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Tag: World War II

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 The medieval jigsaw of nations is obsolete.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


The Christmas Toast: Home!

Saturday, 23 December, 2017 0 Comments

“The art of living beautifully…” is the motto of Homes & Gardens, a monthly magazine that has been published in London since 1919. The December 1942 issue featured an article by Elizabeth Bowen titled “The Christmas Toast is ‘Home!’ and an editor’s note accompanying the war-time piece pointed out, with typical British understatement, that “travelling may be impossible, none but the plainest food may be procurable and the Xmas holiday itself may make unexpected demands on our time and energy.” It was in this context that Elizabeth Bowen celebrated the meaning of “home” at Christmas:

“Above all, the home means people — their trust in each other, their happy habits of living, the calendar, year by year, of family life — returning seasons, anniversaries, birthdays and, above all, Christmas, the greatest home festival. At Christmas, how strong the pull of the home is! There comes a call that our hearts cannot deny. At Christmas, we turn to our own people: we go home. And, when the Christmas journey cannot be made in real life, it is made with all the more longing, in the imagination. The Christmas letter, or telegram from the exile to the people at home, saying, ‘I am with you today,’ speaks a real truth. At Christmas, wherever we find ourselves, our hearts are back in the beloved place.”

When Elizabeth Bowen was writing those words, the news was filled with reports of crucial battles in far-away places: Stalingrad, El Alamein, Guadalcanal. The very survival of civilization was at stake, but Bowen was resolute in her belief in victory. “Peace will see many homecomings,” she predicted, and the light of Christmas gave her hope. “Christmas speaks the message of an eternal kindness. The Christmas Toast is – Home!'”

Elizabeth Bowen

Tomorrow, here, those whom Christmas touches only by its bitter meaningless.


Dunkirk: A cinematic and auditory masterpiece

Friday, 28 July, 2017 0 Comments

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece. The legendary World War II story — where 330,000 Allied troops, surrounded by Germans, were evacuated from the northern coast of France — is terrifying, poignant and visually stunning. Central to the on-screen atmospherics is the score by Hans Zimmer, which uses an auditory technique caused by “Shepard tones”.

Named after cognitive scientist Roger Shepard, the sound consists of octave after octave layered on top of each other. As the bass fades in, the treble fades out and the tone sequence loops back again and again and again. Because the listener can always hear at least two tones rising in pitch at the same time, one thinks that the sound is constantly ascending. It’s eerie and unnerving and ideally suited to Nolan’s drama.

In an interview with Business Insider, Nolan said that the soundtrack was created to evoke a feeling of ever-increasing intensity that would unite the film’s three storylines. And it does. Brilliantly. Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece and its soundtrack is an auditory masterpiece.


In the year of his first cigarette

Saturday, 24 June, 2017 0 Comments

In the year that the great Galty smoked his first cigarette, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, premiered in Hollywood; Francisco Franco assumed power in Spain; Flann O’Brien’s metafiction At Swim-Two-Birds was published in London; Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt married Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran; Billie Holiday recorded Strange Fruit; Italy seized Albania and King Zog fled; an Irish Republican Army bomb exploded in the centre of Coventry, killing five people; John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was published; Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics No. 27; nylon stockings went on sale in Wilmington, Delaware, and LaGuardia Airport opened in New York City.

Oh, and the opening shots of World War II were fired when Germany invaded Poland.

Galty


The Shin Bet puzzle

Thursday, 11 May, 2017 0 Comments

The Israeli domestic security service Shin Bet has adopted some of the recruiting techniques pioneered by the British during World War II. This became evident with the recent publication of a puzzle in the media for anyone to solve. Some 60,000 people submitted answers but only six succeeded in solving the puzzle. These six are now candidates for jobs in the new Shin Bet Cyber War unit.

Shin Bet puzzle

In the Second World War, the British recruited “Codebreakers” by posting cryptic word puzzles in newspapers and asking those who could solve them to send their answers to a seemingly innocuous address. There was a series of crosswords and those who managed to complete them all were asked to join the services. An upside of this recruiting technique was that a lot of women became British spies. Some of them were Jewish and they moved to Israel after the war and contributed their experience to the emerging Israeli intelligence services.

Interestingly, the Shin Bet agents hired via the public puzzle technique will undergo the same training that has been developed for Israeli commando units and will end up with the military skills and physical toughness typical of regular commandos. In the future, when Israel sends a unit on a raid to eliminate adversaries and acquire technology, several of Cyber War commandos might go along. These “nerds” will be able to keep pace with the regular commandos and quickly identify enemy technology. They will then take or destroy the right items and help neutralize the bad guys.

Note of caution: Many of those who completed the British puzzles during World War II were not interested in a job in intelligence but simply enjoyed doing crosswords. And, despite their innovating recruiting methods, the British ended up hiring lots of left wing traitors who went to spy for the Soviet Union. Those like Kim Philby became experts in falsifying intelligence and one of their specialties was “facelifting” the image of anti-communist movements to make sure they got more assistance from the West. These groups were then betrayed and their members turned, tortured or murdered.


Werner Herzog’s Reveries Of The Connected World

Thursday, 21 January, 2016 0 Comments

Born in Munich in 1942, amid falling Allied bombs, Werner Stipetić was taken for safety by his mother to the remote Bavarian village of Sachrang in the Alps. They moved back to Munich in 1954 and Werner adopted his absconded father’s surname Herzog (German for “duke”), which he felt sounded more impressive for a would-be filmmaker.

Today, Werner Herzog is considered one of the great figures of the New German Cinema, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta. In 1996, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lives with the photographer Elena Pisetski, now Lena Herzog.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off today beneath the snow-capped mountains of Park City in Utah, Herzog’s latest work, Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, will be premeiered.

Blurb: “Society depends on the Internet for nearly everything but rarely do we step back and recognize its endless intricacies and unsettling omnipotence. From the brilliant mind of Werner Herzog comes his newest vehicle for exploration, a playful yet chilling examination of our rapidly interconnecting online lives.

Herzog documents a treasure trove of interviews of strange and beguiling individuals — ranging from Internet pioneers to victims of wireless radiation, whose anecdotes and reflections weave together a complex portrait of our brave new world. Herzog describes the Internet as ‘one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing,’ and yet he tempers this enthusiasm with horror stories from victims of online harassment and Internet addiction.

For all of its detailed analysis, this documentary also wrestles with profound and intangible questions regarding the Internet’s future. Will it dream, as humans do, of its own existence? Can it discover the fundamentals of morality, or perhaps one day understand the meaning of love? Or will it soon cause us — if it hasn’t already — more harm than good?”


“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”

Friday, 14 August, 2015 0 Comments

Reporting from Tokyo for the Financial Times, Robin Harding writes: “On the night of August 14 1945, as Japan prepared to surrender to the Allies, a group of rebel officers launched a coup d’état and seized control of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.” Seventy years on, Harding tells this dramatic story in “Japan’s longest day: plot that nearly prevented war from ending“. Here’s a thriller-like scene: “Determined to fight on, even if it meant the annihilation of their country, the plotters ransacked the palace looking for the prepared recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender message and very nearly prevented the end of the second world war.”

For all those who continue to peddle the notion that Japan would have somehow surrendered in a moment of rationality, Harding’s article should be recommended reading. With its fascist leadership and genocidal agenda, Japan was intent on turning Asia into a colony that would be ruled by the Shin guntō, barbarically. In the end, however, the plotters didn’t find the recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender message. It was successfully smuggled out of the palace in a laundry basket of women’s underwear and broadcast to a nation that had never heard their “God” speak.

In his speech, Hirohito noted, with historic understatement, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”. Finally, he said: “However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” No word of remorse, though, for the horrific crimes that were committed in his name and with his sanction.

From the FT comments on Robin Harding’s article:

Harold Godwinson: “Surely the message is that in fact the use of nuclear weapons saved many millions of lives. Japan then is comparable to Daesh now. Fanatics who believe their cause is beyond value in human life must always be opposed.”


Why Paul Fussell thanked God for the Atom Bomb

Thursday, 6 August, 2015 1 Comment

The great American cultural and literary historian, author and academic Paul Fussell landed in France in 1944 as a 20-year-old second lieutenant with the 103rd Infantry Division and was wounded while fighting the Germans in Alsace. When his Thank God for the Atom Bomb (PDF) essay appeared in The New Republic in August 1981 it was received with howls of rage by leftist revisionists who accused Fussell of justifying a “war crime”. Unlike his detractors, however, Fussell knew whereof he wrote.

During the storm, Fussell remained firm in his conviction that the two bombs ended World War II. Along with saving the hundreds of thousands of American lives that would have been lost in a protracted invasion, they also saved millions of Japanese lives that would have been sacrificed in defending Nippon. Snippet:

“John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, ‘a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.’ But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. ‘Two or three weeks,’ says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.”

The atom bomb was a a terrible weapon, but it was used to prevent a more terrible slaughter.


Sorrow and bliss in Italy

Wednesday, 16 October, 2013 0 Comments

The recent spate of migrant deaths in the waters off the coast of Italy has highlighted the tragedy of Africa and its failed states. But the heartrending fate of Africans in Italy is not new, as Iris Origo noted in her diary 70 years ago:

16 October 1943: “Antonia goes down to Chianciano and returns with the news that at Magione a German captain, as he was driving through a wood, was shot and killed; he was buried yesterday at Chianciano.

In the evening a Moroccan soldier turns up here, an escaped prisoner from Laterina. He can speak only a few words of English and Italian and is very completely lost — travelling north, although he says he wants to get to Rome. We give him food and shelter for the night and point out the road to the south. ‘Me ship,’ he says, ‘Me not swim’. Very slight are his chances of getting home again.” Iris Origo

Iris Origo was an Anglo-Irish writer best known for works such as War in Val d’Orcia, The Merchant of Prato and The Vagabond Path. Following her birth in 1902, her parents travelled widely, particularly in Italy, where her father contracted tuberculosis and died in 1910. Her mother, Lady Sybil Cutting, then bought one of Florence’s most spectacular residences, the Villa Medici in Fiesole, which was built between 1451 and 1457. Iris Cutting married Antonio Origo, the illegitimate son of Marchese Clemente Origo, in 1924 and the couple devoted much of their lives to the improvement of their estate at La Foce, near Montepulciano. The Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, as Iris Origo was titled, died in her beloved Tuscany, with its cultivated hills, picturesque towns and magnificent Brunello di Montalcino in June 1988, aged 85.

Tuscany