Maybe not all my life, but a good portion of it, I've been dead-wrong about a couple of things, and maybe more than just a couple. I live in The Netherlands, a small country right next to the European behemoth Germany, and most of my life I've held a completely wrong opinion about that country and its citizens.
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors - source: Pixabay
Growing up in The Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no escaping the heavy impact the Second World War had on Western European societies. One way I was confronted with the legacy of this horrible war as a little kid, were the jokes made about Germans, one of them being that the Germans had no sense of humor at all. Every Dutch kid knew at least a couple of German words, not only because it was still one of the most popular destinations for vacation, but because we were all told, by our parents, certain sentences that were left over from the war.
"Wir haben es nich gewusst" translates directly into "we didn't know." This sentence was used in the years after the Second World War to deride, or make fun of Germans attempting to deflect accusations of not having done enough to stop Nazi crimes against humanity during the Second World War, especially the Holocaust. As a young boy I bought into that completely; what happened in Germany with the hate crimes against Jews and other "unproductive" minorities was so blatantly obvious, that I, nor any of my friends, could believe them when Germans claim that they simply "didn't know." How could you NOT know?
It was only in the early 1980s when I understood how I had wronged the German people, how we all had it completely wrong... In 1982 we had in the Netherlands this little known politician by the name of Hans Janmaat from the new party called the Centrum Party. In complete defiance of its name, this was an extreme right-wing party, and my first introduction to blatant racist rhetoric by a "respected" politician. I didn't think much of his chances, but to my amazement back then, he won a seat in the Dutch Parliament! To my shock, racism was alive and kicking in the Netherlands, and has grown its public presence since; we now have Geert Wilders with his Party For Freedom winning as much as 20 seats out of 150 in the 2017 general elections.
In America Trump is cheer-leading for extreme nationalism, patriotism and fear of foreigners. But when I and others ring the alarm-bell about seeing the early signs of fascism rearing its ugly head in the western hemisphere, reactions are akin to "we can't see that" or "you're exaggerating" or even complete denial. I don't think and don't hope we'll let it come that far, but IF the ICE detention centers on America's south border evolve into concentration camps, I'm sure that after the perpetrators have been defeated, they will say "we didn't know" that what we did was evil. It seemed the right thing to do at the time, it was normal; even our political, spiritual and intellectual leaders say as much... We just didn't know... How COULD we?
"Deutschland Deutschland über alles" is another German sentence all Dutch kids know; it's the first sentence of the German National Anthem and translates to "Germany Germany above all." Especially after the Second World War, which an attempt to create a "Third Reich", to assert the superiority of the German Master Race, this line was cause for much ire against the Germans. How could they maintain that as the opening line of their national anthem when it was clearly distasteful, to say the least, to claim any kind of superiority to others in the post World War 2 social climate. And again, I was so wrong to think that. You see, the line isn't a claim of superiority at all. The anthem was constructed BEFORE Germany existed officially as a country, and "Germany above all" was merely an expression of the importance that they unite officially as a country. There's no superiority in play there. There's no "there" there. Looking briefly at America again: American Exceptionalism IS real. How often have you heard Americans claim they live in the "best country in the (history of) the world"? "God bless America" is the closing sentence of every speech made by every American president I know of; so, God has a special place in His heart for Americans?
Don't get me wrong here; I don't hate or dislike Americans and I also never hated or disliked Germans. Also it should be clear that I'm generalizing to the extreme here, even if I'm pointing out my personal failures in understanding. I just want to illustrate how the facts of life can conspire to form opinions that might be completely besides the truth. I've been reminded of this by the video linked below. It's an explanation and dissection of the song "Deutschland" ("Germany") by the popular German band Rammstein; this song is misunderstood in much the same way I have misunderstood the plight of the Germans in the interwar period, the Second World War and the aftermath plus effects thereof. Everything considered, I can only say I have deep admiration and respect for the way this country has dealt with its difficult recent history, and the way it is still dealing with it. I only hope that I'm wrong again, that I'm wrong when I see fascism and racism and nationalism and protectionism rise again in western countries...
Deutschland by Rammstein: An Analysis
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