Inke Arns on Sun, 20 Jun 1999 01:23:50 +0200

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Re: Syndicate: moral responsibility

*Tilt*, *tilt* ... Could we please get back to the guilt vs. responsibility

Thanks to Jennifer for posting this initial quote, and thanks to everybody
who jumped in on the "moral responsibility". Very, very enlightening
indeed. I've been hesitating to join in... 

On Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:09:57 McKenzie Wark wrote: 

"When we say 'responsibility', this need not mean the same thing
as guilt. I certainly am not guilty of killing any blackfellas.
But i do think i am responsible for the fact that sombody did."

I definitely agree with this, McKenzie. Over the last few years there have
been discussions going on here in Germany on the question of "collective
guilt vs. collective responsibility". Are today's Germans "collectively
guilty" for the Third Reich, and, subsequently, for the holocaust? No, this
is not about collective guilt. And it can't be, since guilt is a
personal/individual category. And I could appropriate McKenzie's text by
saying "I certainly am not guilty of killing any Jews .... but I do think I
am responsible for the fact that somebody did." And more: There is even no
such thing as "Die Gnade der spaeten Geburt" (a muttering of the former
German chancellor Kohl if I am not mistaken: "The grace of the late birth",
meaning approximately that those who were born after WWII are not directly
connected anymore to the burden of German history). It is not collective
guilt, but collective responsibility we're talking about.

For my generation, accepting responsibility for what has happened in the
past means that you accept responsibility for the future... Personal,
individual responsibility is about alertness ... about being aware that
this should happen "never again."

Very often I have thought about my family, my relatives, and what they
possibly did or didn't do during the time of the "Third Reich". All of them
were "normal", very "normal" people. Some of them secretaries, workers,
salesmen, wives, mothers... one distant uncle was a soldier ....but let's
leave him out at the moment. What interests me is the question of
individual responsibilities of "normal" people. It is said very often that
the Germans didn't *know* about the holocaust. I think that if people only
had wanted to know, they could have known -- there were enough signs and
hints only waiting to be read and deciphered. But -- and that's how I read
it -- there was an emotional coldness,  an emotional inability to relate to
the "other" -- the "neighbour". When I read the books by George L. Mosse
("Die Voelkische Revolution") and Fritz Stern ("Kulturpessimismus") some
years ago, which both describe, amongst other things, the late 19th and
20th century history of antisemitism in Germany, it became clear to me how
deeply rooted it must have been within German society. For most of the
people it was certainly not an "open" or violent antisemitism, but it was
some kind of broad general "subcurrent". It secretly and successfully had
entered the (sub-)conscious(ness) of several generations before 1933. And
this is what makes me feel uneasy when I think about these "normal" people.

But enough. What I want to say is that every single person is individually
responsible for his/her decisions or non-decisions. There are certainly
times when it is impossible to protest publicly against actions taken /
crimes committed by a government. But this does not exempt anybody --
"individuals, each capable of making autonomous decisions" -- from taking
"responsibility for those actions, and to exhibit a collective wave of
revulsion and a collective demand to know who is responsible for this kind
of reign of terror."

To be precise: I have spoken exclusively and very briefly about the
situation in Germany, even if I quoted the last citation from Michael
Benson's mail. 

In the end of March 1999 there was an article in "Die Zeit", entitled
"Living in the Target Area" (by Ulrich Ladurner and Norbert Mappes-Niediek,
Die Zeit, 31 March 1999, p. 15). I am *translating* the passage on
responsibility, and want to leave it open for further discussion: 

"There was also a deeper reason for the Belgrade citizens' utter
astonishment [about the NATO intervention]: They were living a life lie
[Lebensluege in German; i.e. something you don't (want to) realize in order
to protect yourself)]. Even if Yugoslavia was involved in all of the Balkan
wars since 1991, the Serbs in the motherland sticked to the idea that the
war had nothing to do with them. The Croatian city of Vukovar was destroyed
in artillery fire of the Yugoslav People's Army, corpses in the mass graves
in Bosnia were stuck in plastic sacks of that same army, volunteers from
Belgrade went looting through the villages in Bosnia and Croatia. And
still, the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic managed to convince his
compatriotes that they were never at war. For years, his state television
was raging against 'murderers, butchers, and mercenaries' on the other side
of the border.
Over the years, Milosevic has had many enemies -- but in one point almost
all of his enemies agreed: We, the Serbs, are not responsible! That's one
of the secrets of a man who, in spite of having initiated all the
desasters, remains the most popular politician in Serbia. And the West has
helped him. With the Dayton agreement in 1995, Milosevic became a Knight of
Peace. Why shouldn't the Serbs in Belgrade take this as an acquittal? Here
[in Belgrade], war was always the war of the others."


i n k e . a r n s __________________________ b e r l i n ___
49.(0)30.3136678 | |
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