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A Psychological Critique of the Refusal to Accept the Loss of the World War II (1967)

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Of course, stating complex issues as baldly as this, declaring that we Germans are not prepared to accept the fact that we lost the war against Russia totally and completely, can easily lead to exaggeration. Especially since such a statement does not apply to the rational foreground of indisputable facts, in which we are confronted with an inflexible political and military colossus, but rather to the fantasies looming behind it. We are dealing here with ulterior thoughts and their far from negligible influence on our objective behavior, though such influence is never easily demonstrable.

A taboo arose then, over the years, a real, untouchable taboo: it was absolutely forbidden to recognize the present frontiers of the two German states as the factual point of departure for any realistic discussion. Behind such a taboo lurks the dream that, by some unforeseeable stroke of good fortune, Germans might yet be able to recover what was earlier gambled away through criminal hubris. It is indeed a very dangerous dream. Rather than trying to secure a reasonable form of coexistence, rather than striving to divest national frontiers of their character as barriers to free traffic – so that we in West Germany might be allowed to travel to the beaches of what was once East Prussia as freely as to the mountains of Alsace – West Germans have for over twenty years put a higher valuation on their Federal Republic's claim to being the "sole representative" of Germany. This reveals the strength of ulterior thoughts, because it is these that made the Germans throw away the possibility of any tolerable compromise in favor of the intolerable dogmatism that still prevails on both sides of the boundary between the two Germanys.

Accordingly, German assurances that they will renounce the use of force in the pursuance of their "just claims" must sound somewhat unconvincing to foreign ears. The German propensity for loving the unattainable so uncompromisingly that thereby the attainable is forfeited has been a recurrent feature of German history ever since the days of the Holy Roman Empire.

This orientation toward the unreal in German collective behavior was one of the factors that stimulated the study that follows. Since we are dealing with fantasies that are to be discovered controlling what appears superficially to be rational behavior, the task of describing them is complicated and, inevitably, our observations will often be clumsily, even perhaps hurtfully, set forth. Nevertheless, we trust that the reader – especially the German reader – will tolerate whatever distress he may feel at what we have to say and will hear us out before making up his mind.

Source: Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, The Inability to Mourn. Principles of Collective Behavior. Preface by Robert Jay Lifton. Translated by Beverly R. Placzek. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1975, pp. 4-6. [Originally published in German as Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlage kollektiven Verhaltens. Munich, 1967.]

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