• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Germany's collective blame phobia

The Local · 21 May 2013, 16:38

Published: 21 May 2013 16:38 GMT+02:00

People don't always make the best choices, even if their aims are honest. Realizing this can be painful but it doesn't debase our common morality. We have to try to do what's right without presuming that our choice would automatically be so.

The Germans collectively made themselves so guilty for what happened between 1933 and 1945 that they've been trying to avoid being blamed for anything else ever since. They can't stand to leave any trace of their existence and are compelled to calculate their choices decades in advance. It's a particular form of German angst that was long confused with a general fear of concrete catastrophes. But aversion to nuclear energy, environmental destruction, global warming, war, contaminated food, and even having children are all based on the same fearful foundation: How do I avoid contributing to calamity?

This question at first sounds honourable enough. In times of war, in Afghanistan for example, the Germans hardly care what happens to their own soldiers, but are intensely worried about what their troops do to others. While the military brass in America, Britain and France usually have to justify their own heavy casualties, the biggest scandal in Germany revolves around a botched air strike called in by a German colonel that left scores of Afghan civilians dead. Other nations consider this a particular form of self abuse – the Germans love to flagellate themselves.

There are countless examples of this über-eager German compulsion to take the collective blame for some misery somewhere.

When a textile sweatshop collapses in Bangladesh, it's not the building's architect or the local authorities responsible, but rather German consumers buying the cheap t-ships produced there. It isn't just the neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe and her four accomplices in the dock at the NSU terror trial, but rather Germans' collective racism. And German drivers whose big German cars spew too much CO2 into the air are to blame for floods in Asia, famine in Africa and violent hurricanes in the Caribbean.

Not forgetting, of course, the euro crisis. Seeing unemployment soar across southern Europe while protesters portray Angela Merkel with a Hitler moustache on her upper lip, many Germans contritely ask themselves if their chancellor's austerity drive is causing widespread despair.

Everyone seems to overlook the fact that there is no real austerity – the 17 eurozone members took on €375 billion in new debt last year. Spain's deficit tops 10 percent of its GDP, as it does in Greece. France will break the EU's deficit limit both this year and the next.

We can undoubtedly construct chains of causality between our own actions and greater calamities, however, this can quickly damn us to indecision and impotence. Isn't driving a car an act of gross negligence? Everyone has seen the statistics! Shouldn't pedestrians be forced to wear helmets in the event of an accident? Doesn't eating strawberries from Spain and avocados from Mexico incur steep transportation and energy costs? And anyone crazy enough to have children inheriting record debt and climate catastrophes might as well just go to the casino and spin the roulette wheel.

Maybe we Germans are tripping up ourselves with our constant paranoid assessment of the consequences of our actions. For example, do we even know that organic food is really better? Perhaps a century from now, people whose bodies have learned to cope with chemicals and artificial aromas will have developed some evolutionary advantage. And are we certain that Bangladeshi factory workers will benefit from making t-shirts more expensive, or will they simply be thrown into unemployment and greater poverty?

Story continues below…

Living life leaves a mark. Living also causes unforeseeable consequences. In the end, living requires the courage to make decisions even when the upshot isn't yet clear.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Munich gunman planned attacks for one year: officials
Vigils continue in Munich to commemorate the victims, seven of whom were teenagers. Photo: DPA

The teenage gunman who killed nine people in Munich on Friday had been planning his attack for a year, according to German authorities.

Germany grapples with enigma of Munich gunman
A debate is already underway as to whether Germany's gun laws, which are already strict, should be tightened further. Photo: AFP

Investigators were seeking clues on Sunday into the mind of gunman David Ali Sonboly, the teen author of one of Germany's bloodiest killing sprees.

Munich shooting
 Social media a blessing and a curse in Munich shooting
The Munich gunman may have hacked a Facebook account to lure some of the victims to the McDonald's fast-food outlet where the shooting began. Photo: DPA

Social networks were both a curse and a blessing in the deadly shopping mall shooting in Munich, as police sometimes found themselves chasing fictitious leads and false alarms.

Munich shooting
Munich pulls together after shopping mall shooting
Photo: DPA

In the chaos after the Munich mall shooting, city residents spontaneously offered shelter to strangers - a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel said showed that Germany's strength lies in its values.

Munich shooting
Merkel deplores 'night of horror' in Munich
Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Munich had suffered a "night of horror" after a shooting spree in the southern German city left nine people dead.

Munich shooting
Munich attacker was shy video game fan
People laying flowers at the site of the shootings. Photo: DPA.

David Ali Sonboly was a quiet, helpful teenager who loved playing video games. His neighbours say there were no warning signs before his deadly rampage at a Munich shopping mall.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman inspired by rightwing Breivik: police
Photo: DPA

The lone teenager who shot dead nine people in a gun rampage in Munich was "obsessed" with mass killers such as Norwegian rightwing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and had no links to the Islamic State group, police said Saturday.

Munich shooting
Turks, Kosovans and a Greek among shooting victims
Photo: DPA

Three Turkish citizens were among the nine people killed in Germany's Munich mall shooting. Three Kosovans were also among the nine victims.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman was likely not Isis terrorist: police
Flowers laid at the Olympia Shopping Centre underground station. Photo: DPA

According to initial investigations by Munich police, the young man who went on a shooting rampage in Munich on Friday evening was a lone gunman without motive, not a terrorist.

Munich shooting
'Lone' Munich shooter kills nine, commits suicide
Photo: DPA

A teenage German-Iranian gunman who killed nine people in a shooting spree at a busy Munich shopping centre and then committed suicide had likely acted alone, German police said Saturday.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Analysis & Opinion
Nice was an attack on France, not on Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,713
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd