Firmly convinced of the exceptional nature of their country, many Americans resist opportunities to learn from the history of others. They interrogate the history and legacy of American slavery, imperialism, genocide, and other mass evils without considering how other countries have dealt with similar misdeeds. Neiman, a Jewish American philosopher who grew up in the American South and now lives in Berlin, has written a corrective. She compares the German response to the Holocaust since World War II to the southern response to slavery and segregation in that same period. Both societies went through decades of denial: for 25 years after World War II, the Germans argued that everyday citizens neither knew about nor supported the Holocaust; American southerners during that same time maintained myths that slavery and segregation were beneficial and that the Civil War was really about states’ rights. Starting in the 1960s, however, Germany officially apologized, paid reparations, banned the glorification of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, and memorialized the victims. By contrast, Neiman argues, many southerners and their conservative defenders elsewhere in the United States continue to suppress the record of the past. They defend monuments and symbols celebrating those who took up arms to defend slavery, label official apologies as treasonous, resist reparations, and applaud politicians who employ coded racist language.
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