The Year of Remembrance vs. the Year of Death: 1814, 1914, 1944, 2014…

 Below is the English translation of my speech given on June 14, 2014 at a historic manor house, in the village of Guthmannshausen, in the vicinity of Weimar, the state of Thuringia, Germany. The speech was delivered on the occasion of the 100thanniversary of the beginning of WWI, the 100th anniversary issue of the magazine Deutsche  Militärzeitschrift (DMZ) and the monthly magazine of politics and culture ZuErst! whose host and editor in chief, Dietmar Munier, marked on that occasion his 60th birthday.  This was a private event attended by approximately 150 people, mostly journalists and contributors to these journals, accompanied by their families.

*   *   *

Each anniversary year brings back memories of times past which one either wishes to revive for himself and his people, or administer to others as a political-pedagogical year of admonition. The German word “Gedenkjahr” cannot be easily translated into other languages, ​​and often this word causes serious misconceptions among different nations. The word “Gedenkjahr” is translated into English or French as “memorial year” and as “jubilee year” — two completely opposing political notions.  Depending on different nations, depending on their historical sentiments, an anniversary year can be memorized as hope, joy, and nostalgia. But it can also be used as an exhortation, a threat of punishment, or a fear-inducing tool. As far as our own anniversary year is concerned, we recall today our own life span and we enthuse about cheerful dates in our nation’s history.  When celebrating one’s happy birthday, and if one, as an old man, still retains good memory, such as Ernst Jünger and Johann Wolfgang Goethe did, then one can say that life has some meaning.

When one is past his 60th birthday one needs to raise a question: “Why any more anniversaries?” The Franco-Romanian philosopher Emile Cioran, an ultra-nihilist and cultural pessimist, wrote that one shouldn’t live past one’s 40th birthday. On the occasion of his 70th birthday Cioran said that any further well-wishing for further life sounds grotesque to him. In an interview, in 1987, several years before his death, he said:” Within fifty years, the Notre Dame will become a mosque.”

By contrast, when hostile nations or groups commemorate the anniversaries of their political disasters, they are often inclined to use the buzzphrase: “Never again!” Commemorative years convert then quickly into symbols of the year of the dead and the days of admonition, especially when hostile nations and groups start cobbling together their endless anniversaries and present them as victimhood teachings at the expense of other nations.

Then things get serious. We all remember today the anniversary of the Vienna Congress of 1814 which redrew the state borders in Europe. We all remember the year 1914 which began with the new Thirty Years War in Europe, rushing in the era of mass killings and mass expulsions. Everything is fine and beautiful with anniversaries when no state of emergency looms on the horizon.

Such a linear and optimistic mindset, inherent to the modern System, comes directly from the Age of Enlightenment. However, it can get problematic. It prevents modern citizens from getting a full insight into the cyclical mindset of their ancestors. In our so-called enlightened and freedom-loving System, citizens are embroiled in bizarre infra-political anniversaries, in a number of hagiographical tales going back to the Second World War.

Consequently, any criticism of the official anniversaries of the System is interpreted as criminal or pathological behavior. How dare one criticize the “anniversary of democracy” or “the anniversary of human rights” without getting punished?

I hope our colleague Mr. Munier and the magazines DMZ or ZuErst! will continue providing us with superior educational material. We are badly in need of a new anniversary of a new Enlightenment and a new process of demythologization of our contemporary history. It is useless to keep complaining about the present intellectual climate, as is the case with many of our colleagues. Calculated pessimism is often an excuse for idleness and passivity. The course of history remains always open, offering to all of us new opportunities.

The problem arises, though, when a historical separation breaks into the course of time and when, consequently, all well-wishing turns into death wishes. Many once praised and well-known politicians, just as many great thinkers and writers from our history then become trademarks of horror and their names are used by the System in order to better highlight its own do-gooders. What would Europe be today without countless days commemorating the fascist scarecrow? Probably the European Union would come apart and its architects would become jobless. We tend to forget that there is a fine line between the anniversary day and the memorial day, between adulation and defamation, between life and death.

When a state of emergency occurs, or in other words when a historical upheaval sets in, then we all become witnesses of a tragedy, whereby this tragedy can cause a permanent political neurosis for a people. This was described by Carl Schmitt in his little book Hamlet or  Hecuba, especially with his description of a sudden intrusion of political times into a relatively carefree and apolitical life. In other words, if tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, a state of emergency breaks into our fun-loving society, we will start commemorating differently our anniversary years.

Many of our acquaintances are not aware of such turning points in the flow of time. Many still believe in the theology of progress, in the Happy Ending where good always prevails. This is false. Only some of us, with a good sense of the tragic and with an extended sense of history can fully grasp it. We live without illusions. For example, in June 1941 the spiritual situation amidst the majority of Croats, on the occasion of the establishment of their new state was different from what it was in June 1945. In June 1945, Croatia disappeared from the map. In 1991, most Croats were full of joy with the re-emergence of their state, an event standing in sharp contrast to the present day situation with many Croatian citizens raising questions about any further utility of their state. Schopenhauer taught us that too much optimism always turns into its opposite.  

The Culture of Remembrance

Another problem with anniversaries lies in their record keeping.  After each upheaval new opinion makers always have the final word on the choice of the anniversary day. Many of today’s anniversaries are commemorated in the Federal Republic of Germany, but also elsewhere in the EU, as if they were to retain their permanent validity for all eternity. For the month of January we have the Holocaust Memorial Day, the Auschwitz Liberation Day (One can of course raise the questions as to what the Red Army had previously “liberated” in Pomerania or East Prussia on its way to the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945). In December we celebrate Human Rights Day; then in March, the Women’s Day. In the U.S., Martin Luther King commemoration holiday falls also in January. Soon we will have to mark our wall calendars with Gay-and-Lesbian and Transvestite Days. Cat lovers and crocodile worshippers will soon be scrambling for the anniversary days of their pets.

We live in the culture of the museum, in the culture of remembrance, where lost tribes or exotic species from hidden parts of the world must be now commemorated. For example, in Germany and Central Europe there are sites dedicated to the now extinct Neanderthal species. In Croatia, close to where I live, there is a village with the Neanderthal museum, with the world’s largest collection of the remains of Neanderthal man. It must not be excluded that a state or a government from Northern Africa or the Near East will, in the following years, demand restitution from the Croatian or German authorities on the basis of their alleged relationship to the late Neanderthals and the alleged extermination of the Neanderthals by the Croatian and the Germanic homo sapiens. To be a German today means to be a good paymaster.

By contrast, many former anniversaries finish their journeys in collective oblivion.  Who can remember the anniversary of the London drafted Beneš decrees of 1944, ratified in March 1946 by the new Czechoslovak government in order to legitimize the previous mass expulsions of millions of Germans? We have learned from our history that each beautiful anniversary can easily convert into a symbol of absolute evil. A heroic age can be reinterpreted by subsequent times as a terrorist age. Consequently, anniversaries are then no longer meant to be the days of anniversary celebrations, but instead they adopt the role of the Days of Warning. They serve as the basis for identity for the new ruling class. Thence, the new political and intellectual class builds up, in addition to its victimhood, its official demonology, whose arsenal is designated to induce fear, terror and self-censorship among citizens.

This is nothing new. We encounter evil incarnate among the ancient Greeks and their revenge goddesses, who are later followed by European witches of sorts. Today’s anniversaries are grandstandingly stylized by contemporary System politicians as fiery events, whereas ancient wisdoms are hushed up or put on display solely as symbols of absolute cruelty. The new Culture of Memory, designated by the System in regard to the Other, plays an extremely important role in today’s identity building process of the EU. The former German President Horst Köhler said in February 2005 in the Israeli Knesset that “the responsibility for the Holocaust is part of German identity.”  Victimhood tutoring by non-European peoples has become a new civil religion of the West.

The Price of Freedom

Everything has its price. Free-thinkers, not to mention some uncompromising but rare academics in Germany and elsewhere in the EU, pay a high price for their daily bread. In fact, the DMZ and ZuErst! also cost money. But at least these journals have so far remained critical of the System. Ultimately, it all boils down to whether a journalist, a writer, or an academic is willing to collaborate  with the System in order to secure himself and his family a cozy life, or whether he wants to live a life of an outsider. But even the line between cautiousness and self-censorship is often difficult to tell. Cautiousness may be cowardice. By contrast, power of decision making and courage to liberty often yield opposite results and can, in subsequent decades, have disastrous consequences for the younger generations. The young Hamlet and the young Faust were both sharp thinkers with a remarkable insight into the world of differently minded individuals, including for the differentiated Other. However, both were neurotics lacking any decision-making power. It was always the bad spirits who made the decisions in their stead.

The other type is a well- armed and combative hero, like the young warrior Siegfried from the Nibelungen Saga or the young Achilles from the Iliad. Both men had no fear of their premature and anticipated death because for both a sudden death meant eternal glory. But with their reckless, albeit well-intentioned conduct, they inflicted irreparable damage to their clans respectively.

I do not know which model to recommend. Maybe a mix between a courageous warrior and a poet? An Anarch with the Jüngerian lifestyle?   We have already seen this type of man in our history. On the other hand, living a long and self-centered life of an expert idiot or a book worm, or as an old man constantly brooding over the lies of the System or bewailing his incontinence, is also a waste of time. To live as anonymous sheep without leaving any after-effects on his contemporaries is pointless. All things considered even the peaceful sheep usually die after 10 or 12 years, even though there might be no wolves in their vicinity.

Forty-two years ago I was also young, or maybe I was already way too old. I had also searched my memorial year as a hippy in India with my own  “rapprochements,” my own “dangerous encounters,” and my own “radiations” without a penny in the pocket (Anäherungen,  Eine gefährliche, Begegnung, Strahlungen. (These are allusions to Jünger’s essays — novels full of magical realism — as well as Jünger’s experiments with hallucinogenic drugs.) Fortunately, I learned early on that one could better fight the System when dressed in a good suit and decked up with a university degree than with long hair, tattoos and earrings.

I will close my speech with the verses from the Böhse Onkelz song, Der Preis des Lebens (“The Price Of Life”):

Der Preis des Lebens ist der Tod                              The price of life is death,
Deshalb hab’ ich dich geholt                                      That’s why I’ve brought you in
Du lebst für mich                                                        You live for me
Und jetzt nehm’ ich dich                                             And now I’ll take you
In meine Arme, in meine Arme                                  In my arms, in my arms
…..  .                                                                                       …….

Ich mache keinen Unterschied                                  I make no difference
Zwischen Jung und Alt                                              Between young and old
Ob du arm oder reich bist                                         Whether you’re rich or poor
Läßt mich kalt                                                           Has no effect on me whatsoever
Ich heiß’ euch alle willkommen.                                I’d like to welcome all of you!

Dr. Tom Sunic is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Freedom Party. His new book Chroniques des temps postmodernes (Avatar, 2014) has just been released.