Fatherlands

(36 comments)

The Nazis won the war.  They invaded and colonised the Western consciousness.  They marched into, occupied, and restructured our heads.  They redrew the maps in our minds. They razed and rebuilt our perceptions.  They re-engineered our entire civilisation.  They purged the libraries of our brains of the books they didn’t like, and convinced many of us to burn those books, happily, with smiles on our faces, certain that in so doing we were fighting intolerance and tyranny.  They wrote new books, and we filled the shelves with them.  They rewrote our entire story, and we still live in their unfolding plot.

*

The counterfactual genre tends to imagine that, in a victorious Nazi state, the Holocaust would be a dark secret. 

In reality, if Germany had won, today the Holocaust would be known about in Germany. 

It would be part of public consciousness - a small part.  It would even be studied, talked about, theorised - by a few. 

The twenty-first century Nazi state would be perfunctorily apologetic, and claim moral superiority anyway.  Indeed, the 'mistakes' of the past would be one way in which that state, that society, comprehended and oriented its sense of its own moral superiority.

There would be sad films and TV dramas.  There would be sumptuous and melancholy documentaries.  They might begin with declarations that the war began with good intentions, started by men of good faith.  They might tell of how Rommel was a decent man.

There would be an industry devoted to it.  

Students in school might learn of it as a tragedy of the past.  Their teachers would stress the way it self-assembled, almost by accident.  They would stress the deadly Soviet threat. They would stress Stalin’s gulags.  They would stress the exigencies of war. They would stress that the leaders of Germany then were men ‘of their time’. 

And dissidents would use it to challenge their culture.  And centrists and conservatives within the Nazi state would charge that 'the left' talked about it too much.  They would prefer to efface it, and focus on the crimes of official enemies, always situating Germany as morally superior by default.  Those accused of talking about it 'too much' would be the "blame Germany first crowd". The German public would learn, via a million conservative pundits and talking heads, the mantra that "the Jews killed their own people too", and imagine that this meant something. 

There would be many ordinary Germans who would find the “constant” talk about it infuriating.  They would wave the banners of the SS as their “heritage” and denounce the “politically correct thought police” who wanted to “rewrite history”.

There might have been civil rights struggles in the Nazi state as it negotiated the late twentieth century, or early twenty-first, and eased itself out of outright totalitarianism, as a victorious state which didn’t need to stay on a permanent total war footing would probably have done.

Such struggles would have caused waves of statues to be erected.  There might even, by now, be controversy about those statues. They might become flashpoints. 

“Well, Bismarck was a conservative German nationalist too!  Should we take down the statues of Bismarck? Or Frederick the Great?”

The knowledge of the Holocaust would not stop any TV News show, or newspaper, or politician, or broadcaster, or intellectual, in twenty-first century Nazi Germany, from proclaiming the greatness of the living German Reich, her devotion to human rights, to democracy, to liberty. 

Twenty-first century Nazi Germany would continue its bloody adventures abroad – because imperialist, settler-colonial empires can’t just stop being what they are - and they would be justified every time as humanitarian interventions, evidence of a messianic devotion to spreading German values. 

Anyone who raised history would be impatiently dismissed. 

"Yes, yes, yes, but that's the past... what are we going to do today, hmm?" 

If twenty-first century Nazi Germany were allied with Britain, criticism of its exploits would be dubbed the "anti-Germanism" of the left, and BBC News, if they ever had anti-war activists on, would put them opposite pro-war pundits who would angrily denounce their "reflexive opposition to anything Germany does".  

Even so, satirical news shows might occasionally criticise the government for going too far. 

“This isn’t who we are,” the host might say, to pious applause.

The swastika flags would flutter over the mass graves, old and new.  Even the critics, the dissidents, would drape themselves in those flags.

People living in New Berlin would walk to the shops along the picturesque Eichmannstraße, past the Himmlerplatz with its beautiful flower beds. 

There might even be little plaques to the murdered, next to posters for horror films about golems.

You might even be able to buy mezuzahs and menorahs in the souvenir stores.

And nobody but a few lunatics would find any of this odd.

 

Comments

Jack 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Well played. Well played indeed.

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Sean Dillon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Holy shit, this is the greatest thing you've done so far. This is literally everything I want from a Jack Graham post, and I am at a loss for words as to what to say to this. At most, I'm tempted to quote a Grant Morrison comic about Hitler that has a similar thesis to the opening bit of the post, but that feels wrong given the rest of the post.

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Whittso 3 months, 3 weeks ago

That's absolutely and rather terrifyingly brilliant.

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SatiricalArgentinian 3 months, 3 weeks ago

After reading this I got chills. This is very much what has happened in Argentina and (most probably although differently) in other Latin American countries.
As you probably know, in Argentina in the 70s, very much like in Chile and a bunch of other Latin American countries,there was a military coup sponsored by the US that resulted in a civic-military-ecclesiastical dictatorship. This dictatorship disappeared, kidnapped and killed a lot of people, mostly but not exclusively political dissidents, and also introduced economical changes that were the precursors of neoliberal policies that later got implemented around the globe.
We restored democracy in 1983 (much earlier than in Chile and after the war with England over the Islas Malvinas was a failure) and since then it's been an uphill struggle for a lot of social movements to denounce all the state terrorism crimes committed during those years as well as the involvement of civic institutions and the church.
Although the dictatorship is not seen as a good thing in general now, the political discourse over this past 35 years has been very much like what Jack is describing (in a way that seems less satirical the way reality usually is). The comparison to current political climate seems satirical because the Nazi lost in 1945, but in Latin America they most certainly won and much more recently.

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Froborr 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Brilliant and devastating. Some of Jack's best work, and that is SAYING something.

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Andrew 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Such a good post. Keep coming back to it.

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Austin G Loomis 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The opening epigraph reminded me ineluctably of a metaphor used by Daniel Quinn as a passim reference in his first book of Ishmael, a reference he subsequently expanded into the novel A.D.: After Dachau. As a metaphor for the way what he calls "Taker" culture has distorted (where it couldn't fully suppress) the memory of the "Leavers" it displaced and destroyed, he imagines a world where, when a sufficient amount of time had passed since their victory, the Nazis gradually erased all memory of the Jews, the Slavs, and other alternatives to the Aryan ideal, leaving people with only a vague sense that there was something missing from history.

As a throwaway line in a novel, it was short and to the point. I've not read A.D. because I'm not sure it needed to be told at novel-length, any more than I'm sure How the Grinch Stole Christmas has ever needed expansion to even one feature film, let alone two.

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glorianna 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I take the point but what do "civil rights struggles" even look like after genocide? Integrating schools so dead kids get an education along the living? Who advocates for the culture of the exterminated in your parable is an interesting question.

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Devin 3 months, 2 weeks ago

If there were only two kinds of people in the world (Jewish people and True Aryans) this would be on point.

But of course there are lots of other groups, and be assured a post-Holocaust Nazi regime has the tools to categorize and rank them. Civil rights struggles would be for everyone else. Can a kid with a limp get an education? What about a Catholic? A Greek? Sure, Japanese nationals have formal legal equality as a legacy of the Axis, but they still face discrimination. And so forth.

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Voxpoptart 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Joining the chorus of praise — that was brilliant, Jack. Not sure I want to say “that’s your best ever” because it implies that the other pieces you’ve done that I love (e.g. “Koba the Ape” or your “Gridlock” piece) aren’t. But it’s your most briefly, efficiently powerful.

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Tbu 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Why wouldn’t they continue to portray Jews as grotesque monsters and celebrate their destruction? If someone contradicts them, they look at let them like they just said the world is flat, point to the historical consensus, broken only to a limited degree by a brief period of decadence that led to two world wars, that Jews are grotesque and villainous, and to the incredible rise in living standards across the world in the brief period since their destruction. Don’t you know that since the Jews where exterminated the average lifespan has increased by such and such years, the literacy rate has exploded etc.

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Tbu 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I also don’t think they would have very critical or dissident voices on tv or in universities, comedic or not, as I’m under the impression that some one party states and dictatorships today that don’t need to maintain a permanent war footing still effectively censor media. Something like the censorship in present day China where criticism of mao in classrooms and on tv is banned, but by a more powerful and centralized state with a more vicious and authoritarian ideology.

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Lambda 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Because moderate vitriol would be enough to do the job?

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Przemek 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I imagine the official propaganda would aim to present the country as more humane than in the past (if only for PR reasons), hence the compassion for the murdered Jews. But I do think what you wrote is exactly what people would be saying in private, while having a beer at a family meeting, when they could just relax and "say how it really is".

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Przemek 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Very well done.

I live in Poland and we have Polish neo-Nazis here. It used to shock me. It doesn't anymore.

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Anton B 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Incredible piece of writing Jack. This hit me hard. One of those illuminating articles that clarifies
something one's always felt but couldn't articulate.

The real chill for me of course, as a Jew, was the doublethink of pleasure in knowing I would not be there to witness such a world.

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John G. Wood 3 months, 3 weeks ago

So clearly (and succinctly) put - I read it out to my family last night, and everyone agreed it was powerful. Thanks, Jack.

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