Archive for the ‘WWI / General’ Category

At War’s End
Richard A. Widmann

Recent headlines announcing that World War One had finally ended were sure to raise an eyebrow of those of us who noticed. While even on-going wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan are minor media stories dwarfed by the latest extravagances and debauchery of Hollywood’s rich and famous and the momentary stars of “reality” TV, it’s no wonder that most missed the end of “the War to End All Wars.” While few of us are old enough to recall the actual fighting which drew to a close on 11 November 1918, the matter was apparently not officially closed until Germany had made its final payment. It was indeed that final payment to the war’s victors that allowed the officials to declare “game over.”

While this announcement may seem an unimportant matter in our age of iPods and iPhones, it highlights several key points for those of us who label ourselves “revisionists.” While “setting history into accord with the facts” as Harry Barnes would have put it, is the stuff of which all good historical writing has always been composed, it was in the years that followed Europe’s first great immolation that Revisionism was born. Attempting to revise the terms of the Armistice as laid out in the treaty of Versailles, revisionists sought to move beyond the old hatreds that fueled the murder of millions to a common understanding among nations that would usher in a time of peace. Revisionists accurately prophesied that the economic punishment inflicted upon Germany as well as the humiliating coerced admission of guilt for the war’s initiation would serve no purpose but to renew hostilities at the first possible moment. Indeed the economic sanctions and the Treaty of Versailles were key elements in the rise of National Socialism and the tremendous waste of life that became popularly known as World War Two.

Crippling economic sanctions appeared to be the peaceful weapon of choice in the years following World War One. Sound economic theory would not only prevent “aggressor” nations from rebuilding a military, it would funnel the pillaged booty of those so foolish as to lay down their arms to those who refused to stop the bloodletting. We must note the sums which seemed crippling some 90 years ago seem insignificant when compared to the ridiculous spending of today’s wars. If Germany has only now paid off World War One, when might we expect the current wars to be paid off?

From the standpoint of “perpetual war for perpetual peace” and the ulterior motives and baggage associated with such campaigns, revisionists should note that the “war against terror” is a vast improvement over the “cold war” and that, in turn, a vast improvement over the hot wars against Germany and her allies.

Hot wars have an objective. There is a goal that can be easily understood by all; to destroy one’s enemy. The enemy may be and often is cast as a monstrous villain who must be destroyed at all costs. Failure to annihilate “them” will mean sure annihilation of “us”. But such hot wars come to an end – at least the fighting and economic hyperactivity with which they are so closely tied. The Cold War is a significant improvement as a concept. In the Cold War you get all the spending with little of the death and protests that come when a tired nation no longer recalls the reason to halt the spread of foreign economic and social ideologies. With the War on Terror the eternal threat of an extremist faith always ready to strike at the civilian population not only ensures unlimited budgets for military growth (wasn’t it the Pentagon who recently asked to have its budget slashed because it didn’t know what to do with the funds?) but also the need to deploy our forces to the far-flung corners of the empire. It seems that out-of-control spending and self-inflicted debt can be our friend. With an economics-in-wonderland attitude no debt can ever be too high, and no debt will need be repaid. A lesson those silly fiscally responsible Huns could never understand!

As the declaration of World War One’s end falls on deaf ears, we must wonder when the wars that followed will come to an end. From the appearance of things, several may never end. By the time of World War Two, economic deprivation had been replaced with psychological persecution. This was not going to be the “guilt clause” of Versailles but the new hyper-guilt of Nuremberg – a guilt that was so great that no one would ever question the methods of the crusaders who slew the Nazi beast. Civilians would be marched through the camps. Those who did not see them personally would be subjected to the films made by horror-film director Alfred Hitchcock and other Hollywood talent flown in for the occasion. New words would be created, books would be written, memorials and museums would spring up in what might be described as the greatest faith-based movement of the second half of the 20th century.

While the payments for losing World War One eventually came to an end, shedding the guilt of World War Two amounts to denouncing the Virgin Mary as a harlot during the Inquisition – even analyzing the Nazi Holocaust is the heresy of the 20th and now 21st century. The guilt of World War Two and its associated atrocities are fundamental to our world vision, our expansion of empire and our perpetual wars. For every would-be tyrant, every former-friend-turned–despot, enables a military action if only to prevent another “Chamberlain at Munich.” Every opportunity for diplomacy and peace is painted as foolishness that is better resolved by blitzkrieg. Any ideology other than social democracy is a threat that requires the speedy deployment of our well-armed forces. The empire spreads and the economy inflates. Even during our recent economic failures, the fear of mass depression (the worst since FDR’s New Deal) prevents the conclusion of hostilities abroad. For without war we would surely feel the Depression’s icy blast once again.

If the announcement of the end of World War One means anything for American revisionists, it simply means that our dream of the USA minding its own business, taking care of its own and dismantling its empire is out of reach. Our solutions to the world’s woes are a heresy not unlike that of questioning the unique guilt and monstrosity of Germans. So focused are American court historians on our long-defeated enemy that they fail to recognize his likeness when they look in the mirror. But then again, why should we consider our national sins, (didn’t the Japs in Nagasaki have it coming?) why should we wonder about the origin of so much of the world’s hatred towards us? Why should we care while we have Facebook, reality TV, football and Hollywood? We are a nation that would forfeit its rights for a flat-screen TV and a home theater system. We are a naïve and self-absorbed people who are doomed to pay the reparations of war both in dollars and blood forever into an eternal future.

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Since the outbreak of the First and Second World Wars, German identity has suffered an unparalleled blow. A blow which innumerable Germans, both here in the United States and abroad, have never fully recovered from; and which, due to the destructive continuum of politically correct conditioning and nearly a century of enforced white guilt (which does not differentiate between one white nation and the next when it comes to vilification), has yielded a positively shameful remnant of what once was. Today, it is not merely those of German descent who seem to be falling all over themselves in a competitive spirit to atone for the alleged “sins of their fathers” — it is now increasingly common for white folk, irrespective of ancestral ties to Germany, to humiliate and prostrate themselves without even being “prompted.” In this sense, W.B. Fischer’s observations below cannot rationally be contested. As for points of disagreement, however, these arise when he states, as if having performed the last rites an hour before: “There is no way to revive a language and ethnic identity that have vanished almost without trace” — and — “German Americans? We’re history.” I can’t speak for Fischer — but as for me and mine, I say, not so. I say, never. As long as those like myself sustain a pulse, then believe me, German identity survives and all that came before us can be born anew. Bow to the transitory tides, and your story is over. But swear yourself to eternity, and your story is without end. Remember this always. -W.

‘Cleansing’ German American Culture
By William B. Fischer
Source: www.oregonlive.com

’11/11 11:11′ was the 9/11 of 90 years ago “9/11”: the cultural icon of our fearful, belligerent age. But 90 years ago Tuesday another national struggle found its own numeric cultural icon: “11/11 11:11” — the date and time of the armistice that ended the First World War, at eleven minutes past the eleventh hour on 11 November, 1918.

Whether or not we are now engaged in a “clash of civilizations,” the war that 9/11 has brought us has been exceptional. We have examined our consciences and we have raised our consciousnesses. Even right after 9/11 we were most careful not to declare our enemy to be Islam itself, much less American Muslims and Arab Americans. We studied their culture and religion, learned to distinguish Shia and Sunni. Students rushed to take Arabic, and the government rushed to fund Middle-Eastern language and area studies programs. [I really have to assume this paragraph was intended sarcasm on the part of the author, as it bears no semblance to the truth.]

But 11/11 11:11 was different. Along with victory over Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, it symbolizes something that began no later than 1914: the linguistic extinction and cultural devastation of the largest ethnic minority in American history, the German American population.

Picture an ethnic group which was then larger in proportion to the American population than is the Hispanic community now. But as WWI approached, that group was identified, in the minds of many other Americans, with an ominous and superbly skilled enemy that, like the al-Qaida and Taliban of our time, showed evident disdain for human lives.

Then came an attack on a symbol of modern technology and commerce: In 1915 a German submarine sank the ocean liner Lusitania. Nearly 1,200 people died, among them 124 Americans. (Only much later did the inconvenient truth emerge that the liner was covertly transporting armaments to Britain.)

After America declared war, the pretense of neutrality gave way to outright vilification. The German enemy, even in official pronouncements, was the “Hun.” German faces in war-bond posters then looked as monstrous as Arab faces do in today’s hate-group caricatures [See illustrations above]. The Enemy was perceived to have an anti-democratic, anti-Western world view, and to speak a difficult, “gutteral” language. In Collinsville, Ill., a German-born drifter was lynched for uttering pro-German sentiments.

Before 11/11 11:11 it had been possible to obtain, right here in the United States, a complete education, through the college level, with German as the chief language of instruction. Suddenly, even the teaching of German as a high-school foreign language was outlawed in many areas. Churches were pressured to change the language of their services from German to English. Streets with German names were renamed. Sauerkraut became “victory cabbage.” Even earlier, in 1915, Theodore Roosevelt had declared that there was no room in America for “hyphenated Americans.” President Wilson echoed him.

Northeastern Nebraska, the home of my parents and grandparents, was then, and still is, a heavily German American area. My grandfather was a minister who had come to the U.S. as a youth. He was educated here, in German-speaking institutions. He became a citizen, and was often invited to lead singing of the national anthem at public events. Even so, he was required to travel some distance to give an oath of loyalty. A gang entered his church, removed religious books printed in German, and burned them. Such outrages were common, not isolated incidents.

Of course, that was far from genocide, ethnic cleansing or internment. The harsher treatment of thousands of Japanese Americans in 1941 was not solely a consequence of racism, but also of demographics. Internment of the millions of German Americans during WWI would have emptied major cities and large parts of many states. It’s not just that the war effort would have suffered; the entire national economy would have been destroyed. How could the many German Americans in public office, including many mayors and police, have carried out their own internment? And what about all those German American soldiers, including one named Eisenhower?

German culture was then far more deeply rooted and widely spread outside its ethnic base than the Arab Muslim or even Hispanic cultures are now, or Japanese culture was in 1941. The arts and the educational institutions would have been devastated by internment of German American citizens or even just of German nationals long resident in America. German-born scientists and technologists were everywhere. Major league baseball would have been crippled by the loss of Babe Ruth and the many other German American players.

So, the people stayed. But their language and culture were eradicated. In that sense alone, the Japanese Americans during WWII may have had it better.

This “ethnicity cleansing” of German Americans, as it might be called, was also assisted suicide. When WWI came, German Americans, like Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, tried to prove their loyalty by obvious signs of Americanization. They served in the military, with distinction. Pershing, the supreme American commander, was a German American. Not a few became rabid Americanizers and cultural vigilantes. Shortly before my father died, he added something to the story about the vandalism of my grandfather’s church: “Your mother’s brother was one of the leaders of the gang.”

The less virulent version of group self-rejection was a readiness — not unique to German Americans then — to quietly embrace the many advantages the “melting pot” offered. Since many German Americans were native speakers of English, and white, a superficial assimilation was easy. Within a generation the deeper assimilation became almost total — and not at the end of the war against the National Socialists, as many people believe, but rather with 11/11 11:11.

Today there is ample political and financial support to help keep the hyphens, for those groups who still have theirs. Throughout the world there is earnest talk of reparations and homelands and native-language place names. So should German Americans clamor for a national apology, or even reparations? Bury my heart at Lake Wobegon?

Let’s not be silly. There is no way to revive a language and ethnic identity that have vanished almost without trace. Perhaps, then, symbolic reparation? Restore old German street names, just as we liberally relabel other streets as “King” and “Naito”? Not enough guilt, not enough votes, not enough German American ethnic pride, to get Portland’s Lafayette Street changed back to Frankfurt, and Pershing back to Frederick. Giving back to our local Bush Street its original name of Bismarck Street might have a little more appeal.

German Americans? We’re history. No, they’re history, because I am scarcely one myself, and my children are not in the least. I learned German in high school, as a “foreign” language. Two of my daughters started Japanese in kindergarten — hey! it’s a German word! — in a school system where German language programs have all but died out. It troubles me when my language students call me “Herr Fischer.”

Yet we can derive a scrap of typically optimistic American self-reassurance from 11/11 11:11. As we continue to deal with 9/11, it is not solely the experience of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor that can remind us to avoid the mistakes of the past — and also reassure us that our country has indeed come a long way since 1941. We have come further still since 1918, since 11/11 11:11, which we have largely forgotten.

Gott segne Amerika. And He has. I wonder what the Arab American and Muslim American communities will look like in 2091, 90 years after 9/11. Pretty American, probably. But not totally American, I hope. A hyphen is a terrible thing to waste.

William B. Fischer is a professor of German in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures at Portland State University: fischerw@pdx.edu

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“I still believe to this day that a bit of chivalry from the past has continued to survive.”
-Ernst Udet

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