in-born. It is part of what enables us to function together as groups, and enabled us to survive the pleistocene and spread over the world. Maybe modern society causes obedience to creep into every aspect of life: every stop sign is an equivalent to a tribal elder. But maybe following countless taboos in pre-industrial societies is the same thing.

    We would all like to think we would not obey in those terrible situations, but very few of us are blessed/cursed with the irascible, oppositional-defiant, unstable, or–yes–courageous personality that would go against the grain given the life-path and circumstances.

    I’ve known about the Stanley Milgrim obedience studies for years but damn I find it easy to do what I’m told in a myriad of little ways. And that’s a big part of it. A gun is not being put to our heads as it so often wasn’t in Nazi Germany but we live on automatic. The latest one I heard was someone who got to the ground floor of the world trade center and was told by the security guard that everyone is to return to their desk until they are given the all clear to leave. And so he did and called someone to say that he couldn’t leave.

    How do we learn to be able to disobey? I do practice, now, disobeying stupid rules or expectations. Anyone else have useful experiences in changing this conditioning?

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