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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Tucholsky today

Hey, a little miracle today> a nyt story about, of all people, Kurt Tucholsky. This  makes me think that I should recycle the translation I made in 2007 of one of his great essays. Here it is.
"Continuing our futile anti-war shrieking and babbling, LI is going to translate a famous article of Tucholsky’s entitled the “Der Leerlauf eines Heroismus” – “A Heroism’s hollow trajectory” – but before we do it, a little background is necessary. Luckily, Time Magazine has recently put online an article, “Handsome Adolf”, it published in 1930  about the treason trial in Leipzig, in which was  ‘uncovered the mental situation of the military for those who didn’t know it,” as Tucholsky puts it.
Here’s the salient first grafs, displaying Time’s truly annoying journalistic style – this is the kind of writing that Robert Coover parodied in The Public Burning:
“Not in Berlin, not even in Prussia, but in Saxony, in Leipzig sits the German Supreme Court: das Reichsgericht. Justice is done beneath a mighty dome topped by a big bronze statue of Truth. Through tall casement windows Saxon sunbeams glint upon carved oak. In such a setting presiding Judge Baumgarten (except when fiddling with one of his ears) is a sight awesome as Olympian Jove. Boldly to face the justice down, to use the Supreme Court dome as a demagog's thumping tub, to hurl from dem Reichsgericht a defy which reverberated throughout Europe, such was the feat last week of Adolf Hitler, No. I Brown Shirt Fascist (TIME, Aug. 25).
Ostensibly the proceedings were a trial for High Treason. Three young German army officers (Lieutenants Richard Scheringer, Hans Ludin, Friedrich Wendt) were charged with inciting their men to join a Fascist putsch should it be proclaimed. Without quite admitting their guilt the young officers waxed hotly truculent. "I would obey an order to shoot down Communists," shouted Lieutenant Scheringer, "but I would disobey a command to fire on men of my own persuasion!"
Exactly what was this "persuasion"? Evading damaging admissions, the Lieutenants said in effect that their views are those of Brown Shirt Hitler, leader of the National Socialist [Fascist] party whose sensational gains in the last election make it second strongest in Germany (TIME, Sept. 22). If such views be treason, argued the defense, then make the most of it!
Smart, the defense determined to do exactly this, subpenaed Herr Hitler as a witness, got ready to offer him the opportunity to use the witness stand as a soapbox.
Housewives & Blue Eyes. "Hitler Kommt!" cried 2,000 excited Saxons massed inside and outside the supreme courthouse. Many were women—for thrifty German housewives particularly dislike paying reparations, have swallowed eagerly the brash Fascist promises to repudiate the Young Plan. As Herr Hitler's motorcar swirled up the women pelted him with flowers. As this medium sized man with a small blond mustache but hard, blue, twinkling eyes stepped out, soprano voices cried "Ach, der schöne Adolf!" (Ah, handsome Adolf!). But so vast, dim, labyrinthine is the supreme courthouse that Witness Hitler, studiously quiet at first, stepped into the chamber and was actually on the stand before the courtroom galleries saw him.
"Heads Shall Roll!" Asked if he were planning revolution, Herr Hitler answered composedly:
"Nein, we are merely preparing an intellectual eruption of the German people by peaceful means."
When this drew from the gallery a roar of "Germany Awake!" (Fascist slogan), Judge Baumgarten glared at the assemblage, rumbled, "Silence, this is not a theatre!" but soon Herr Hitler in smashing demagog style was carrying all before him.”
It is always a jolting thing to see how the devil was painted before he became the devil. Those twinkling blue eyes - here's a man who might just have the answer to the red menace!
Here's the great Kurt:
Heroism running on empty - Kurt Tucholsky
The Leipzig trial for high treason has unveiled the mental situation of the German military for those who did not know it.
We don’t take the trial very seriously. The official court has long disappointed the trust of all observers with its political judgments – what is inscribed in its judgments is resentment and politics, which are served up as a form of justicery.
That communists would never be treated like these three officers doesn’t surprise us. “I have”, said one of the government attornies, “not wanted to offend the accused, and I would regret it if they had been offended (gekraenkt habe). Well, that’s all righty then….
The important and implication heavy thing is not the attitudes of the court, but instead, the the pattern of military thought, which is less known.
It is grim.
That voluntary soldiers are voluntary opponents of pacifism ought not to astonish us, and is understandable. That has always been the case. Although it is rarely thought about - as it would be if the fire department, for example, struggled against those who wanted to put out flames… but these soldiers have never felt like firemen, who are called in the moment of danger, but have always seen themselves as their own end.
Although I won’t speak to those majors and lieutenants, who can’t be persuaded because they can’t read, and if they could read, could not understand, and if they could understand what they read, would apply it falsely – I will speak to people who wish to battle un-intelligence with intelligence.
Every man creates in his mind a world, in which he stands in the center, according to his abilities. Few confess this. Let’s begin with ourselves.
Pacifists who are good horsemen are exceptions. In every pacifistic tendency is – next to the best ethical intentions – the rejection of a world in which the preaching pacifist does not play a leading role. It is already much, if he could stand with respect in this warrior’s world. This dainty aunt-y feature is unmistakable in pacifism; where it works itself out sentimentally, is where it is hardest to defend. For that is not the sense and content of pacifism. The military opponent fights with us: with slanders, as for example in this trial; with insults, that are uninteresting, and … without a trace of justice. They struggle mostly, however, against the worst and lowest level of pacifism, against its caricature, against the cry baby in it.
Otherwise such a fight is a question of intellectual force, and really not only of the brachial type, as it is thoroughly impressed upon us today. The peaceloving person, who doesn’t want to squander his best forces on the battle field, builds himself a world, in which he has some value. He is easily inclined to place this world ethically higher than all the others.
It is weakness and lies to close one’s eyes to the fact that these elements have to be cleanly expelled. I hold it for wholly just and natural.
The pacifist is correct, even so, in his fight against war, because he is denying it the power to manage the lives of other people. I have no vegetarian feelings in any way: there may be situations, in which spilling blood is no injustice. But one must hold upright, as a fundamental demand, that nobody has the right, to rule over the life of his fellow men in order to elevate himself. But that’s exactly what soldier’s do."
Cut in here some recent 2007 news - this translation will be collaged, an art at which Tucholsky excelled:
“Yesterday morning, police recruits sank their shovels into a shallow grave alongside a highway and turned up the bodies of 29 unidentified men, bound, blindfolded and recently shot.
Hours later, the bodies of 15 more men, their faces splattered with mud, their necks cut with wire, were found piled in the back of a pickup truck.
On Monday, it was the same. More than 40 bodies were picked up from the streets of Baghdad, many having a single bullet wound in the head.
No one seems to know how, for example, a pickup truck full of dead men could turn up at a busy intersection in Baghdad, where there is a strict curfew at night and ceaseless checkpoints during the day. – NYT, March 15, 2006
"The establishment of expressed opinions in the Leipzig trial was more than miserable. One doesn’t have to cite any documents. Ours indeed smells of where the opinions come from. Their views stem completely out of this feeling. It isn’t that they need to be bad because of this. But they are empty and disgusting. For:
If one taps hard enough on the young lieutenant and the suspiciously older officers, one will always find that they think of Germany, their fellow citizens and the collected world as a place for military exercises, for maneuvers, and look at it all as a future battlefield, on which they can unfold what they call their best talents. There we can say ecce homo – there and only there. It is for significant for this heroism, that by many is doubtless believed to be authentic and masculine, that it never asks after the goal of the soldier’s work. The fight is fought; if it is once begun, it must be gone through – but to what end the whole goes, for what reason, for who, to whose use: this is something they don’t question. In Heinz Pols novel Either-or, there is a marvelous passage: “ He wanted to see just once what he was struggling against.” That’s it. The struggle is primary – only afterward is it rationalized.
This leads easily to wanting to fight in general, and thus: to evoke hostilities and to make enemies, with whom man can be a soldier. The soldier needs an enemy. Otherwise he would be nothing.
Thus, if these officers win influence on the politics of the country – and they have achieved more than is commonly assumed – than we are near the point that they, for the sake of activating their handwork, will provoke fighting even where one could avoid it.
What the young men have said before the tribunal does not deserve any contradiction: where there is sheer nothingness, the polemicist loses his rights. It was the typical resentment of the soldier’s attitude, a casino speech, that anybody who has been through a war could repeat in his sleep. It was and is the rejection of the intellectual world, the world of peace in general, because it is too boring for men of this mold to live in. One can’t ask an actor to approve of a social order in which the theater is banned and expelled. The actor wants to act. The soldier wants to make war.
Now, the military man didn’t fall from heaven. He is nothing more than a kind of person found throughout the human race, who is, because of history and tradition, simply overbred in Germany, because a certain type of German is wired to go beserk.
In the soldier is – observing this with complete value neutrality – force; youth, a spirit that wants to be applied; a surplus energy, that wants to spill out; a desire for riot; joy in obedience and joy in being obeyed; joy in working in the fresh air; joy in colors and in equipment – all of this and more. All of which is scrambled up, in modern soldiers, with the type of office-capable organisor, men who want to command and let others work. And with technicians, who just enjoy modern machinery, which he commands with his type of orders… for these people, it is unimportant if, in striking England, Germany is right, that doesn’t move them at all. What moves them is commanding a division and using a tank. Sports.
In this activity there is a lot of what is good and legitimate. But instead of exploiting such forces, they are regressing the modern social order. In the capitalistic office-industry, young men who are so constituted cannot begin to make anything of themselves and their particular strengths, and now they are making themselves what they need.
For the military with all its trimmings is not only a need of society in general, but a need, most fundamentally, of a particular part of society.
Thus, like the half-intellectual, who “not knowing, what he should do”, enters in the administrative world or in industry and builds a “niche for himself’ that didn’t exist before, one, which needs the man who holds it in order to exist at all: similarly , the soldier creates in every country: a, the necessary spiritual preconditions for his existence in the form of enemies, dangers, and a nationalism intensified to an insane level, and b., a mechanism, in which he reigns supreme, and works, and unfolds his special powers – in which he can, in other words, simply be. These institutions congealed out of powerful men inclined towards violence are the armies; these instruments are used, misused and needed by whatever reigning order is current: for the suppression of the class enemy, thus the worker, for the diversion of the society to external threats and so on. The soldier doesn’t see this for the most part. He just is.
This heroism runs on empty. It is heroism in and for itself – and so it isn’t heroism at all. The vague concept of the ‘homeland'’ is a mythical formula; there is nothing that these men defend against as much as a conceptual analysis of their pseudo-religious formulas, and they know well why. It would be the end. The blank nullity of it would be revealed to the light of day.
It is not that the fundamental forces in play here are reducible to: joy in destruction; the joy of little men parading before little women; that is not the fact to be negated. Negation is aimed fully at the way these powers, running forever on their own emptiness, are put in place and misused.
We must fundamentally distinguish this military pattern of thought from that that the young nationalists preach. They are busily lending to a previous basic feeling a new and spiritual form – but not out of respect for the spirit, of which they mostly have not a breath, but in order to erect their main man on this ground. How much uncertainty is therein! What Ernst Junger did, while becoming in the meantime a clever war reporter, assiduously, obsessively and hop hop, is spiritually thin, undernourished and much more from yesterday than it is from tomorrow, as it pretends to be. Always it is significantly more lyrical than the cold fundamental perspective of the eternal officer class, who are nothing but that. Jünger aims for a mysticism whose clouds can be dispelled by a wave of the hand; behind them grins the blank nothingness, the stubborn view that fighting is something affirmable in itself. Young people in today’s so called “Bunde” associations are not much different. One must be suspicious – against the right and the left – every time someone greets an attack on a given view with the cry, ‘blasphemy’! Because it means something is rotten within.
On both levels, in the military as in the nationalist associations, rules the same running on empty heroism. They are distinct from one another and even divided; possibly, one day they will join together – but by this junction they will mutually keep an eye on each other and never let a moment pass in which one can betray the other … the young nationalists being, for the military, much too literary, for as is known to all the world, he who reads a book is a bookworm…
But in these circumstances the eternal military man will create what he needs. An ‘air defense’, a ‘water defense’, a ‘train defense’, and whatever a man needs when he doesn’t know how to do anything intelligent. These and their like are aids to the unfolding of his nature.
But it is a little much to ask all society to pay for the excitation of the internal secretions of a small group of men. Certainly, on all sides the payer is being bombarded with demands for: maneuvers, war reports of all types, uniforms, music, photo ops with cannons … somewhat overbilled, it seems to me.
But it is all empty, completely empty. And it steps up with the complete aplomb of the muscleman, who is, on first impression, always at an advantage over the brainy man. His opponent doesn’t have much time. And as for your average householder… great god. They are touched by the like of General von Seeckt because he has the cleverness not to open his mouth – there are not only inscrutable geniuses, there are other kinds, too. And a book of some reputation seeking general is a curiosity: if the man were not a staff officer, nobody would care about his views and his empty essays.
Mars is blind and has no head. He just has a helmet.
And you are reflected in this helmet. How, after all, did it happen that 1914 went so far? How was that possible? It was made possible by refined and pointed preliminary labor: through a day by day drum fussilade of war preparation, through the market cries of running on empty heroism."
My post was interspersed with war photos of mangled bodies that Tucholsky and his friends, like Heartsfield, tried to rub in the face of Germany. But that ploy didn't work. In the U.S. - where the same idiocy, raised to the American exponential, dominates the airwaves - the ploy would probably not work either. But it doesn't matter - the media will dutifully censor it, and continue to roll out clangorous odes to our military "heros". 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

one percent America

Ferdinand Lundberg, in 1939, wrote a book about the sixty wealthiest families in America. He made the audacious claim that these families collectively owned and directed most of America’s wealth – her industrial capacity, her speculative/financial sector, her raw materials. He names the families and engages in the tedious geneological work of showing how marriage and strategic alliances maintain and expand fortunes that have their roots, many of them, in the 19th century. He goes there from the first sentence in the book, which proclaims: “The United States is owned and dominated today by a hierarchy of its sixty richest families, buttressed by no more than ninety families of lesser wealth.” He claims that behind the de jure democratic form of government is a de facto government, “absolutist and plutocratic.”

Now, it is a difficult business, tracking family fortunes. For one thing, “family” is a misleading category. Lundberg’s prey are really more like the famous modern Russian clans, blat. Numbers of families and associates are held together in a web of mutual interests, which one can generally call after the family name of those who founded it. Thus, to use Lundberg’s first family, the Rockefellers, we can see that a Carnegie marrying a Rockefeller (a scion of one of the branches), which occurred when J. Stillman Rockefeller married Nancy C. S. Carnegie, grandniece of Andrew. Lundberg, incidentally, is a deadeye for those middle names. Where does “Stillman” come from? It comes from James Stillman, whose daughter married a Rockefeller. Stillman was the founder of National City Bank, now known as Citibank.

If Lundberg is right, then American historians have truly missed the boat. It would be like historians of 15th century France ignoring the nobility and misunderstood the form of French government. In other words, historians have treated the United States as though it were permanently the country Tocqueville described, but it is really, since Tocqueville’s time, the country of magnates and their sons and daughters that Henry James wrote about.

Since the notion that America is an oligarchy has recently been revived – a paper with this thesis cowritten by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page has recently been reported on in the media – and because we are all rivetted by Piketty’s thesis concerning the inequality endemic to capitalism, perhaps it is time to turn to the muckrakers who have always considered oligarchy the operational mode by which America is run.

Consider, then, a figure like Thomas W. Lamont. Lamont is in the Morgan blat. He negotiated enormous loans to keep England and France fighting in WWI; he also negotiated loans to Mussolini after the war. He was, Lundberg claims, a “mentor” to Wilson – and certainly he was one of Herbert Hoover’s unofficial advisors, famous for misjudging Black Friday in 1929. For Lundberg, Lamont is everywhere. Calvin Coolidge (who Lundberg is scornful of in a fine, Menckenish way – he adduces the series Coolidge wrote when he was vice president for a woman’s magazine, Enemies of the Republic: are the reds stalking our college Women? As a typical product of Calvin’s low wattage mind – didn’t make a major decision without calling him; Lamont is also, Lundberg claims, the “single most influential person in contemporary American journalism.” Lamont was the grey eminence behind the pronouncements of the uber-pundits of the day, like his friend, Walter Lippman. He was influential with Luce, Forbes and Sulzberger. His dinners were attended by the celebrity literati like H.G. Wells.

And yet, who among us has heard of this perfect blatman, Thomas W.Lamont? if Lundberg is even close to right, we should be viewing the twenties not only as the time of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, but as the era of Lamont as well. He is represented by a chapter in Behind the throne, with the perhaps misleading subtitle: servants of power to imperial presidents, 1898-1968, because his loans had a major effect on Mexico’s post-revolutionary history.

In any case, if we take Lundberg’s families as clans, we have, perhaps, a clearer view of how fortunes are made and power is exercized in the United States. Lundberg quotes an interesting statistic from a  man named Robert Doane, who studied incomes for a Roosevelt era government office. According to Doane, although incomes  above $50,000 accounted for 30 percent of American savings in 1929, only 38,899 persons had such incomes, accounting for .05 of 1 percent of the American population.

The American one percenters – there is a long history there, campers.