My most recent book argued that Americans--and other peoples--have much to learn from Germany about historical reckoning. Historically, nations cultivate heroic narratives; failing that, they seek narratives of victimhood. Germany was the first nation to confront its vast crimes during World War II, and acknowledge that it had been neither hero nor victim but perpetrator.
This may seem obvious to outside observers, but this process was a long and hard one; in the first four decades after the war, West Germany considered itself the war’s worst victim. Dedicated grassroots work, along with foreign policy considerations, forced far-reaching changes in attitude. In the past two years, however, German historical reckoning has gone awry in many ways. I will discuss this, along with parallels to current developments in the U.S.