As its title suggests, Goetz Aly's latest book constitutes an inquiry – more an extended essay than a deeply-researched monograph – into the origins oAs its title suggests, Goetz Aly's latest book constitutes an inquiry – more an extended essay than a deeply-researched monograph – into the origins of the Holocaust. He argues that modern German anti-Semitism emerged from the disruptive economic changes of the nineteenth century, which tended disproportionately to benefit Jews and bewilder Christians. The Industrial Revolution and the growth of large cities threatened the “relatively lethargic German majority” (16), who preferred the cozier rural world of the eighteenth century, but offered opportunities to Jews, newly liberated from the restrictive laws of the old regime and already familiar with entrepreneurship and the urban scene. By the second half of the 1800s German Jews enjoyed, on the whole, better health and more wealth than their Christian counterparts, and many were moving into the educated professions. “Aryan” Germans came to resent Jews as “embodi[ments]” of a disruptive new economic order (67).
Meanwhile, Germany was evolving into a united nation-state, but after the failure of the 1848 revolutions, German nationalism had assumed a conservative, xenophobic, and bullying cast. In the 1880s and '90s some demagogues saw opportunity in the merging of several of these developments: nationalism, fear of change, and distrust of successful Jews. The Anti-Semitic movement assured Aryan Germans that if they found it hard to compete in an industrial society, they were not to blame – they had been deprived of their birthright by the Jews, those wealthy alien malefactors. Acting collectively, the “real” Germans could reclaim the wealth, traditions, and unity that the Jewish-dominated modern world had taken from them.
The Nazis used this particular message, combining corporatist solidarity with the promise of economic advancement, to win converts to their cause and then to win elections. The Nazis' subsequent assault on the Jews began as an economic one, driving them from the educated professions, seizing their property, and redistributing the spoils to Aryans. The turn to mass murder, Aly argues, resulted from some Nazis’ admiration of Turkish ethnic cleansing, and from the regime’s policy of euthanizing mentally ill or handicapped Aryans. Once the National Socialists accepted the corporate body of the nation as the highest good, they found it easy to attack individuals who allegedly threatened that body’s health. Ordinary German gentiles did not necessarily favor extermination, but their resentment of Jewish success had made them indifferent to Jews’ fate.
This is an appealing argument to those who appreciated Aly's earlier work, on the economic appeal of Nazism to German gentiles, but it presents at least one significant problem. The Nazis shared much in common with anti-Semitic reactionaries, but they were careful to present themselves as modernists, leading the German nation into a revolutionary new future. Their appeal to the masses lay in economic development and the use of new mass media, and their exterminationist program grew from the twentieth-century “science” of eugenics, an import from the ultra-modern United States. In a sense, the answer to “Why the Germans?” is “Because they wholeheartedly embraced the modern, scientific world.” If that is true, however, Germans who hated Jews as “embodiments of modernity” would have hated the Nazis just as thoroughly. Aly, I think, doesn’t adequately emphasize the enormous discontinuity in German history between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, between the uprooted peasants and townspeople of Metternich’s day and the more urbane and technologically-savvy bourgeois of the late Wilhelmine era. To be sure, such an admission would have caved a big hole in his thesis, as the latter group had far less reason to resent Jews than their predecessors. In the end, Aly’s book makes for an engaging read, but I am still more drawn to Eric Hoffer’s explanation of Nazi anti-Semitism, which is that no mass movement can succeed without a Devil....more
The paucity of sources on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) makes for big differences in how authors assess life within that nation's bThe paucity of sources on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) makes for big differences in how authors assess life within that nation's borders. Accounts by refugees and dissidents emphasize North Korea's poverty, corruption, and the brutality of its regime, while scholars and sojourners dependent on elite sources tend to focus on North Koreans' support for the Kim family, and the gradual infiltration of foreign goods and media into the country. Daniel Tudor and James Pearson's NORTH KOREA CONFIDENTIAL falls into the latter category; the authors' sources include dissidents' accounts but also reports by diplomats and NGO employees and information provided by Chinese traders. They find that things in North Korea aren't quite as dire as the dissidents report, and that life has improved in most parts of the country since the “Arduous March” of the 1990s, but economic privileges tend to concentrate in the cities and among members of the “Loyal” political caste (20% of the population), and the regime remains as brutal and repressive as ever.
Economically, the DPRK is no longer socialist. The famine of 1996-2000 destroyed people's willingness to depend on the state for their survival, forced men and women into the marketplace, and obliged officials to turn a (mostly) blind eye to cross-border trade with China. The Chinese have responded to the Korean demand for their merchandise by producing commodities specifically for the DPRK, like ultra-low-power TVs. Many if not most city-dwellers have access, via DVDs and memory sticks, to South Korean TV shows and American movies – TITANIC, of course, is a big favorite. Millions listen to foreign shortwave broadcasts. North Korea's citizens have begun to acquire and flaunt “trendy” foreign clothes and hairstyles, though this remains illegal and fashionistas tend to be those sufficiently well-connected to bribe their way out of a jail sentence.
North Korea has its own locally-produced pleasures. Books, at least of the popular literary kind, are rare, but there is a great demand for state-produced comic books, all of them propagandistic but most with halfway-decent story lines. The government also produces its own tablet computers, complete with a North Korean version of Angry Birds (object: to smash the edifice of world capitalism, or so I assume). At least 1 in 6 North Koreans has access to a computer of some kind. And even in rural areas, the state does not discourage the citizenry from “eumjugamu,” or carousing, drinking beer and performing karaoke. This kind of minor liberal consumerism is common-place in stable communist countries, but represents a dramatic break from the DPRK's autarkic, totalitarian governing ideology.
Tudor and Pearson acknowledge that North Korea remains as politically repressive as ever. The Kim dynasty remains entrenched in power, their semi-divine status built up by Kim Jong Il in the 1970s to curry favor with his father, and subsequently affirmed by the Workers' Party. Real power in the country, however, appears increasingly to rest with other entities, particularly the Party's Organization and Guidance Department. The OGD monitors the loyalty of all 4 million Party members, maintains a network of informants, vets all political appointments, and apparently helps the Party keep control of the Army. The Party rewards its loyal adherents with comfortable jobs and with the luxuries that billions of dollars in foreign aid and illegal drug money (from foreign sales of methamphetamine) can buy. And awaiting its enemies are the brutal political prisons, or gwalliso, described in such works as ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14, de facto death camps where the regime imprisons not only dissidents but all of their family members. The authors suggest the populations of the four major gwalliso may have been shrinking, but only because the number of inmates killed by starvation and mistreatment now exceeds the prisons' intake. Those who read about North Korea must learn not to look for too many silver linings. Still, there are more of them in this unexpectedly-optimistic book than most other recent works about the DPRK....more