This page will contain opinion pieces that our students have been moved to write. These are not assignments, this is strictly what the author wanted to say. The views, of course, are solely those of the respective authors.
A DIFFERENT LOOK AT A TRAGIC TIME
by Adam Portoghese
It is difficult to say that you truly ever understand something. However, experiencing a little taste of Germany, I have been offered insight that I am truly thankful for.
It is impossible not to look around and see the scars the German nation carries. The physical scars are all too clear. Whether it be a lone facade of a building long ago bombed, or grandiose and grotesque Nazi era architecture, one need not look too far to see evidence of a torturous past. But, it is the mental landscape that is perhaps the hardest to grasp.
I am not German. As a child my version of WWII involved superhero GI Joes riding across Europe on a wave on honor and steel, crushing the evil dictators and liberating the oppressed peoples. Our ancestors were righteous, pure, and just. Nothing was said of the Tokyo firebombing, the Japanese internment camps, and other questionable Allied acts. Do German children learn about the war in a manner similar to this? How is this time period remembered in their collective conscience? In the few discussions I have had with our tour guides or professors, you begin to realize that it is not an easy question to answer.
As a result of WWII, Germany was ground to dust. Imagery of an armada of American B-17’s dropping their virtuous bombs are the first to come to mind, but an American’s perspective, in this case is literally in the clouds. The German people, like the British people, suffered indiscriminately during the war, and as their homes and schools and playgrounds and shops were decimated, so to were their childhood memories, livelihoods, and cultural history. It is impossible for an American to understand. September 11th, 2001 may elicit strong emotional memories for Americans, but it cannot serve as an analogy for Germany’s experience. This nation had to start over from scratch and determine where it all went wrong. Every aspect of their glorious past suffered damage. The coronation room that saw a thousand years of emperors from the Holy Roman Empire, including Charlemagne? Pummeled. The house of the greatest German author, Goethe? Obliterated. Hundreds of medieval chapels, cathedrals, fortifications, and houses disappeared from the German landscape. Their passing was mourned, but what they represented remained.
This caused me to realize how little we understand WWII from the European perspective. Looking around, you realize that their exists few buildings older than fifty years, and that there occurred a remarkable effort to restore and save what little remained. If this were to happen to us, would we survive? Could you assure me that you would not turn on your neighbors, and care selfishly for our own well being? How would you help the nation rebuild? What monuments would you restore? Rebuild? What would you question, forget, or remember? Would you put everything back the way it was? Or align yourself with modernity? The German people had to ask themselves these questions.
From this rubble rose a new kind of Europe, one that seeks integration. Germany is one of the many European Union countries that have rewritten the understanding of state independence. Giving up sovereignty for security seems counter intuitive to an American, but here it works. And it works because there is no other option. No gathering of nations like this has ever occurred before, and we stand witness to history. But for those of us who did not experience the Second World War, the reasons for the existence of European Union are all around us, be them tangible or ethereal. We would do it a dishonor to disregard the scars. Instead, I have learned to marvel at the resilience and strength of Europe, and her people.