New Ways Of Seeing Conflicts

Observatory

There’s a bit of a war theme running through my head this week because of the Armistice commemorations, and the sense that the passing of one hundred years since ‘the war to end all wars’ might bring some sense of closure. I hadn’t watched the BBC documentaries made by Adam Curtis about post-war life for a while, so I put one on last night. Specifically, it showed how the Nuremberg trial was subverted by abandoning all efforts to understand how ordinary German citizens could become caught up in Nazism, in favour of presenting a simplified picture of good VS evil, a technique subsequently adopted by governments around the world. In much the same way, Hannah Arendt’s efforts to explain ‘the banality of evil’ during the trial of Adolf Eichmann caused her statement to be regarded as an apologia.

Arendt attempted to explain how ordinary people become actors in totalitarian systems, which you can only do if you reach further back to the roots of discontent – and in this case you eventually arrive back at the First World War.

This may be why I’ve always been fascinated with the history of Central and Eastern Europe. This weekend I’m going to Ljubljana in Slovenia, then next month while in Krakow I’m going to visit Auschwitz; here’s only so much you can read before direct contact is required.

It took America a long time to realise that Europe is darker, stranger and more complex than they imagined, and there may not be much more understanding now that a Putin-fixated POTUS can’t tell the difference between the Baltics and the Balkans (an April speech by Trump opened by chastising the Baltic leaders for starting the war in the 1990s that ended with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, much to the confusion of the attendees).

On several of my past trips I’ve visited museums, prisons and houses of detention, from the Hanoi Hilton to Lithuania’s KGB building, and they are being reclaimed in ever more intelligent ways, shifting focus from the oppressors to the oppressed and reducing one’s sense of helplessness by showing how past legacies can be reshaped by art and culture. For example, the colourisation of war photographs has returned immediacy to the participants in conflict. Peter Jackson’s documentary ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ has brought a new level of technical expertise to the restoration of these artifacts.

I was born just eight years after the end of WWII and as a child already considered emerging war photographs to be ancient history. Now we can find new ways of relating to and understanding past tragedies.

 

 

21 comments on “New Ways Of Seeing Conflicts”

  1. Bernard Abramson says:

    While it is undoubtedly true that “It took America a long time to realise that Europe is darker, stranger and more complex than they imagined” it is also paradoxical as many Europeans fled to the US between the 18th and early 20th centuries precisely to escape the darkness and strangeness of Europe.

  2. SteveB says:

    Chris if you are interested in this subject and can read German I would highly recommend the book Lemberg: Die vergessene Mitte Europas

    There‘s so much that people in the UK are unaware of about Europe.

    Bulgaria was in very much the same relationship to Turkey as Ireland to Britain, until its liberation. And where the Brits hung 16 rebel leaders in the Irish uprising, the Turks massacred thousands of civiluans in the Bulgarian uprising just 40 years esrlier. But in Ireland, there ‚s still a lot of hate for the Brits, in Bulgaria the favourite soap ooeras are turkish. Really interesting why such a basically similar starting point could oan out so differentky today.

  3. Brooke says:

    What Bernard said. And these waves of immigration, the darkness and strangeness associated with the parts of Europe that drove immigration shaped much of the labor movement in the US and the hostility toward it.

    To SteveB’s point, there is much that people in US is unaware of about …just about everyone else–

  4. Ian Luck says:

    Trump’s as thick as pigshit. He still believes that millions of people should trust their country’s finances to a malignant narcissist who has been bankrupt on several different occasions. If you’ve only got the very faintest grasp of the world outside your ego, then geography doesn’t really matter. No, I’m not a fan.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    It’s interesting that the union organisers in Canada were so very largely Scottish, but since they were also often coal miners perhaps it’s not so strange.
    Is the lack of understanding of Europe perhaps caused by parents becoming as American as possible as quickly as possible and not passing on any information about the old world? My Great Uncle Herman said that that was why none of his generation knew German.

  6. Jan says:

    The scale of the first world conflict which took place in Northern Italy and what is now Slovenia will surprise you Chris. Three of us once travelled by road from a N Slovenian ski resort to Venice (at carnival time which m made it really special) and the local bloke who did the DrIving told us a lot about the fighting. I think something crazy like three quarters of a million died. Almost totally forgotten by the wider world now and always little known in comparison with the trench warfare in Northern France and Belgium.

    There’s a very famous road here which is pretty much falling apart now built by the Italians to Trans port troops and weapons. This road, high in the mountains and constructed through a winter, apparently is one of the diciest roads ever constructed.

    It’s like the conflicts in Northern Africa which we fleetingly recall through the charisma of Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence walked out of the peace conference at Versailles in the early 1920s when Libya, Iran and other countries were largely constructed to fail by Britain and France. To keep these nations as subservient as the colonies they previously were. We are still living with the consequences of that conference now. Europe is certainly feeling the long reaching consequences of this Versailles conference.

    The fighting in Turkey – apart from Churchills ill fated decisions at Gallipoli are distant in our memories. Not in the minds of Australia and New Zealand but in the European memory they are largely forgotten.

    Germany moved colonists en masse from mid Africa to the Northern African states where they were put to work and still suffer from racism and prejudice even today.

    The whole consequences of WW1 won’t really be fully grasped for perhaps another century. Not only were the seeds for the next world war being sown but the consequences for the middle East, the creation of the Anzac spirit the true creation of the two recently federalised nations came about through WW1.

    There were even outbreaks of civil insurrection in the UK as far away as Southampton and Glasgow where the workers at Southampton port and munitions factories north of the border actually fought police and refused to continue working.

    The same sort of insurrection was occurring all around the continent the workers were coming perilously close to widespread revolution. Surprising perhaps that it only happened in Russia.

    .

  7. Jan says:

    The scale of the first world conflict which took place in Northern Italy and what is now Slovenia will surprise you Chris. Three of us once travelled by road from a N Slovenian ski resort to Venice (at carnival time which m made it really special) and the local bloke who did the DrIving told us a lot about the fighting. I think something crazy like three quarters of a million died. Almost totally forgotten by the wider world now and always little known in comparison with the trench warfare in Northern France and Belgium.

    There’s a very famous road here which is pretty much falling apart now built by the Italians to Transport troops and weapons. This road, high in the mountains and constructed through a winter, apparently is one of the diciest roads ever constructed.

    It’s like the conflicts in Northern Africa which we fleetingly recall through the charisma of Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence walked out of the peace conference at Versailles in the early 1920s when Libya, Iran and other countries were largely constructed to fail by Britain and France. To keep these nations as subservient as the colonies they previously were. We are still living with the consequences of that conference now. Europe is certainly feeling the long reaching consequences of this Versailles conference.

    The fighting in Turkey – apart from Churchills ill fated decisions at Gallipoli are distant in our memories. Not in the minds of Australia and New Zealand but in the European memory they are largely forgotten.

    Germany moved colonists en masse from mid Africa to the Northern African states where they were put to hard physical work and still suffer from racism and prejudice even today.

    The whole consequences of WW1 won’t really be fully grasped for perhaps another century. Not only were the seeds for the next world war being sown but the consequences for the middle East, the creation of the Anzac spirit the true creation of the two recently federalised nations came about through WW1.

    There were even outbreaks of civil insurrection in the UK as far away as Southampton and Glasgow where the workers at Southampton port and munitions factories north of the border actually fought police and refused to continue working.

    The same sort of insurrection was occurring all around the continent the workers were coming perilously close to widespread revolution. Surprising perhaps that it only happened in Russia.

    .

  8. Jan says:

    See I have fully perfected me trick of always sending u e-mails X2 now extended it to to your blog.

    Impressed ? course u r.

    Ljubljana is a lovely little city. There’s a great seafood and fish restaurant built on a sort of lower road/walkway near the famous bridge. Great place.

    If you get chance travel up to Lake Bohinj (not Bled) and the Triglav mountains. It’s fantastic and have a look at the churches with your namesake saint painted in his giant size form on the outside of otherwise white churches. Medieval really the representation of Saint Christopher. Who pretty much was a saintly superstar.
    Have nice time Chris + Pete.

  9. Brooke says:

    Well said so it bears repeating.

  10. Roger says:

    “It’s like the conflicts in Northern Africa which we fleetingly recall through the charisma of Lawrence of Arabia. ”

    Lawrence of Arabia operated in…Arabia, not North Africa, Jan. Libya was put together by Italy before WWI and Iran – as Persia – has a history thousands of years old. Germany’s colonies were in mid and South West Africa. Lettow-Vorbeck, the German General, used conscripted porters on a large scale – as did his opponents – but none went to North Africa. There were unsuccessful revolutions in Bavaria and Hungary as well as Russia.

  11. SteveB says:

    it was Iraq which was in 3 provinces under the Turkish empire and which were aggregated into one ‘country’ after WWI but unsurprisingly never successfully integrated.
    The Sykes/ Picot line is the Anglo-French thing.
    North Africa (except Suez!) was never any concern of the UK. It was taken over to end the slave trade, which actually took more Europeans to Africa than Africans taken to the US, but which is forgotten today. The second largest slave trade was to Brazil and run by Portugal.

  12. SteveB says:

    I should have written, US and Caribbean.

  13. Jan says:

    Sorry a m having a bad day h ere

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Jan, hope your day is improving.
    We have a pair of binoculars through which a family friend saw Lawrence during the War – near the Canal, I believe, just after Akaba, perhaps? I wish I could be sure images seen live on. Just in case, I don’t use the binoculars just in case there is an echo of that image.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – for some reason, your last, fascinating entry, made me think of my favourite M.R. James story – ‘A View From A Hill’, which is all about the ‘Echoes Of Vision’… On a holiday in Dorset, my dad took us on a drive, which at one point, came to the stretch of road near his tiny cottage at Clouds Hill, where, in 1935, one ‘Aircraftsman Shaw’ swerved to avoid some kids on their bicycles, and was thrown over the handlebars of his Brough Superior motorcycle, and fatally injured. ‘Aircraftsman Shaw’ was the name used by T.E. Lawrence as he served in the R.A.F.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    It should read ‘the’ before tiny cottage. It reads as though the cottage were dad’s. It wasn’t.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    There are a number of stories and thinkings about resonance – aural or visual – and I’ve always wondered about the possibilities. People are quick to believe in personality resonance (ghosts) but the other possibilities not so much. The closest we seem to come are photographs and sound recordings.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    Photographs and sound recordings. It doesn’t do to think too hard about this – tens of thousands, if not millions, of dead people, demolished buildings, extinct animals, and long scrapped vehicles, all held in limbo on slivers of plastic, or bits of pasteboard. I do tend to wonder about stuff like this. We have thousands of photographs at home, and of those, a good 50% are of people I do not recognize – old friends of my parents, old neighbours, etc., but here’s the thing: neither I nor my brother can bring ourselves to throw any of them away. A slightly drunken conversation we had shortly after mum died, came to the conclusion that they deserved to exist, but if we threw them away, they would pass from memory, and be lost forever. So they sit, in their albums and boxes, slowly fading, as the rivers of time gently wash them away. After dad died (two years before mum), mum did destroy a lot of photographs dad had kept. Amongst the bits I found, was one of an uncle and aunt who were Welsh, and spoke little English. They were old when I was a child, and I probably only saw them half a dozen times, but I remember them being lovely people, and I was fascinated that I couldn’t understand most of what they said. The photo mum, in her grief, had torn up, was the only one we had of them. Of all the thousands of photographs and slides we have, that was the only one of them. And I checked, very carefully. Typical.

  19. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, Ian, I understand that. I have a number of photos who are, well, who? Don’t know. However, there is an on-line site called Dead Fred (really). You can put scanned copies there for people to look at and and possibly identify. You might even find a picture of that Welsh uncle and aunt taken by someone who met them only once and are now totally unknown by the family. (if you follow that.) The site is indexed and we are often told to post our Dead Fred pictures but I think most of us feel that there’s no chance anyone will recognize them. Apparently they do get recognized.

  20. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – It’s a good idea, and could work for younger people. My relatives were old in the early 1970’s, and the chance of anyone still living who knew them is extremely slight. Weirdly, though, in the mid 1980’s, myparents went on holiday in the central part of Spain. They met a man who bought old, closed pubs in the UK, restored them and re opened them as operating pubs. As they were talking, the man said that he was working on a pub on the Welsh border. He said what road it was on… And my father told him it’s name. Rather shaken by this, the man asked dad how he could possibly know that. Dad replied that it was the pub his uncle Gwilym and aunt Bessie used to own. Small world.

  21. Helen Martin says:

    We were visiting in New Brunswick – on the Atlantic coast – and at coffee after church met a young woman who was taking a French course. Asked where she was from and was told Gibsons, B.C. where she had just graduated high school. I laughed and she was bemused. My high school, I replied. She said she had just been given a bursary for her intended medical course and I said that she had just met my Mother who presented that bursary on my deceased Father’s behalf. These things do happen every once in a while. It’s a weird feeling.

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