when words lose their meaning

the Feldherrnhalle where the Bavarian State Police and the Nazis confronted one another

Was going through the papers this morning, and I knew I’d feel it necessary to finally write this today. It’s been festering in my brain for the last few days, and to be honest it’s something I knew I’d eventually be getting round to talking about.

Let’s start with the news today. The German government is threatening not to agree to the next instalment of the Greek bailout if the Greek government doesn’t show that they’ve instituted reforms. The Germans got specific about figures, and even went so far as to demand that so many government workers had to be laid off.

The Greek politician interviewed was incensed, and made noises about sovereignty, which under the circumstances are to be expected. His argument was essentially, ‘Hey, you can’t send EU officials in here that’ll be able to make decisions about the running of the Greek economy.’ It makes a lot of sense what the politician is saying, and the idea of a European bureaucrat running his country is exactly what makes the normal Greek citizen so uncomfortable.

Just the possibility of citizens losing their national sovereignty is one of the things that drives citizens in every EU countryto be a bit nervous if not aggressive. The pictures they see on their television are of German and French leaders getting together and making deals, and the news is always of tighter and tighter austerity.

And the easiest, least creative thing to call the Germans in this situations is a bunch of Nazis. When Germans travel, and people want to ridicule them, the most common curse they hear is ‘You bloody Nazi’. It’s mindless. It’s a sort of knee-jerk reaction to think German=Nazi.

Here’s the sad thing. There are, in fact, some Nazis left. Not the Neo-Nazis that march each February to memorialise the Bombing of Dresden. That’s not who I’m talking about. No, there are living Nazis, and they’re actually rather sad. They’re very old men who either served short prison sentences or avoided doing so by either convincingly arguing they were only following orders or simply blending back into society.

When I think about them, I have to believe that even they know they were on the wrong side of history. They must look around at the swirl of modern life, where people of all colours and creeds live in relative peace, and it must be self-evident that their suppositions and certainties were wrong. Even if it’s not the case, they’re old and brittle and they’ll be gone soon enough.

You could definitely argue the injustice of them being able to live to a ripe old age. I won’t argue with you there, but it’s not at all my point. My point is that the people who today are so casually accused of being Nazis are actually the least deserving of that moniker. They were raised in a society that was shamed and demoralised by the atrocities of the war.

The irony of me even writing about any of this is that I don’t know that much about the National Socialists. Oh, I’m sure I know more than the average person just from living here and visiting the historical sights, but I’m no expert. I’m fascinated with the economical miracle that occurred after the war. I’ve always been drawn to the music and art of the German people.

But the Nazis? Not so much. I understand why it’s important to know about what happened. I do believe that humans continue to be capable of some horrendous things. The thing is when you call a politician who’s trying to save the European currency a Nazi or when you compare the American President to a Nazi…when you do those things, then the meaning of Nazi no longer means anything. It’s just a brainless form of demonisation.

You’re saying more about yourself than you could ever begin to say about those terrible Nazis.