“What Have We Learned, If Anything?”

Wer sich ausführlich mit Geschichte beschäftigt, stellt sich diese Frage zwangsläufig, wenn er die aktuellen weltpolitischen Ereignisse verfolgt. Kluge Antworten darauf sind selten, weshalb Tony Judts Essay in der New York Review of Books 7/08 besondere Beachtung verdient. Seiner Meinung nach hat vor allem Amerika die relevanten Lehren aus dem 20. Jahrhundert nicht gezogen:

With the exception of the generation of men who fought in World War II, the United States thus has no modern memory of combat or loss remotely comparable to that of the armed forces of other countries. But it is civilian casualties that leave the most enduring mark on national memory and here the contrast is piquant indeed. In World War II alone the British suffered 67,000 civilian dead. In continental Europe, France lost 270,000 civilians. Yugoslavia recorded over half a million civilian deaths, Germany 1.8 million, Poland 5.5 million, and the Soviet Union an estimated 11.4 million. These aggregate figures include some 5.8 million Jewish dead. Further afield, in China, the death count exceeded 16 million. American civilian losses (excluding the merchant navy) in both world wars amounted to less than 2,000 dead.

As a consequence, the United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures glorify and exalt the military, a sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945 but quite unknown today. Politicians in the US surround themselves with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess; even in 2008 American commentators excoriate allies that hesitate to engage in armed conflict. I believe it is this contrasting recollection of war and its impact, rather than any structural difference between the US and otherwise comparable countries, which accounts for their dissimilar responses to international challenges today. Indeed, the complacent neoconservative claim that war and conflict are things Americans understand—in contrast to naive Europeans with their pacifistic fantasies —seems to me exactly wrong: it is Europeans (along with Asians and Africans) who understand war all too well. Most Americans have been fortunate enough to live in blissful ignorance of its true significance.

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