The central question for both the victors and the vanquished of World War II was just how widely the stain of guilt would spread over Germany. Political leaders and intellectuals on both sides of the conflict debated whether support for National Socialism tainted Germany's entire population and thus discredited the nation's history and culture. The tremendous challenge that Allied officials and German thinkers faced as the war closed, then, was how to limn a postwar German identity that accounted for National Socialism without irrevocably damning the idea and character of Germany as a whole.
In the House of the Hangman chronicles this delicate process, exploring key debates about the Nazi past and German future during the later years of World War II and its aftermath. What did British and American leaders think had given rise to National Socialism, and how did these beliefs shape their intentions for occupation? What rhetorical and symbolic tools did Germans develop for handling the insidious legacy of Nazism? Considering these and other questions, Jeffrey K. Olick explores the processes of accommodation and rejection that Allied plans for a new German state inspired among the German intelligentsia. He also examines heated struggles over the value of Germany's institutional and political heritage. Along the way, he demonstrates how the moral and political vocabulary for coming to terms with National Socialism in Germany has been of enduring significance—as a crucible not only of German identity but also of contemporary thinking about memory and social justice more generally.
Given the current war in Iraq, the issues contested during Germany's abjection and reinvention—how to treat a defeated enemy, how to place episodes within wider historical trajectories, how to distinguish varieties of victimhood—are as urgent today as they were sixty years ago, and In the House of the Hangman offers readers an invaluable historical perspective on these critical questions.
National identity and political legitimacy always involve a delicate balance between remembering and forgetting. All nations have elements in their past that they would prefer to pass over—the catalog of failures, injustices, and horrors committed in the name of nations, if fully acknowledged, could create significant problems for a country trying to move on and take action in the present. Yet denial and forgetting carry costs as well.
Nowhere has this precarious balance been more potent, or important, than in the Federal Republic of Germany, where the devastation and atrocities of two world wars have weighed heavily in virtually every moment and aspect of political life. The Sins of the Fathers confronts that difficulty head-on, exploring the variety of ways that Germany’s leaders since 1949 have attempted to meet this challenge, with a particular focus on how those approaches have changed over time. Jeffrey K. Olick asserts that other nations are looking to Germany as an example of how a society can confront a dark past—casting Germany as our model of difficult collective memory.
States of Memory illuminates the construction of national memory from a comparative perspective. The essays collected here emphasize that memory itself has a history: not only do particular meanings change, but the very faculty of memory—its place in social relations and the forms it takes—varies over time. Integrating theories of memory and nationalism with case studies, these essays stake a vital middle ground between particular and universal approaches to social memory studies.
The contributors—including historians and social scientists—describe societies’ struggles to produce and then use ideas of what a “normal” past should look like. They examine claims about the genuineness of revolution (in fascist Italy and communist Russia), of inclusiveness (in the United States and Australia), of innocence (in Germany), and of inevitability (in Israel). Essayists explore the reputation of Confucius among Maoist leaders during China’s Cultural Revolution; commemorations of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States Congress; the “end” of the postwar era in Japan; and how national calendars—in signifying what to remember, celebrate, and mourn—structure national identification. Above all, these essays reveal that memory is never unitary, no matter how hard various powers strive to make it so.
States of Memory will appeal to those scholars-in sociology, history, political science, cultural studies, anthropology, and art history-who are interested in collective memory, commemoration, nationalism, and state formation.
Contributors. Paloma Aguilar, Frederick C. Corney, Carol Gluck, Matt K. Matsuda, Jeffrey K. Olick, Francesca Polletta, Uri Ram, Barry Schwartz, Lyn Spillman, Charles Tilly, Simonetta Falasca Zamponi, Eviatar Zerubavel, Tong Zhang