November 21, 2005

THOSE WHO FORGET THE PAST HAVE NO FUTURE (via Robert Schwartz):

FROM THE ASHES: a review of Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (LOUIS MENAND, 2005-11-28, The New Yorker)

“[P]ostwar” can fairly be called an interpretation of European history since 1945, and its thesis can be put in a sentence. It is that Europe was able to rebuild itself politically and economically only by forgetting the past, but it was able to define itself morally and culturally only by remembering it. The forgetting was necessary not just because the behavior of most Europeans under Fascism and Nazi occupation was less admirable than anyone wished to acknowledge—but that was, naturally, a big part of it. The bewildering collapse of the great French Army, which folded within six weeks of the German advance in the spring of 1940; the alacrity with which many countries adapted to occupation; and the willingness to ignore, and sometimes to assist in, the deportations all made distasteful memories. Judt notes that France, a country with a population of some forty million, was administered by fifteen hundred Nazis, plus six thousand German policemen. A skeleton team sufficed in the Netherlands as well. Soon after Germany was defeated, a Myth of Resistance sprang up in the formerly occupied countries of Western Europe, and for many years it successfully obscured the truth about wartime life. [...]

Western Europeans did not feel themselves to be taking America’s side in resisting Communism. The Cold War was nothing new to them; as Judt says, they had been fighting it since 1917. And, he adds, “the subsequent ‘Americanization’ of Europe in the Fifties and Sixties is often exaggerated.” Modernization was a priority—particularly in France, whose economy had been heavily agricultural—and an American military presence was indispensable for keeping the Soviets contained, and also the Germans, whom many still feared. But Europeans did not all believe that the consummation of modernization and consumerism was Americanism. Britain’s reluctance to distance itself from the United States was regarded on the Continent then as it is today: a sign that Britain is not truly a European country (a feeling shared by many Britons). Even after 1968, when tiny pockets of dissidence began to form in Eastern Europe, America was not the ideal to which the dissidents aspired; and although the United States gave financial aid to groups like Solidarity, in Poland, it played, Judt says, “a remarkably small” role in the revolutions of 1989. In the standard American account, it was Ronald Reagan’s refusal to truckle to the Soviets—his “evil empire” rhetoric—that made the difference; but Judt thinks that Reagan was playing to a domestic audience, and that the Communist house of cards was due to fall no matter who was President of the United States. Postwar Europe, Judt argues, took shape in response to European conditions: “Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay.”


In turn, Mr. Judt and Mr. Menand would appear intent on obscuring history since 1945, when Europeans weren't much on our side against Communism. The bit about Britain not being part of Europe couldn't be more accurate though, which is why it is pursuing the Third Way along with us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2005 6:33 PM
Comments

We treated the Europeans like babies after WWII, allowing them to act like it.

Posted by: b at November 21, 2005 6:46 PM

Judt needs to read some of the actual dissidents, to see how inspired they were by Reagan.

I used to think Judt was one of the good guys, based on his willingness to take on the Marxists, who, with very few exceptions, such as the late great Professor Furet, have dominated the writing of French history.

That was until I saw him on Charlie Rose just before the Iraq war started, and he exhibited unbelievable ignorance with regard to Israel and the Mideast. Blah, blah, blah, Palestinians, blah blah blah, can't fight in Iraq until we solve the Palestinian problem, blah blah blah, root causes, blippity blappity blooh.

In a sane and just world, Judt would be sweeping the halls at NYU instead of teaching there, and the janitor would be lecturing in his stead -- after all the janitor couldn't be any more ignorant.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 21, 2005 7:32 PM

The interesting fact was:

"France, a country with a population of some forty million, was administered by fifteen hundred Nazis, plus six thousand German policemen."

Gawhd the French are loathsome.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 21, 2005 8:39 PM

It's not so much that 'many Britons' feel that theirs is 'not truly a European country'.

It's more that not being truly European is actually what defines Britain. Britons need to go 'abroad' in order 'to visit Europe'.

History didn't begin after WWII. It is deeply ingrained into the British psyche that 'Europe' consists of a number one enemy (France), a number 2 enemy (Germany), and a whole load of shifty buggers who will swap sides at the drop of a Treaty or a convenient royal marriage.

Posted by: Brit at November 22, 2005 5:32 AM

Masterpiece Theater these past two Sundays was great fun with good queen Bess hamming it up outrageously. It would be impossible to follow the narrative without at least a rudimentary knowledge of the period. Unfortunately, much of what I thought I knew got lost in the multiple Mary's and Robbie's.

Getting to the topic at hand, imagine the whip lash (pun intended) there must have been being forced to change your religion back and forth at the whims of the king and/or queen.

Posted by: erp at November 22, 2005 10:06 AM

History didn't begin after WWII. It is deeply ingrained into the British psyche that 'Europe' consists of a number one enemy (France), a number 2 enemy (Germany), and a whole load of shifty buggers who will swap sides at the drop of a Treaty or a convenient royal marriage.

Perfect. Also, Spain sure isn't what it used to be, is it?

Posted by: Twn at November 22, 2005 10:52 AM

"but Judt thinks that Reagan was playing to a domestic audience, and that the Communist house of cards was due to fall no matter who was President of the United States"

Sounds like the Democrats after the Soviet Union fell wanting to take credit.

Posted by: sharon at November 22, 2005 12:14 PM
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