You can’t quantify guilt, can you? It sounds like nonsense but we do it all the time.
I got to thinking about this after finishing Leiji Matsumoto’s Arcadia of My Youth manga, which is the 4th volume of his series of WWII stories. Let me preface this by explaining that these stories are mostly told from the perspective of Japanese combatants, and the couple that aren’t focus on German soldiers, so the book is solidly oriented toward the Axis Powers.
In the last story (“Iron Cross in Africa”), a German pilot meets a British pilot and a French resistance fighter. They decide on a truce for a day and end up bantering about the war. The talk very quickly deteriorates into accusations of guilt toward each other’s countries’ histories. See what you think of these arguments, and specifically of the weight (if any) that these actions elicit in your mind.
The Brit kicks things off by expressing surprise (and disgust) that the German pilot is such a gentleman considering he is one of the henchmen of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi movement, which built the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
2. British Empire
The German counters with a long rant against the British Imperial record. He starts off by saying that Brits are only affectionate toward dogs. They have built their Empire on the blood of countless Africans and Asians. Even the Spitfires and the Brits’ bodies themselves are the product of the blood and tears of colored peoples.
3. French Empire
The Frenchwoman preempts the German’s attack on France by suggesting that he use the examples of Algeria and French Indochina, the two most problematic French colonies.
The Brit ends it all with a quizzical look and the question: “So is this a battle of tainted nations?”
It would have been 10 times more interesting if Matsumoto had pencilled in a Japanese pilot but as things stand there’s still a lot of food for thought here. The basic implication of the debate is that all 3 characters consider these national guilts as equivalent.
I’d be curious to see what other people think about this. My gut feeling is to weigh Auschwitz as far more injurious and sinful than the other two examples, and I imagine that 99% of this blog’s readers would feel the same way, though I might be wrong.
Comparing the guilt of the British Empire and that of the French Empire is much less about feeling and more about education (or indoctrination?). Despite being ethno-culturally Spanish, as the years have passed I’ve been more and more influenced by the Anglo-American perspective, and so what I’m more attuned to that view. Specifically, as I see it there is a set evaluation of colonial rule prevalent in the Anglo-American sphere which runs like this:
Great Britain → a good colonial power, because it developed its colonies.
France → a bad colonial power, because it didn’t develop its colonies.
Spain → a terrible colonial power, because it actively harmed its colonies.
This year I’m systematically educating myself about Spain and Spanish history so I might have something more to say about this at some later point, but my initial question remains:
Can you even quantify guilt?