Friday, March 29, 2013

Rust Never--Well, Rarely--Sleeps

Reading Tony Judt's masterful Postwar I'm struck again by something that so often gets to me about the 20h Century's great adventure.  Specifically: how often and how needlessly the Nazis and he Japanese and later the Russians, blew it.  That is: how easy it would have been for them to win favor or support from the conquered peoples and to install themselves as masters not exactly beloved (what master is ever beloved?) but at least accepted and recognized as legitimate.  The point is particularly evident here as Judt shows how the Nazis came close to doing just that in their conquest of France, Norway and other nations of "people like us."  With a fairly light hand and a willingness to leave local matters in the hands of the locals, they bid fair to put themselves in a position to reign if not to rule over a reunified Europe. 

So, pity about that Russian business.Of course the Nazis weren't nearly as polite to those easterners whom they saw as more or less subhuman and in the end they paid a terrible price for their callousness. But no worse, really than the Japanese who could easily have been welcomed as racial allies against the hated Westerners, had not their own racist high-handedness trumped any impulse towards making common cause.   Even more foolish still, perhaps, was Stalin who had coherent realpolitik reasons to want to dominate his environs.  And indeed, again he sometimes came close: Poland where his practical concern was most urgent--he wanted a buffer against the possibility of a resurgent Germany--almost got away with a life of its own, as least for a while.  But ideological blindness led him to try to impose gratuitous indignities on the new satellites for reasons which, in retrospect, are almost impossible to define.

Rust never--well, rarely--sleeps.  Arrogance and foolishness are the natural handmaidens of power.  Surveying this record, it's comforting to know that we live in an empire that will never dissipate its natural advantages via indifference and insult.


1 comment:

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

Japanese propaganda was completely by the book: a Greater Eastern Co-Prosperity Sphere (IIRC) designed to counterbalance the round-eyed devils. Japanese conduct, of course, had nothing to do with Japanese propaganda. It's likely they (or some of them) knew better, but they (or the ones on the scene) couldn't help themselves. In this particular context, German propaganda was more consistent with German conduct.

This is the problem of attributing personality to a group. One invariably runs into extreme schizophrenia.