In journalistic parlance a “ghost” is an obvious but unasked question in a news story. The New York Times the other day ran a fascinating, heartbreaking piece about the forgotten genocide perpetrated by Germany against the Herero and Nama peoples in its African colony of Namibia, from 1904 to 1908, a sort of dress rehearsal for the Holocaust. See if you can spot the ghost in the article.
Yes, the missing question pertains to motivation. What justified genocide in the eyes of German colonial military leaders? Expediency alone? Sadism? Simple cruelty? Or something more?
Well, there’s an allusion to eugenics and “racial purity.”
During German rule in Namibia, called South-West Africa back then, colonial officers studying eugenics developed ideas on racial purity, and their forces tried to exterminate two rebellious ethnic groups, the Herero and Nama, some of them in concentration camps.
While Germany’s efforts to atone for crimes during World War II are well known, it took a century before the nation began taking steps to acknowledge that genocide happened in Namibia decades before the Holocaust.
About 80 percent of all Herero, who numbered as many as 100,000, are believed to have eventually died. Many perished after the battle of Waterberg: They were shot, hanged from trees or died in the desert, where the Germans sealed off watering holes and also prevented survivors from returning.
Even after the centennial of the Namibian genocide in 2004, Germany’s willingness to acknowledge it officially has proceeded so slowly — and, to critics, grudgingly — that it has set off accusations of racism in how the victims in Europe and Africa have been treated.
“The only difference is that the Jewish are white in color and we are black,” said Sam Kambazembi, 51, a traditional Herero chief whose great-grandparents fled during the genocide.
What fueled this crime? We gave a much fuller answer to the question in our award-winning documentary The Biology of the Second Reich: Social Darwinism and the Origins of World War I. As in the Holocaust, racial notions derived in significant part from Darwinian evolutionary theory played a major part.
This is largely forgotten history, or it would be were it not for the writing of our colleague the historian Richard Weikart. “Amnesia” plagues the story of Germany in Africa:
In Germany, the genocide in Namibia has been debated a couple of times in the past year in the Bundestag. But in the country at large, the genocide remains mostly unknown, unmentioned in German schools, just as it is still largely unmentioned in Namibia’s classrooms.
“There is still a colonial amnesia,” said Reinhart Koessler, a German historian and expert on Namibia.
Right. This is all sadly familiar. And why do you think many people want such things to be forgotten? Well that is obviously a complex question, but worldview plays a role. Bruce Chapman has written here:
Darwinists today hate this kind of story because they don’t want the racism that Darwin offered analytically in The Descent of Man to implicate him in the crimes that followed. It’s fair enough to say that Darwin would have been appalled by the policies Germany followed in both genocides. But so, too, may some of today’s Darwinists as the unintended consequences of current eugenics policies — backed by Darwinists like Peter Singer — roll out in years ahead.
An important word in the culture wars: “consequences.”
The Biology of the Second Reich was written and directed by Center for Science & Culture associate director John West, and recognized as winner in the 2015 “Best Documentary Short” category by the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood. See it now if you haven’t already.
For more, see also Dr. Weikart’s post, “Reflecting on Social Darwinism at the Hundredth Anniversary of World War I.” His new book is Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich.