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Why study history and WW2

LAURENCE REES: And the last question of all, why do you think anyone should bother to study history in general, and this period in particular?

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: Well I think the point of education is to know ourselves, and both World War Two in general and the Holocaust in particular are important for understanding who we are by knowing where we came from. And certainly one can’t be smug about Western civilization; it has done many things that are wonderful, but on the other side there are many things that have not been so great, and to understand both the positive and the dark underside of Western civilisation you have to factor in that it led to World War One and Two and within World War Two to the Holocaust; that this was not aberrational, but part of what the German war effort was about.

I think it’s important for us to understand the vulnerabilities and dangers of a nation state system, which is now the prevailing way in which we organise ourselves politically, and what the mobilizing powers of administrative and bureaucratic systems of government are. I mean, we know technologically and scientifically we can destroy ourselves with atom bombs now, but we also can destroy large numbers of people with our managerial capacity in terms of targeted genocides. I also think it’s important to understand in terms of human nature that we are not a benign people who are threatened only by a few abnormal sadists. We need to understand that in most of us there is a capacity to be organised and manipulated in such ways that we will find mass killing as acceptable or even desirable, and that awareness is our first line of defence, and that is why it is terribly important.