Germans remember the Nazi past so that it may never happen again. But how has the abstract vow to remember translated into concrete action to prevent new genocides abroad?
As reports of mass killings in Bosnia spread in the middle of 1995, Germans faced a dilemma. Should the Federal Republic deploy its military to the Balkans to prevent a genocide, or would departing from postwar Germany’s pacifist tradition open the door to renewed militarism? In short, when Germans said “never again,” did they mean “never again Auschwitz” or “never again war”?
Looking beyond solemn statements and well-meant monuments, Andrew I. Port examines how the Nazi past shaped German responses to the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda—and further, how these foreign atrocities recast Germans’ understanding of their own horrific history. In the late 1970s, the reign of the Khmer Rouge received relatively little attention from a firmly antiwar public that was just “discovering” the Holocaust. By the 1990s, the genocide of the Jews was squarely at the center of German identity, a tectonic shift that inspired greater involvement in Bosnia and, to a lesser extent, Rwanda. Germany’s increased willingness to use force in defense of others reflected the enthusiastic embrace of human rights by public officials and ordinary citizens. At the same time, conservatives welcomed the opportunity for a more active international role involving military might—to the chagrin of pacifists and progressives at home.
Making the lessons, limits, and liabilities of politics driven by memories of a troubled history harrowingly clear, Never Again is a story with deep resonance for any country confronting a dark past.
Ambitious, original and richly evidenced…Port offers an innovative contribution in the atrophied terrain of ‘memory studies.’ Never Again implies that Walter Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History’ is, at last, turning away from sentimental memorials and sentimental solemnity—and looking forward.
Never Again thoroughly examines the German response to three genocides that took place elsewhere in the world after the Second World War—in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda—and considers, in particular, the role that the Nazi past and the Holocaust played in debates about them.
Port’s meticulously researched book is a well-written account of Germans struggling to do the right thing—whether on the political or personal level—against the backdrop of their own history…An important contribution.
A thrilling accomplishment. Ingeniously conceived and intrepidly executed, Never Again explores how German mastery of the Holocaust past proceeded through reflection on foreign atrocities, first in the postcolonial world and then in Europe itself. This is the most important study of memory, politics, and the ongoing construction of public norms written in a long time.
Germans, in the communist East, the democratic West, and the reunified nation, cannot deal with atrocities in other countries without being haunted by their own dark history. How they have negotiated these dangerous political challenges, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, is the subject of Port’s fascinating, elegant, subtle, and always fair-minded book.
A fascinating, carefully crafted look at how the powerful and dynamic factor of German memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust affected German foreign policy on the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. Port’s nuanced and suggestive analysis also contributes in important ways to our understanding of the making of Berlin’s zigzag policies on Ukraine today.
This deeply researched book tells the story of how, by embracing human rights and engaging in humanitarian actions, Germany rejoined ‘the community of nations as a peaceful member.’ Port illuminates the highly topical question of how Germany’s past both shapes and constrains its responses to contemporary bloodshed.
A highly original work, sensitive both to domestic debates and to far broader transnational and international considerations. By exploring how a concern with their own genocidal past informed German reactions to later genocides, Port illuminates not only the German responses to events elsewhere in the world but also the ways in which, in an increasingly mobile and globalizing society, German society was and is itself changing.
A brilliant new perspective on postwar German history. Even with hundreds of books written on attempts to cope with the Nazi past, the political consequences of shifting memory culture have seldom been discussed. In exploring how the Holocaust became an argument in German foreign policy, humanitarian aid, and military interventions, Port offers a wealth of insight—not only on Germany, but also on its global context.
Fascinating reading. With Russia’s war on Ukraine, Germany faces its biggest crisis yet in its understanding of how the Holocaust and World War II should influence its military policy. Port’s timely book shows that this is not the first time Germans grappled with this issue. Examining earlier debates about the proper response to atrocities in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, Never Again provides essential historical context for the contemporary dilemma of how to address Russian aggression.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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