I’ve been thinking a lot about collective trauma lately and how societies do and do not deal with it. This post isn’t a coherent treatment or anything, it’s a bunch of random thoughts on the topic. I’ll try to expand on some of them later.
At one level what’s going on in the US with confederate statues has all the hallmarks of collective hysteria. The United Kingdom suffered one of those a few years ago regarding pedophilia (or paedophilia as they, quite mistakenly, spell it). Vigilance regarding pedophile predators is laudable but in the UK, for reasons that are not quite completely clear, reached a fever pitch and at one time, it is said, an angry mob burned down the house of a paediatrician (sic) because of the tell-tale shared Hellenic root.
I imagine that the US anti-statue fever will burn itself out in a few months (figuratively or literally). But part of what caused it was the response of Southern Whites to the collective trauma of losing the civil war and deprivations and predations the region suffered as a result. Trying to salvage a vision of the past that was less hopelessly wrong and putting up statues and creating the image of the Confederate Flag (never actually used in that form in the Confederacy) was a clumsy, and maybe wrong, way of dealing with trauma. It seems that responses to collective trauma often bring about new rounds of trauma.
The North never had Civil War trauma because they didn’t lose and mostly were ignorant, or apathetic, about what happened to the South as the war wound down and then in the years immediately after. Southern Blacks had their own, quite separate, traumas to deal with.
I remember years ago reading a casual remark that Western Europe has still not really dealt with the trauma of WWII and most of the more dysfunctional policies of the EU (and individual member states) can be traced to that (as can the very existence of the EU, originally a response to the trauma of WWII and anxiety about what Germany would come up with next if not reigned in and tied down by other countries.
Eastern Europe was, arguably, more lucky in that the trauma of WWII was followed by the trauma of Soviet installed Communism which cauterized the gaping wounds of WWII. It was kind of like forgetting about your headache by hitting your toe with a hammer, but it largely worked. WWII is traumatic history but doesn’t necessarily bring about dysfunctional responses. The lingering trauma is mostly tied to specific events (limited to specific countries) than the untreated free-floating holistic trauma of the West.
Interestingly, Poland probably dealt with the trauma of communism better during the communist period than it has since. One reason for that there is an ideological historiographical war going on regarding, not so much the Communist period as how it ended and the course of the first two or so years after the end of communism. Until one side wins, the communist period is simply…. non-existent in the national consciousness and is barely mentioned in history classes.