Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thinking about Time, History, and the Self, Part 2

In part 1 I gave a thumb sketch of my own movement in terms of understanding my relation to the past. This reflection was prompted by two things: One was following a link from the Anglobapitst to Jonathan Stegals blog and reading his reflection on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall He was six when the Berlin wall fell, and 9/11 was the moment of his conscientization. I was struck how the two events reverberate in him and myself differently. The other was President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany jointly laying a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France The article points out that both Merkel and Sarkozy were born after WWII stating that they did not have the emotional animosity of the generations before. The article went on to state that 25 years ago a similar joint commemoration of war dead of WWI at Verdun ended poorly.

What came together as I reflected on the joint celebration of Germany and France of the end of WWI and Stegals post on 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, was how little time has passed, how much has changed and to what degree we are still even with all the changes living out consequences and living into things set in motion even before the events commemorated last week. At one time I thought 20 years was a long time, but then I was 20 when I thought that so 20 years was my entire lifetime. The fall of the Berlin wall doesn't feel that distant or removed. Even 40 years ago or 50 doesn't seem that long ago to me any more. Yet,I am also confronted with how much has happened: Germany and France in my parent's lifetime have gone from bitter enemies to Germany taking part in France's Armistice Day ceremony, at the Arc de Triomphe. Enough has changed, according to the article, so that the events of the two "world wars" (specifically WWI) have a different resonance for Sarkozy and Merkel than it did for their predecessors, and this is true for much of the electorate. Yet, for both countries the end of WWI is a significant and enduring event, that potentially holds meaning far beyond a letting go of national animosities and hostilities.

Like Sarkozy and Merkel for whom the two World Wars have different resonances, emotions and meanings than there predecessors, I saw how this was true for Stegal, and myself for two events The fall of the Berlin wall and 9/11. Stegal seemed to have to struggle to find a reason to remember the fall of the Berlin wall, due to his experience of 9/11. Stegal's opinions are not that varied from mine, but it struck me that it was odd that he had to come to the conclusion that the fall of the Berlin wall was worth remembering. I didn't even ask if it was worth remembering, though I did ask the more critical question of how we were remembering the event. I was tempted here to see a parallel between the fall of the Berlin wall for me and 9/11 for Stegal. Yet I this this would not be accurate. The crystallizing "event" for me is more what occurred over time after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The "event" was watching (even under a Democratic president) American imperial policy both politically and economically expand more or less unchecked in the 90's, based on a triumphalist understanding of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and totalitarian communism. However this means that there wasn't an event that jolted me to consciousness, rather it was tracing various strains and continuities out from the "Fall of the Berlin Wall" that was my own conscientization (among other things) and informed my response to 9/11.

Stegal's post seems to be attempting to trace out lines of "effect" or continuity and continued meaning from the fall of the Berlin wall as significant event. But these continuities and lines of effect don't simply stop at this or that particular event. It seems to me difficult to mark off events cleanly one from another. Though I will admit that in part this view is influenced by how my world view was formed in part around the end of the Cold War, which didn't end suddenly and wasn't a clearly defined singular event but a series of slowly unfolding events that cascaded not only into the end of the cold war but into 9/11 and the "War on Terror". France's Armistice Day ceremony reminds me also that what we are facing now has its roots in that time as well, a war that was in some sense a consequence of American and European dividing up the world into colonies and spheres of influence. We are still living with these realities they are not simply past.