Sunday, 28 June 2015

Albert Jay Nock, "The Myth of a Guilty Nation" (1922)

Comments to follow soon.
Do note, in the interim, that Nock is writing about the First World War.

I used the digital edition produced and distributed by the (Ludwig von) Mises Institute of Alabama.


Chapter I
"…the Governments of Europe are confronted with the inescapable…: they can either tear up the [Versailles] treaty and replace it by an understanding based on justice, or they can stick to the treaty and by so doing protract indefinitely the dismal succession of wars, revolutions, bankruptcies and commercial dislocations that the treaty inaugurated. That is the situation; and it is a situation in which the people of the United States have an interest to preserve—the primary interest of a creditor, and also the interest of a trader who needs a large and stable market. It is idle to suppose that American business can prosper so long as Europe remains in a condition of instability and insolvency."

Chapter II
"Germany, so the official story ran, not only plotted in secret, but she sprung her plot upon a Europe that was wholly unprepared and unsuspecting…"

Chapter III
"The fact is that Europe was as thoroughly organized for war as it could possibly be. The point to which that organization was carried by England, France and Russia, as compared with Germany and Austria, may to some extent be indicated by statistics. In 1913, Russia carried a military establishment (on a peace footing) of 1,284,000 men; France, by an addition of 183,000 men, proposed to raise her peace-establishment to a total of 741,572. Germany, by an addition of 174,373 men, proposed to raise her total to 821,964; and Austria, by additions of 58,505 already made, brought her total up to 473,643. These are the figures of the British War Office, as furnished to the House of Commons in 1913."

"England’s superiority in battleships alone was 112 per cent in 1901, and her superiority rose to nearly 200 per cent in 1904; in which year England spent £42,431,000 on her navy, and Germany £11,659,000. Taking the comparative statistics of naval expenditure from 1900, in which year England spent £32,055,000 on her navy, and Germany spent £7,472,000, down to 1914 it is absolutely impossible to make the figures show that Germany enforced upon the other nations of Europe an unwilling competition in naval armament."

"England’s army-expenditure for 1914 (pre-war figures) was £28 million; £4 million more than Austria’s. Nor was this a sudden emergency-outlay. Going back as far as 1905, we find that she laid out in that year the same amount, £28 million. In that year, Germany and Austria together spent £48 million on their armies; England, France and Russia together spent £94 million on theirs…"

Chapter IV
"France and Russia had been bound by a military convention ever since 17 August, 1892; England and France had been bound since January, 1906, by a similar pact; and this was subsequently extended to include Belgium."

Chapter VI
"Mr. Lloyd George, for example, is one of the cleverest of politicians. We have already considered his two statements; first, that of 4 August, 1917: What are we fighting for? To defeat the most dangerous conspiracy ever plotted against the liberty of nations; carefully, skilfully, insidiously, clandestinely planned in every detail with ruthless, cynical determination. —and then that of 3 March, 1921: For the Allies, German responsibility for the war is fundamental. It is the basis upon which the structure of the treaty of Versailles has been erected, and if that acknowledgment is repudiated or abandoned, the treaty is destroyed....German responsibility for the war must be treated by the Allies as a chose jugée. A little over two months before Mr. George made this latter utterance, on 23 December, 1920, he said this: The more one reads memoirs and books written in the various countries of what happened before the first of August, 1914, the more one realizes that no one at the head of affairs quite meant war at that stage. It was something into which they glided, or rather staggered and stumbled, perhaps through folly; and a discussion, I have no doubt, would have averted it."

"IF the theory upon which the treaty of Versailles is based, the theory of a single guilty nation, were true, there would be no trouble about saying what the war was fought for. The Allied belligerents would have a simple, straight story to tell; they could describe their aims and intentions clearly in a few words that any one could understand, and their story would be reasonably consistent and not vary greatly from year to year. It would be practically the same story in 1918 as in 1915 or at any time between. In America, indeed, the story did not greatly vary up to the spring of 1917, for the reason that this country was pretty much in the dark about European international relations."

"In Europe and in England, however, the case was different. International relations were better understood by those who were closer to them than we were; more questions were raised and more demands made."

"...the Allies, they were confronted with the politician’s traditional difficulty. They had to say something plausible and satisfactory, which yet must be something that effectively hid the truth of the situation."

"...the official and semi-official statements of the causes of the war and of the war-aims of the Allies are a most curious hotchpotch…"

Chapter VIII
"It was on the eastern frontier, we perceive, therefore—not on the western, where Belgium might have been invaded by France—that all the available Belgian military force was concentrated. Hence, to pretend any longer that the Belgian Government was surprised by the action of Germany, or unprepared to meet it; to picture Germany and Belgium as cat and mouse, to understand the position of Belgium otherwise than that she was one of four solid allies under definite agreement worked out in complete practical detail, is sheer absurdity."

Chapter XVII
"Lloyd George is right in saying that no one really wanted war. What every one wanted, and what every one was trying with might and main to do, was to cook the omelette of economic imperialism without breaking any eggs."

Chapter XVIII
"10 March of the following year [1914], Mr. Asquith, replying to a question in the Commons from Lord Hugh Cecil, denied that England was under an “obligation arising owing to an assurance given by the Ministry in the course of diplomatic negotiations, to send a very large armed force out of this country to operate in Europe.” On 24 March, he made similar denials in reply to questions from Sir W. Byles and Mr. King. On 14 April, Mr. Runciman, in a speech at Birkenhead, denied “in the most categorical way” the existence of a secret understanding with any foreign Power! On 3 May, the Secretary for the Colonies, Mr. Harcourt, declared publicly that he “could conceive no circumstances in which Continental operations would not be a crime against the people of this country.” On 28 June, the under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Acland, declared publicly that “in no European question were we concerned to interfere with a big army.” On 1 July, Lord Loreburn, Lord Chancellor from 1906 to 1912, said “that any British Government would be so guilty towards our country as to take up arms in a foreign quarrel is more than I can believe.” On 28 April, 1914, and again on 11 June, Sir E. Grey confirmed, in the House of Commons, Mr. Asquith's assertion, made 10 and 24 March, 1913, of British freedom from engagements with Continental Powers."

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Joan Didion, "The Year of Magical Thinking" (2006)

Didion explores a critical year in her life in its immediate aftermath. Her daughter experiences a near-fatal medical condition. Her husband dies at home in front of her. In short, her world stops, lets her off, and then proceeds to drive over a cliff. She is left standing at the top, watching, and wondering what the hell happened.

Grief is a funny thing, perhaps like addiction. It's difficult to explain to those who haven't been there, and to them, any description makes the experience seem silly and indulgent. Any description seems incomplete, though, inadequate to the strength of the emotions felt and not felt.

Didion's book is both frustrating and touching. I chalk this up to the idea that it was written less for her audience than for herself. It is almost like a diary… like having a coffee with someone who is grieving, and who is thinking out loud. Her writing is compelling. Her thinking is circular, repetitive, and obsessive. She second-guesses her decision, plays scenarios (important and innocuous) over and over through her thoughts, and members and re-members her memories, attempting to construct a clear, linear, comprehensible narrative that explains what she is feeling.

Jim Murdoch offers a very insightful review.

Some noteworthy quotations:
- Chapter 5: "one more case of maintaining a fixed focus on the clear blue sky from which the plane fell…"
I just really like this image. It captures grief so well.

- Chapter 15: "John would wait until I came uptown at eleven or so to have dinner with me. We would walk to Coco Pazzo on those hot July nights and split an order of pasta and a salad at one of the little unreserved tables in the bar. I do not think we ever discussed the convention during these late dinners. On the Sunday afternoon before it began I had talked him into going uptown with me to a Louis Farrakhan event that never materialized, and between the improvisational nature of the scheduling and the walk back downtown from 125th Street his tolerance for the 1992 Democratic convention was pretty much exhausted. Still. He waited every night to eat with me. I thought about all this on the Tower C escalator and suddenly it occurred to me: I had spent a minute or two on this escalator thinking about the November night in 2003 before we flew to Paris and about those July nights in 1992 when we would eat late at Coco Pazzo and about the afternoon we had stood around 125th Street waiting for the Louis Farrakhan event that never happened."
This section reminds me of Gertrude Stein's 'Making of Americans'. There's something about the elliptical narrative, the fruitless repetition that is observed but unstoppable which resides somewhere between obsession and compulsion which is fascinating.

- Chapter 22: "if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead."
This suggestion resonates, but is difficult to reconcile with my interest in memorialization, public history, and myth-making.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Josh Miller, "A Zombie's History of the United States" (2010)

Subtitle: "From the Massacre at Plymouth Rock to the CIA's Secret War on the Undead."

On the whole, Miller's idea is intriguing. His realization left me somewhat disappointed. While the idea that the United States had a long-standing and difficult relationship with a zombie population, and that understanding this relationship was actually critical to understanding American history, the book was realized as pretty much light entertainment. It is funny in spots and tediously self-consciously attempting to be funny in others.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Peter Longerich, "Goebbels: A Biography" (2015)

Just finished. Comments to follow soon.

Two useful reviews:
- Nigel Jones, "Ménage-à-trois with Hitler: the Goebbels’ marriage was a bit crowded," Spectator (UK), 9 May 2015.
- James J. Sheehan, New York Times, 13 May 2015.

Some noteworthy excerpts:
In this historical biography, first and foremost concerned with the question of the part played by Goebbels in the leadership of the Third Reich, insights gained into the deficiencies of his personality can help to develop wider perspectives. A particular purpose of this biography is to open the way to an analysis of the construction and modus operandi of the Nazi propaganda apparatus.

The connections, often quite subtle, among his various responsibilities become apparent only through a description of his life.

“Faith Moves Mountains”: Political Beginnings in Berlin
He developed a friendship with the graphic artist Hans Herbert Schweitzer, who designed National Socialist posters under the pseudonym Mjölnir.

“Dare to Live Dangerously!”: Goebbels’s Radicalism and Hitler’s Policy of “Legality”
December 1930
After consulting “Hitler and a large number of experts,” Goebbels came up with a definition of socialism that immediately met with Hitler’s “enthusiastic” approval: “placing the concept of the people above that of the individual.”

A few weeks later it emerged, either as a result of police inquiries or of a leak by former Party employees, that the assassination attempt had clearly been faked by Goebbels himself—and quite crudely at that. The “explosives” consisted of some jumping jacks and a little gunpowder. That Goebbels wrote up the “assassination attempt” in his diary as a genuine threat shows his relationship to the truth: Having acted out a charade for public consumption, he then recorded it as a fact in his diary.

“Dare to Live Dangerously!”: Goebbels’s Radicalism and Hitler’s Policy of “Legality”
On March 13, he records in the diary, “someone tried to kill me with a bomb.”

“Dare to Live Dangerously!”: Goebbels’s Radicalism and Hitler’s Policy of “Legality”
In all these disputes it became clear how small Goebbels’s power base within the Party actually was during this phase of the NSDAP’s rapid expansion into a mass movement. In Berlin he had to appear as a radical hothead in order to keep the SA on board, but this in turn created tensions around his attitude to the “legal” course chosen by the Party leader, upon whose support he was so highly dependent.

Kurt Tucholsky poem of 1928: “Due to bad weather, the revolution will be held indoors.”

“We’re Here to Stay!”: Taking Power
...the head office of the fascist leisure organization Dopolavoro, which impressed Goebbels very much: “We must do something like that. The people at leisure. Sport…"

The great majority of the public had grown used to manifesting their support for the regime—as was expected of them—in their everyday behavior. This happened, for example, through the officially encouraged “Heil Hitler!” greeting; the wearing of uniforms by a large part of the population, or at least the wearing of insignia to signal their support for the regime; the public display of flags at home; attendance at Party events and mass rallies; donations to street collectors; listening en masse to broadcasts in public squares; the gradual exclusion of Jews, labeled enemies of the state, from normal daily life; and many other ways.

“Taking Firm Control of the Inner Discipline of a People”: Propaganda and Manipulation of the Public Sphere
...let journalists know what areas were out of bounds for critical, or even just independent, reporting. There should never, for example (stated Point 1 on the list of guidelines), be any broad-brush description of “official ceremonial occasions”: This took Goebbels back to one of his favorite themes, the avoidance of “pomp” in the Third Reich. Another rule was that any controversial discussion of proposed legislation was incompatible with the idea of a “Führer state.” Likewise, to discuss the form of government was “intolerable.” When reporting political trials it was undesirable to “discuss in detail false assertions that are the subject of the trial.” One of Goebbels’s guidelines stated succinctly: “Today, the church question has been settled.” With regard to ecclesiastical affairs, in order to avoid confusion as well as adverse reactions from foreign propaganda, only reports from the German News Service should be used. And as far as the much-lamented monotony of the German press was concerned, Goebbels forbade any discussion of press uniformity outright.

...he characterized the attitude now taken by German journalists toward the Nazi regime as “neue Sachlichkeit.”

Goebbels: "We have removed the journalist from his humiliating and demeaning dependence on parties and business interests, thereby placing him in a position of honorable and loyal dependence on the state. For we see the freedom of Germans not in the opportunity to do or not do what one wants, but in the opportunity to integrate freely and responsibly into the higher laws and higher moral commandments of a state.” his cultural address the dictator not only condemned the “vandals” of modern art but also spoke out against “backward-looking people” and their “old-world Teutonic art”—those of Rosenberg’s persuasion, in other words.

These examples show that in 1934–35 Goebbels was by no means the unconstrained sole master and expert helmsman of Germany’s culture and media he liked to claim he was: He had to share control and management
with others.

Goebbels called on the Gestapo to send six members of the cabaret casts who in the meantime had been arrested to a concentration camp for an initial stint of six weeks.

...the trial of five of the performers from the two theaters ended in October 1936 with an acquittal in all cases.

...directive prohibiting all authorities, organizations, and associations from giving the press any instructions or orders. Likewise, no one was entitled to exercise criticism of the press.

The law also introduced the classification of films by the state board of censors: The board was authorized to categorize films as “of political value to the state,” “artistic,” “educational,” or “culturally valuable,” thus exempting the films in question from the entertainment tax. Additionally, the Cinema Law provided for a “Reich film dramaturge” who—independently of the board of censors—was entitled to oversee all film projects at the planning and screenplay stages.

December 15, 1935, Goebbels gave another set-piece lecture at the Kroll Opera to “film creators.” Here he accepted in principle the justification for “entertainment films” but was critical of their “stupidity” and the “assembly- line production of those who followed the same formula.” Almost three years after the “seizure of power,” this was a fairly damning indictment of his own impact on filmmaking,

Among the amenities enjoyed there was a television set, installed in February 1935; the propaganda minister loved watching it with his family, although broadcasting was limited to a few hours and was still at the test stage.

“Never Tire!”: Foreign Policy Successes and Anti-Jewish Policies
In his capacity as head of propaganda for the Reich, Goebbels ordered that “between about 19 and 21 hours today, Tuesday, January 15, the population will spontaneously [sic] attend mass rallies to celebrate victory in the Saar.”

In his speech, broadcast to the nation, he described Christmas as a Christian festival but at the same time claimed it for National Socialism, which in the form of the “national community” had given the command to love your neighbor a “new and unexpected content” in the form of the national community.

“The Tougher the Better!”: The Olympic Year, 1936
It was not until the next day that Hitler and Göring informed him of the decision made the previous night, to which Goebbels pointedly attributed only minor significance in his diary entry: “So we’re getting a bit involved in Spain. Planes etc. Not obvious. Who knows what the point is.”

...placed a wreath on Horst Wessel’s grave

“The Most Important Factors in Our Modern Cultural Life”: Consolidating Nazi Cultural Policies
...lack of support for his “völkisch-Germanic” ambitions, Rosenberg’s mission to “spiritually educate” the whole Nazi movement carried little weight.

...on Goebbels’s initiative artists shown in the Munich “Decadence Exhibition” were branded as “degenerate” even though they were teaching at state art schools or were members of the Prussian Academy of Fine Art. 1937 the Reich Chamber of Fine Art still had 156 Jewish members, mostly art dealers and art publicists.

Even by May 1943, he found himself stating with consternation that “the Reich Culture Chamber is not yet as de-jewified as I intended”; “a whole lot of quarter-Jews, even a few half-Jews, and numbers of Jewish-related are hanging around there.”

Hitler was “extremely” pleased with some photos showing Helga on the Obersalzberg: “Says that if Helga was 20 years older and he was 20 years younger, she would be the wife for him.”

“Don’t Look Around, Keep Marching On!”: The Firebrand as Peacemaker
...the appearance of the three million — a majority of Berlin’s population — was not exactly a display of spontaneous popular enthusiasm. On September 26, for example, there was an article in the Völkischer Beobachter peremptorily commanding “the working Berlin population” to attend the rally en masse. The guarantee of “en masse” participation was achieved—to mention only one detail of the nearly perfect planning for this event—by the German Labor Front. After work ended early, they made the staff fall in and marched them en masse to their allocated sector of the approach roads. It was not easy to escape: If you felt ill, for example, you had to request special permission to leave from the works organizer.

Goebbels: "If I don’t do everything myself, I’m pleased when things go wrong.”

Hitler’s interest in this conversation was far-reaching, as he confided to Goebbels: “We need a prince of the church if we want to break away from Rome. And we must do so. There must be no authority outside Germany
able to give orders to Germans.”

Goebbels: "What I’m doing is trying to incite you. Against any kind of sentimentality. The watchword is not the law but harassment. The Jews have got to get out of Berlin.”

“Maturity Is Only Achieved Through Suffering!”: Preparations for War—from the Munich Agreement to the Attack on Poland
Goebbels arranged with the War Ministry in 1937 that, should war break out, units from his ministry would be put in uniform and “embedded” with the Wehrmacht.

“Our Banners Lead Us On to Victory!”: Between the War in the West and the War in the East
...the dictator made it quite clear to his propaganda minister: “No invasion planned,” although propaganda should encourage fears of invasion by dropping hints “in order to confuse the enemy.”

Goebbels, who after his conversations with Hitler always conscientiously recorded all the Führer’s comments about his foreign policy and military plans, does not report anything in his 1940 diaries about concrete plans for an attack on the Soviet Union. Rather, Goebbels’s entries in his diary for August 1940 show that Hitler intentionally left him in the dark about his war plans.

“Our Banners Lead Us On to Victory!”: Between the War in the West and the War in the East
Some prominent films produced under the Nazis - The Rothschilds, Jud Süss, The Eternal Jew, Bismarck, Ohm Krüger (on which Goebbels himself worked), and Carl Peters, Goodbye, Franziska and Request Concert, I Accuse, Stukas, U-Boat Going Westwards, and The Lützow Squadron

“A Great, a Wonderful Time, in Which a New Reich Will Be Born”: The Attack on the Soviet Union
On August 14 an inter-ministerial conference took place in the Propaganda Ministry at which, among other things, this plan to visibly identify the Jews was discussed.

Rühmann film The Gasman
Meine Frau Theresa

March 6 Goebbels read a “detailed memorandum prepared by the SD and the police about the final solution of the Jewish question.

Der große König

“We Can See in Our Mind’s Eye a Happy People”: Offensives and Setbacks
Goebbels: "I have no desire to have a 22-year-old eastern Jew—the saboteurs of the anti-Soviet exhibition included types like that—putting a bullet in my guts. I prefer ten Jews in a concentration camp or under the earth than having one in freedom.”

His continuing attempts to eliminate any remnant of the German people’s admiration and respect for Russia and Soviet communism can also be seen as an obsessive attempt to kill off the last germ of this dangerous sickness in himself.

Hitler’s increasing physical frailty was a growing problem in terms of the deployment of the Führer for propaganda purposes. Thus Goebbels was obliged to note that Hitler “is very unwilling to appear in the weekly newsreels” and kept removing clips in which he was shown

In December 1942 a growing number of reports about the mass murder of Jews in German-occupied Europe began to appear in the international media. On December 17 the Allies published a statement about the systematic murder of the Jews by the Nazi regime;

For the Führer state to be maintained in the absence of the Führer was going to require extraordinary efforts.

Hitler’s public silence had created a vacuum, which the propaganda minister was now entering with a vengeance.

During the evening many people were saying that this meeting represented a sort of quiet coup. [...] Total war is now no longer a matter for a few perceptive men; it’s now supported by the whole nation.

...both were agreed on “what would threaten us all if we became weak in this war”; they had committed themselves so far in the “Jewish question” that “there is no possible chance of escape. And that’s a good thing.” For “experience shows that a movement and a nation which has burned its bridges fights with far fewer reservations than one that still has the possibility of withdrawal.”

“The Masses Have Become Somewhat Skeptical or...Are in the Grip of a Permanent State of Hopelessness”: Crisis as a Permanent State
When they devised the plan for the total destruction of the German people, they were signing their own death warrant.

Horthy’s soft attitude had strengthened Hitler in his view that “the junk of small states which still exists in Europe must be liquidated as quickly as possible.”

The deep depression among the population that Goebbels detected at the end of May had to a significant extent been caused by the excessive use of anti-Semitism.

“I Have No Idea What the Führer’s Going to Do in the End”: The Search for a Way Out
During 1944, apart from his addresses on January 30 and after the July 20 assassination attempt, Hitler made no speeches that were broadcast and did not speak at any major events.

Goebbels’s summary of Hitler’s comments. “Anyone who says A must say B, and now that the Hungarians have begun implementing our Jewish policy they can no longer back out of it. After a certain point the Jewis

While hitherto German propaganda had put forward the thesis that “the Jews,” either as plutocrats or as communists, were the “glue” holding the enemy coalition together (an assertion that Goebbels frequently made both in public and in private), now, in view of the threat of military defeat, it was necessary to emphasize the contradictions within the enemy camp.

...actual instances of vigilantism committed against pilots, he hoped to make an impact in the enemy countries.

“Virtually a Wartime Dictatorship on the Home Front”: Between an Apocalyptic Mood and Total War
There were further trials in the People’s Court lasting until April 1945 with more than 150 people accused of participating in the conspiracy, of whom over a hundred were sentenced to death and hanged.

“But When Will There Be Some Action?”: Downfall
He was also unsuccessful in gaining acceptance for his idea of a Military Auxiliaries Law subjecting all women under thirty to military conscription and thereby recruiting two hundred thousand women as “military auxiliaries.” It was blocked by Bormann and Himmler.

...while the propaganda that was now preparing the German population for a confrontation with Poland justified the use of military means, it also led to this war, which allegedly had been forced on Germany, being seen as an exceptional situation. The result was that after its rapid conclusion the vast majority of the population wanted to return to peacetime conditions.