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'War in Europe: 50-Year Legacy'

September 10, 1989

The article about Germany's lingering war scars on the 50th anniversary of Hitler's invasion of Poland ("Horrors of the Hitler Era Still Haunting Germany," Aug. 28) alludes to a dangerous political movement now gathering strength in some of today's industrialized democracies. It is the attempt by influential right-wing extremists in various governments who want to shed feelings of national guilt over past wartime atrocities.

If these attempts at assuaging national guilt are being made for political gain, it is an ominous sign that seeds are now being sown for a possible resurgence of political militarism in the 1990s. Many people of the older generation who participated in past atrocities are claiming that enough time has elapsed to allow one to dismiss guilty feelings as past history. Many young people today say they feel no compelling guilt over actions committed by their forefathers.

Even more alarming is that far-right spokesmen for these factions are drawing support from their constituencies. In some cases they have won regional elections.

Franz Schoenhuber's dominance in Germany's far-right politics is only one example of a leader trying to eliminate national remorse. A sizeable faction from within Japan's ruling party wants to forget wartime guilt over atrocities committed against China in the 1939 conflict. Italy's radical right party is promoting an unrepentant new militaristic platform as essential for national identity.

Don't limit this new extremism to just the former Axis powers. In France, right-wing leader Jean Marie Le Pen is drawing attention to his assertion that the Holocaust was overemphasized.

Countries will always have their right-wing zealots, but the recent success of these factions in promoting a clear conscience is truly frightening. Recall the words of philosopher George Santayana, who wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."



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