Iraq was not Germany

Tacitus links to an outrageous statement by a German historian whose goal is to refute analogies between Germany and Iraq:

"In addition, Iraq and its people do not have nearly the same shame and sense of responsibility that Germans had after the war and the Holocaust," which Hartmann said had quelled resistance to the victors.

He also noted that despite Nazi Germany's barbarism, the country was grounded in Western culture and traditions which allowed US troops to find quick and broad acceptance for a new democratic order.

Let's leave aside the fact that Iraq's tradition of civilization is longer than Germany's by millenia. Tacitus nicely demolishes the assertion that Germans had any imediate sense of shame for their participation in their fascist state's systematic genocide of the Jews. But what strikes me as even more disingenious is the implication that Iraqis should bear any similar burden of responsibility. Speaking as a Shi'a with no particlular fondness for Sunni oppression over the past 1400 years, I don't see any collective responsibilty for the genocidal impulses of Saddam against Kurds, Marsh Arabs, Shi'a, and Sunnis beyond the circles of the Ba'ath party.

However, the rise of fascism in Germany was of a coimpletely different order. Iraq was a totalitarian state, but not a fascist one. It's worth noting that Saddam's state far more closely resembled Orwell's 1984 than did Hitlers - since at some level, even the common German was complicit in the functioning of the regime, whereas the common Iraqi was always a victim of it.

Via David Neiwert's landmark essay on Fascism, is this recollection of a professor's anecdote about the liberation of the death camps:

When he was a young man, he told us, he served in the U.S. Army as part of the occupation forces in Germany after World War II. He was put to work gathering information for the military tribunal preparing to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. His job was to spend time in the villages adjacent to one concentration camp and talk to the residents about what they knew.

The villagers, he said, knew about the camp, and watched daily as thousands of prisoners would arrive by rail car, herded like cattle into the camps. And they knew that none ever left, even though the camp never could have held the vast numbers of prisoners who were brought in. They also knew that the smokestack of the camp�s crematorium belched a near-steady stream of smoke and ash. Yet the villagers chose to remain ignorant about what went on inside the camp. No one inquired, because no one wanted to know.

"But every day," he said, "these people, in their neat Germanic way, would get out their feather dusters and go outside. And, never thinking about what it meant, they would sweep off the layer of ash that would settle on their windowsills overnight. Then they would return to their neat, clean lives and pretend not to notice what was happening next door.

"When the camps were liberated and their contents were revealed, they all expressed surprise and horror at what had gone on inside," he said. "But they all had ash in their feather dusters."

Neiwert comments: "That story neatly compresses the way fascism works: in a vacuum of denial." In Iraq, there was a vacuum of courage, driven by fear. Saddam took power, Hitler received it.

The attempt by the German historian to dispute analogies between Iraq and Germany is more self-serving, an attempt to whitewash that collective guilt. By projecting its absence onto the Iraqis!

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