Letter to Guardian
Garton Ash offers the Arab countries advice on overcoming their dictatorial pasts by holding up Germany as a model: ‘out of the experience of dealing with two dictatorships contemporary Germany offers the gold standard for dealing with a difficult past’ (Guardian 17 March - Germany can show reborn nations the art of overcoming a difficult past). His description is a good example of how not to conduct Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with history). His amnesia or ignorance of the way West Germany dealt with its Nazi past is astounding. Hitler’s chief of counter insurgency became the Federal Republic’s top intelligence agent, Nazi generals like Hans Speidel continued to serve in the top echelons of the army (General Bastian, who became a leading Green and peace campaigner was forced out of the Bundeswehr by unreconstructed Nazis still in positions of power); leading judges, doctors and academics who served the Nazis with ardent commitment continued in their former posts while those who had fought the fascists were often persecuted, had their pensions docked and were treated as lepers. The present meticulously orchestrated campaign against the GDR state security forces has more to do with extirpating any remaining ‘nostalgia’ for the GDR and of the idea of an alternative to capitalism than it does with a genuine desire to overcome the past.