The Sinews of Peace

Churchill gave his Iron Curtin speech not long after the end of World War two and Not long before the beginning of the Cold War. He mentions the power hungry countries that lust for control and “the fruits of war” (Churchill, web). I find it interesting to think about the perspective at which he speaks. He talks as we do in class, from one perspective. He advises based on the democratic ideals which he believes in but allows no room for variance. While democracy is good from our point of view as well as his, is a world without variance a totally good thing? Could he be wrong in saying that the prevention of war is based on the expansion of freedom to people and the spread of democracy?

Justice and Revenge Post WW2

Before reading chapter 7 of Mazower’s Dark Continent, I always thought everything was perfectly harmonious after World War 2 in Europe. However, I was most certainly wrong in my preconceptions. It turns that after World War 2, there were millions of displaced people in Europe. Furthermore, there was a “popular demand for revenge” (Mazower 230) among Europeans against collaborators of fascism. These collaborators would often be executed in very violent manners. Can revenge in this manner ever be morally legitimate? I mean certainly causing wanton harm to anyone is morally inappropriate. But what about the fascist collaborators that helped the Nazis seek out Jewish people? The Nazi soldiers who conducted mass exterminations? The very basic principle of Justice stipulates that people get what they deserve, just action; in other words fairness. I wonder, can revenge ever be the same as justice? Is revenge ever morally legitimate?

The Individual Against the State

While reading chapter six of the Dark Continent, a certain paragraph stood out to me. The beginning of this section talks about individual choice versus fate. I thought this specific quote would make for an interesting conversation:

“Yet others reached quite different conclusions: faced with the choice between collaboration and resistance, everything boiled down not to fate but to a stark individual decision.”

(Mazower, Chapter 6)

Does this theory make sense? Is your future solely based on decisions, or is it possible that your future based on both fate and individual decisions?

In my opinion, I think to say that what happened in Nazi Germany was solely based on decisions that had nothing to do with fate is a bit inconsiderate. How can you say that the humans targeted during the Nazi rein that were tortured and abused were there because of their own decisions?

Jean Monnet- A Red-letter Day for European Unity

Throughout Monnet’s speech he recognizes the faults that Europe had in the past, but towards the end of his speech he begins to reassure everyone that Europe will be what it once was. He goes onto say “Let us remember that the territories in which the men who have been meeting together in this chamber first saw the light of day have for centuries been in the forefront of civilisation, that the greatest thinkers and scientists were born in these lands and that the whole world owes its development to the drive and intelligence of men who were the sons of our country”(558). From this quote it is easy to develop a sense of national pride or in other word’s European pride. To me, the sense of nationalism comes off a little strong and in a way that they are better than other countries. I suppose my question would be, how does everyone else interpret this quotation? Do you think Monnet meant this in an arrogant way defending Europe, or do you think that he was just saying this in light to reassure Europeans that they were great before, so why can’t they continue to be great?

Disillusionment With Democracy

While reading chapter 6 of Dark Continent, I was interested in inter-war Europe’s “disillusionment with democracy” (Roth, 184). Roth goes on to discuss France’s and England’s wishes to redefine democracy to make it a feasible, prosperous system for the European people. I feel that the idea of a corrupt and poorly functioning democratic system is as relevant today as it was during the time of World War II. To elaborate, it seems that Europeans at the time lost faith in their democratic systems because of the interference of the state and a strong “bourgeois” presence. I feel that there has been recent unrest in the United States due to some of these same issues (among others). Do you believe that this translates into the state of our country today? Do you think it is necessary to “redefine” democracy and ensure that we are adhering to a true democratic system? Would this improve the political and social atmosphere across the country?

Survival in Auschwitz

Throughout the stories of torture and mistreatment that Levi tells, he speaks a lot on dehumanization and resourcefulness. When one can get away with something as little as stuffing their jackets with toilet paper when it is cold, they do. But how much does chance or luck play into the overall scheme? Could the chance of being not fatally injured during a job be considered luck? Does the chance of being seen as unfit and being put to death also be considered luck?

Idealism as a survival tool?

Life in a Nazi concentration camp is very dismal. Long work hours, lack of food, filthy facilities, and constant threat of abuse from guards. Facing the reality of such a situation is detrimental towards the wellbeing of a person. There is little motivation to go on and the desire of living is greatly diminished. But perhaps choosing to circumnavigate the harsh reality will do us well. Perhaps it is best to delude ourselves into wishful thinking. Primo Levi certainly engages in this in chapter 3. Levi knows that the water in the washroom is full of filth. Bathing in it definitely isn’t cleanly. Yet Levi states that washing isn’t important for “cleanliness and health” (40) but rather as “an instrument of moral survival” (40). Levi chooses to bathe in the filth because of how it shows strong moral character; doing something of your own volition. Practicality is being replaced with some form of abstract idealism. It’s not practical to bathe in dirty water. Does idealistic thinking take precedent over being a realist? All the time, sometime, or maybe never?

Humanity: Survival in Auschwitz

While reading Levi’s account of facing death and arriving at Auschwitz, I was presented with complex emotions and deeply troubling scenarios. The last paragraph on page 21 stood out to me for this reason. Levi describes a situation where the German guard in his lorry “courteously” asked each prisoner if they had anything of value to offer him. Levi continued to explain that it was not a requirement, but “a small private initiative of [their] Charon” (Levi, 21). The last sentence reads, “The matter stirs us to anger and laughter and brings relief” (Levi, 21). I found this particularly interesting because it points towards the idea of what little humanity people had left in this situation. I wanted to point out that the guard acted of his own accord to request money and valuables from the prisoners, which was not necessarily a part of his explicit orders. I feel that this brought the prisoners relief because they became fully aware of their situation as they were being robbed of their humanity and treated as “pieces”, just as the guard exercised his humanity to ask for “donations”.

(This is not necessarily a question, rather a conversation-starter on the topic of humanity in Survival in Auschwitz)

Author’s Preface

While starting the reading for Thursday, there was one particular section of his very first page that I found to be very interesting:

“Many people – many nations – can find themselves holding, more or less wittingly, that ‘every stranger is an enemy’. For the most part this conviction lies deep down like some latent infection; it betrays itself only in random, disconnected acts, and does not lie at the base of a system of reason.”

(Levi, 9)

I wanted to ask the class if they themselves found this to be true or not, and if so why or why not?

Personally, I believe that Levi is correct. Many people feel threatened by others they do not know, while it seems leaders of countries are timid to make new relations with other countries and their leaders.

Perspective in Olitskaia

I want to focus on Olitskaia’s account because I think it is so incredibly interesting in the way she explores so many different generations of voices of these female prisoners. It gets especially interesting towards the end when she becomes explicitly critical of what she sees as their “baseness and stupidity” (433). Why is she passing this kind of judgment onto these, by all definitions of the word, victims? Why is she so angered by their reactions–it seems as though they’re just trying to get by, holding onto any hope they can, so what makes our narrator so frustrated with them specifically? Is it just the situation she is in? What do you make of the different accounts of the women throughout this piece–what can their perspectives show us about the way of life for not only prisoners within the Communist regime, but other women and people who walk “free”? I put “free” in quotations here because I wonder to what extent their being in prison for seemingly innocuous reasons says about the freedom of everyone under the increasingly paranoid regime. The show trials are another aspect in particular that I think explores this dilemma.