Friday, June 27, 2014

Roger Chickering

French air raid on Freiburg without any particular target:
Pourvu que ça fasse des victimes boches
(provided there are victims among the Krauts) 
The night before last Red Baron listened to a lecture on Freiburg im Ersten Weltkrieg (Freiburg during the First World War). Professor Roger Chickering, author of The Great War and Urban Life in Germany: Freiburg, 1914-1918 published in 2007, had come to Freiburg at the evening of the outbreak of the First World War one hundred years ago. His timed visit was one of the reasons that the lecture hall was packed.

In 2008 I had read his 630-page book about Freiburg during the Great War and was impressed not so much by the abundance of information, i.e., the total history, the author presented* but rather by the way Chickering told his-story. Is that the reason why the best books on German history are written by Anglo-American historians?
*I incorporated many a citation from Chickering's book in my web page on Freiburg's history

I also read and admired Peter H. Wilson's 996-page narrative about Europe's Tragedy, A History of the Thirty Years War and learned that the British Isles influenced the battles on the continent in furnishing quite a number of mercenaries to fight on both sides.

Although British humor sometimes over-dominates Simon Winder's history book Germania I could not stop reading his rather personal story of German history.

Presently Red Baron is reading the most recent addition to successful essays on German history as an e-book: Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, has already been sold 200,000 times as a hard copy in its German translation: Die Schlafwandler. The controversial content of Clark's book was on the mind of many who had come to listen to Roger Chickering.

Hence, the discussion following Chickering's lecturing in German quite naturally came back to the question of Germany's exclusive responsibility for the war. The professor was rather diplomatic saying that a few statements in Clark's book were wrong although all governments had made mistakes that led to the outbreak of the war. Germany, however, had made the biggest mistakes.

Interesting was the discussion about how the various countries are commemorating the First World War. For France it is the Great Patriotic War, for Great Britain it means the decline of the British Empire, for Russia it is the trigger of the Communist Revolution, for Poland the beginning of its fight for independence from Russia and for Germany? My question whether the quasi indifference of Germans to the outbreak of the Urkatastrophe (seminal catastrophe) of the 20th century in 1914 would change in 1918 when we may celebrate the beginning of democracy that led to the Weimar Republic, Chickering answered with a smile: This is an interesting but early question. We shall see in four years whether a German Erinnerungskultur (commemorative culture) will develop.

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