We Forgive You, Germany

One of the most reviled songs to be released last year was from comedian and not particularly skilled musician Lil’ Dicky, whose abominable charity single “Earth” sought to raise money for woke listeners to try to save the earth.  Included among the many clunkers and non-jokes in the song’s lyrics was one that attracted a lot of negative attention from the musicology community, “We forgive you, Germany!”  A great deal of the negative press about this particular quote, as may be expected, concerns the enormity of Germany’s historical sins during World War II against the Jews and others that led to the killing of millions of innocent people.  It was obviously not contemporary Germans who were guilty of such crimes, and it was not only Nazi Germany that was guilty of such historical crimes against humanity–few regimes survived World War II with their honor intact when it came to their behavior towards civilians, and Communist regimes have killed many millions with less blame in part because of the political biases of many academics in the West.  Nor does the 20th century exhaust the sort of historical wrongs that people fight over, not by a long shot.

When we look at historical crimes against humanity, there are a lot of questions that make such matters difficult to deal with.  Who do we assess blame to?  Should we assess blame?  How can such wrongs be repaid?  Whenever we look at some sort of historical disaster which drastically affected the viability of peoples throughout time, there is a very real conundrum about how such wrongs can be repaid [1].  After all, those people who died in World War II or in Communist gulags and laogai or in the Atlantic or Muslim slave trades by and large did not have very many survivors left to claim damages on their behalf.  When a tribesman from East Africa was turned into a eunuch and sold on the slave markets of Baghdad or Istanbul or somewhere else, he by definition did not have children.  Nor did the many people who died of such horrific treatment by slavers.  Nor did most of the people who died in the Middle Passage, or those who were stolen from their homes and workplaces to some dark dungeon or work camp where they were worked to death in brutal conditions for some evil regime.  In most cases, the governments that had the responsibility to seek the well-being of the victims was itself part of the problem, whether as collaborators in evil through selling people to slave traders or in committing those atrocities in the first place.  Even in such cases as the brutal Mongol treatment of China and Central Asia, a lot of the time the regimes ruling over cities where many hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered were themselves to blame at least partially for the destruction that befell their people.

These problems are consistent when we look at historical conflicts.  Our support of underdogs cannot blind us to the genuine difficulties in justly apportioning blame for historical and contemporary wrongs.  Likewise, the most horrific historical wrongs are precisely those where it is most difficult to find those people who can receive whatever reparations are due, if that is indeed the right way to deal with such matters.  Can we expect the Turks to repay the Armenians for the mass slaughter of Armenians during World War I that was stirred up by nationalistic fervor, and does it mitigate the wrong of the Turks in admitting that the Armenians themselves generally favored the side of the Russians, which no doubt contributed to some of the fear and panic that was involved in Turkey’s grave wrongs against a small nation?  Who is left to claim whatever repayment exists for the sins of the Qing against the Dzhungars?  And so on it goes throughout many examples in history that we might examine if time and our patience permitted.

The case is not made easier by the recognition that the search for money as reparations for supposed historical wrongs is itself a sign of envy on the part of those nations which may be termed as historical losers and who have not managed to do very well for themselves and which might seek to assuage their sense of failure through attempting to coerce and manipulate others into subsidizing their failures.  We might point to the wrongs of the Roman Empire against France and England during the course of Rome’s expansion as an empire, and look at the atrocities committed by Julius Caesar and others, but it would obviously be unjust for contemporary Italians to be made to pay for their sins to nations that are doing as well or better than they are at present.  Nor are there politically powerful lobbies in France or Great Britain seeking reparations from Italy for the historical wrongs of the Romans.  Not only are the French culturally very different from the Gauls and the contemporary English from the Britons of old, but those cultures have actual successful endeavors behind them and are not trapped by the continual haunting of history.  The desire to paint oneself as a victim of history is most often undertaken by those peoples who have failed at life to have done works worthy of respect and honor.  Those who succeed point to their works; those who fail cry victim and look for sympathy from others.

We may thus, returning to our original example, see that there are many layers to the folly of Lil’ Dicky’s statement about forgiving Germany.  For one, it is not easy to apportion blame for the wrongs committed by the Nazi regime, not least when a country has sought for decades to cast off that blame.  For another, only those who were wronged by the Nazi regime in some fashion have the right to express forgiveness for those wrongs committed against them.  Many of those people died and are unable to forgive, whether or not they want to.  Those who survived may not be inclined to do so.  They may have let bygones be bygones and so on and so on so as to create a better life for themselves.  They may have decided to let God judge or may have accepted what reparations they received, however inadequate it is that money should pay for the death and humiliation suffered at the hand of evil regimes.  Who are we to interfere in such matters, or to assume that such wrongs can be made right at all, or that we have the power to seek to enforce payment against the innocent on behalf of the envious?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/06/let-bygones-be-bygones-and-so-on-and-so-on/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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