Part 1. ‘On the Desperate Edge of Now’
This episode, broadcast on 30 May 1995, examines how the various national ideals and memories of the Second World War were effectively buried, rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War era, only to violently resurface later with events such as the protests of 1968, the emergence of the Red Army Faction, and the turmoil of the Yugoslav Wars.
For Germany, this process began at the Nuremberg Trials, where the use of the film The Nazi Plan was intended to reveal the criminality of the Nazi state, and attempts were made to prevent defendants—principally Hermann Göring—from providing any rational or contextualized argument for their actions during the war. Subsequently, however, bringing lower-ranking Nazis to justice was all but forgotten in the interests of maintaining West Germany as an important new ally in the Cold War. For the Allies, faced with a new enemy in the Soviet Union, there was a need to portray World War II as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, even if this meant creating a mismatch by denying the memories of the individual soldiers who had actually done the fighting and knew it to have been far more ambiguous.
The title of this episode comes from a veteran’s description of the uncertainty of survival in combat. A number of American veterans related how, years later, they found themselves plagued with previously-suppressed memories of the brutal things they had seen and done.