We do what we’re told, told to do

4 01 2017

Downfall was very satisfying.

Like every other person with an internet connection, I’d seen all of the dubbed parodies of Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in the bunker, but not until tonight did I finally watch the real (well, as-filmed) scene.

There are a fair number of things which I am just not in the mood for, namely, anything in which women have to put up with shit or where shitty people are coddled, and I don’t know that I could deal with even a really good noir flick in which the good are vanquished.

I want the shitty people vanquished, and, really, there are few people shittier than Nazis.

That said, it was discomfitting having some sympathy for Traudl Junge, Hitler’s young secretary. No, she didn’t kill anyone, but she was excited to work for a man who had dragged Germany and much of Europe into an inferno, and stayed with him to his end. That later in life she came to see that she willed her own ignorance does not erase her responsibility for that will. You can’t volunteer to work for Hitler and come away innocent.

Anyway, Ganz was terrific as Hitler, and if he seems histrionic in the role that is likely because by all accounts that’s how Hitler was in life. Ulrich Matthes, who played Goebbels, didn’t really look like him, but he captured his weaselly-ness; Corinna Harfouch, as Magda Goebbels, also doesn’t much resemble her character, but she was magnificent in her fanaticism.

And while I don’t know if it was only Magda who killed their six children, as was portrayed in the film, it seemed fitting that Joseph is depicted as shirking this duty, and thus deserving of her contempt.

Some critics thought the film too sympathetic toward its characters, and there’s something to that: Junge, Schenk, Haase, and Mohnke each come across, in her or his own way, as not thoroughly corrupted. Speer, on the other hand, seems appropriately self-interested, and Eva Braun, as determinedly frivolous. I did feel bad when Blondi the dog was killed.

But I don’t know that there’s much danger of the film’s distorting Hitler’s, for lack of a better word, reputation. If you don’t know much about him or the war, you’d probably find Downfall boring and not worth the two-and-a-half hours it takes to get through those last 10 days of Hitler’s life: as good as Ganz’s performance is, it won’t resonate if you know little about what had happened outside of and before the bunker.

And if you do, and you come away saddened at Hitler’s and the regime’s end, then Jesus Christ you are a terrible (or, at best, a terribly deluded) person and I’d prefer it if you never read my blog again.

As for me, I had some sympathy for the German women (knowing what the Soviets would soon do to them), but was otherwise, as mentioned, thoroughly satisfied by the Nazi downfall.

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Na na na na, hey hey-a, good bye

26 06 2013

I have sympathy for people who lose political contests. I know what it’s like to be on the losing end—it hurts—so on those occasions in which my side wins, I don’t much feel like grinding down ordinary folk on the losing side. (Leaders and sundy celebri-pols are another matter. . . .)

But on the DOMA case, my reaction is pretty much We won you lost; good! (And to the leaders and sundry celebri-pols rending their garments over the decision, my reaction is: We won, you lost, fuck you.)

The winning or losing of elections is not in and of itself a matter of justice: it’s a sorting mechanism for governance which can may lead to (un)just legislation, but any justice is located in the fairness of the contest itself, not the outcome. If you lose, it sucks, but it’s not unfair; as such graciousness is called for.

And if you win, that’s great, but it’s not a triumph of justice; as such, graciousness is called for.

But some laws are unfair, and as such, graciousness doesn’t apply. The Defense of Marriage Act was manifestly unfair, preventing same-sex couples full coverage under the law and thus equal protection of those same laws. DOMA actively disfavored a minority of citizens just because a majority thought they were icky.

(Yes, I know SSM opponents say that’s not at all the case, but I don’t believe it.)

DOMA was unjust. Those who supported it supported injustice. Whatever else they think DOMA stood for, it stood for injustice.

Thus, my ungracious response to DOMA defenders: You lost. You deserved to lose. And you deserve no sympathy for the loss.





Goodbye, blue sky

21 04 2013

A break from being a ghost; my head’s not in it.

~~~

I.

Early ’70s. I remember evacuating the  SmallTown elementary school at least once, possibly more than once.

Bomb scare.

It wasn’t scary. It seemed almost normal. But exciting, too.

II.

Mid-eighties.

On assignment for the Cardinal, to interview a physicist in Sterling Hall. My first experience in a building with radiation stickers on doors, emergency showerheads in the concrete-block halls.

Sterling Hall was bombed in 1970 by Karleton Armstrong, Dwight Armstrong, David Fine, and Leo Burt, in protest against the University’s involvement with the military during the Vietnam War. The Army Mathematics Research Center occupied 3 floors in one wing of the hall.

The bomb wrecked, but did not level, the building. The AMRC was barely damaged.

It did injure three people: Paul Quin, David Schuster, and Norbert Sutler.

It killed Robert Fassnacht, physics post-doc. He did not work for the AMRC.

The bombers fled. Karleton Armstrong was caught in 1972 and served 7 years in federal prison. He returned to Madison, where he had a food cart on the mall by Memorial Library. He thought for awhile the bombing was wrong, but then reconsidered again, stating that because the cause was just, so too was the bombing. “It just should have been done more responsibly.”

Fine was caught in 1976 and served 3 years in federal prison.

Dwight Armstrong was caught in 1977, and also served 3 years; he died in 2010.

Leo Burt was never caught.

III.

I had been fascinated by and drawn to the radical history of UW-Madison, and was, honestly, disappointed by the lack of political involvement by most students in the 1980s.

Yes, there were anti-nuke and US-out-of-Central-America and anti-apartheid protests—the anti-apartheid protests were the largest—but it was far more a party than political school.

I don’t know how I felt about the Sterling Hall bombing, then. I’m sure I felt that it was horrible that a man was killed, but it’s quite possible that I felt, as Karleton Armstrong later did, that “It just should have been done more responsibly.”

IV.

My second novel is set, for a time, in mid-/late-eighties Madison.

The events of the 70s do not go unmentioned.

V.

Part of my disappointment in Madison was surely political, but it was just as surely an adrenaline slump. I wanted to be where the action was, and there was, for all intents and purposes, no action.

Except, vicariously, in the Cardinal newsroom.

I remember seeing the tear-off from the AP machine that someone had waxed to the wall outside of the Cardinal office announcing the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Pre-internet, if you wanted the news as fast as it was made, you had to be in a newsroom.

More than once, I stood over the AP machine as line by line the rest of the world unspooled in a windowless office in the basement of Vilas Hall.

VI.

In September 2001, I was in Montreal. On the eleventh day of that month I had, as I often did, ridden my bike up and down Mont Royal for exercise, showered at a nearby building, then made my way to my office.

I listened to the CBC before I left that morning, but not until the phone call from my parents and a pop-in from a colleague, did I know what was going on.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I wanted to be there, only—goddess help me—not for solidarity.

I wanted to be where the action was.

VII.

At some point between my 18th and my 40th birthday I thought seriously about the Sterling Hall bombing.

I’d like to think it was earlier rather than later, but when I did, finally, think seriously about it, I concluded that if you don’t want to kill people, you don’t plant bombs where people are or might be.

I am not a pacifist—I lack the courage to be a pacifist—and thus recognize that there might be instances when it is justified to use a weapon, to build a bomb.

But not in protest. You cannot responsibly bomb in protest. Never in protest.

The ends never justify the means.

VIII.

I paid attention to the bombing in Oslo.

I note the bombings in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia. In Syria.

But not the same kind of attention. Do bombings matter less in war zones? Would there be war zones without bombings?

The people, they matter.

IX.

It caught the edges of my ears, last Monday.

What? What? Bombings in Boston? What?

Frantic for news. WNYC continuing with an interview about the Human Genome Project. There’s been a fucking bombing! Give me the fucking news!

Headlines on news sites, little more. Boston Globe site overwhelmed. NPR: headline, nothing more. NBC: headline, nothing more. CBS: headline, nothing more. CNN: headline, nothing more. Finally, a link to New England News Network, then WBUR.

Finally, NPR switches over. All three going at once, trying to pick out what happened.

Once again, less out of solidarity than wanting to know, just to know.

X.

I have become skeptical of solidarity in the aftermath of tragedy.

There might be some, good, reason for this: what does it mean? How will it matter? Isn’t this easier than anything else?

Sometimes coldness is in order. To see, clearly.

But I am skeptical of others because I am skeptical of myself. I want to be there, to be in the mix, to mix myself into the event and claim it for my own.

I want, goddess help me, the excitement. The vicarious thrill.

XI.

Sometimes distance is in order. To see, clearly.

What happened to Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Sean Collier, and the scores of other victims did not happen to me. I don’t know any of them; I have no connection to any of them.

This is not my tragedy.

It is only when I see that it is not mine that I can see what it means to those for whom it is. Empathy can mean looking for your own face amongst the affected, but sometimes sympathy—for the other—is the better option.

Sometimes you have to stand aside, to let the others pass.

Respect a discreet distance.

Let them be.





Hold on

23 07 2011

Bombings are not rare.

Karachi, Mumbai, Kabul, Mogadishu. . . people are murdered every day by criminals and terrorists who see  their fellow humans  solely as means to their own bloody ends.

I don’t know why I’m particularly affected by the Norwegian killings. Do I find it easier to identify with white Europeans? Is it that this is so unexpected, as if it matters more when horrific things happen to people who live in safe places than those who are under constant threat? Is it that a bomb in that city makes me wonder about a bomb in my city? Why pay more attention to this than to what happens in Baghdad?

I don’t know why it matters more, why all those bombings and shootings don’t matter more. They all matter.

So my sympathy to all of them, all of their friends, all of their families, their communities.

This is the least we can do for each other.

_________

Credit: REUTERS/Berit Roald/Scanpix