Total Pageviews

Friday, May 05, 2006

wolf to wolf, wolf to man, man to wolf

This post attaches to yesterday's post, where I meant to draw a dance diagram with three positions – hating – being hated – being hated for hating – in order to choreograph the romance of hatred...

Bringing me to Richard Bessel’s article, Hatred after War, in the Winter History and Memory.

“This essay is a brief, admittedly speculative, attempt to suggest that examining hatred after war, and viewing public and political behavior as an expression of that hatred, may offer insights into what occurred in both the public and the private spheres in post-1945 East Germany. The suggestion is that hatred, arising from the violence and brutality of war and Nazism, was a major factor motivating both the leaders and the led in East Germany after World War II. Not just their rational calculations of how to deal with the challenges they faced and the political commitment that framed their actions, but also their emotional responses to what had occurred determined how Germans behaved in the physical and psychological rubble left behind by war and Nazism. This essay, therefore, is a tentative attempt to approach the history of Germany after World War II as a history of sentiments and emotions.”

Brief the essay is, but full of interesting and, to LI, startling observations. The first and most startling observation is this: after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Germany was swept by a wave of mass suicides. It is part of the racist code in which our history is given to us that this fact is, I think, pretty much unknown in the U.S. – and, actually, it seems pretty repressed in Europe as well – while the fact that Japan was swept by mass suicide is very well known in the U.S. In fact, the politics of suicide in war is a strange thing. Thus, the condemnation of suicide bombers is pretty much a standard editorial gesture nowadays – but that condemnation remains outside of the fact that the defense posture of the U.S., for fifty years, has depended on our potential for suicide bombing. SAC pilots and crews knew that they had little chance to survive delivering to their targets. In essence, they were asked to be suicide bombers on a much bigger scale. The risk of dropping an bomb on Moscow is undoubtedly close to the risk of being killed delivering a rigged car to be exploded in front of an embassy. But the higher American morality, here, apparently rests on the fact that the bomber has a perhaps 5 percent chance of getting away unharmed from delivering a nuclear holocaust.

The inability to accept that war is an equal opportunity barbarizer goes along with the strange colonial mindset that attributes atrocities to those barbarians one aims at exterminating – that part of the romance of hatred in which hating is a cause for being-hated. So the Japanese, being Asians, set a different value on life – that was the kind of thing that was said, even in the sixties, about Asians (i.e. – the Vietnamese) by American military men. Meanwhile, back back back in Deutschland:

“One of the most remarkable features of the collapse of Nazi Germany is the huge wave of suicides that accompanied it. This surge of suicides included not only much of the regime’s political leadership—Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, Himmler, Thierack and Ley—but also dozens of Wehrmacht generals and many lesser Nazis and lower-level functionaries, as well as thousands of civilians who killed themselves as Allied forces pushed their way into Germany and occupied the country. Already in early 1945, as the roof was caving in on the Third Reich, many Germans contemplated killing themselves; according to a report of the German security service about popular morale in the dying days of Nazi Germany, “many are getting used
to the idea of making an end of it all. Everywhere there is great demand for poison, for a pistol and other means for ending one’s life. Suicides due to genuine depression about the catastrophe which certainly is expected are an everyday occurrence.”10 The gruesome sight that greeted American soldiers when they arrived at the Neues Rathaus in Leipzig—littered with the bodies of Nazi officials who had killed themselves and their families— was but a spectacular example of a widespread phenomenon.”


“After the German military collapse, the atmosphere in entire communities was colored by such events, as suicide became almost a mass phenomenon. A particularly extreme example is that of the Pomeranian
district town of Demmin, where roughly five percent of the entire population killed themselves in 1945;13 when the Landrat, who had been installed by the Soviet authorities in May 1945, surveyed conditions in Demmin in a report for the Interior Administration of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in November 1945, he noted: “365 houses, roughly 70 percent of the city, lay in ruins, over 700 inhabitants had ended their lives through suicide.”14 In Teterow, a town in Mecklenburg numbering fewer than ten thousand inhabitants in 1946, the burial register included a “Continuation of the Appendix for the Suicide Period (Selbstmordperiode) Early May 1945,” containing details of 120 suicide cases, listing how the act had been carried out: people shot themselves, hanged themselves, drowned themselves, poisoned themselves; frequent reports noted how fathers killed their entire families and then themselves.15 After years when they had been able to aim massive violence against other people, Germans now turned violence on themselves.”

Then, of course, there was the phenomena following the mass rapes of 44 and 45. The soviet army’s advance, as we now know, was accompanied by the greatest concentration of raping that we know of – the estimates go as high as 2 million women raped. The Western advance had a lower number of rapes – but this is due less to the higher moral standards of the Allied army, and more to the “opportunity”, under capitalism, to exchange sex for money. Prostitution was the Western allies answer to rape.

Here’s Bessel again:

“No less emotionally charged were the abortions carried out on women who had been raped by Soviet soldiers in 1945. Some idea of the emotional consequences may be gained from the account of Heinz Voigtländer, who had been a consultant surgeon at the Stift Bethlehem hospital in Ludwigslust, of the turmoil that the hospital staff faced in 1945:

It was particularly dreadful ... with the pregnancies that dated from the first half of 1945.... I remember a figure of 150 to 180 abortions that we had to carry out at that time. Frequently this was a matter of pregnancies in the fourth, fifth and even in the sixth month....Sometimes, in the seventh or eighth month, this help no longer was possible. Then the nurses promised to look after the child after the birth. But once we observed that a woman left the hospital after the birth and drowned her child in the brook that flowed right by the hospital. We spoke as little as possible about these matters.”

Bessel’s notion is that we should pay more attention to the literal truth Goebbels enunciated:

“Germany’s war was fought, as Goebbels boasted in a radio speech on 28 February 1945, not long before his own suicide, “with a hatred that knows no bounds.””

Simmel, in his Sociology, modeled sociological processes on what he took to be the fundamental elements of society – on the one hand, the individual, and on the other hand, the universal. In some ways, this is a dubious translation of medieval logic, that eternal game of the particular and the universal. One wants some meso-level between the I and the community. In Simmel’s schema, however, the third entity is conflict. It is neither a quality of the individual or a property of the universal, but a third thing – a socializing process. The thirdness of violence has been taken up by other thinkers – notably, Rene Girard – and given other directions. The important thing is that it lifts hatred out of its supposedly privileged and limited place as a wholly private and interior affair. Unlike Girard, however, I don’t think the endpoint of the logic of hatred is Christ on the Cross, but the Werewolf – the wolf as the hunter of men becoming inhabited by a man. The wolf image was peculiarly important in Nazi Germany. But the soldier of any army almost instinctively drifts to the imago of the predator.

This is my own drift, my own Nazi like fugue. At the moment, I too, dream of being a were wolf – of exacting some infinite revenge on my enemies. Bessel talks about the violent intention encoded in suicide, its use as an instrument to hurt “the important other.” This is an old cliché – and it covers up how the other is already eaten by the suicide. The suicide eating his victim, the wolf eating the man, the werewolf living in and on the wolf that lives on people.

No comments: