Monday, May 28, 2007

Caleb Carr: "Life in the Double Lightning Bolts"

TMP received this note from occasional contributor Caleb Carr, in response to Gunter Grass’s wartime memoir, excerpted in this week’s “New Yorker” magazine. He writes:

It bears repeating that the unit Grass joined, 10th SS Panzer, was one of the most vicious at that time, responsible for some of the most serious war crimes at the end of the conflict. There's almost no way that he could himself have played no part in those crimes. Important mostly because of what it tells us about so much of the elder German intellectual leadership today, and the underpinnings of its anti-U.S. moral posturing.

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.

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. 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.

-- C.C.

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