Category Archives: World Wars

FEAR AND LOATHING IN NEW JERSEY The 2016 US Election

This not-so-courageous blogger has ventured into the lion’s den to visit her sister as the US presidential election approaches its climax.on decision day: November 8th. To date, I have not broadcast my views on this platform, not for lack of strident opinions, but for more prosaic reasons. I have kept my political expression limited to outbursts on my private Facebook page where I have shared articles and news flashes about this brawl, also know as the Clinton – Trump presidential race.

Every election cycle brings with it far too little concentration on policies and problem solving and far too much mudslinging and defamation of the opponent. However, this time the vitriol is beyond vicious, the stakes are infinitely higher.

The US is poised on the brink of a precipice. If it now takes a wrong step, all the principles this country was built on will be shattered as they plummet into an abyss deeper than the Grand Canyon.

When in the past has the GOP succeeded in nominating a candidate it cannot support, where  elder Republican statesmen have declared they are voting for the Democratic opposition? This is unprecedented (No pun intended?).

No need for me to regurgitate all my reasons for opposing Trump and supporting Clinton. Thinking voters across the country – across the world! – have known for months exactly what these candidates represent. But with a choice between a seasoned, hard-working if flawed professional and a ranting, racist populist, well, there is just no contest.

I consider myself a student of history and have spent my entire adult life in Europe, where plenty of it happened in the 20th century. After World War II, the Americans were at the fore of rebuilding Germany into an exemplary democracy. The US, allied with Europe in NATO, stood as the guarantor of freedom in the face of the Soviet threat in the Cold War. Now, the great European democracies look west with horror in their eyes at the prospects of a Trump presidency, while Putin is rubbing his hands in glee.

My American friends and I in Germany have felt it necessary to apologize to the Germans and Brits we know for what has been going on in the US. It is as if their greatest mentor, their role model is outing itself as a charlatan.

Please, thinking fellow-Americans, get out there and vote for the only candidate who will  keep America great – Hillary Rodham Clinton!

 

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Filed under Europe, US Election 2016, World Wars

Sybille Bedford: Resilience and Grace

Thanks to Amy Wheldon on the Bloom blog for introducing me to Sybille Bedford. I’m just disappearing off in search of a book by this fine writer who was so modern in every way and was blessed with an eye for the universal.

Bloom

by Amy Weldon

1.
In our modern global world, more of us know people who move among many cultures: citizens of one country by birth, they might work in another and go to school in a third. Some are artists, some are businesspeople, some are refugees. Although they may still think of themselves as being “from” somewhere, their real allegiance is to the whole wide world. They’re concerned with border-transcending issues of human rights and the environment, because they know firsthand what oil spills in the Gulf might do to the migratory patterns of sea turtles in Tioman. 14-hour plane flights are familiar. “People are surprisingly similar, underneath it all” is not an abstraction. They’ve learned to find portable sources of meaning: curiosity, deep delight in place, and connections with loved ones across geography and time. You’ll never hear them say, “I don’t care much about politics;” they know that…

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Filed under Europe, Fiction and Other Truths, German History, World Wars

Old Europe Ain’t What She Used to Be…

…Isn’t that a blessing?

 

This is not the first time that the movement of migrants into her parts is changing the character of the many diverse societies on the continent. It has been happening for millions of years. So why are some people pretending that the current status quo needs defending? Of course, there are elements that must be defended at all cost. Those include the rule of law and human rights which have been hard-won from the forces who would subject us. Some things are just not up for negotiation.

We have only to look at the two world wars in the 20th century to recognize what must be fought for and how precious peace is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On 27th January Holocaust Memorial Day was celebrated worldwide. For the uninformed, this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops (1944). The truth about the heinous crimes Hitler’s Germany had been committing in murdering innocent Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma and anyone else who opposed the regime became a fact that could no longer be ignored or denied. This crime was the culmination of what happens in a country where basic human rights are flaunted and the rule of law replaced with jack-boot justice. In coming years the world would also find out about the genocides committed by Stalin and co. One can debate at length which of the two dictators murdered more innocent people, but that question is academic.

The nature of authoritarianism has altered in the course of those 70 years. Rather than institutionalized terrorism from pseudo-elected governments, now terrorism is diffuse, existing in cells – some sleeping until woken for duty, and supported by internet recruitment of the next suicide bombers or IS warriors. It is impossible to combat effectively.

On 7th January the long automatic rifle of terrorists’ justice reached out to Paris and murdered 17 people – some random as in the Jewish supermarket, some targeted as the journalists at Charlie Hebdo. Do they really believe that we of this western civilization will surrender our freedoms just because they kill people they consider to be committing crimes against Allah and Mohammed?

Personally, I find it extremely difficult to understand why these Islamists think they have the right to terrorize the modern world and transport it back to the Middle Ages. For them, tolerance is an unkown concept. And quite honestly, they aren’t thinking this through. Were they to succeed in destroying the West, they would lose the internet tools that serve them so well. They would also have to give up their cell phones, their SUVs and all their modern weaponry. What if the source of their bankrolling (oil?) was no longer raking in the money to finance it all? They fail to recognise that these amenities exist only because of the freedom of ideas, speech, press and a lot of capitalism.

Of course, there have been positive side-effects from the Paris attacks. Mainstream Muslims are speaking out and disowning terrorism. And indeed, we must be very careful not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few radicals. As they have said, those terrorists are not genuine Muslims. They are instumentalizing the religion for evil ends.

As a result of the attacks, tens of thousands – in France, millions of people – took to the streets to march and express their solidarity with the victims and their families. This all comes at a time when, in Germany, some groups have appeared on the scene to defend German culture from becoming inundated by foreign influences. The high number of foreigners is supposedly endangering the country as we know it. The largest center for this is the eastern city of Dresden, a city with a comparatively low percentage of people with migration background. Is this anxiety because of the 40 years during which east German society had little contact with the outside world?

Similar groups have sprung up across Germany, but their demonstrations are comparatively small and the turnout is totally outnumbered by the demos of those opposing them and marching for a “colorful” Germany. These anti-immigrant demos were reported in the foreign press . Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to consider it newsworthy to report on the opposing demos. That is disturbing!

However, I have been heartened in my belief that Germany and a large portion of its citizens are opening their arms to receive the refugees streaming in from such diverse places as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Serbia. Our newspapers are filled with articles on local private initiatives to find housing, furnishings and clothing for these people.  Private citizens organize get-togethers to welcome them into the communities. And for those who intend to settle, they are offering German courses. Everyone knows: language is the key to integration.

This help for the refugees is not just coming from one segment of society. Young and old are pitching in. In fact, many of the older generation who experienced being driven out of their homes in Poland or Czechoslovakia after the war and were forced to build a new life in western Germany, are especially open to helping. In the late 1940s and early 1950s they were in the same boat, arriving with nothing more than a few meager possessions. Now they are returning the favor – passing it forward, so to speak.

Europe is changing, developing. Nothing is perfect, to be sure, but to stand still would be fatal.

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Filed under civil rights, Europe, German History, Holocaust, human rights, Terror, World Wars

August 4th – Commemoration of Britain’s Declaration of War Against Germany

All day Monday services of commemoration took place in Belgium and across the UK. In the evening the BBC broadcast the services held at the military cemetery Saint Symphorien near Mons, Belgium ( the site of the first battle between the British and German forces). This cemetery where soldiers from all the combatant countries were buried next to each other was the idea of a German officer in 1915 – during the height of the war. The idea was to create a Waldfriedhof, a forest cemetery, honoring the sacrifice on all sides.

British, Belgian and German heads of state and several heads of government were present and participated actively in the proceedings. Serenely orchestrated combining music, poetry and prose, it was a fitting remembrance of the millions who died, I hate to say it,  completely in vain.

CORRECTION OF AUGUST 1st POST

I would like to correct my post in which I stated that Russia declared war on Germany on August 1, 1914. In fact it was the other way around.

In the lethal chain of events that precipitated war on so many fronts, Germany declared war on Russia when they mobilized on Germany’s eastern borders.The Russian-German border ran right down the middle of where Poland should have been!

Russian claims  that they were “only” mobilizing against Austria-Hungary because of the latter’s war against Serbia were of no help since Germany was allied to Austria-Hungary.

August 4th marks Britain’s declaration of war against Germany upon their invasion of neutral Belgium. And so the tragic timeline continues during the course of August and on into the following 4 years.

It is scary the way so many journalists are comparing the current situation with that of 100 years ago: Ukraine, Syria, Gaza, Libya, Iraq. And let’s not forget Afghanistan and Pakistan. Where else have I left out?

The only hope is that we did learn something from all the mistakes of the 20th century. Nothing is predestined. And there mustn’t be any attempts scorned at finding solutions

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Filed under Endings, German History, Great Britain, Politics, Remembering, World Wars

The Wooden Leg

100 years ago today Russia declared war on Germany and the fatal circus that had already begun between Austria and Serbia began its rise to global dimensions. In the course of 1914 there were 22 declarations of war.

This morning I heard on the radio a fascinating persepective from a man whose grandfather was wounded early in the war. A very young August Müller lost his leg and his war service was over. Every year that loss was remembered and celebrated within their family. On first consideration, it seems a weird thing to celebrate.But think about it. If August Müller had not lost his leg, he may well have stayed in the war long enough to lose his life. Considering the number of dead in that war – 17 million on all sides including civilians – this would not have been surprising. Thus this particular branch of the Müller family has August’s wooden leg to thank that they are living and thriving today, 100 years later.

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Filed under Beginnings, German History, Remembering, World Wars

100 Years Later – And Still No Wiser?

The past few months have been full of reminders of the events in the summer of 1914 that drove Europe to the most destructive war ever seen by man to that date. Echoing the title of Christopher Clark’s monumental work on the beginnings of the Great War, the empires involved – Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Britain – sleep-walked into a conflagration that would change the continent physically, socially and politically forever. Seventeen million dead human individuals (9 m soldiers, 8 m civilians) from eight countries, that was the horrendous price paid for the hubris of emperors and politicians.

And yet that First global war has been eclipsed by the Second (with a total death toll approximated between 60 and 85 million!) in such a way as to have allowed the First to retreat into the dark black hole of memory we reserve for much of our history. This  centenary is the perfect opportunity to raise our collective – and personal – awareness of mankind’s inhumanity to its own species. Television is awash with programs to do just this and I can only recommend watching them.

And what is the point of digging up what is for some a period of history better forgotten? Besides remembering those who sacrificed their lives – on all sides and fronts – I still believe – if we really work at it – we are capable of learning from our past mistakes. Without the First World War and its ignominious Versailles Treaty (see photo below), there would have been no Second World War. Do any of us really want to experience a Third World War – with today’s nuclear potential?

Which brings me, the American ex-pat and German-by-choice, back to one of my favorite themes: The European Union…

The European Union may have many weaknesses and, Lord knows, we love to complain about its regulatory derailments and bureaucratic bloat, but it  is the child of a post-war France and a post-war Germany who were determined to end death and destruction on European ground. As a political body reacting to conflicts within as well as beyond its borders, Europe has a reputation for slow reactions. Think the Yugoslavian disintegration into war in the 90s, the recent Euro crisis and now the ever deepening Ukrainian crisis with its threat to the balance of power between the east and west. In these instances, however, I’d like to believe the slowness is deliberate. Rather than sliding –  sleep-walking – into escalating conflicts, today’s leaders must calculate their justifiable national interests and the consequences of pursuing them.

Personally, I am prepared to suffer a lot of somewhat inane and seemingly sclerotic bureauocracy from an as-yet-imperfect European political system if it prevents blood-letting on world war scales.

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, German History, Politics, Remembering, World Wars