Monday, May 02, 2005

World War II: History or Preferred Remembrance?

Adam Krzeminski writes that World War II was mythologized in individual nations to replace previous ones destroyed by the conflict. However, one of the ironic twists of European unionization has been a debunking of these myths:
The war destroyed not just countries, but the whole edifice of traditional myths that supported the identity of the European nations before it began. Meanwhile, the effort to create some new myths fell foul of the shocking reality: millions of people had been killed or murdered, there was immense material destruction, and Europe had been politically and morally degraded. . . .To all intents and purposes there were as many Second World Wars as there were nations. . . .For six decades in Europe, the USA and Israel, monuments and mausoleums have been built, films have been made, and posters and postage stamps have been printed. Heroic tales of war heroes who "ducked the bullets" have been written, yet at the same time some of the legends began to be debunked very early on. Books that were praised one day were thrown on the rubbish heap the next. Monuments erected earlier were demolished, and heroes were scorned, while those who were once regarded as traitors were rehabilitated. . . .

Europeans will go on living with competing memories and competing myths for a long time to come. What is new is that these competing myths are no longer being fostered in confinement, but in constant dialogue between neighbours, besides which in each country as well as being fostered they are also being debunked. Time will tell if this clash of national myths will ultimately engender a common European view of the Second World War, without dropping the national experiences. Already in many countries the Europeans are gradually ceasing to be victims of autism, exclusively fixated on separate images of the past.

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