“Why did you choose to travel to Germany?!” asked my family, friends, the Italian lady next to me on the plane, (three out of four of) my Airbnb hosts and the Munich immigration officer. History.
“History is and should be a science. It is not the accumulation of events of every kind which happened in the past. It is the science of human societies. – Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, French historian
Ever since my teens, peering into the depths of our yesteryears has always been more than just a hobby. I have always viewed history as a detailed psycho-analysis into how mankind exercised its prerogative. To me, history is a never-ending dialogue between the past and the present. It informs as much as it educates. At the risk of sounding pedantic, we need to recognize the distinction between knowing what happened, why something happened and how something happened. History does not just go away, its legacy does not just disappear. It needs to be confronted intentionally, its impact named and addressed.
I was privileged enough to travel to the luscious locales of Munich, Berlin and Dresden. However, it was in fact Nuremberg’s antiquities and historical juxtaposition that had the most profound impact on me. History celebrates triumphs and acknowledges failures. Nuremberg perfectly enshrines both such elements. During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Nuremberg was the heart of Nazi rule, home to Nazi leaders and his massive propaganda rallies. It was the birthplace of the horrific anti-Semitic whereby the international community came together to bring Nazi War criminals to justice for their war crimes against humanity. Nuremberg is a complicated concoction of both pride and shame.
I keep finding myself establishing the connection of one’s personal records to that of a location’s history. Imagine an adult named Nuremberg, who carries a shoplifting past as well as a stellar sports track record. There is strength in embracing both. Throughout this trip, I gained much insight as to how an entire race was not only marginalized, but eradicated. At the same time, I was heartened to know that people back then recognised the need to punish the heinous deeds committed.
Coming back home and reading the news, I knew that there had to be a purpose to my self-indulgent escapade. Despite the aforementioned events in mankind’s recent history, every single day I am finding our society as divisive and fragmented as ever. From the #metoo and #Blacklivesmatter movement, to the Repeal 377A right here in Singapore, marginalization is still very much omnipresent. Call me idealistic. I believe in equality, and that our systems should constantly endeavor to reflect that. We owe it to ourselves. There is inherent value in everyone and marginalization disregards that. Increasing one’s value does not require the discounting of another’s.
Although my analogy may seem a tad bit extreme and granted Hitler was indeed charismatic, anyone hearing him profess the superiority of a race over another should have delved further and verified the veracity of such statements. Similarly, our media is corroding civil discourse, reinforcing prejudices and making public conversations more difficult. Cookies in websites let us see what we want to see. Therefore, it is our responsibility to read, learn and understand with our eyes and ears wide open, in order to prevent the subtle creation of inbuilt bias and unintentional discrimination.
History is a double-edged sword, serving as a reminder as to how wrong we have gone and how great we can be. As wholeheartedly as I am embracing the strides that have been made, from (the elimination of) racial segregation to the voting rights being apportioned across all genders and races, I am just as strongly making this assertion – We cannot and should not go back to what was. Let us keep striving to be better and do better.