Archive for the ‘world war two’ Category

Love, Poverty, and War

May 30, 2011

Reading Christopher Hitchens invariably provokes me to a cloudburst of scribbling. The content of his work, whether tackling God, revising Churchill, or casting the Iraq War as one of Kurdish emancipation, is (almost) secondary to the easy conversational brilliance of his style. Imagine a somewhat inebriate professor of letters who spent his youth alternating between a dinner jacket and dungarees, with an occasional sojourn to the front so he might shake hands with revolutionaries and fellow internationalists. Much like listening to live music in my relative youth instilled a desire to pick up a guitar at the immediate cessation, so does curling up with dear Hitch inspire a similar response.

Love, Poverty, and War borrows it’s title from O’Henry, who claimed no man could go through life escaping all three. It is a collection of essays on variable topics, and if there is a common theme to be found in the volume, it’s a general distate for anything approaching totalitarian, and a profound appreciation for irony and courage. Despite being forced on more than one occasion to duck lest a shot fired in anger do better than whine overhead, Hitchens avoided war for the most part, and I believe that in some senses he regrets it.

In both his memoir and in his essay on Churchillian revisionism, he makes mention of his father’s (the Commander, as he is remembered) naval service during WW2. He recounts the day his dad sunk a German warship that far outclassed his own, and chose “a better day’s work than I have ever done” to couch how he feels about his father’s finest hour. Despite the fact that Hitch was like his mom, a woman he looks back on adoringly as the person who instilled in him a love of literature, and the gentle but firm warning to “never be boring,” there is a subtle ache inside him, and perhaps in most men who’s fathers and grandfathers could count Hitler as a personal adversary.

Most of us will feel love and the pinch of hunger at some point in our lives. But war now escapes our personal reckoning. To experience war first hand one must make it their career, and come to the decision relatively early in life. Great conflict, full of sacrifice home and abroad, celebrated by endless books and films, and draped in polarizing but comforting terms like good and evil, is denied us. The greatest generation was not great for their deeds (though great their deeds were) but for the accident of their birth.

Are we right to be envious of blood, loss, and boredom? Surely, the daily life of the average solider is appositely captured by the cliched 90 percent boredom and ten percent terror (often used to describe commercial pilots, and occasionally by me to illustrate the life of a professional poker player). So why would anyone wish to be thrust into those circumstances, even if only temporarily? Because they will do a better days work than we will ever do, and maybe even more than one.

Portrayal of war is often criticized for being romanticized. For failing to convey the true cost, the pain, the senselessness of the destruction, the displacement of innocents, and the psychological consequences felt by the survivors. But the criticism misses a point. War is thrilling. War does facilitate and identify courage. War does foster bonds. There are many accounts of civilian Londoners (et al) in the aftermath of the blitz describing the time as one where they felt the most alive. The most purposeful. The most connected to their neighbours for enduring a common hardship.

There is no contradiction inherent in recognizing war as an unfortunate and evil manifestation of the human failure to resolve differences more pragmatically and morally, and feeling the unsated urge* to pick up a gun and kill a Nazi swell up inside you once in a while. You can exist in that conflicted state, and not have anything to apologize for.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

* I have heard some women describe a feeling of wanting to be pregnant – not have a child (necessarily) but an ineffable desire to be in the state of pregnancy. I think there might be an analogy hiding there somewhere.

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The Blair Hitch Project

November 29, 2010

Former Prime Minister and Catholic convert Tony Blair exchanged fire with famed scribbler and atheist Christopher Hitchens over: Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.

Before the start of hostilities, an audience poll was taken to determine how the interested public felt about the topic at hand:

PRE-DEBATE
PRO: 22%  CON:57%
UNDECIDED:21%

A further relevant question come statistic also proved enlightening – the percentage of those open to changing their minds based on what they might hear over the next 90 minutes: 75%

I have watched many a religious debate featuring Hitch, and felt going in that Tony Blair was the open question. The PM may have a towering intellect, a fine capacity for public speaking and thinking on his feet, and would obviously come prepared or not at all. However, across from him is the preeminent professional atheist. Yes, Hitchens has his ladle in many broths, from Iraq War apologetics to literary criticism, but nobody argues faith with such style as our ailing child of Portsmouth. Years spent traveling from town to town arguing with the parties of God puts a fine edge on a debaters tongue, so I feared Blair would come off as less than fully committed to the subject.

To a limited degree my fears proved to be reality, as Tony perpetrated a (unintentional) falsehood, one often made by those who wish to make known that atheism is dangerous as well. Tony pointed to the first half of the 20th century and the role Hitler and Stalin played in spreading misery from a fascist and secular helm. Due to time constraints Hitch let that go, so I will do my best to pick up the gauntlet.

Above is the standard issue belt buckle for the German armed forces in WW2. Gott Mit Uns translates to God With Us. Say what you want about perversions of faith or the cynical application of religion for propaganda, but neither the German military nor The Nazi Party were secular.

Further evidence against claims that the Nazis were secular fascists is provided by an Austrian corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler. From Mein Kampf:

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”

Again, a perverse and bizarre faith held by a man also aptly characterized by those adjectives, and in no way can one make the claim that religious faith was responsible for the European horror of the 30s and 40s. However, what also must be accepted as plain, is that Adolf Hitler and the doctrine of the Nazi Party were not secular.

So Tony, that’s one.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Tony’s second mistake was claiming Einstein for the faithful, so lets see what else our favourite megabrain had to say on the subject.

“… the man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events.”

At most, Einstein can be considered a deist, although even then…

“The miracle is that it all works, that there are no miracles.”

So, that’s two Tony, but we forgive you, ’cause you are a bit new at this, and many a very smart fellow falls into the Nazis were atheists and Einstein believed in God pit.

The result? People changed their minds:

Post-Debate

Pro: 32%  Con: 68%

Watch it

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

E-compatibility

August 26, 2010

Below is a heavily reworked piece, originally titled Finishing Each Other’s Sentences

Originally published, May 2009

The next time you find yourself awash in dangerous toxin and in dire need of a means to induce vomiting, I suggest clicking here.

The E-Harmony ad campaign, with its noisome Jazz-pop and impossibly handsome couples, is such obvious fantasy that I dare say no one is fooled. The men in the ads are especially hard to believe, with their fashion model looks, interesting careers, sensitivity, and artistic streaks, are the archetype for the love-interest in any feminine masturbatory aid you care to name.

The conceit is that E-Harmony, unlike the balance of the online dating sphere, will match you based on “compatibility.” Aside from sidestepping the obvious question “by what means other than compatibility can one be matched?” the actors (or, “real couples,” if that is to be believed) have such universal appeal, that no talk of compatibility is at all relevant in their cases. Can we get a show of hands from the female readership that would reject a handsome chemist who likes to paint, is vulnerable but decisive enough to drag you off to the closet for a grope, and is interested in something stable? Some types are almost universally attractive, and any talk of “compatibility” is neither here nor there.

It is plain to all and sundry that E-Harmony is selling a fantasy. However, buried under the nauseating love-in is a subtle message: online dating is okay. Look at these successful people; they are busy, sick of the bar scene, and have excellent reasons why they are 30 and single. These people aren’t losers and neither will you be. There is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Twenty-five years ago you were a social outcast by definition for merely owning a computer. Now that it can get you laid, the computer is well established as mainstream and girl-friendly.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Oy Vey! Not Another One!

August 24, 2010

Below is a heavily reworked piece, originally titled Antisemitism Remixed.

Originally published, October 2009.

Antisemitism is boring and unoriginal. It manifests in many forms, from rabid to casual, and from genuine hatred to deluded Semitic embrace. The antisemitic spectrum is interesting only for its history and persistence, and that it is a kind of racism unique from the ill feelings towards other groups, as it is expressed worldwide and by people who have no direct knowledge or experience with the Jewish question.

The Jews of 13th century England were the money lenders, for money lending was prohibited to Christians. Edward the I, practical anti-Semite that he was, borrowed extensively so as to build England into a major power, and at the same time enacted laws to marginalize English Jews. He proclaimed that all the Jews in England  must wear a yellow Star of David so they may be readily identified  (the you-know-whos thought that a brilliant idea as well).

Edward’s penchant for simple solutions to complex problems turned ugly when instead of inching England into the black with deft economic wielding, he simply banished the Jews, and with them went debts both public and private. A very popular decision at the time, and as the Jews were forced to migrate at their own expense, gentile ship owners doubly benefited. One enterprising ship’s captain thought to cut down on expenses by depositing his cargo of Jews on an island at low tide in the English Channel – resulting in the group drowning when the tide came rolling in a few hours later.

Antisemitism is no invention of the Nazis is hardly an original observation. Anyone with the slightest clue knows that Jewish persecution is an ancient phenomenon, and common throughout Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Be that as it may, that caveat is often forgotten when discussing the influence of the Nazi propaganda machine. The story often goes like this: Germany, under the spell of the magnetic Adolf Hiter and hoodwinked by the agitprop of Goebbels, is transformed into frenzied mass of hatred and resentment toward those who stabbed Germany in the back, costing them the last great European war.

But how to measure the effect of propaganda? Surely, the germ of hatred is already present in Germany and antisemitism is mainstream, and while the leap from casual distaste to state-sponsored genocide may be a long one, to assume the result of evangelical racism is substantial rather than a mild reinforcement of preexisting  prejudice, is to see humanity as little more than fleshy robots – downloading whatever is fed to them and incapable of thought.

What is plain, and what is made plain by the Wansee Conference (brilliantly retold in the film Conspiracy, starring Kenneth Braughnaugh) is the sophisticated brand of hatred practiced by all levels of German society. Some desired the Jews to be deported (perhaps to Madagascar). Others saw sterilization as the superior solution. Others still, saw any form of mercy too good for the Jews. What wasn’t in question, amongst the officer class, lawyers, politicians, old and young alike, was that the Jews were the enemy. No propaganda is that effective, and no form of advertising yet discovered is sufficient explanation for the frightening conviction held by such a literate and educated people.

Stories of a hypnotized populace are easier to live with than the difficult yet adult conclusion that vile hatred lingers near the surface, ready to make itself known whenever things take a turn. Fairytales constructed by well meaning historians so we may all sleep better.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com


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