Tag: Hitler

Herman Wouk: Who wanted to unite Europe?

Saturday, 18 May, 2019

The author and screenwriter Herman Wouk has died at the age of 103. He was born in the Bronx on 27 May 1915 and passed away yesterday in Palm Springs. Wouk won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1951 with The Caine Mutiny and he topped the bestseller lists twenty years later with The Winds of War, which was made into a popular TV series in 1983. The novel begins six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Here, the character Natalie Jastrow speaks:

“I’m sorry. I’m impressed with Hitler’s ability to use socialist prattle when necessary, and then discard it. He uses doctrines as he uses money, to get things done. They’re expendable. He uses racism because that’s the pure distillate of German romantic egotism, just as Lenin used utopian Marxism because it appealed to Russia’s messianic streak. Hitler means to hammer out a united Europe… He understands them, and he may just succeed. A unified Europe must come. The medieval jigsaw of nations is obsolete. The balance of power is dangerous foolishness in the industrial age. It must all be thrown out. Somebody has to be ruthless enough to do it, since the peoples with their ancient hatreds will never do it themselves. It’s only Napoleon’s original vision, but he was a century ahead of his time.”

The Caine Mutiny was made into a hit film in 1954 and Humphrey Bogart gave one of his finest performances as the paranoid Captain Queeg. The author knew whereof he spoke. He enlisted in the US naval reserve in 1942 and served in the Pacific aboard destroyer-minesweepers.

Herman Wouk Apart from epic historical novels of family and war, Herman Wouk’s literary output was devoted to an understanding of Judaism, especially the American Jewish experience. His religion was central to his work.

“Religious people tend to encounter, among those who are not, a cemented certainty that belief in God is a crutch for the weak and fearful. It would be just as silly to assert that disbelief in God is a crutch for the immoral and the ill-read.” — Herman Wouk, This is My God: A Guidebook to Judaism


Holocaust Remembrance Day

Sunday, 27 January, 2019

On 27 January each year, the world commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated six million Jews, five million Slavs, three million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people and 9,000 homosexuals by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime and its collaborators.

“When Hitler started out, he took the Jews from their homes
Hitler started out, he took the Jews from their homes
That’s one thing Mr. Hitler you know you done wrong.

We’re gonna tear Hitler down
We’re gonna tear Hitler down
We’re gonna tear Hitler down someday.
We’re gonna bring him to the ground
We’re gonna bring him to the ground
We’re gonna bring him to the ground someday.

You ain’t no iron, you ain’t no solid rock
You ain’t no iron, you ain’t no solid rock
But we American people say ‘Mr. Hitler you is got to stop!'”

Huddie William Ledbetter (Leadbelly) was born on 20 January in 1888, in Louisiana. He was in and out of jail starting in his teens, for owning a gun, for killing a relative. John and Alan Lomax discovered him in prison in the early 1930s and they put some of his songs on tape. Freedom and fame followed. Born on a plantation, Leadbelly ended up touring the world and bringing blues music to a new generation.


Book of the Year 2018

Thursday, 27 December, 2018

Weighing in at 1.5 kilogrammes, Churchill: Walking with Destiny is a heavyweight. The index runs to 60 pages, the author’s notes to 37 and the bibliography to 23. But size alone isn’t everything so Churchill: Walking with Destiny is our Book of the Year for reasons other than sheer volume.

There have been more than 1,000 previous studies of Churchill’s life, the publisher helpfully warns readers, so anyone intending to add another tome to the heap had better have something original to offer readers. Andrew Roberts has. His access to and analysis of previously hidden materials is what makes the difference. Then, there’s his storytelling. This is from the pivotal year of 1939:

“Churchill dined with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Antibes in January. The Duke, wearing a kilt of the Stuart tartan, argued vigorously against Churchill’s recent articles opposing Franco and in favour of a Russia alliance. ‘We sat by the fireplace,’ recalled Maxine Elliott’s nephew-in-law Vincent Sheean, ‘Mr Churchill frowning with intentness at the floor in front of him, mincing no words… declaring flatly that the nation stood in the gravest danger in its long history.’ The Duke was eagerly interrupting whenever he could, contesting every point, but receiving — in terms of the utmost politeness so far as the words went — an object lesson in political wisdom and public spirit. The rest of us sat in silence: there was something dramatically final, irrevocable about the dispute. Churchill had discovered beyond doubt how fundamentally unsound the ex-King was about the Nazis. He remained respectful throughout this ‘prolonged argument’, but did point out to him that ‘When our kings are in conflict with our constitution, we change our kings.'”

Why did Churchill loathe the Nazis and their appeasers from the outset? According to Andrew Roberts, the young Winston had seen Islamic fundamentalism at work in India and Sudan and what he observed there was “a form of religious fanaticism that in many key features was not unlike the Nazism that he was to encounter forty years later. None of the three prime ministers of the 1930s — Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain — had seen true fanaticism in their personal lives, and they were slow to discern it in Nazi Germany. Churchill had fought against it in his youth and recognized its salient features earlier than anyone else.”

Churchill: Walking with Destiny


Forsyth namechecks Snowden

Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.

So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox


Churchill: Walking with Destiny

Wednesday, 7 November, 2018

It was published in the UK last month and yesterday in the rest of the world. The Rainy Day copy will arrive today. Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts deserves to be called a contender as it weighs in at 1.5 kilogrammes. The index runs to 60 pages, the author’s notes to 37 and the bibliography to 23. No wonder Amazon is offering a 40 percent discount on the Kindle version. There have been more than 1,000 previous studies of Churchill’s life, the publisher helpfully warns us, so anyone intending to add another tome to the heap had better have something original to offer readers. By all accounts, Andrew Roberts has. His access to and analysis of previously secreted materials is what makes the difference. Then, there’s the historian’s depth of vision.

Why did Churchill loathe Hitler from the get go? According to Roberts, the young Winston had seen Islamic fundamentalism close up in India and the Sudan and this sharpened his senses for nihilism. What he experienced was “a form of religious fanaticism that in many key features was not unlike the Nazism that he was to encounter forty years later. None of the three prime ministers of the 1930s — Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain — had seen true fanaticism in their personal lives, and they were slow to discern it in Nazi Germany. Churchill had fought against it in his youth and recognized its salient features earlier than anyone else.”

Expect similar snippets from Churchill: Walking with Destiny in the weeks to come.

Churchill: Walking with Destiny


The Catholic Sun

Wednesday, 26 September, 2018

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

If he were to return to us, what would the Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc writer make of the state of the Catholic Church? Would he be plunged into despair by its various scandals? Or would he simply walk away from the Faith? To guess the answer, and to help put today’s trials into perspective, it pays to dip into Belloc’s 1937 book The Crusades: the World’s Debate. In it, he wrote, “Our religion is in peril… There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine… We worship ourselves, we worship the nation; or we worship (some few of us) a particular economic arrangement believed to be the satisfaction of social justice…” Twenty years later, he added:

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

To understand Hilaire Belloc’s outlook, one needs appreciate the complexity of his worldview: he was anti-imperialist, but doubtful of parliamentary democracy; he opposed both capitalism and socialism, and was suspected of anti-Semitism but was violently contemptuous of Hitler. His Catholicism, however, was uncompromising, and he believed that the Catholic Church provided house and home for the human spirit.

“Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.” From a speech to the voters of South Salford in response to his Tory opponent’s slogan, ‘Don’t vote for a Frenchman and a Catholic.’ On polling day, 13 January 1906, Belloc, standing as a Liberal, overturned a Conservative majority to win by 852 votes, winning again four years later.

Sunflower


The unmasking of the overrated Martin Selmayr

Friday, 29 December, 2017 0 Comments

This is deft and devastating: “The Selmayrs are by origin Bavarians, who have always seen themselves as European rather than Germans — except during the Third Reich.” That pause there is masterful and it’s the work of Daniel Johnson in the current issue of Standpoint magazine.

Martin Selmayr is the latest scion of this ancient family to make news and he bears the capital title of “HEAD OF CABINET” in what the Brussels bubble calls “President Juncker’s team“. The admiration of the young bureaucrat ends at the English Channel, however. Selmayr has few friends in London as he is “blamed for a series of malicious leaks during the Brexit negotiations, ranging from unflattering remarks about Theresa May’s appearance to preparatiosn for the fall of her government,” notes Daniel Johnson, who sees him as a combination of “gatekeeper, enforcer and eminence grise in a manner reminiscent of the Merovingian emperors of the Dark Ages, who were ruled by the mayors of the palace.”

For Johnson, much of what makes the junior Selmayr what he has is and what he has become can be found in the ‘journey’ of Josef Selmayr, a truly opportunistic, amoral piece of work. Snippet:

“Martin’s grandfather Josef was a professional soldier during the Weimar Republic and later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Wehrmacht. He was imprisoned for war crimes in the Balkans, but only briefly. Josef Selmayr’s experience made him useful in the Cold War and led to his rehabilitation: first as a member of the shadowy Gehlen Organisation, a CIA-funded group of former Nazi intelligence officers, then from 1955 to 1964 as the first director of MAD, the German Military Counterintelligence Service, with the rank of Brigadier. His career paralleled that of Kurt Waldheim, whose role in war crimes in the Balkans did not prevent him later becoming UN Secretary General and Austrian President.”

Daniel Johnson points out that the Selmayrs are a family of public servants in an long-standing German tradition of an elite offering its skills for the development of an idealised sate. “Fatally, they conflated the Nazi state with the rule of law.” To make amends for this blot on the copybook, as it were, Martin Selmayr “has always seen Europe as a source of redemption from Hitler’s toxic legacy.”

For these people, Britain was, and Brexit now is, the nemesis. It threatens their vision of Utopia and no amount of Utopian Europe, with its killing fields, bloodlands and mass barbarism, can deter them. The Project must be completed.

Martin Selmayr


Going to Dunkirk

Thursday, 27 July, 2017 0 Comments

Going to the new Christopher Nolan film, that is.

The British retreat to the coastal French town of Dunkirk in late May 1940 was a key moment of the Second World War. Several hundred thousand British and Allied troops were encircled by the Germans. Had Hitler attacked, he would have captured a quarter of a million men, stripping Britain of its army and putting enormous pressure on London to enter into peace talks with Berlin. But the Germans didn’t attack. Their nine Panzer divisions stopped outside Dunkirk. And the British were able to start their evacuation from the beaches with the result that most of the their troops got home. Some 300,000 men were rescued — two thirds British, the rest French.

As the exhausted troops were disembarking along the south-eastern coast of England, the five members of Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met on 27 May to discuss entering into peace negotiations with Germany. Churchill was passionately against any such move, but the foreign minister, Lord Halifax, was for talks as he felt England’s negotiating position was stronger with France still in the war. He also believed that Britain’s goal should not be to fight Germany, but rather to preserve as much independence as possible in a peaceful coexistence.

During the following day’s Cabinet meeting, however, the tide turned in favour of Churchill when he declared absolutely that there would be no surrender, and that as long as he was in office, he would never negotiate with the Nazis. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” he declared, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”

He was thinking of the 68,111 killed, wounded or captured British troops at Dunkirk.


Churchill on brevity

Thursday, 1 December, 2016 0 Comments

The great Winston Churchill was born on this day in 1874. He was the nemesis of Hitler, a champion of “the short expressive phrase” and an opponent of “the flat surface of officialese jargon.” This is the writing advice he sent to his officials on 9 August 1940, while engaged in the business of saving Western Civilization from its enemies.

Churchill writing advice


The triumph of Usain Bolt foreseen

Friday, 19 August, 2016 0 Comments

American artist Jacob Lawrence was one of a number of illustrators invited to design posters for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He created this image to celebrate the involvement of black athletes in the Olympics, as track and field is an area in which they have excelled. This had a particular historical significance for Lawrence because Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where Hitler had planned to demonstrate the superiority of German “Aryan” athletes.

Munich Olympics poster


Rumsfeld develops an app at 83, posts on Medium

Tuesday, 26 January, 2016 0 Comments

Harold Wilson, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is supposed to have said “A week is a long time in politics.” And it’s true. Just look at those Clinton-Sanders poll predictions from Iowa. The same could be said of the internet, except the window is narrower. A day online is the digital equivalent of the political week: “24 hours is a long time on the web.” Yesterday, we were quoting Dave Winer’s blog post titled Anywhere but Medium and who is posting on Medium now? Donald Rumsfeld. “At 83, I Decided to Develop an App” writes the nemesis of Saddam. The app is called Churchill Solitaire and it has a fascinating back story that involves Hitler, a young Belgian government aide named André de Staercke and, of course, Sir Winston. Snippet:

“Churchill Solitaire is a game that is a host of contradictions — simple yet complicated; frustrating yet fun. Now it lives on for a new generation — a fitting tribute to a great man. And starting this week, it is available to the world on the AppStore and will soon be coming to other platforms.

I can’t say if this is the last app I’ll ever be involved in — after all, I’m only 83! But it is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to worry about.”

Whatever one thinks of Donald Rumsfeld, one should be willing to accept the wisdom of the opening statement of his Medium post: “Among the things one learns as time passes is that everyone has to age, but not everyone has to get old. One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning.”