A few days ago Arnold Schwarzenegger, posted “a message to my fellow Americans and friends around the world” on LinkedIn. I won’t wade into the quagmire of comments (and rants masquerading as comments) that his video has triggered. Suffice it to say, the United States is deeply divided and Joe Biden faces a challenge.
I was more moved by Arnie’s story about growing up in Austria in the aftermath of World War II. He relates how as a child he was “surrounded by broken men drinking away their guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history,” and how his own father “would come home drunk once or twice a week” and abuse him and his mother. Despite the domestic violence, however, Arnie did not hold his father “totally responsible” because he realized that he and other men in his community “were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies and emotional pain from what they saw and did” in the war.
The village, Thal, where Arnie grew up is just a few kilometers west of Graz where I live. It is an idyllic community nestled in rolling hills with well-ordered houses, a church, a small lake, and the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum. Visiting today, it is hard to imagine the 1950-60s world that Arnie describes. The skeletons in Austria’s closet are real, however, and we still carry them with us as Joachim Riedl noted on the 75th anniversary of the Second Republic:
The doctrine of the immaculate past is the corner stone of the founding of the Republic 75 years ago. It is the great lie that lies at the base of restored sovereignty. Partly for reasons of state, but also because of a collective sense of suppressed guilt, it continues to influence Austria’s self-image.
Austria is not the only nation with painful, dishonorable, historical moments. Regardless of where we hail from, all countries have sordid events in their past they would prefer to ignore. For example, at least part of the current dissidence in the United States derives from unresolved issues surrounding slavery and the treatment of indigenous people.
Some have belittled Arnie’s Hollywood approach in his video – the somber music, the setting, Conan’s sword. I look past that and admire his honesty and openness. Healing can only start when past injustices are confronted and openly examined – both in the United States and here in Austria.