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Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Omer Bartov(Author)

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Mirrors of Destruction examines the relationship between total war, state-organized genocide, and the emergence of modern identity. Here, Omer Bartov demonstrates that in the twentieth century there have been intimate links between military conflict, mass murder of civilian populations, and the definition and categorization of groups and individuals.

These connections were most clearly manifested in the Holocaust, as the Nazis attempted to exterminate European Jewry under cover of a brutal war and with the stated goal of creating a racially pure Aryan population and Germanic empire. The Holocaust, however, can only be understood within the context of the century's predilection for applying massive and systematic methods of destruction to resolve conflicts over identity. To provide the context for the "Final Solution," Bartov examines the changing relationships between Jews and non-Jews in France and Germany from the outbreak of World War I to the present.

Rather than presenting a comprehensive history, or a narrative from a single perspective, Bartov views the past century through four interrelated prisms. He begins with an analysis of the glorification of war and violence, from its modern birth in the trenches of World War I to its horrifying culmination in the presentation of genocide by the SS as a glorious undertaking. He then examines the pacifist reaction in interwar France to show how it contributed to a climate of collaboration with dictatorship and mass murder. The book goes on to argue that much of the discourse on identity throughout the century has had to do with identifying and eliminating society's "elusive enemies" or "enemies from within." Bartov concludes with an investigation of modern apocalyptic visions, showing how they have both encouraged mass destructions and opened a way for the reconstruction of individual and collective identifies after a catastrophe.

Written with verve, Mirrors of Destruction is rich in interpretations and theoretical tools and provides a new framework for understanding a central trait of modern history.

"Based on wide reading and reflection, Omer Bartov's new book is a vitally important comparative contribution to understanding apocalypticism, utopianism, and attempts to refashion humanity by violence. An exceptionally disturbing and powerful book whose imaginative insights remind us that History is not a simple-minded choice between 'facts' and 'fictions,' but an attempt to understand what it is to be human."--Michael Burleigh, Raoul Wallenberg Chair of Human Rights, Rutgers University Omer Bartov is John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History at Brown University and has written on the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and modern France. His books include Murder in Our Midst: The Holocaust, Industrial Killing, and Representation; Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich; and The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare.

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Book details

  • PDF | 312 pages
  • Omer Bartov(Author)
  • Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 24, 2000)
  • English
  • 3
  • History

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Review Text

  • By [email protected] on October 29, 2000

    This is a somewhat eccentric book. Bartov's most famous book, "Hitler's Army," was a devastating emprical study of the complicity of the German Army in Hitler's crimes. This is a somewhat more theoretical work, and its weaknesses show. Much of it is construed from essays Bartov has written over the past few years. The first chapter "Fields of Glory" deals essentially with Germany's path to the war and its subsequent self-pity. The second chapter, "Grand Illusions," does the same for France, while the third "Elusive Enemies," deals with elusive enemies as an element in the rise of Nazism. The fourth deals with "apocalyptic visions," which argues that the persistence of utopia and apocalypse was also crucial to the existence of modern genocide. A conclusion deals with the German novelist Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" and a partial defnse of Binjamin Wilkomirski's controversial and probably fraudulent "Fragments."As the sum of these parts "Mirrors of Destruction," leave much to be desired. It is somewhat repetitive, (parts of chapters one and two are recapitulated in chapter three), and more important it is often abstract and vague. Although it has excellent footnotes, with exhaustive references to the recent literature (oddly enough, only Peter Novick's The Holocaust in American Life, is missing) it is not clear that the books assist Bartov's argument. As an example, in chapter three Bartov seeks to discuss the utopian impulse, and discusses such phenomenon as nostalgia of the past, the expansion of European influence, imperialism, Darwinism, the inherently totalitarian nature of gardening (I'm only slightly joking--see page 151), apocalyptic thought, Soviet totalitarianism, population control, capitalist overconfidence, the mass media and the rise of musuems, colonial cruelty, modern warfare, the crisis in modern historiography, scientic rationality and many others. The main problem with this list is that it dilutes the concept of utopia and apocalypse to something so ubiquitous, that it has no more explanatory power than the weather. There are many questionable comments, such as on page 149 that "universal utopia assumes the ultimate eradication of boundaries, between sexes or races, classes or faiths, the present and the future." Now aside from the many utopian impulses who had no interest in doing any of those things, and confining ourselves to the Nazis who are the subject of this book, it is clear that they wished to reinforce boundaries between sexes, and their interest in removing class boundaries was substantly less in simply redefining them out of existence.At one point Bartov argues that the special agony of the Holocaust is that most of the perpetrators got off very lightly, while the survivors suffered from guilt over their "good fortune." But clearly this does not distinguish the Holocaust from a large number of atrocities which have been inadequately dealt with. And survivors will feel guilty even after natural disasters where humanity could not be held responsible. There is at times a certain sententiousness in Bartov's work, such as that which lead Peter Novick to comment that "The problem with most of these lessons is not that they're wrong but that they're empty, and not very useful." "...what--short of moving to the woods--does one do with the `lesson' that the Holocaust is emblematic of modernity?" Likewise Bartov's account of German and French reactions to the Holocaust are not helped by his abstract and theoretical account. Although Bartov offers qualifications, he also speaks of "the Germans," and "the French" and speaks of complicity in such a way that the distinctions between anti-semitic thought and anti-semitic deed are conflated, as is anti-semitism and learning German and publishing under Vichy. There are risks about such a promiscuous notion of complicity: it could encourage an Anglo-American sense of superiority to the European continent. Such reflections on evil has encouraged fatuous Christian apologists of the ilk of C.S. Lewis that 6 million Jews died so to vindicate the Christian doctrime of original sin. Like most discussions of the horrors of the Twentieth century, Bartov does not really discuss the cruelties of the Showa Dictatorship (it gets a paragraph on page 138). This I believe is a mistake: Japan is not a minor country, Asia is not a minor continent, certainly not this century, and the millions of deaths attributable to the armies of the Rising Sun should not be ignored simply because their evil did not have the purity of essence of the Nazi or Armenian genocides.What does give this book an importance larger than these flaws comes from Bartov's discussion of Israel's own tortured reaction to the Holocaust. Instead of the account of France's failure to confront Vichy, which has become almost commonplace in the last two decades, we meet interesting accounts of Hannah Arendt, Raul Hilberg, Tzvetan Todorov, Wolfgang Sofsky, and Christopher Browning. At the end of the fourth chapter we find a long discussion of the Israel writer Ka-Tzetnik. Ka-Tzetnik is a juvenile writer, pornographic, mentally disturbed. Yet his account provides a special knowledge of the atrocity not provided by any other writer. More so than much discussion, Bartov's discussion gives at least a partial truth to his statement "that when we look in the mirror of the Holocaust, we see our own reflection."

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