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Two German players were laughing in astonished delight at their own good fortune, but what I saw was young, strapping, exultant Aryan youth. I saw Leni Riefenstahl’s Germany—and because I know those words are odious, let me immediately amend them. I saw, for a moment, in the clean-cut German athletes, the romanticized image that Hitler twisted into the Third Reich.
After Germany’s 7-1 victory, the papers were full of stories that wondered at the impact of the thrashing on the host country, Brazil. Here are a couple of headlines from the New York Times: "Humiliation and Heartbreak: Brazil Processes the Unthinkable.” And "Nation in Despair."
The Times was a lot more cursory about the impact on Germans.
There was a piece that in passing described Germans as a people "still unsure how much to enjoy themselves in public." And a game-day report from a pub in Berlin that "the mood among the guests was jubilant, but even in this moment of triumph, the German patrons were muttering. 'We don’t want to overdo it,' one woman said."
Could these traumatized people allow themselves not to suffer in triumph?
The Germans on the field didn't show any signs of suffering. Their attack was systematic, efficient, and relentless, and it exhilarated them. It’s always been hard for me to reconcile the Germany of World War II movies with today’s Germany, which barely has an army and won’t use it. But during the Brazil game there was that point when it suddenly wasn’t hard at all.