The swastika may be banned in Berlin, but the Confederate flag still flies.
Along with the Make America Great Again hat and the Trump 2020 banner, Reich flag and the Brandenburg eagle, the flag of South American war held high during German anti-lockdown demonstrations – the most recent of which took place in Dresden in early March.
Perhaps its presence in Germany only represents how Confederate battle flag has become a contemporary right-wing international meme. Stars and Bars can exist only as other images decontextualized and propagated through airless internet corridors such as, say, Che Guevara. The German Neo-Nazi website does indeed sell “Südstaaten” – or Southern – equipment, along with Ansgar Arya and Thor Steinar merchandise.
However, as a cultural historian writing about transnational fascism, I see the flag as part of a long history of German nostalgia for the South American antebellum. The German’s identification with the region stretches back, paradoxically, to books that help reach an end into that era of slavery: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s cabin.
On Berlin’s U3 Line mass transit system, there is a stop called the Onkel Toms Hütte, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The stop bears the name of the neighborhood brewery and beer garden that was founded for nearly 100 years, from 1884 to 1978. German restaurants, inns and beer gardens bear the title of the anti-slavery polemic, which stands for the Southern kind of convenience – evidence from complex novels, counterintuitive and, at times, disruptive to acceptance.
When the novel was translated into German and published in 1852 – the same year it was released in America – it’s very popular. Although the melodrama about the atrocities of American slavery greatly influenced German opinion of the practice, it also sparked an interest in the seemingly simpler slave life depicted in Stowe’s domestic scenes.
Home industries sprang up around him: drama, sheet music, even a re-concept of Europe where slavery is becoming an increasingly elastic concept.
The Berlin tavern, built in 1884, adopted the name Onkel Toms Hütte because of its owner liked the novel. It is just one of many recreational spots that Stowe’s novel uses to promise “a great time.” Heike Paul, a professor of American studies at FAU Erlängern-Nuremberg, characterizes this attitude as “the romanticism of slavery and a nostalgic, even regretful, view of the ‘past'”.
This fuzzy romanticism is supported by the racial prejudice found in Stowe’s description of Tom as “happy slave“A justification for racial hierarchy. Although” Uncle Tom’s Cabin “initially cultivated sympathy for black slaves, in the early 20th century it was called by German progressives and conservatives as evidence of inferiority and as justification for colonization.
Introduction to the German edition of 1911 Uncle Tom’s cabin described how “the Negro is undeniably a lesser race, and, now that they have been liberated, is widely regarded as a plague in the United States”.
Bettina Hofmann, a professor of American studies at the Bergische Universität Wuppertal, thinks so Uncle Tom’s cabin introduced the term racial to German to denote the racial category of the Nazis. Once he qualifies, however, “it would be an anachronism to accuse Stowe of paving the way for Hitler’s thinking about race”.
Even so, that possibility remained dim Uncle Tom’s cabin at least had some influence. After all, Stowe’s novel was one of Hitler’s novels self-proclaimed favorite book.
Despite the general ambivalence towards the US, Nazi Germany sympathized with Southern antebellum. The pub inspired by “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” gave – and fed – the desire for a simpler life that slaves should have enjoyed, and that of Nazism, in its idea of ”national community, “The community, also promised.
The South after the Civil War and Germany after World War I suffered humiliating defeats, and each is revising its identity and history in the face of these losses. As both of them prided themselves on their military prowess, they attempted to come up with a narrative that would explain their losses without acknowledging their shortcomings. Recognizing these similarities, the German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch put them together in his 2000 book Culture of Defeat.
However, Schivelbusch emphasized the differences in the stories they tell. South compose narrative “Cause lost, “Where the experience of defeat becomes a Christlike sacrifice.
Meanwhile, the Nazis chanted “Back prick, “The myth about backstabbing. The German army was invincible on the battlefield, they said, but lost the battle to internal sabotage. This myth focuses on internal enemies that need to be eliminated.
But the “Lost Cause” still resonates in Nazi Germany. The success of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Go with the wind and David O Selznick subsequent 1941 film adaptation pointing to Nazi Germany’s desire for a sacrificial melodrama that Schivelbusch said was less than a narrative of German defeat. The sentimental novel has gone through 16 prints in Germany, selling out nearly 300,000 copies. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels watched the film over and over again, even when they were forbidden it’s for public viewing. Praising the film in his diary, Goebbels stated, “We will follow this example. “
Nazi functionaries Hermann Rauschning wrote that Hitler felt the Confederation was the real America.
“Since the Civil War, in which the Southern States were conquered, contrary to all historical logic and common sense, America has been in a state of politics and popular collapse,” recalls Hitler. Although it may be apocryphal, Rauschning’s memory of the Führer’s words box with Hitler’s enthusiasm Go with the wind: “In that war, it was not South America, but the American people themselves who were conquered.”
Stars and Trunks
It’s not just self-declared right-wing groups that fly the Confederate flag in Germany. The Civil War Reenactment does mock combat below the banner, the East Berlin country music scene got together with him hanging aloft, and even some fans of German writer Karl May, who set his novels in Western America, wave it proudly. These groups insist that the use of the flag “has no racist meaning.” When pressed, they attract tradition.
Disbelief in nostalgia has become an important part of Germany’s post-World War II national project. “working past the pastOne would expect the Germans, of all people, to be wary of such justification.
Up for sale at the German neo-Nazi merchandiser online is an image of the Confederate flag reading “Totenkopf” – a skull and crossbones. It was an ornament of a flag. Yet it reveals what has been there, hiding behind nostalgia, all this time.
Sanders Isaac Bernstein is a Provost PhD Fellow in English Literature at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
This article first appeared on The Conversation.