Sunday, January 14, 2007

Caleb Carr note II: "Life in the Double Lightning Bolts vs. Life in Iraq"

First, as to the facts of Grass' case: 10th SS Panzer Division and its sister, the 9th, were called into being toward the end of the war as prime examples of desperation units. The average age of their troops was reportedly eighteen, but it was well-known that many were a good deal younger, and some were quite a bit older. Their first task, significantly, was to try to plug the proliferating leaks on the Eastern front. Now, a word about the Eastern front: Especially toward the end of the war, the German practice of shipping all "undesirables," i.e. nearly all indigenous peoples and certainly all Jews, gypsies, Poles, and anyone displaying personal "imperfections" back to Germany for slave labor was increasingly giving way to the practice of executing such people in larger and larger numbers on the spot. As Anthony Beevor makes irrefutably clear in his masterful study of "Stalingrad," there was NO German soldier -- regular army, SS, Waffen SS, whatever -- who did not or could not know about all these programs, no matter how hard he tried, and no German officer who did not know of the details. Therefore, to assert that Grass could have been involved in action on the Eastern front, especially in a Waffen SS division, yet simply have been a dutiful soldier ignorant of what was going on around him... It doesn't work. You would have a much harder time making that case for someone working in Abu Ghraib and not knowing what Lynndie England and her boyfriend(s) were up to; and, as some of you have so indignantly pointed out, that case can't be made, either.

But let's say that Grass joined 10th SS Panzer later, after it returned to Germany; it was then involved in the follow-up offensive to the Battle of the Bulge, "Nordwind," during which it came under the PERSONAL command of Heinrich Himmler. If anyone is in any doubt as to what that means in practical terms, let's just say that on at least one occasion a surrounded American armored unit was driven to any and every extreme to avoid massacre -- the same kind of massacre that Waffen SS troops had committed at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. No one familiar with the Waffen SS will be surprised by any of this; it is only the worst kind of Nazi freaks and biker morons that keep the imagery and "romance" of the fighting arm of Himmler's private army alive; for the rest of us, the mere fact that Grass chose to join ANY unit of the Waffen SS is sufficient to nullify any social commentary he may have chosen to make during the rest of his life, UNLESS he had chosen to admit his past FIRST.

Now, as to the charge that Amir Taheri's commentary cannot be taken seriously because he believes in the American-led invasion/liberation/occupation of Iraq: Well, one can only say that Himmler would be very pleased by that argument; although perhaps less so than Goebbels, and I do NOT mean that in any George Bush sense -- quite the contrary. It is not that rational people cannot disagree on this difficult subject, they certainly can, and I think everyone's opinions, or every sane person's opinions, have undergone great change during the last three years. But it is the perfection of propaganda to be able to link utterly disconnected topics, to use one subject's difficulties to supposedly reveal the fallacies of another that is, in fact, in no way connected to it. What Taheri believes about Iraq is immaterial to his analysis of G√ľnther Grass, and vice-versa. But the larger point I was trying to make -- i.e., that an entire generation of now-senior German intellectuals have, to a very large extent, ignored their own history (whether during the war or after it, when their mistreatment of Muslims created the problems that Europe is now faced with) while focusing on every misdeed of the United States -- is, I still think, encapsulated very well in what Taheri says, WHATEVER you believe about the Iraq war and its origins; in truth, the German intelligentsia since the war, as Grass has revealed, have practiced the same techniques that their nation perfected before and during the war. This has NOTHING to do with the merits (or lack thereof) of Iraq; it has to do with the merits of German social and political commentary.

- Caleb

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