Know your ultimate enemy : the dream.
It’s about having an honest conversation.
That’s what I’ve come to think blogging is. Yes, you can muck around showing how slick or amusing you are but unless you’re genuinely trying to talk to one or two other human beings out there, who perhaps may only exist in your mind’s eye, you’re just adding a bit more volume to the background noise of the internet. You have to take the view that apart from them, nobody out there is listening, so you can talk freely and at your own pace.
To take that thought one step further, once you accept the very real possibility that you might well be talking into an empty void, you don’t really have to care from then on about how the viewpoint you’re expressing will be received and of course, how you choose to express it is your own business. It flows. You’re a free man.
Given that freedom, I’m going to be picking my way through a minefield with this difficult conversation, which touches on so many things I love and yet deals with so many things I hate. Sometimes what has to be said, and just isn’t, has to be said by someone. I’m content with being the one on this occasion.
More importantly though, the free blogosphere, as opposed to those house trained blogs owned and run by the big mainstream media, is now the last remaining place where controversial topics can be honestly examined without being spiked by risk averse editors or descended upon by an army of outraged thought police. It’s where consensually forbidden avenues of thought can be explored fully, so you read on at your own peril.
From the time I was a young child, I read voraciously. Initially I read anything and with that total lack of judgement that any child does when discovering a hobby they totally enjoy. At the time, reading was not actually a pleasure in itself, it was an enabler, an access mechanism to other things which interested me. What I lacked in terms of cleverness, was more than made up for by sheer enthusiasm.
After ploughing through all those great comics, stirring adventure books for boys, and my sisters’ stirring adventure books for girls, my reading became a bit more directed. As I grew, it slowly moved into the classics, history, science and the various arts which appealed to me. Looking back on it, I was in so many ways just a child ticking boxes. A lot of them I thought I understood but actually I didn’t. A deeper understanding came along much later.
Around the same time, I’d discovered music and the same brute force indiscriminate approach meant I’d listen to pretty much anything. I feel blessed to have a host of old and new musical friends, who’re something more than the background music to my life. In retrospect, the upside of such manic concentration on what I liked, was it simply never occurred to me to wonder what other people might think of my tastes; a trait which has persisted to this day. If I like reading it or listening to it, what gives anyone else some divine right to make any qualitative judgements about it?
A young hungry mind is like a small fire. The kindling soon runs out and demands bigger and more wood, so I’d always be browsing the second-hand bookshops for anything interesting within range of my school kid’s earnings or trolling the library for freebie input. In one of those wonderfully innocent moments that only a wonderfully innocent young person can have, I concluded I’d pretty much exhausted what my surroundings had to offer by way of anything new, so I went looking for fresh and exotic fare.
Hitherto, that’d been a splash of French culture, as it was for most of my contemporaries who might have been similarly inclined. Most of them of course didn’t, because that sort of stuff could earn you a rough time from the usual assorted Neanderthals, who’re the occasional hazards of every childhood.
After a few unsatisfactory dips into various areas, I finally settled on German Kultur. It was a totally new and slightly frightening land; here be dragons. It was slightly frowned upon, which of course made it all the more attractive to any young kid, but at the same time it had a certain artisan-like solidity to it that appealed to my down to earth nature. In a curious way, their literature and art didn’t feel like it was stuck in the nineteenth century, it hadn’t stopped but seemed to have continued evolving into modern times. I liked the immediate post-war writers like Heinrich Böll and Thomas Mann and continued my meandering explorations deeper into their classics.
There’s nothing intrinsically superior about any one country’s culture over another, they’re just different. It’s all good food, with just the style of cuisine varying. For any Shakespeare, there’s a Goethe, an O’Neil or a Voltaire. For any Baudelaire, there’s a Schiller, a Whitman or a Blake. Different cultures are like different languages. Each one uses a different structure to express mostly the same thoughts but each one has its own subtle ornamentation; reflexive verbs, a continuous tense, verbs that drift to the end of sentences and even two deliciously different words for something as simple as the verb to be.
My father had infected me with the poetry bug and I just knew there was no way anyone could move Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, WB Yeats or any of the others into another language without losing some of the emotive payload, so not wishing to miss out on that, I embarked on the occasionally painful business of learning the language. I persisted with the endeavour and over the years, have been rewarded several times over for sticking with it. There’s no better way of really getting to know your own language.
However, the more I got into it, the more it gradually became a pressing concern to find an answer to that dark question that hung over the whole thing. How could the eminently civilised culture that had produced the likes of Mozart, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Schiller and Dürer, ever have descended to producing the horrors of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Jasenovac and so many other death camps?
I read most of the current books on the subject, but while they all dwelt on the day-to-day mechanics of industrial murder, they never actually seemed to address that central question without being blinded by the understandable hate that inevitably follows from such a brutal war so freshly won. For the writers of the books and their generation, it was a whole new and unimagined level of inhumanity that’d happened in their lifetimes, something totally unexpected, and I understood that. For me, it had that slight distance of modern history, which fortunately took some of the emotional sting out of it and lent a measure of objectivity they perhaps couldn’t have.
The general explanation was that there was something innately evil about all Germans.
I’d hitch hiked around Germany, staying mostly in youth hostels, where after doing the usual communal chores, you could spend the evening chatting together in a local bar or restaurant. As far as I could see, the kids were no different from any of my other friends and on the occasions when the topic of the war came up, readily agreed that terrible things had been done. At the same time, they couldn’t see why they should feel responsible or feel guilty for the rest of their lives about things that happened well before they were born. In their position, I would have felt the same.
Their parents generally didn’t like to talk to them about those years but when pressed, had nothing terrible to hide. They were just ordinary people blown about by the winds of war. In later years I learnt in conversations with people of that generation the reason for their reticence wasn’t because they’d done anything horrible, but that it was just a terrible time they wanted to forget and move on from.
They’d lived in fear for year after year under a brutal dictatorship. They feared the dreaded anonymous denunciation by their neighbours and even their own children. They feared someone in their family or close family might offend the regime, because they would be punished as well. They feared the bombers by night and they feared the bombers by day. The feared the terrible rumours of what had happened at places like Dresden might just be true. They quite rightly feared the terrible wrath of the advancing Red Army, bent on vengeance for the millions of Russians who’d been butchered in the Great Patriotic War.
Despite what the propaganda machine told them, they knew the Russian Front was devouring their husbands and sons at a horrific rate, and that was even before the expected invasion by the allies in the west. By 1943, most of them knew in their secret and necessarily silent hearts the war was already lost but it dragged on for another two agonising years until a few days after Berlin itself fell.
They rebuilt their destroyed country and it all began with the women clearing the rubble, because the men were all gone. Long lines of them passing brick after brick to each other to build artificial mountains like the Teufelsberg or Devil’s Mountain in Berlin. They were the same women who would then go on to endure casual and unpunished rape for two years after the war’s end, and if it suits your sensibilities, keep on believing it was only brutish Russian soldiers who did such things.
It wasn’t what little they received from the Marshall plan which brought about the so-called post-war industrial miracle of Germany, but ordinary people working brutally hard to put ordinary life back together from the smoking ruins. The bitter reward they all received for that was always having the lingering finger of suspicion hanging over them for the crimes against humanity the fanatics had committed.
When you go through an experience like that, it alienates you from those who haven’t, especially your as yet unborn children. Their new and brighter lives you try to leave untarnished by your silence. You simply have no common basis for communication with anyone else, unless they’ve been through it. On the other and more grievous side of the hurt coin, it’s for that reason that I think some concentration camp survivors, who emigrated to Israel after the war, set up a number of their own kibbutzim purely for fellow survivors. They were way beyond neat and tidy ideas like survivor guilt and perhaps just wanted to live in a community where nobody felt guilty about not sharing their experiences.
I knew there were still monsters hiding in that generation but as far as I could see, not that many. What was clear though, was that the simple explanation of some inherent evil was just wrong. I’m not a particularly clever person but I very definitely am a particularly persistent one. The problem went on the back burner but never went away. I kept on chewing on it and I never let go of a problem like that.
An answer gradually became apparent as I understood more about history, politics but above all human nature.
It was the time of the great depression and the Germany economy had been harder hit than most because of excessive reparation payments stemming from the Great War. Any business that hadn’t already gone bankrupt was on life support, money was worth nothing because of hyperinflation and unemployment was rampant. The Nazis came to power through a mixture of inept politics by the mainstream parties of the Weimar republic and the simple promise of being able to fix things. Once in power via a one-third share of the vote and a few coalitions, they never allowed a free election again.
To give the devil his due, the situation did improve but that was mainly against a background of a worldwide recovery and more particularly the economic policies put in place by the Minister of Economics, Hjalmar Schacht, who was subsequently fired because of his opposition to the Nazi’s expansion plans. I’ve heard the argument advanced that Hitler would be remembered as a great Chancellor, if he’d just been content with what had already been achieved by the mid thirties but that just ignores his essential nature. He was a fanatic and fanatics can never stop; they’ll keep pushing for more and more until a war breaks out. That was plainly visible to most astute observers at the time.
Any electorate who’re enduring terrible economic conditions, are always ready to be sold the same dream – I will stabilise the situation and bring back the good old days. What was new about the dream the Nazis sold was that it had an essentially paranoid subtext. The Germans were part of a golden race, called the Aryans, destined to rule over all other races but at the same time, they’d been brought low by another race, the Jews, who were their mortal enemies.
The activists swallowed the dream whole. As the apparent success of National Socialism became visible with improving times, it became more reasonable to actively pursue the elements who’d caused the bad times. The denunciations in the mainstream media became gradually more vile. Suitably qualified scientists wrote erudite papers proving Aryans were a superior breed and Jews were the human equivalent to vermin. The first easy step on the road to the Final Solution is to dehumanise the opposition.
All Jewish professors were removed from universities on the flimsiest pretexts without a peep from their colleagues and shortly after the Rassenregeln or race rules legislation was passed. Soon, not only was university entrance barred to them but any position of authority or any decent profession. All they owned was confiscated, which actually meant looted. They became an extensible threat. Anyone else in a position of influence who didn’t bend the knee to the regime was deemed to have been infected by Jewish ideas and could therefore be dealt with similarly.
The pseudo science of Eugenics melded with a deliberate and perverted interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Nazi sympathisers in academia and science, swung right behind the ideas of that bastard mutant and lent it a spurious authority for the common person. State approved scientists are always well rewarded. It was now settled science and whatever happened to the Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled, mentally handicapped and other inferior races or defective types was just natural selection in action.
Children were sucked into political education organisations like the Hitler Youth, so they too could embrace the dream. They grew up to blow up half of Europe.
Every single organ of the mainstream media blasted the same message at the populace. Any dissenting journalists were soon weeded out and a lot of them fled their own country. They had lots of company in doing that, not least talented scientists who went on to work on the Manhattan Project, which they knew was always intended to deliver a nuclear bomb on Germany, their homeland.
By the end of the thirties, the nightmare subtext of national socialism had gradually split society into two factions; the true believers and everyone else.
The true believers had thrived and were in ruthless control of every organ of state, from the Reich’s chancellery right down to the local parish organisations. They just knew they were a part of something new and glorious. The young middling educated class was fatally susceptible to the dream because it provided a way out of all those slick, articulate but conflicting viewpoints by all those other clever people. It means no more sorting through which one is right, no more doubts about which side of the question they have to be on, an end to uncertainty.
Suddenly it’s been simplified. It’s all about reducing the complication, boiling it down to one thing, perhaps even a few simple phrases. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer - one people, one empire, one leader. Shout it loud brothers and sisters, shout it proud, the more you shout it, the truer it becomes. Join us children of a higher destiny on our great crusade to bring about the thousand-year Aryan Reich. All that’s left is to get the faint hearts amongst us on our side, and we’re going to do that, whether they want it or not. Sacrifices to achieve the dream will have to be made.
For the ordinary people, who weren’t that interested in politics, the dream of the true believers slowly mutated into the nightmare of living in fear of them. If you’re not with us, you’re against us and they soon knew enough to keep their thoughts to themselves. As Hitler the blunderer steered the country into the situation he always promised he wouldn’t, war on two fronts, young men were conscripted to fight against the obviously unbeatable triumvirate of America, Russia and the British Empire. Fighting for your country became neatly conflated with fighting for National Socialism, courtesy of Joseph Goebbels.
Do a Google image search of Nazi crowds and if you look carefully, you can see the joy in the faces of the true believers. They’re happy and awaiting the coming state of bliss. Once you put the dream inside their heads, you really don’t have to do much in the way of excusing the methods by which that dream can become a reality. It was a succession of just do this one slightly distasteful thing and the dream will come one step nearer. It was a beguiling path to hell taken one small step at a time, one compromise, one look away, one little don’t want to know. Basic moral boundaries both of commission and omission were crossed, but it was all for a greater good.
The real enemy was a dream inside people’s heads and the truly terrifying implication was that it could have happened anywhere to any nation and it still does, in places like the killing fields of Cambodia.
I’ve always thought the so-called science underpinning the theory of global warming was quite frankly laughable. It will become a latter-day example of pathological science and there are a lot of heavyweight science blogs out there who’ve been doing a fine job of pointing out exactly that. If the implications of such a nascent branch of science had stayed safely confined in some dull corner of research or academia, I wouldn’t have been too concerned.
Unfortunately it was being used as an imperative to shape public policy in so many areas and was therefore lending itself to political ends. It ceased being about science and became all about politics.
At the same time, the same frightening pattern of the all engulfing dream emerged. The prostitution of science by eager activists, a media blasting one false message, the suppression of dissent, the true believers on the one true and intolerant path to salvation, the political radicalisation of youth, the witch hunt through academia for objectors, the dehumanisation of the opposition and the refusal to look at the damage to other people their dream involved.
There it was, the same old whore dressed up in new finery and here it was shaping up to happen all over again, but not in one particular nation, but as a global movement. For reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere, it has foundered and is now in its death throes. The back of the cur is broken and it’s now crawling along the highway to AR5, which will be its last effort to save itself.
The echoes of what it might have become are still there though. The BBC interviewer nodding vigorously as some intellectual proposed tattooing a bar code on denier’s foreheads, a Canadian newspaper calling for its readers to report to them for publication the names and addresses of neighbours who used sprinklers on their lawns.
It’s the dream in their heads which is our ultimate enemy and what we’re up against. The fight against the damaging policies put in place in the name of global warming is the defining moral imperative of our age. We must in the end throw buckets of ice-cold water on top of that dream they love and show them the human cost of where any pursuit of it will ultimately lead.
For me, the final straw was being equated to a holocaust denier by the very people I think are most responsible for conducting one in the developing world.
As I said at the start of this piece, there are a lot of mines and I’m sure I’ve trod on several of them. The only one that concerns me is that it might have reopened still painful memories for some people out there, for which I apologise. As for the other mines, take your pick.
On stoking anti-German sentiment or racist stereotypes, all I can say is that I’ve lived and worked in Germany on more than one occasion and met too many decent people and made too many valued friends to intend any such harm. The idea that someone is inherently evil because of their nationality, race, colour or creed is the sort of comfort blanket stupidity that I leave to brainless bigots too afraid to get to know another group of strangers they fear.
On a reread, it could be viewed as me somehow excusing or balancing out war crimes, but I’m certainly not. If there was a moral war fought in the twentieth century, it was WWII and it had to be fought to a definite conclusion to make an end of more than one inhuman regime, even at the price of a Dresden or a Nagasaki. Moral or not, war is never a tidy business. It’s rarely a straight choice between good or evil but more usually about exercising premeditated violence to save as many as you can and hoping God will forgive you, not for making a wrong decision, which you leave to the smug armchair pundits of history, but for choosing the lesser of two cruelties. Nobody gets out of it clean.
Sadly, the biggest perceived taboo it tramples all over is transgressing the fabled Godwin’s law, which is interpreted by the simpletons of the blogosphere to mean that once you mention the Nazis in any debate, you’ve automatically lost. Sorry, but that’s just a decomposing rabbit pulled out of a by now tattered top hat by someone who’s actually behaving like a new age Nazi, in the hope of escaping being called out as such.
Just as Joliet Jake couldn’t stand Illinois Nazis, I can’t stand green Nazis, nor any other colour of them. It’s a phony argument that foul creatures use to hide behind the true implications of their politics. They crawl out from under some rock and scampering up atop it, stand arrogantly on their hind legs and crow arrant nonsense. Shining the burning light of truth on them soon sends them scuttling back under the slimy rock where they belong. I’ve no apologies to make for doing that, it’s more of a public service, so screw Godwin, his law and the hoss he rode into town on.
I’m just a hop, skip and a jump away from my peasant origins, but thankfully not too far. Fascism, Communism and Environmentalism are just homicidal waves that sweep over us and we are obliged to endure them but we abide because there’s lots of us and they always perish in the end. Sure, all of them will murder a lot of us but we always know they’re the transients. We were here before them and we’ll still be here long after they’ve turned to dust. We will survive because we’re nothing in their eyes, they just posture and think it means something but history will not be kind to them, because I know we’re the nobodies whose descendants will write those history books in the end.
The next war of this particular kind will be some way off I think, but it will come and trusting to the good sense of future generations, I leave it to them to spot it for what it is and fight it to a successful conclusion, confident in that recurring lesson from history that ordinary people always overcome the forces of crusading inhumanity in the long run, no matter what suit of plausible clothes it first comes disguised in.
We always take a bashing at the start, but we always hang on in and beat the crap out of them in the end. Just ask Adolph, Benito or Tojo.
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