M. Bragança u.a. (Hrsg.): The Long Aftermath

The Long Aftermath. Cultural Legacies of Europe at War 1936–2016

Bragança, Manuel; Tame, Peter
Studies in Contemporary European History 17
New York 2016: Berghahn Books
Anzahl Seiten
XVI, 388 S.
$ 120.00 / £ 75.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Siobhan Kattago, Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu

The Long Aftermath. Cultural Legacies of Europe at War 1936–2016 is the seventeenth volume in the Studies in Contemporary European History series, edited by Konrad Jarausch and Henry Rousso. As the title suggests, the edited anthology is concerned with the long aftermath, afterlife and cultural legacies of Europe at war. Moreover, it explores ways in which war has left cultural and political traces on Europeans from 1936–2016.

Richard Overy’s thoughtful foreword sets the stage for the much of the book. If reactions to World War I either engendered rejection of war or fuelled feelings of ressentiment due to a sense of unfinished business, reactions to World War II were drawn along national lines and were complicated by victimhood, collaboration, resistance, perpetratorship, deportation and occupation. Moreover, since World War II was a total war that exacted an unprecedented toil on civilians, its layered aftermath affected large strata of society.

The editors, Manuel Bragança and Peter Tame, who both hail from Queen’s University Belfast, introduce The Long Aftermath of the Long Second World War by asking whether the European Union is a kind of imagined community similar to the nation or something completely different. They argue that Europeans share much in common with the very neighbours against whom they have fought. Europe after 1945 faces tensions between national, regional, supranational and post-national identity. Agreeing with Benedict Anderson, Bragança and Tame argue that the nation is a kind of imagined community and 'transcendent entity' (p. 4). Given the salient importance of the nation, it makes sense that the volume discusses memories of the long aftermath of the war in numerous countries. The fact that the volume begins with the Spanish Civil War is welcome. As the editors argue, it was a 'dress rehearsal' and 'grim prelude' to what was to follow (p. 5). Their argument that an analysis of memories of war requires both the historian and the artist is refreshing. Indeed, the artist sits at the cusp of the national, regional and transnational. 'The conundrum of the European continent may be that whilst art has no particular homeland, artists do.' (p. 10) Eschewing the transnational trend, individual contributors were asked 'to reflect on the dynamics of identity and otherness through national perspectives' (p. 9). Bragança and Tame emphasise: 'without denying what wider perspectives bring to our understanding of national viewpoints, we nonetheless believe that national approaches remain pertinent because, whatever form the new Europe takes, it can only find solidarity through a better understanding of the reasoning, the fears and the pains that haunt our neighbours. And these emotions are still very much anchored within national perspectives.' (p. 9)

Each country section comprises three chapters; the first of which examines changes in historiography, followed by two chapters dealing with cultural approaches to the aftermath and legacy of war. Using a multidisciplinary approach, The Long Aftermath complements previous research with a decidedly 'European scope' combining seven of the largest and most populous countries in Europe: Spain, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, USSR / Russia. With that in mind, the editors chose 'major European players in the long Second World War' (p. 12). Nonetheless, the exclusion of certain European regions is unfortunate and detracts from an otherwise very compelling argument. In particular, the omission of the long aftermath of war in Yugoslavia is surprising. This reader would have welcomed a discussion of contemporary writers such as Dubravka Ugrešić and Slavenka Drakulić, who live in Western Europe, but nonetheless write about Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War II, communism and the war of the 1990s. Likewise, Ukraine is a large country that suffered enormous loss during the war, and has been the subject of much attention in the seminal work of Timothy Snyder. Dictatorship remains alive in contemporary Belarus, and the aftermath of war and communism is the subject of Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel-prize winning writing. Moreover, although she lived abroad for some time, Alexievich returned to Belarus precisely because that is where she, as an artist, felt most at home.

Like any edited anthology, some chapters and sections are stronger than others. The section on Spain focuses on narratives of violence and history about the Civil War. The role of silence is examined in the work of poets and writers, who lived through the Spanish Civil War and early years of the Franco dictatorship, as well as that of contemporary poets. Curiously there is not much reflection on the poet Garcia Lorca or on the debates about the exhumation of graves in Spain. Nonetheless, this section will be of particular interest to those familiar with Spanish literature. The section on the United Kingdom examines the myths and historiographical discussion of ‘Britain’s War.’ Since the UK was not occupied, the civilian experience of war is markedly different than that of the continent. Analysis of the Churchill myth of the ‘People’s War’ is well written by the authors, Daniel Travers and Paul Ward. Likewise, the chapter on how Germans continue to be portrayed as 'stereotyped villains' (p. 97) in cinema complements the discussion of British narratives of memory and nation since 1945.

The section on France is perhaps the strongest in the entire volume. In particular, the introductory chapter by Kirrily Freeman on visual representations of Vichy from the occupation until today is well supported by rich visual examples. The chapter on the Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano by Peter Tame offers a re-evaluation of the French experience of occupation. Both chapters manage to serve as introductions to broader themes in French historiography, without getting bogged down by minute details. The section on Germany begins with a chapter on the transformation of D-Day from a decisive battle into a celebration of Franco-German reconciliation and unity in Europe, and goes over a well-trodden path in its discussion of Bitburg and the Historians’ Debate. Christiane Schönfeld’s discussion of memories of war in post-war German film is original, and she challenges the argument of post-war silence by providing ample evidence of films dealing with the war experience in the 1940s. Memories of war were not forgotten but 'deliberate, purposeful and regulated' (p. 208). That said, it is surprising that the German section has very little to say about the long aftermath of national and ideological division on GDR art and literature.

The chapter on Italian memory ranges from an overview of Italian memory patterns to the representation of American characters and US soldiers in Italian popular film. It concludes with a detailed chapter on Italian resistance writing during the Second Republic that will be of particular interest to experts in the field. All three of the chapters on Poland are of high quality. Andrzej Paczkowski argues that Poland is still the victim of geography, between German and Russia. Urszula Jarecka’s chapter on 'wounded memory' and Katyń is excellent and examines 'rhetorical strategies' for representing the Katyń massacre in Polish media and Polish-Russian relations. Markku Kangaspuro’s chapter on the changing meaning of Victory Day in the USSR and contemporary Russia clearly focuses on the sacred role that the Great Patriotic War plays in Russian politics of history both domestically and abroad. Greg Carleton’s chapter on Russian fiction at war portrays the legacy of war in Russia as Janus-faced, with one face turned towards the world with its victorious struggle against Nazism and the other turned inward on the enormous loss of Russian life and sacrifice.

The Long Aftermath ends with a reflective afterword by Jay Winter on 'Memories of War: From the Sacred to the Secular.' As the volume demonstrates, there are very different memory regimes in contemporary Europe, each of which accords the Holocaust a different place in its national memory. Winter suggests that the shift from sacred memories of the war to the secular is markedly uneven. While memories of war were framed within the sacred in the immediate post-war years in Western Europe, over time, they have generally shifted to a more secular and less religious-laden framework (p. 373). The further East one goes, however, the more the tropes of victimhood, martyrdom and sacrifice continue to resonate. The Long Aftermath demonstrates the centrality of national memory and how cultural legacies of World War II move between the sacred and the secular.