The Nazi legacy is an understandably heavy burden for Germany, even today. This leaves Germans emotionally vulnerable to comparisons to their 20th century forebears. And with the country exercising ever-more influence over its European Union allies, cutting remarks that include such comparisons are blossoming like mushrooms after a spring rain. So how to deal with it? For Germany’s Die Zeit, Bernd Ulrich writes that in order to operate as the ‘U.S. of Europe,’ Germans will have to grit their teeth until this particular phase of European history passes.
It doesn’t take much to figure out why so many Nazi comparisons are being made right now: For the first time since 1945, Germany is stepping up with all its power, not because it wants to, but because the European debt crisis has made the economically-strongest economy into the most politically powerful. Germany is now profoundly intervening in the domestic affairs of others.
The country is gradually taking on the role in Europe that the U.S. has long played on the global level: As the country that used and occasionally abused its power, was to blame for everything, was supposed to save everyone, and had to endure insults for how it went about doing it. What evil hasn’t been imputed to the Americans? The CIA was behind every evil, and Americans were constantly being accused of imperialism.
But there was one thing the Americans could never be accused of: sending six million Jews to their deaths and plunging half the world into war. In the case of Germany, ranting against the leading power that is at once quite understandable, human and often justified, very often takes on an entirely different pallor, which serves to put an end to any discussion or serious exchange.
For quite a while, Germany’s new role will continue to result in a proliferation of Nazi comparisons. Like it or not, we will have to bear it and wait until it passes. However, in such stoicism there is also a serious problem. That has to do with the German historical paradox, which may be described as follows: The only way Germans can prevent their past from repeating itself is by never being absolutely sure that it won’t.
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