Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana, and the German Sonderweg (part 1 of 2)
|October 14, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Sonderweg is a German word meaning “special way” or “special path.” It comes up in attempts to understand Germany’s Sonderweg, the complex interaction of causes that led it from the apex of 19th-century European civilization to the smouldering ruins of the Third Reich.
It seems to me that studies of this problem should begin with the basic question of human nature. Instead of just accepting the human personality as a given and going on from there to instant discussions of history, sociology, philosophy, or whatever, more thought needs to be given to exactly what it is that we are as people.
The Nazis did not, after all, come from another planet. They were fellow earthlings, and while there are of course some uniquely German aspects to the Holocaust, other aspects of it were not unique to Germany, and have occurred elsewhere in the world. This is what we would expect if the evils of the Holocaust had something to do with human nature in general, as opposed to merely German nature.
Take for example the Nazi practice of grabbing babies by the feet and bashing their heads against something. That was done in Cambodia under Pol Pot’s regime. Packing people into freight cars and shipping them long distances without adequate food, water, or sanitary facilities? That was done in the Soviet Union. Mass parades of military might and glorification of the great infallible leader? That was done in China and Russia, and has been imitated in many lesser countries.
If some Hutus hacked off a Tutsi’s arms and legs with machetes and then jeered and mocked while he writhed in agony to his death, or if they tossed hand grenades and fired machine guns into a church packed with refugees and then waded in with machetes and slaughtered the survivors, does that not equal in horror similar acts committed by the Nazis?
Senseless and cruel medical experiments on human guinea pigs – that was done by the Japanese in World War II. Intoxication with power and victory leading to a mad assault on a vastly greater power – this was also done by Japan. Like Hitler, Pol Pot combined bizarre ideas of nationalism and Communism, and was also concerned about Khmer ethnic purity. This led him to try to exterminate various ethnic groups in Cambodia (the Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Lao minorities). One of his biographers wrote that Pol Pot’s complex personality “defies analysis.”
This is not to deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust of the Jews. The industrialized, assembly-line extermination of millions of innocent people for no other reason than the demands of a bizarre nightmare ideology, backed up by all the power of an advanced modern state, stands terribly alone. No, the forgoing examples of cruelty elsewhere in the world were meant to illustrate that the problem of evil is a human problem not merely a German one (although Auschwitz has rightly become the world’s single predominant symbol of evil).
This brings us back to the problem of human nature. Did people come about by accident, as the result of the chance operations of matter and energy – or were we uniquely created by God? Are we basically good by nature (or at least neutral), or are we profoundly and deeply flawed, so that cruelty, lies, hatred, fear, and ignorance are inevitable realities?
If people are basically good, or even basically neutral, then the evil that we do must be the result of our environment. This being the case, we can study German history and look for the causes of the Holocaust there. If on the other hand people are basically flawed (I could say “sinful”), then we have to dig deeper and ask what it is that encourages the good in us, and what it is that encourages the bad in us – and even leads people to revel in cruelty and evil.
The fact that so many instances of Nazi-like evil have cropped up in all different parts of the globe, among all races, at many different times, should be clear proof that the problem has something to do with human nature itself. An interesting specific example of how Hitler-like traits and tendencies can emerge in a totally different environment is found in Kwame Nkrumah, the first ruler of an independent Ghana. True, Nkrumah did not have a magnificent army to carry out his vast ambitions for the continent of Africa; he did not have the well-staffed and fully functioning bureaucracy of a modern state to ensure the thorough application of his wishes; nor did he have a modern industrial base and advanced universities to turn out docile and obedient doctors, intellectuals and scientists – but in his own small way he revealed some of the all-too-human tendencies that went completely out of control in the Third Reich.
Nkrumah was born in 1910. He made his way to the United States where he supported himself by doing odd jobs while he obtained degrees in sociology, philosophy, and economics. In 1945 he moved to London and got involved in left-wing anti-colonial politics. Not having regular employment he was often short of money until he obtained a job with the United Gold Coast Convention, a conservative political party representing Ghana’s native elite that was cooperating with the British authorities to obtain independence for Ghana (known under British rule as the Gold Coast).
Disaffected with the UGCC’s conservative approach, Nkrumah started his own political party in 1949 (the Convention People’s Party) and proceeded to wreck British plans for gradual constitutional reform followed by an orderly transition to independence. He demanded “Self Government Now” as the best way to end British rule and bring prosperity and social advance to the people of Ghana.