Friday, September 16, 2016
I learned a great number of things from translating the first part of Jules Huret's l'Allemagne Moderne from French to English last year. Translating is an entirely different world compared to just reading a book, as you are essentially creating a new one and everything has to be checked. Without looking into what an author writes about in great detail it's impossible to translate a book with any degree of confidence. I'm very much looking forward to the opportunity to translate parts 2 and 3.
After publishing it though I noticed something very peculiar, and learned something else quite unexpected. Maybe it shouldn't have been unexpected, but perhaps I've spent so long in this pre-WWI world that I've forgotten how others view recent history.
The online response to the book and to pre-WWI Germany was very good. See this thread on Reddit for example when I gathered the book's images together: 3180 points, 94% positive votes, and 266 comments. Other sites picked up on it, a great deal of good discussion was had, everything I had hoped for.
But when bringing up the book in real life, or online using real names, I noticed something very odd. Nobody wants to touch the subject! German newspapers, funds, news studios, regular people I encounter, pastors, all of them seem very squeamish. One pastor at a Lutheran church I spoke with was very interested in learning German, and during the conversation I asked whether any churches he knew had a service at all similar to the ones carried out during the German Empire, how much old-school German tradition gets carried on by their church, etc. His response: "Well, we don't want to associate ourselves with that."
With what? An up-and-coming empire that, like all the others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, exchanged elbows with the others for prestige and position and was one of the fateful participants in a war for which all had some fault and which never should have happened?
Now there is a chance he was referring to Germany's treatment of Belgium during the war, but I doubt it. The war crimes during WWI (outside of the Ottoman Empire) were more of the typical wartime variety, including some committed by the UK, before the war we had the first large-scale user of concentration camps during the Second Boer War, Belgium as we know was particularly brutal as a colonial power in the Congo...and nobody says they don't want to associate themselves with that when talking about these countries during this era.
And besides, the book was published in 1912/13, and is about prewar Germany.
So where does all this shuffling of feet come from when discussing the book in person? You already know the answer to that: yes, it's Nazis. It's coming from a fear of liking Germany at any point in time, because as we know it is going to become a horror during the 1930s and into the next decade. On one side we have people with a very faint knowledge of history that think pre-WWI Germany must be sort of Nazi-like because eventually it does become Nazi Germany, and Germans themselves who are so sorry for WWII that they don't even want to bring up the subject of WWI.
Now why is this important? In my opinion having an incorrect view of this period of history leads to extremism. Let me explain.