Lessons of history

10th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

Photos of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers have sent shockwaves around the world. Germany and Europe have learnt the lessons of their history. Is it now time for the US to learn from its past?

America has spent much of the post-Second World War period lecturing Germany about the need to learn from history.

It might now be the time for America to draw its own lessons from the past.

What started out for many to be Germany's century began to unravel on the horrific killing fields of the First World War. This was followed by the terrifying madness of Nazism, with Germany finally humiliated and defeated in 1945.    

Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the collapse of Hitler's 1,000-year Reich. And despite six decades passing, there is no sign that Germans are forgetting the lessons they learned as a result of the disastrous militarism and the destruction of vast slabs of its cities and culture that have blighted its history.

*quote1*Quite the contrary. As the Iraq war has shown, pacifism is as deeply entrenched as it ever was in Germany, with much of Europe sharing a similar heartfelt scepticism about what war can actually achieve.

Iraq is not America's first war to go wrong. Remember Vietnam?

In this sense, it is somewhat surprising that Americans should respond with such disbelief and shock to the photos of torture and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of US soldiers (and, if press reports are correct, possibly also by members of the British armed forces).

After all, wasn't it the horrific images pouring out of Vietnam that set alarm bells ringing in the American electorate about the course of the hostilities - fears that eventually turned around domestic support for that war?

Indeed, Vietnam is the one word appearing to increasingly encapsulate the growing angst around the world about the current mayhem in Iraq.

Without any coherent real plan for dealing with the occupation, America and its military allies in Iraq seem to be sinking into a similar quagmire - the result of a White House that was unwilling or unable to comprehend the lessons of history.

Moreover, what seems to be most frustrating for Americans is how the world's greatest military power cannot seem to have its own way and to stamp its authority on Iraq.

*quote2*After all, the publication of the photos of the inhumane and sadistic treatment of Iraqi prisoners came just as the American armed forces in Iraq had suffered what was essentially a humiliating defeat in Fallujah.

From various presidents through to Hollywood and popular US television programmes, Germans have been reminded of the barbarism of their past. And they have vowed never to return it.

That also includes everything that goes with war: racism, hate and sexual humiliation. All the things at the heart of the odious photos emerging from Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail. 

Last month US Secretary of State Colin Powell praised efforts by German leaders to make amends for past crimes against Jews and to stride towards tolerance.

"Naturally we must all respect the culture of others," Powell said on the periphery of an international anti-Semitism conference in Berlin.
"I hope I will be able to return to Washington with a better idea of the situation in Germany and in Europe," he said.

But whatever the deeply-felt gratitude nations such as Germany might have for the way that America helped the country and Europe to recover from the chaos of the Second World War, the message from Europe for Washington has been clear enough throughout the whole sorry saga surrounding Iraq.

Apart from warning about the enormous risks involved in launching unilateral military action, the view from Europe is that its history shows that war is not the way to solve international problems.

And that war is not all about glorious victories or stunning shows of high-tech military force. 

Conflicts, as the photos from Abu Ghraib show, can unleash a very dark side of human nature - and are accompanied by a barrage of criticism.       

May 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: German news, Iraq. Washington Post, torture of Iraqi prisoners.

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