Simmel’s article, “Psychic Trauma,” provides a psychological, generalized defense to the actions taken by the German administrations and citizens in the face of perceived cowardly defeat, detailed by Schivelbusch in his chapter titled “Germany” in the Culture of Defeat. I read Schivelbusch’s article first, which by itself was particularly fascinating. I had never truly considered how deep egos could run or how they contributed to national identities, especially during the early twentieth century. So much of modern politics is about saving face, or at least maintaining a “politically correct” facade, but I did not realize that the German state had done similar things to preserve some of their national pride in the face of a quick defeat.
The Germans’ worry of upholding the tradition of honor and success established by their elders also runs many parallels to certain nations today, such as the United States. Each generation wants to lead a better life than that of their parents, but at a certain point, is there a maximum threshold for quality of life that can feasibly be achieved? At some level, does the fear of failure inhibit the will for hard-earned success? The younger German generations may have feared being humiliated any further, deciding to surrender sooner than necessary in order to avoid merciless treatment at the hands of their enemies. By surrendering before they needed to, they could defend their decision and some of their pride by insisting they had done so on their own accord. They were not beaten into submission; they accepted it on an international scale.
Internally, however, this was not the case. Individuals did not know how to react to something so unfamiliar, so unexpected as surrender. The government’s propaganda and obsession with symbols emerged as an attempt to quell their citizens’ fear and maintain the sense of honor established by their parents’ generation. Simmel extends the Germans’ situation and fear of failure to a more general mindset, which is again particularly pertinent to modern war veterans. Evaluating PTSD from the standpoint of a social defense mechanism exacerbated by the German ruling party sheds a more humanitarian light on the German predicament. Especially as an American who was educated through the public school system, such a view of German military and governmental procedures has never elicited such sympathy from me. By viewing the German efforts to save face as a mechanism of coping with PTSD on a national scale, their actions become more understandable, more human.
Removing horrible events from the national memory and national conscious is obviously desirable for a nation’s general happiness, and German propaganda, portraying them as heroes “stabbed in the back,” helped alleviate the version of PTSD that the nation had. Although delusional, the heroic portrayal of their military defeat helped the nation recover its pride more quickly and maintain its sense of winners and losers internationally, of which they were inappropriately and temporarily placed among the losers. These postwar reflections on the mindset of Germany during war and surrender evaluate the situation from a more level-headed perspective. As with most things, hindsight is 20/20, and the postwar comments published of those who were involved in the war definitely reflect postwar opinions as opposed to during-war opinions, which would have been much more hasty, extreme, and direct. Suchivelbusch and Simmel offer postwar reflections on the German national identity and efforts to maintain its stability in the face of an unexpected defeat.