Guilt: not an American tradition

guilt1From Quora, in answer What do Germans feel about Holocaust movies, international student Johannes Adams gave an intriguing answer. His parents are German, though he was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He’s a citizen of both Germany and the US, and is fluent in both German and English.

Shame is an emotion that almost all Germans will feel when considering the last 100 years. We are ashamed of what our country, our forefathers and possibly even our grandparents did. And for good reason.

The Holocaust will forever remain a crime that words cannot, and should not be able to describe.

But here for me exists the main problem, and please bear with me even if it sounds morally disturbing and despicable. The German people have embraced their past, doing their best over the last 70 years to make amends to humanity and work towards a peaceful world .

We Germans accept the crimes of our people and country, allowing the collective guilt that exists already to pile up without an argument. We carry it, without protest, we feel guilty for something that happened long before we were born. As far as I am aware Americans do not actively feel bad about what happened to the Native Americans, in my experience my friends get quite hostile and defensive when I broach this topic. I think every current country and its people have something to be ashamed of, but usually these things are omitted from text books and generally hushed up.

But for the Germans, we continue to be told by all how horrible we were…

Germans should continue to feel differently towards the Holocaust even as history will continue to obscure and grey the horrid events of the past. Likewise I believe that the general trend of making 3rd generation Germans feel bad for things that they had nothing to do with must stop.

On the primary point: I think he is right that Americans don’t, and apparently never have, collectively felt guilt over the genocide of the American Indians or slavery or internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. It’s just not who Americans were/are. They are a “let’s move on” sort of people.

The truth and reconciliation process, in South Africa after apartheid, and in Rwanda after the terrible genocide of the mid-1990s, isn’t the American way, I don’t think. Had it been so, perhaps the problems of previous generations might have been ironed out, and we would not live in a country so racially polarized, still.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s