• Germany edition
 
Germany's collective blame phobia
Photo: DPA

Germany's collective blame phobia

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

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
North braces for storms and floods
Cars waiting to be loaded onto the ferry at Bremerhaven, Lower Saxony, were caught in flooding on Wendnesday. Photo: DPA

North braces for storms and floods

UPDATE: The remnants of hurricane Gonzalo have drifted across the Atlantic and are now threatening North German cities with flooding, forecasters warned on Wednesday. The news followed a night of accidents caused by heavy winds in southern Germany. READ  

Kerry's challenge to Russia at Berlin Wall
US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Berlin Wall. Photo: DPA

Kerry's challenge to Russia at Berlin Wall

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited remnants of the Berlin Wall on Wednesday and warned that East-West tensions again threaten freedom in Europe, 25 years after its collapse. READ  

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Sonneborn in the EU Parliament. Photo: DPA

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train

Martin Sonneborn can’t believe his luck. The German comedian, leader of the political party “Die Partei”, managed to get elected to the European Parliament in May, and has found himself overwhelmed with fresh material. READ  

The Local List
Which high school cliche is your city?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock

Which high school cliche is your city?

This week's Local List takes a leap of imagination and finds German cities fit perfectly into high school cliche categories. Who's the class clown? Who's the nerd? READ  

Indian schools drop German teaching
Indian pupils enrolled in German classes prepare for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit to their school. Photo: DPA

Indian schools drop German teaching

Thousands of children in India will no longer be taught German after the country's education ministry allowed a contract to lapse. READ  

Syria-bound US teens stopped in Frankfurt
A passenger plane landing at Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA

Syria-bound US teens stopped in Frankfurt

Three teenage girls from Colorado were arrested by German police at Frankfurt airport after running away from home, reportedly on their way to join Isis in Syria. READ  

Tourists stranded on cable car over Rhine
Tuesday night's rescue operation Photo: DPA

Tourists stranded on cable car over Rhine

Six people, including a family and two American tourists, were left dangling 40 metres in the air over the Rhine for hours late on Tuesday after Cologne's cable car came to a halt. READ  

7:1! Bayern celebrate record in Rome
Arjen Robben celebrates the first goal against AS Roma. Photo: DPA

7:1! Bayern celebrate record in Rome

Bayern Munich were elated on Tuesday night after securing a 7-1 victory against Roma in their group stage Champions League clash. READ  

Nazi U-boat wreck found off US coast
A preserved World War II U-Boat on the beach near Kiel, Germany. Photo: DPA

Nazi U-boat wreck found off US coast

A World War II German U-boat and an American merchant vessel it sank in battle have been found deep in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, officials said on Tuesday. READ  

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?
Coming soon? Photo: DPA

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?

Berlin's bid to set up a free city-wide wireless network has so far come to nothing. But city bosses are now trying for a fourth time - and hope to have the project running next year. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: World's biggest erotic fair opens in Berlin
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The ten richest people in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,491
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd