Friday, January 4, 2013

How could it happen? How did it happen? / 1

Two books about the atrocities of the Hitler and Stalin years are currently on the top of my reading pile.  As mentioned before, I want to deal with Karla Poewe's "New Religions and the Nazis".  I am finding it a challenging read and find that I am missing context and need to read some other things to understand everything better.  It will take a little more time and the blogging to feel like I am going to get a handle on it.  It is a current book showing up much that has not been heard before, original research which huge relevance.

The other book is better known, "Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin".  The author, Timothy Snyder, teaches history at Yale, also also presents us with much new research and a book that rounds out the understanding of the atrocities in the area between Berlin and Moskow (the bloodlands), where 14 million persons, in total, perished under the Soviet and the German regimes; many of the victims were systematically and purposefully starved,  many millions of them not Jews.  Snyder wants to get at the bigger picture.

Both books help us understand how something like these atrocities could occur.  We look at these events and throw up our hands "How could this happen?"  Timothy Snyder tries to show how it could happen.  Poewe also shows how it could happen.

I find the conclusion to Snyder's preface very important.  He explains how we must not allow ourselves to put this horrible history into a box almost outside of history.  We must see it in context and in its totality and factuality, as much as possible.  Otherwise, we play into the hands of totalitarian regimes themselves.  We must deal with the facts or else submit to the anti-intellectual climate which reigned supreme with ideologues.

This is what he says:

In a comparison of the Soviet and Nazi regimes, the political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote in 1951 that factuality itself  "depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the non-totalitarian world." The American diplomat George Kennan made the same point in simpler words in Moscow in 1944: "here men determine what is true and what is false."
         Is truth nothing more than a convention of power, or can truthful historical accounts resist the gravity of politics?  Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union sought to master history itself. The Soviet Union was a Marxist state, whose leaders proclaimed themselves to be scientists of history.  National Socialism was an apocalyptic vision of total transformation, to be realized by men who believed that will and race could slough off the burden of the past.  The twelve years of Nazi and the seventy-four years of Soviet power certainly weigh heavily on our ability to evaluate the world.  Many people believe that the crimes of the Nazi regime were so great as to stand outside history.  This is a troubling echo of Hitler's own belief hat will triumphs over facts.  Others maintain that the crimes of Stalin, though horrible, were justified by the need to create or defend a modern state.  This recalls Stalin's view that history has only one course, which he understood, and which legitimates his policies in retrospect.
         Without a history built and defended upon an entirely different foundation, we will find that Hitler and Stalin continue to define their own works for us.  What might that basis be?  Although this study involves military, political, economic, social, cultural, and intellectual history, its three fundamental methods are simple:  insistence that no past event is beyond historical understanding or beyond the reach of historical inquiry; reflection upon the possibility of alternative choices and acceptance of the irreducible reality of choice in human affairs; and orderly chronological attention to all of the Stalinist and Nazi policies that killed large numbers of civilians and prisoners of war. ...attention to any single persecuted group, no matter how well executed as history, will fail as an account of what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945.  (pp. xviii a. xix)

I find this most profound because it has seemed lately in popular discussions and media, that the world is moving ever more away from factual and conceptual analysis to shallow, banal and easy escape from proper research and trying to understand.  Individualism seems to make all things about how I feel and what I want, not about what really is, which seems like another will to power approach.  In fact, it is this parallel which worries me, and brings me to thinking about this.

I haven't got too far yet with Snyder's book, but he seems to leave out religion in his account.  Poewe, on the other hand, deals with the ideological development, which was decidedly anti-Christian.  This is also a part of the whole picture, and one of great significance.  It would disturb me if Snyder deals with it nowhere, at all.  I'll keep my eyes open.

The difference between a mythological understanding of the world such as the pagan Nazism, and the communist science of history as opposed to Judeo-Christianity is that it does not seek to plant itself in a moral law, or reality or, as was said, "factuality".  We ignore truth and facts at peril.  I am not sure how we got this far philosophically. In any case, this path has included a huge dose of anti-Judeo-Christian thinking, if not straight hatred of it;  I don't think it unfair or self-serving to point out how badly it has turned out.

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

New Religions and the Nazis

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