A new history of Europe since 1945.

The New Yorker: The Critics: Books

Still, “Postwar” 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.

3 thoughts on “A new history of Europe since 1945.

  1. “For, the essential element of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common but it must also have forgotten many things. Every French citizen must have forgotten the night of St. Bartholemew and the massacres in the thirteenth century in the South. …..

    Will the Germans, who have raised the banner of ethnography so high, not see one day the Slavs analyze the names of the villages of Saxony and of Lusatia, seek the traces of populations long dead, and ask for an account of the massacres and the mass enslavement to which the Germans under their Ottonian emperors subjected their ancestors? It is good for all of us to know how .forget”

    Auguste Renan.
    What Is a Nation
    Sorbonne Lecture 1882

  2. There is a highly regretable tendency IMO to paint the Nazis as supremely evil because of their antisemitism and their responsibility for the holocaust with all other defining characteristics – such as their fuhrer complex with the associated totalitarian ideology and practices, the commitment to gaining lebensraum through territorial acquisition and the intended enslavement of the Slav people – relegated to relatively minor issues or even welcome features.

    It seems to me that it was precisely that perception which helped to promote and maintain the wide acceptability of the Nazis in much of mainland Europe in the context of the sad fact that antisemitism had been endemic there for centuries. By the account of this new history of post-war Europe, that was a widely held view.

    If the extent of Nazi antisemitism seemed a bit over the top to many then, it was tolerable and tolerated because of the other beneficial things Nazi governance brought, such as eugenics, interventionist economic policies to boost employment and control the excessive volatility of market systems or sensibly rendering redundant the contenious discussions and periodic elections of Parliamentary systems of government.

    Of course, few knew then about the plans for, or anticipated the intended extent of, the holocaust. The French Communist Party, which in due course became the mainstay of the resistance to the German occupation in France, maintained a neutral stance to the occupation until Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

    If you think my take on this exaggerates, this benign view of the Nazis is accurately typified in speeches made in America by the pioneering aviator Charles Lindebergh (1902-74) shortly before Nazi Germany declared war on the US in December 1941:

    “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country [America] toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration.”

    Trust the British, the Jews and the Roosevelt administration to interfer in trying to block a good idea at the start!

    By Shirer’s account in his seminal book: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, until Germany declared war on America on 10 December 1941, the view in the US Congress and military after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was to avoid engagement in the continuing war in Europe. The prevailing view in America was not to oppose the Nazis in Europe.

    The Roosevelt administration were going against the popular grain in extending loans [Lend Lease] to Britain to finance its national commitment to continuing the war against the Nazi occupation of Europe – and remember that at the outset of war, Britain’s population of 40 millions was almost exactly half the combined populations of Germany and Austria.

    The documented fact is that America became involved in the European war in December 1941 because Nazi Germany declared war on America. Naturally, some try to portray that as rampant anti-Americanism. It just happens to be true.

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