Monday, March 6, 2017

Historical Narratives, Namibia and Self-Respect

Can you imagine a statue honoring SS boss Heinrich Himmler being erected in Tel Aviv, Israel? No?
Do you think that current day residents of Nanjing, China would support a monument to the bravery of WW2 Japanese General (and Prince) Asaka, who oversaw the horrific Nanking Massacre? That probably wouldn't go over too well either. Well would modern day citizens of Bulgaria be in favor of a monument to the Ottoman Turkish general who ordered the Batak Massacre? Perhaps not. Presumably locals would be unmoved by callous arguments that these men were trying to bring civilization to recalcitrant ungrateful hardheaded backwards savages or that whatever atrocities occurred were regrettable, rare and overstated or that hey you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs or the old standby that it was a different time and place so we shouldn't judge those brave men by our current moral standards. It has always been a bad thing to rape and murder people. It has always been a bad thing to deliberately target non-combatants. It has always been a bad thing to attempt to wipe out entire groups of people. The problem is that humans are as a species very tribalistic. We often have difficulty applying the moral standards that we know are true to people who are not part of our tribe. And when someone looks different from us or has what we consider to be odd cultural patterns the more trouble we can have accepting that this person has the exact same moral claims to life, liberty and happiness that we do. So even though we know that certain actions are wrong often times it doesn't hit home that those things are wrong until someone does them to someone who either looks like you or someone that you care about. 

When someone does something evil to a person who has your sympathy and love it's usually a little easier to understand that certain actions are wrong, if for whatever reason you missed those lessons in Sunday school. This is just human nature unfortunately. In the same way that you would not think that citizens of Israel, Bulgaria or China would agree to honor people who murdered their ancestors you wouldn't think that citizens of Namibia would be too crazy about having statutes that commemorate German soldiers who committed genocide on Namibian ethnic groups. And surprise, surprise some indigenous citizens of Namibia are not interested in having statues of white colonial soldiers. 

SWAKOPMUND, Namibia — The statue, depicting a German marine holding a rifle in his hands and standing guard over a dying comrade, has stood undisturbed for decades in the most prominent spot in Swakopmund, a city on Namibia’s coast. It has survived the end of colonial rule in this corner of southern Africa, the subsequent occupation by apartheid South Africa, independence in 1990 and the present government by the black majority. But a few months ago protesters spilled red paint over the monument, which stands in front of a colonial building that is now known as the State House and serves as the summer residence of Namibia’s president. The statue, known as the Marine Denkmal, was erected in 1908 to commemorate soldiers who helped crush a rebellion against German colonial rule by the Herero and Nama ethnic groups, a war that led to what Germany’s current government is close to recognizing as a genocide.

“They can take it to Germany, or they can take it to a museum,” said Uahimisa Kaapehi, an ethnic Herero city councilor who introduced a motion for the monument’s removal. “We as Hereros and we as Namibians don’t want German soldiers in front of our State House.”

The push for the removal comes as the governments of Germany and Namibia are engaging in negotiations to close one of the grimmest chapters in Africa’s colonial history, the genocide of tens of thousands of Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1908. After decades of denial, German officials say they are ready to acknowledge the genocide formally, issue an apology and offer compensation.

Professor Zuern said the German-Namibian community was stuck in the past. Unlike Germans, who have slowly come to terms with their colonial past, many German-Namibians reflexively seek to defend the era, minimize its harmful legacy or even deny the genocide, she said. In public — and even more so in community meetings held in German — some German-Namibians still express the kind of racist views that would be unthinkable in South Africa or other neighboring countries, Professor Zuern said. 

Andreas Vogt, a German-Namibian whose great-grandparents immigrated to Namibia and the author of a book on the country’s national monuments, said Namibia lacked “an understanding of the historicity of a monument” and was guided by resentment toward the former colonial rulers. “The ideological mainstream is antiwhite,” Mr. Vogt said. “It is very easy to say that it was the white people who stole our land, and it is the white people who have all the wealth, and it is the white people whose kids go to better schools, and it is the white people who have everything while we have nothing. “This is a very simple statement,” he continued, “and I understand it fully, because the people of Africa, the majority, are of simple mind.

Gee, Andreas Vogt has done such a bang up job of assimilating to the majority culture hasn't he? Being against the recognition and celebration of the colonial oppressor is not being anti-white any more than recognizing Holocaust Day means you're anti-German. Vogt is lost in white supremacy. It's hardly an original thought on my part but it's often been said that history is not just about what happened but what we're supposed to think about what took place. Namibia used to be a German colony. Now it is not. Some Namibian residents who descended from the German illegal immigrants are apparently unhappy about that turn of events. So it goes. Times change. They need to make their peace with that or they need to go back to Germany. It's unrealistic to expect that any Namibian with any sense of self-respect would look fondly upon statues of German invaders who slaughtered Namibians attempting to defend their homeland. If Germans think that's worthy of respect and honor then at the very least those statues should be in Germany, not Namibia. Namibia is independent now. Those statues should have long since been destroyed.
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