When it comes to Confederate monuments and reckoning with the past, America could learn a lot from Germany, says CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
Zakaria’s comments came a week after violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white supremacists and neo-Nazis held a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E Lee. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters gathered to oppose the rally.
The protests reignited an ongoing national debate over whether the more than 700 Confederate memorials and monuments across the country should be removed.
The United States should take inspiration from Germany, a country that has gone through the “difficult national process of reckoning with its history,” Zakaria argued Sunday on his show, “GPS.”
“The country has gradually come to accept a sense of collective guilt. It has not been immune to push-back and backlash. There have been far-right nationalist parties — today, there is one called the Alternative for Germany — but by and large the country has rejected its Nazi past,” he said.
“Anyone who uses the swastika or performs a Hitler salute in Germany faces potential prison time, and there are strict prohibitions against hate speech. Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was not published in Germany for 70 years, until the copyright expired,” he added.
Zakaria brought up the tens of thousands of “stumbling blocks,” an ongoing Holocaust memorial project in which brass plaques are placed in the ground across Germany, each bearing the name of a Nazi victim who lived at that location.
However, Zakaria noted, these memorials had not been greeted “without controversy.”
“The so-called stumbling blocks have offended some people, who say the Holocaust victims are being trampled daily, and the city of Munich went so far as to ban them,” he said.
But this kind of debate, he insisted, was “healthy.”
“Wrestling with a country’s history is not easy, and should not be easy,” he said.
America, he said, was now “wrestling as well.”
“The South is still littered with monuments honoring, celebrating the people whose only claim to fame was that they marched and fought in mutinous opposition to the government of the United States because they wanted to defend slavery,” he said.
By contrast, the CNN host noted, “there are relatively few memorials to the millions of slaves who were violently oppressed in these same lands.”
That’s why it’s ironic to note that America is actually one of the reasons why Germany was able to confront its past so effectively, Zakaria argued.
“When it occupied Germany after World War II, the allied powers prohibited the display of ‘any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia which tends … to revive militarism or to commemorate the Nazi Party,’ ” he said.
In doing so, Zakaria said, the United States helped Germany show “that it could bury its militarism and Nazism.”
“The circumstances are very different, of course, but some of the lessons from Germany might well apply in America today,” he concluded.