Over this trip to Germany, I have been reading a book that I thought was simply a travel narrative of Europe. The book, titled “In Europe”, is actually an interesting journey through the last 100 or so years in Europa, from 1900ish to 2000ish. The writer begins the book at the turn of the 18th century to the 19th, contrasting the 20th as a litmus for all that was happening at the time.
This has also proven to be quite useful in my own personal journey during this time as I come to realize that I am also becoming part of Europe as more than half of my family presides directly on this contentient. Each day presents new challenges as I contrast my own life as an American with the lives of Europeans. The differences are seemingly large–we view this land in totally different ways because of the time that we have to interact with not only the spaces, but the times as well.
As an American, I think I seem to be obsessed with the wars that plagued this country for so many years, both devasting the land, the people and the culture. However, the more that I learn about it, the more I see that it is becoming so far of the past that it is rather difficult to draw the conclusions of how this place become now what it is from such devastation. The times, for the first time in nearly a century, have been, for the most part, calm for the last decade. The book, “In Europe” is more informative of the wars than anything I have come across here, either accidentally or intentionally–and its not because the people are willing to talk about it–it’s moreso that they simply do not think about it. When I recite facts of things that I have been reading. For example: When the Nazi’s working in the concentration camps would see someone with an interesting tattoo on their body, they would remove it from them (either killing them or just removing the skin) and make lampshades out it. When I told a couple people this, they nodded, knowing it, but of course where in conversation would that really come up. “I know the war was terrible and the Nazi’s did terrible things like ________, but that’s all in the past now, so….”
We all want to move on from the devasting parts of life and the reality is that the German people are now almost two generations gone from that period of time. The last super power to have a government that took its own people down a simillar pathway would have to be the Americans with the suspension of civil liberties and freedoms in the name of terrorism, led by George W Bush. That fact is still suppressed because, much like the aftermath of the war, it’s too soon to really look at what has been done and accept responsibility. I wish Bush would read this book and think about the millions of people that were killed all because a group of people simply couldn’t agree on things. As both wars dragged on, particularly the first World War, the people living in the trenches on both sides of the war began to realize that they had been duped into fighting for something that wasn’t in reality, what any of them really stood for. The book constantly refers to the moments where the generals were running the battles from a safe distance with no regard to the people that were being killed off in the name of their own planning– and this happened on both sides– very little value was placed internally on the lives of soldiers. In the end the Americans were proclaimed as the victors because they had so little at stake in both wars– America came into the first World War only when the Germans began to torpedo the American ships carrying supplies to England– the war, just like the Second WW, had been going on for many years before the Americans got involved. When they did though, it was a massive operation with millions of fresh bodies entering a war that had all but destroyed everyone around them. The trench soldiers had been living in conditions that no one living would choose– and were skiddish warriors at best.
Regardless, stumbling upon these moments of history on this trip are moments which I hold with very high regard. Having a book like “In Europe” makes me hungry to know more about a place which holds so much history–that makes our young country seem so young and inexperienced with tragedy. Perhaps that is why we made the mistakes we have in our young history — we have so little history and understanding of the true tragedies of the rest of the world. That is what travelling, in a sense, is all about– experiencing these other cultures in order to put it against our own.