Thursday 30 May 2013

Marc Lynch's scholarship on Egypt

Marc Lynch
In the final epilogue of That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden, Encompass Editions, 2013, I spent only a couple of paragraphs on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and I wondered whether I needed to qualify anything I have written. Having recently encountered The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (New York: Public Affairs, 2013) and his blogs by the esteemed scholar, Marc Lynch, it seemed appropriate to determine whether I got it right and whether recent events since my book's publication would alter anything I wrote about the Brotherhood. Basically his assessment is not all that different than mine but I would agree with him that the Brotherhood's incompetence has not done anything to improve the economy, the key issue for most voters, and that they have alienated a number of their supporters by their undemocratic behaviour.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

The Nazi Disdain for Modernist Art

The following, for reasons of space and my decision to focus on the aesthetics of the beautiful during the 1930s, did not make the final editing cut in the chapter "Aesthetics in Nazi Germany" in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden, Encompass Editions, 2013.

Joseph Goebbels
Notwithstanding his implacable hatred of Jews, Goebbels initially maintained a pragmatic view of artists; those who had been critical were allowed to create or perform provided they demonstrated loyalty to the regime. The same applied to well-known homosexuals who procured the patronage of a cultural apparatchik. His flexibility was most evident in the visual arts. His views were more complex than other Nazi leaders, especially Hitler, whose passion for it largely focused on neo-Gothic architecture and traditional nineteenth-century German genre painting, flecked with a spate of current erotic kitsch. As one of the more educated National Socialist’s potentates, Goebbels admired some forms of Modernist art, notably expressionism and artists such as the German, Emil Nolde and the Norwegian, Eduard Munch. Correspondingly, he viewed with distaste Volkish art, championed by ideologues such as Rosenberg, with its idealization of the peasant and its adamant opposition to non-representational art forms. Despite his retrograde philistine tastes, Hitler remained publicly silent on the issue until his unequivocal denunciation of Modernist art in a 1935 Nuremberg speech when he declaimed: 

         It is not the function of art to wallow in dirt for dirt’s sake, never its task to paint men only in
         states of decay, to draw cretins as the symbol of motherhood, to picture hunchbacked idiots as
         representatives of manly strength.…Art must be the handmaiden of sublimity and beauty and
         thus promote whatever is natural and healthy.

Thursday 23 May 2013

A Bolshevik Gothic novel

The subject of the following selection is most germane to That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden, Encompass Editions, 2013 but it was from a chapter on the 1920s and I decided to eliminate the chapter from the book and instead make a stronger thematic connection by linking the October Revolution and Leninism to Stalinism and his war on the peasantry.                             
Alexandra Kollontai

One of the most outspoken in her criticism of NEP (New Economic Policy) was the prominent female Bolshevik, Alexandria Kollontai, the only woman to hold a position in the Central Committee of the Party. She was Commissar of public welfare and the director of the Party’s Women Division. In the 1920s, in both her expository articles and especially in her fiction, she attempted to demonstrate how NEP provided a climate for the moral debilitation of men and women who succumbed to its sensual pleasures. The Nepman’s great sin lay in his economic exploitation   and his accumulation of wealth at the expense of others. In her agitprop novella, Love of Worker Bees (1923, 1988), Kollontai sets up a triangle with two-dimensional characters that juxtaposes the young heroine, Vasilisa, with her lover Vladimir, an opportunistic Nepman, and his mistress, Nina, a parasitic Nepwoman.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Ian Rankin's investigation into evil

I highly recommend a YouTube video that is germane to both volumes of That Line of Darkness in which Scottish novelist, Ian Rankin, investigates evil by interviewing a number of experts, including Daniel Pick and Christopher Browning. He begins with a discussion about Robert Louis Stevenson who was a major influence on his own work and proceeds with an analysis of the ideas of Francis Galton, Cesare Lombroso and the serial killer.  He then enters into a discussion with historian, Browning, about how ordinary policemen in the 1940s had a choice about whether to participate in the mass shootings on the Eastern Front. His conclusion, which he links the individual killer with the perpetrators of mass atrocities, should not surprise anybody.

The Armenian Tragedy

This selection that was originally written in the context of  the British press's fabrication of atrocity stories did not survive the final editing of  That Line of Darkness: The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War, Encompass Editions, 2012.

One of the consequences of the over-the-top “revelations” of reported atrocities in Belgian and the Western Front was the inability to absorb in Britain real horror amid the welter of false and exaggerated propaganda stories. A case in point is the officially orchestrated Turkish campaign to ethnically cleanse the Ottoman Empire of Greeks and Armenians. Humiliated by the loss of their European lands during the Balkan wars of 1912-13 and the subsequent expulsion of Muslims, the ultra-nationalistic Young Turks that acquired power after the 1908 revolution believed that only a homogeneous state of unified Muslims and Turks could stave off further disintegration. On the eve of the First World War, the Turks deported 150,000 Greeks from the coast, and another 50,000 to the interior to Anatolia in the northeast, a process that continued throughout the war an took thousands of Greek lives. The conscription of Greek men into backbreaking labour battalions, the beatings, the hunger, the expulsions and killings accompanied by the confiscation of their wealth were a harbinger that awaited the Armenians albeit on a larger scale. According to Taner Akçan, who is the first Turkish historian to designate the genocide label for the miseries inflicted on the Armenians, the success of expelling large portions of the Greek population emboldened the leadership to embark on a “comprehensive scheme of ethnic cleansing that could allow the application of massive genocidal violence.”

Saturday 18 May 2013

The Myth of Betrayal in post-war Germany

This selection could not be included in the final editing of  That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden, (Encompass Editions, 2013) for reasons of space.

The stab-in-the-back myth
The tumultuous aftermath of the Great War lent support to the conspiracy theories and demagogic politics that emerged as a response to the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and of the military defeat in Germany. It reinforced the paranoia of the times and created a receptive mood for “the canonical text of the Jewish conspiracy theorists, Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The joint heads of the German war effort, Paul Hindenburg and Eric Ludendorff, recognized by late September 1918 that Germany could not win the war. The German public long deceived into believing that their sacrifices would lead to German victory were enraged. To deflect anger from their failure to deliver that victory, both generals circulated the lie the Germany Army had not be militarily defeated but had been stabbed in the back by an unpatriotic public and from sabotage undertaken by Jews, socialists and Bolsheviks. 

This canard was their cowardly attempt to cover themselves for losing the gamble when they launched a massive all-out spring offensive in 1918. And they had concealed all knowledge of the war’s developments, especially bad news, not only from the German people but also from the government and the Kaiser. The lie seemed to have some plausibility since German troops were more than one hundred miles inside enemy territory and, with the exception of the Rhineland, no Allied troops were stationed on German soil and since early 1918 the public had grown increasingly restive even rebellious. But despite the circulation of the dolchstoss (dagger thrust) legend by the radical right and a future staple in the Nazi propaganda armoury, the reality was that the unrest was a product of military failure not a cause. In the wake of some of the heaviest losses since the war began, especially among the officers, 1.75 million German soldiers succumbing to the influenza epidemic and an estimated million men ducking duty, a sense of war weariness led to a collapse in morale and scattered outbreaks of rebelliousness among the military itself motivated more by self-preservation than any political ideology.  A mutiny broke out among sailors in the North Sea port city of Kiel, motivated by a desire to end the carnage, one that spread to soldiers and workers in other cities.

Friday 17 May 2013

Psychic Vampirism in Nineteenth Century Rome

A selection that could not be included in That Line of Darkness: The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War, (Encompass Editions, 2012).

Newspaper reports from the continent rekindled interest in the alleged Jewish threat even as stories from the liberal press generated sympathy for Jewish victims. In June 1858 in the Papal city of Bologna, Vatican officials seized and transported to Rome a young Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara. There he was taken to the House of the Catechumens to be instructed as a Catholic, and subsequently embraced by Pope Pius IX as his “son.” The ostensible rationale for this cruel abduction was that a Christian girl, while working for his family, had baptized the boy when he was a sick baby believing him to be close to death. Under Church law, a baptized child must be raised a Catholic. Despite the frantic efforts of the family and the local and international Jewish community to secure his release, the boy became a devout Catholic and later a priest. For years Edgardo Mortara was completely alienated from his family because they would not convert to the true faith. Although he had a reunion with his mother twenty years after the kidnapping, he could not persuade her to convert. The supreme irony was that he lived a long life to the age of eighty-eight and died in Belgium on March 11, 1940, one month before the Nazis fanned into the country. Nazi race laws would have classified him as a Jew. This irony underscores a fundamental distinction between the treatment by the Catholic Church with respect to Mortara, as deplorable as it was, and Nazi immutable race laws; they would have killed him as a child and as an aged adult priest.

Soul Survivor: Philip Kerr’s A Man Without Breath

My piece  from  Critics at Large

Somebody has to give a damn, otherwise we are no better than the criminals themselves.
– Bernie Gunter speaking in The Pale Criminal

Scottish writer Philip Kerr’s ninth Bernie Gunther novel, A Man Without Breath (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013), has all the familiar trademarks of its predecessors: impeccable research and textured detail, an ability to weave history with a mystery, and to some extent, the unabashed sass and defiance of authority by the chief protagonist, the onetime homicide detective in Weimar Berlin. In The Pale Criminal (1990), Gunter displays that barbed wit when mocking Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “That funny old book they gave free to all newlyweds? It’s the best reason to stay single I can think of.” That hard-boiled sarcasm is one of Gunter’s weapons as an anti-Nazi German who never abandoned his belief in the democratic values of the Weimar Republic. He valiantly struggled to retain some semblance of his own humanity amid the inhumanity and immortality of National Socialist Germany, the Eastern Front during the Second World War, and postwar Vienna, Argentina, Cuba and Germany.

Gunther’s idiosyncratic moral code not deter him from dispensing rough justice or complying with the orders of the powerful men in Hitler’s inner circle that he despises. In The Pale Criminal, he executes a man responsible for the deaths of several young women. In A Man Without Breath, he kills a man who threatened to expose an assassination plot against Hitler, and he feels badly about it. In 1936 Berlin, the setting of March Violets (1989), he is caught in a power struggle between two Nazi rivals, Herman Goring and Heinrich Himmler. Reinhard Heydrich, second in command under the Gestapo chief, Himmler, offers the arrested Gunther a deal. He can save his life by going undercover into the hell of Dachau to interrogate a fellow prisoner, a safe-cracker who knows the whereabouts of politically sensitive documents that could incriminate Goring. (The indescribable horror of his experience in Dachau enabled Gunther to appreciate the “true strength of the grip that National Socialism had in Germany.”) In Prague Fatale (2011) it is 1941 and Heydrich, the newly-minted Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, fears – with good reason since he is known as Hitler’s Hangman – that he could be assassinated and remembers Gunther. Despite Gunther’s Republican politics, Heydrich values his investigative skills as a detective and orders him to Prague to uncover the Czech spy within his inner circle and track down “terrorists” who are resisting Nazi domination. Gunther has no alternative but to accede to Heydrich’s commission. Yet Gunther could display a creative insubordination when negotiating the moral cesspool of the Third Reich. As an SS Lieutenant who is entrusted with presiding over a massacre of civilians, he requests a transfer to the front, is refused because of his age and time in the trenches during the Great War but is sent back home to be assigned to the War Crimes Bureau, a public relations exercise that will strike most readers as an oxymoron.