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Daily RC Article 186

Orderly and Humane: Rethinking Post-WWII Liberation and Ethnic Cleansing

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Orderly and Humane, a thesis by R.M. Douglas, contributes to the ongoing reassessment of the immediate aftermath of World War II, highlighting the dark, violent side of liberation. Accounts of ethnic cleansing, anti-Semitic violence, rape and plunder that occurred after the Nazi defeat challenge our most cherished ideas about World War II as a “good war.” They also shatter any notion that 1945 was a Stunde Null, or “zero hour,” a moment of spiritual conversion in which many Europeans were born again as believers in the creed of democracy and human rights. And they force us to re-examine the liminal years of 1945-48 on their own terms, asking which aspects of Nazi ideology were actually discredited by the experience of the Nazi occupation, and which persisted beyond the Third Reich’s defeat.

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Knowledge of the wholesale massacre of European Jewry certainly did not discredit anti-Semitism in Europe (or the United States, for that matter). After the war, pogroms and plunder drove the vast majority of surviving Jews in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia to flee to occupied Germany, of all places, and the protection of the Allies. Even Allied authorities saw Jewish survivors as undesirable immigrants, often offering asylum to Baltic and Ukrainian former SS members – now rehabilitated as victims of Communism – rather than to Jews. Above all, the experience of Nazi occupation did not discredit nationalism or the policies of ethnic cleansing. Eastern Europeans and the Great Powers alike emerged from the war more confident than ever that reconstructing a peaceful Europe required purging states of their national minorities, strengthening their sovereignty and restoring the national honour that had been compromised by the Nazi occupation.

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Douglas concludes by calling the expulsions a “a tragic, unnecessary, and, we must resolve, never to be repeated episode in Europe’s and the world’s recent history.” But, of course, the tragedy of ethnic cleansing has been repeated many times over since 1945. To this day, the phrase “nation building” is used interchangeably with “state building” in the Western press, conveying the impression that democratic states are built on the foundation of ethnically homogenous nations. While the Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia, did not explicitly endorse ethnic cleansing – and, in fact, contained provisions to protect minority rights – they brokered a peace by allocating sovereign territories to Serbs, Croats and Muslims. This, in turn, ratified the ethnic cleansing that had already occurred, reinforcing the assumption that homogeneous nation-states are a precondition for stable democracies. That presumption continues to shape foreign policy, and to find support among serious scholars. In reality, the historical record has shown that national antagonism and violence are often the product, rather than the cause, of population transfers, and that ethnic cleansing is the prelude to a brutal peace.

R.M. Douglas's thesis, "Orderly and Humane," challenges the conventional narrative of the aftermath of World War II. Examining the dark side of liberation, the author sheds light on ethnic cleansing, anti-Semitic violence, and the persistent ideologies that survived beyond the defeat of the Nazis. The book questions the notion of 1945 as a "zero hour" and explores the liminal years of 1945-48 on their own terms. Douglas highlights how the post-war period did not discredit anti-Semitism or nationalism, and how ethnic cleansing tragically persisted, shaping the world's recent history and challenging assumptions about stable democracies.
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