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False Ambitions and Dreams

Posted April. 08, 2005 23:26,   


It has been revealed that the Japanese middle school textbooks recently approved by the Japanese government have corrupted Korean-Japanese relations. It has also been revealed that Japanese territorial claims on the Dokdo islets have been reinforced. This news is all the more startling to neighboring nations when taking into account that high-ranking Japanese government officials and politicians are directly or indirectly involved in these movements.

Furthermore, textbooks by Fusosha Publishing Inc., a publishing agency that advocates the right wing of Japan, are incredulously asserting that Japanese invasions aided to the modernization of colonies. This country, with state leaders who worship at the memorials of first degree war criminals, is even intent on becoming a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations as we speak.

But what is the stance of Germany, which has admitted responsibility for the inhumane crimes it committed during World War II?

In September of 2004, director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall” was released in theaters all across Germany. This movie, which illustrates the final 14 days of Nazi rule, from the Soviet assault on Berlin on April 16, 1945 to Hitler’s suicide in a bunker on the 30th day of the same month, was surrounded by controversy from the beginning. The reason was that “Hitler’s humanity was depicted in detail for the first time, which might invoke unnecessary compassion.” This is a country that criticizes a ‘too realistic’ portrayal of war criminals. This is Germany today, a nation that has recovered its position as a leader in Europe, with exhaustive post-war compensation and retrospection.

This book (Original title: “Downfall” (Der Untergang), published in 2002), written by renowned German historian and journalist Joachim Fest, became the basis for the movie along with the memoirs of Hitler’s typist, Traudl Junge. The author meticulously compares the testimonies of “suicide bunker” authorities returned from captivity in 1955 and Soviet documents released after the end of the Cold War, to panoramically tell the story of the 14 days of ‘The Apocalypse of Ruin.’

The first thing that transfixes you when flipping the book cover is the havoc of German soldiers who arrived at the end. The leaders only repeated the orders of ‘battlefront shooters’ and failed to construct an effective fortress, and Admiral Vank, rumored to be the last savior, was immersed in expanding the runway.

Hitler’s bunker was not the glorious final scene of ‘Twilight of the Gods’ in Wagner’s music drama that he so cherished. The tip of the author’s pen exposes the twosome who feuds over the throne of a dying empire, a false hope to confront Soviet Union after fortifying powers with Western allies, the depressing atmosphere that screams, “If we’re going to lose this wine, we should drink it all.” Hitler, with crumbs of food stuck to the corner of his mouth, on a face festering with years of life in a bunker, walks around with trembling hands.

The bunker scenery dramatically changes after Hitler’s birthday, on April 20. With a rarely opened conviviality, the bunker is reminiscent of a sweet salon, but an exit line is formed when Hitler says, “I won’t hold bank those who leave.” Looting, street trials, and immediate executions are held in the nine days of pandemonium, and as the bullets of Soviet soldiers reach the bunker, Hitler holds a marriage ceremony with his lover Eva Braun. The next morning, Hitler briefly sticks his head out of the bunker with his wife, who wanted to see a last sunrise, feeds her poison, points a gun at his temple, and shoots.

The writer analyzes Hitler’s impulsive last days as “the determination of downfall.” He who interminably pursued aggravation and tested his destiny by invading the Soviet Union, did not care if he won or lost.

He proclaimed even before the war started, “If we are ruined, we will take half of the world with us to their downfall,” and said in the late stages of war, “When you retreat, burn every facility. I will make ashes out of civilization.”

Despite this bizarre psychological state, the Hitler who appears in this book and film, “Downfall” is a humane character who pets dogs and consoles his heartbroken mistress. The criticism that the film received is also focused on this point. That, however, may perhaps be the author’s intention in a paradoxical manner.

Perhaps the author’s message is that, though we may turn our every sin upon a special presence who “is not like us,” we cannot be free from the guilt of our consciences, and only perpetual reflection and retrospection can save us from the tragedies of the human race. This is precisely the message that Japanese rightists, claiming extremist Democracy, need to engrave in their minds and hearts.

April 30 marks the 60th anniversary of Hitler’s “Downfall” in his bunker.

Yoon-Jong Yoo gustav@donga.com