Lecture 017

The Final Essay Draft

76-106 Professor Haworth

TLA Essay Assigning the Blames: A Psychology Perspective of Viewing Responsibility for Passive Participants of the World War II by Studying Belonging

Hanke Chen

Assigning the Blames: A Psychology Perspective of Viewing Responsibility for Passive Participants of the World War II by Studying Belonging

Belonging is a graphic memoir by artist Nora Krug, who was born in Germany as the third generation of World War II. The book illustrates Krug's own process of exploring her family's past during World War II. She does so to find out her family's connection to Nazism in order to reconstruct her own identity as a German. One important question proposed in the memoir is whether German descendants and first-generation passive participants of the war should be responsible for the crimes of Nazis. To one end, since they did not actively start the tragedy, they are not responsible for the war crime done by their old government. To the other end, it is also reasonable for them to feel shame if they identify with their "shameful" German identity which exists regardless of whether they participated in the Nazi government and can be passed down to several generations. The problem, although complex, can be broken down and analyzed further using various approaches in psychology. This essay aims to use a psychology lens to ground such two contradicting arguments using evidence from the book and also to explore a way to reconcile these seemingly conflicting arguments as well as to suggest a better way for Germans to move forward as a confident country. For passive participants, neither the question of whether are, nor they should feel, responsible have a definite answer. Psychology is used as the primary lens throughout the essay to make logical connections in my arguments using empirical research evidence. Many subfields of psychology such as social psychology, behavior psychology, developmental psychology as well as psychodynamic and humanistic theories will each contribute knowledge about how humans think, feel, and act as well as their consequences. The phrase "passive participants'' describes German descendants as well as those first-generation Germans who have been classified as "follower[s]" or "exonerated person[s]" (Krug 199). More importantly, it describes a group of Germans who didn't or don't voluntarily advocate for Nazism: they either passively participated in the war or didn't participate in the war at all. Let me begin my argument by making a distinction between the question of whether passive participants "are" responsible and whether they "should be" responsible for the Nazis' crimes. To discuss whether someone "is" responsible is to discuss whether someone's historical past indicates a causal relationship that links a specific action to the tragedy. On the contrary, a discussion of whether a group "should be" responsible is a humanistic approach to explore how a mode of thinking can benefit a group of people. In the following paragraphs, I will first demonstrate that passive participants are neither fully responsible nor completely irresponsible for Nazis' crimes. Then, I will propose a mode of thinking that can best benefit German society. There is evidence in the memoir suggesting that some passive participants, even without a strong Nazi background, are still responsible for the Nazis' crimes. One obvious support for this argument is that millions of the German soldiers were chosen from ordinary families, regardless of whether the family strongly believed in Nazism. One example of this is the Krug's uncle Edwin Rock who was chosen to fight in Italy (Krug 63) although there exists little evidence supporting that his family believed in Nazi ideology (Krug 94). Since the soldiers directly contributed to the fightings of the war, it is inevitable to say that these families directly supported the Nazi regime. Other Germans, although did not physically fight in the war, also unavoidably supported the Nazi regime either through the production of a variety of goods or through silently accepting the regime. One example of this is Willi who worked as a driving coach for the Nazi army (Krug 93). Besides these obvious facts, Hitler's election and his actions would not be feasible if the German public refused Nazi ideology strongly in the first place. In psychology, the group polarization after Hitler's election indicates that there existed high prejudice even before the election and flux of Nazi propaganda. Since, as research shows (Myers and Dewall 2076), discussion among high prejudice groups will reinforce such prejudice whereas discussions among low prejudice groups will decrease such prejudice, it is evident that Germany, before the election, had characteristics of high prejudice groups which would only reinforce after Hitler's election. Such prejudice existed regardless of reinforcement constitutes a reasonable cause factor for World War II. Therefore, to some extent, every first-generation German who passively participated in the war is responsible for the Nazis' crimes. However, this conclusion can be challenged by the following paragraph. There is also evidence suggesting that passive participants are not responsible for Nazis' crimes. Krug's uncle Edwin Rock, who died in the war as a German soldier in his 18 is a perfect example (Krug 63). Being a soldier in the front line, his letters still express a sense of anti-war attitude and homesickness: "There is a song that says, 'I keep on thinking about how wonderful it is to be a soldier.' But for me, it's just the opposite. I keep on thinking how wonderful it would be to be home" (Krug 128). Edwin's letter demonstrates that his psychological morals worked against that of Nazis' and therefore he should not be categorized as an active believer of Nazism. To some extent, he was a victim of Nazism who was forced to fight for Nazis in Italy away from his home. Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume that there existed punishments for deserters in the army. Such positive punishment (Myers and Dewall 790) for deserters would have decreased the likelihood for Edwin to withdraw his role as a soldier. In this sense, Edwin should not be blamed for his uncontrollable circumstance of being a soldier who fought for Germany since his action was not voluntary. Likewise, passive participants who supported the Nazis by trading with the military should not be considered a crime. Take Willi, for example: being a driving coach for the Nazi army (Krug 93), to him, might only be a way to make money. Such behavior is well-explained by drive-reduction theory in psychology: in order to satisfy the monetary desire and to support his family, Willi responded by doing anything he could to acquire money, which is to be a coach for the Nazi army. Since Willi's original drive did not consist of any of the goals to support the Nazi regime, his natural money-driven behavior that commonly exists in 21 century should not be considered a crime. There are other aspects to suggest that passive participants are innocent too. The word "liberation" was commonly used in newspapers as the Allies' army advanced into Germany. Since the word indicates a "liberation" of the Germans from the Nazi regime, the sense of separation of ordinary families from Nazis was rooted as early as the end of the war. Such separation is not unreasonable, though, since much of the Germans were influenced by Nazi propaganda and ideologies. In the environment in which even the school taught kids Nazism (Krug 64), it was very hard, if not unlikely to keep one's original ideology uninfluenced under social control (Myers and Dewall 2059). Nazi propaganda also made use of deindividuation, a method to increase arousal and the support for a group ideology by suppressing individual self-awareness, self-identity, and critical thinkings. Deindividuation turned humans into machines that execute any commands, either good or bad, as long as it was given by Nazi officers. Since the propaganda prohibited critical thinking of the passive followers, they too can be thought of as a victim of the Nazi regime, and therefore shouldn't be considered war crimes. Together with earlier paragraphs, we can see that the passive participants are neither fully responsible nor completely irresponsible since neither of the two descriptions can capture the full picture of German's extent of responsibility. Now that we have analyzed both arguments on whether or not passive participants are responsible for Nazis' crimes based on evidence in the book, we come to the conclusion that both arguments are equally persuasive. A better argument is needed to reconcile this conflict as a discussion on whom to blame might not be the best way to approach this problem. Instead, we will explore what form of responsibility can be established to provide the psychological well-being of society. There are advantages for passive participants to feel responsible for Nazis' crimes even if they can't be blamed for Nazis' crimes. If someone feels responsible about one event, they subconsciously think that there was something in the past in which they did wrong. To behaviorists like B.F. Skinner (Myers and Dewall 775), operant conditioning can provide a behavior reinforcement that reduces the chance for action that results in a negative consequence. In another word, even for passive participants, feeling guilty prevents them from supporting future regimes that are likely to start another war. On page 51, Krug's statement "Her German pride makes me uncomfortable" reveals her unnecessary guilt. To her, who feels responsible for Nazis' crimes, any sign of Nazism in terms of German pride is unacceptable, let alone to support Nazism. In this case, a feeling of responsibility prevents any room for someone to feel empathy with Nazism. On the contrary, if passive participants develop a sense of Holocaust denial as a protection mechanism to post-war anxiety (Myers and Dewall 1547), they will unconsciously distort the reality. The distortion will not serve the Germans a memorable lesson to prevent another tragedy from happening. If no textbooks are written to inform our history, there is no way for us to learn from our past mistakes. Furthermore, the advantage of feeling responsible also exists beyond the individual level. On page 109, when Krug searches for clues of Wehrmacht uniforms that Willi was wearing in the photograph, she encounters a policy in the forum stating that "No Holocaust denial is tolerated". Such policy indicates a strong anti-Nazism attitude as consensus in the group. In fact, the feeling of responsibility is reinforced in the group by social facilitation: a term in psychology describes how the presence of others can improve performance in an easy task. In the context of Holocaust denial, the presence of such policy can effectively reduce polarized believes and statements in a larger group. Therefore, to some extent, a feeling of responsibility for Nazis' crimes can prevent similar crises in the future. However, this view is not complete as feeling responsible can also establish negative consequences in certain cases. For passive participants who do not or did not identify with Nazism, there are also advantages not to feel directly responsible for Nazis' crimes. Especially for the 3rd generation, the feeling of responsibility for something that they were not directly influenced can cause role confusion, which, in developmental psychology, is a task that needs to be resolved to form one's identity (Myers and Dewall 1435). The confusion caused by the inability to integrate multiple identities both as a 3rd generation who did not participate in the war and yet be responsible results in the Krug's wonder about her own identity. There is a clear duality in her national identity which can be revealed in her description of a German woman: "Her German pride makes me uncomfortable, but it also makes me envious" (Krug 51). The text demonstrates two contradicting feelings she has: one is a rejection of her nationality while the other is ratification. Such confusion, if not resolved, will reduce one's confidence in oneself (Myers and Dewall 1435). The negative effect of under-confidence can also be scaled to the national level. A national lack of self-esteem about a country's past can greatly reduce happiness (Myers and Dewall 1263) and self-actualization for its residence (Myers and Dewall 1571). Thankfully, Krug recognizes this issue by integrating her opinion about how ill German is in terms of national pride: she mentions that the phrase "typical German" is used more as an assault in Germany than praise (Krug 34). Since feeling responsible would only add an unnecessary layer of confusion, an unaccountable approach may circumvent such confusion. Moreover, feeling unaccountable can be a way to reestablish someone's ego and to move forward from post-war depression. As mentioned in earlier paragraphs, unconscious defense mechanisms such as denial, harmful as it is, has its psychological value to reduce depression at the very least. In psychoanalytic theory, regression, retreating to an earlier psychological stage to reduce anxiety, has its value. For Germans, regaining a sense of national pride regardless of whether such connotation is associated with Nazism can be therapeutic. Therefore, moving forward from their tragic past can be a positive strategy as a parader in the book suggests the benefit of regaining their national pride: "It's about time that Germans feel confident about their country again" (Krug 49). Therefore, it is not always bad for passive participants to not feel responsible for Nazis' crimes. Through the lens of various subfields of psychology, we have learned that assigning responsibility by identifying causal factors can hardly make any progress. Moreover, the feeling of responsibility can result in positive and/or negative consequences depending on the specific situation of the passive participant of the war. Therefore, to cope with one's national identity, feeling of shame, and post-war anxiety are highly individualized tasks and should not be judged against a common value. To make the generalization about how Germans should act is to disregard the individual differences in their own history and experience by oversimplifying the problem. Therefore, both feeling responsible and unaccountable are valid reactions to World War II. This process, if done right can integrate both the psychological benefits of feeling unaccountable and the didactic benefit of feeling responsible. Of course, psychology is just one way of looking at this complex problem. With the integration of more lenses, the analysis can be more completed to answer questions psychology is unable to answer. In fact, whether this question can be answered in itself is a worth-thinking question. Near the end of the book, Krug realizes her search for family history might be an endless task. Nevertheless, she is able to make peace of her role confusion by acknowledging the uncertainty she has to face (Krug 279). In the end, maybe the question to feel or not to feel responsible, to her, does not deserve a definite answer.

Works Cited Krug, Nora. Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home. Scribner Book Company, 2019. Print. Myers, David G., and C. Nathan Dewall. Myers’ Psychology for the AP(r) Course. 3rd ed. Worth, 2018. Print.


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