West Germany

Jeffrey Herf is one of the pre-eminent intellectual historians of totalitarianism. He is a frequent contributor to The New Republic. See, for example, his last few contributions here, here, and here. You can also find a TNR review of one of his books, Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys, here. In the current issue of The American Interest, Herf makes a highly convincing argument that radical Islam today is in fact a totalitarian movement with totalitarian ideology and totalitarian methods. No, it is not Nazism or Communism.

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Unpleasant Truths

There is an ungainly German word, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, that has no equivalent in the English language. It means "coming to terms with past," and it was coined to refer to the efforts of German intellectuals, journalists, and even some politicians who, over the past half century, insisted that facing unpleasant truths about their country's history was both a moral and political necessity.

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The memory of the crimes of the Nazi era and the determination to oppose anti-Semitism in all its forms have been constitutive and distinctive features of German democracy since 1949, when it was articulated by the founding generation of political leaders of West Germany's Federal Republic. Judging by the memorials, commemorative days, books, and films about Nazism and the Holocaust, this tradition of remembering the murdered Jews of Europe remains firmly embedded in the political culture of contemporary German public life.

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What distinguishes the politician from the political agitator is a lively concern for his own job security. Politicians sometimes say what they believe, but they don't usually say things that might jeopardize their political future. Until recently, Chuck Hagel was a consummate politician, and a successful one at that. He defeated a popular sitting governor in his first Senate race in 1996 and won reelection, in 2002, with 83 percent of the vote.

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Memory Loss

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to refer the matter of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. There is plenty to like about the IAEA resolution, starting with the large majority it commanded among the organization's member states--even the usually recalcitrant Russians and Chinese signed on.

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The Sorrow Reflex

Campo Santo By W.G. Sebald Translated by Anthea Bell (Random House, 221 pp., $24.95) Unrecounted Poems by W.G. Sebald Lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp Translated by Michael Hamburger (New Directions, 109 pp., $22.95)   I. Although he arrived at it relatively late in his senselessly truncated life, once W.G. Sebald found his real voice, it became unmistakable: melancholy, allusive, inward, and elegant, its cadences carried from book to book until each one seemed like another sketch from a single, instantly recognizable personal landscape.

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Amnesty and Amnesia

Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past: The Politics of Amnesty and Integration By Norbert Frei Translated by Joel Golb (Columbia University Press, 365 pp., $35)In this grim account of the formative years of West German democracy, the German historian Norbert Frei examines legislation affecting the amnesty and the integration of Germans suspected of, accused of, and in many cases indicted for crimes committed during the Nazi era.

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Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust by Dan Diner (University of California, 286 pp., $45) Click here to purchase the book.What is the connection between the collective memory of Germans and Jews and the epistemology of historical scholarship about the Holocaust? What roles do political history and social history play in this enterprise? Why has there been a trend toward universalizing the causes of the Holocaust in both collective memory and historical method, and what are the arguments for a reassertion of historical specificity?

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Domestic Threat

Berlin, Germany Over the past few months Americans have awakened to the right-wing, anti-immigrant nationalism growing across Europe. On April 21, far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen garnered a shocking second place in the first round of French elections. Barely two weeks later Dutch anti-immigrant leader Pim Fortuyn was assassinated; in elections nine days after that, his party joined the Christian Democrats (CDA) in ousting Holland's long-standing Labor government.

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Due Processes

 The international war crimes tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, once written off even by some of its supporters as a well-intentioned but ineffectual experiment, has been making remarkable strides in recent weeks. Since the summer, NATO has conducted three raids to arrest indicted war criminals in Bosnia; this has evidently scared some other suspects into turning themselves in. Four suspects, all Bosnian Serbs, have surrendered to the tribunal since mid-January.

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