This morning, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, took part in the Armistice Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris, France. This is the first time a German Chancellor has done so since the practice began after WW2. France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, called this an "historic act", and indeed it was.
Think about this for a moment. This is the sitting leader of Germany, going and honouring those fallen French soldiers who died in the process of defending their country against the evil German hordes. To put that in context, try to imagine - really try to imagine - a time some sixty years from now when a sitting American president visits Iraq and lays a wreath at a memorial commemorating the Iraqi soldiers and insurgents who fought and died in the process of defending their country against the evil American aggressors.
Pretty hard to imagine it ever happening, isn't it?
I would love to know, to really understand, what this means to the average German. This is a country - and a person, in Chancellor Merkel, in particular - which has really, really seriously come to terms with their history and made their peace with the fact that they fucked up bad. No illusions. No excuses. No false bravado. They admit and acknowledge that they have, in living memory, been unimaginably screwed-up as a society, and have come to the point where they can be mature and genuine enough to be utterly contrite about it. How many countries have ever reached this point? Germany is certainly one of the worst and most notorious of the various nations who have, in the history of mankind, decided to destroy everyone and everything in their path of destruction, but they're by no means the only ones, and I can think of few that are willing to make a gesture like this.
I would love to be able to understand this cultural experience better. I really would.