Now is the time . . .

ChurchillIn April 1941 (long before the entry of the U.S. into the war), the British had had some success in the tank campaign in North Africa, and it became necessary for “a terribly important convoy of tanks . . . to risk the perilous Mediterranean route” at which point Winston Churchill “informed the Cabinet of the timetable, adding:

‘‘If anyone’s good at praying, now is the time.’’

Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011) (Kindle ed. loc. 2424-26).

I love it.

May we remember that all times are the time.

Jerusalem and Birmingham

I recently read (more of less at the same time) two historical books which I would highly recommend.  Each is flawed, but each gives a picture of a tragic time of which I knew too little.

eichmannThe first was Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), about Nazi middle-manager Adolph Eichmann, captured in Argentina in 1960, and tried in Jerusalem in 1961. Arendt’s famous account of the trial is idiosyncratic, and oft-criticized, mainly for being thought too soft on Eichmann and too hard on the victims, the prosecutors and David Ben-Gurion, who Arendt portrays as the political choreographer of the trial.

She blames the many Nazis who wielded greater power and had greater capacity for evil, but she does not remotely excuse Eichmann.  Nor does she blame those who died, except in the sense that she is troubled by the unwillingness of some victims to resist totally and violently early enough that they (might?) have made a difference.

As a trial account, the book is fairly weak, in the sense that she is telling the back story as much as she is summarizing the evidence presented.  This may have been due to the length of the trial and her sense that Eichmann was too slender a reed to support the weight of the crimes he facilitated. I would have liked more reporting and less musing.

But her musings are fascinating!*

MLKThe second book, Martin Luther King, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King (1998), is equally well-known, a compilation of writings, speeches and sermons stitched together with narrative sections cast in the first person by the historian Claiborne Carson.

If what you know of Dr. King is entirely from the perspective of 2017, or MLK-as-political-signifier for one party or another, then this is a nice opportunity to delve back into primary sources.

In any case, you know Dr. King was a master orator and the audiobook takes advantage of the available recordings — that man could preach!**

Each of these two books is narrow, and it will be necessary to read more to have a well-rounded comprehension of the times and the issues, but both are well worth your investment.


NOTES

*From Eichmann in Jerusalem:

  • “The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.” p. 47
  • “These habits of Eichmann’s created considerable difficulty during the trial—less for Eichmann himself than for those who had come to prosecute him, to defend him, to judge him, and to report on him. For all this, it was essential that one take him seriously, and this was very hard to do, unless one sought the easiest way out of the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them, and declared him a clever, calculating liar—which he obviously was not. . . .
    Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a ‘monster,’ but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown.” p. 52
  • “The facts of the case, of what Eichmann had done—though not of everything the prosecution wished he had done—were never in dispute; they had been established long before the trial started, and had been confessed to by him over and over again. There was more than enough, as he occasionally pointed out, to hang him. (‘Don’t you have enough on me?’ he objected, when the police examiner tried to ascribe to him powers he never possessed.) p. 88.
  • “And the question of individual guilt or innocence, the act of meting out justice to both the defendant and the victim, are the only things at stake in a criminal court. The Eichmann trial was no exception, even though the court here was confronted with a crime it could not find in the lawbooks and with a criminal whose like was unknown in any court, at least prior to the Nuremberg Trials. The present report deals with nothing but the extent to which the court in Jerusalem succeeded in fulfilling the demands of justice.” p. 296.

**From The Autobiography of Martin Luther King:

  • I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”
  • “As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
  • “I have always felt that ultimately along the way of life an individual must stand up and be counted and be willing to face the consequences whatever they are. And if he is filled with fear he cannot do it. My great prayer is always for God to save me from the paralysis of crippling fear, because I think when a person lives with the fears of the consequences for his personal life he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving many of the social problems which we confront in every age and every generation.”
  • “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.”

Doom

Some very interesting designs for a Holocaust Museum in London.  This one is my favorite — the sense of something vastly dangerous and beyond individual control*:

akzh-holocaust

Rory Stott, “10 Shortlisted Designs for London Holocaust Memorial Revealed,” Arch Daily (Jan. 17, 2017) [link].

Though not, of course beyond individual action: “…and yet, in the end, did Klara Hitler’s sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he ever did was done for him by others.” Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005).

Scoop!

ScreenShot164I knew that Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, but this was a part of the story I had not heard:

In late August 1939, [Clare] Hollingworth was a 27-years-old cub reporter for the Telegraph in Poland. After talking a British diplomat into allowing her to borrow his car, she drove across the border into Germany, where she observed large numbers of troops, tanks and field artillery lined up along a road.

As she wrote in her autobiography, when the wind blew open burlap screens “constructed to hide the military vehicles . . . I saw the battle deployment.” Her story appeared in the London newspaper on Aug. 29 under the headline “1,000 Tanks Massed on Polish Frontier.” Germany invaded Poland three days later.

Melanie Kirkpatrick, “The Woman Who Scooped Everyone on World War II,” Hudson Institute (Jan. 12, 2017) [link].  Interesting story, which also appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

The Nightingale

nightingaleKristen Hannah, The Nightingale (2016).

This month’s book club offering is a lively story of two sisters who live in France during the Nazi occupation.  Although it is longer on emotional than historical detail, it is definitely one of those novels that make you wonder how well you would hold up under the pressures of that situation.  The book was similar in tone and gravity to something like The Winds of War, thus not as serious as All the Light We Cannot See, or as literary as Brideshead Revisited, or as witty as Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

I like the cover design very much.

Recommended.

Brave & Forgiven

ebif A delightful book, full of clever dialogue (“Sorry I’m late.  There were Germans.”) and heartaches, about the beginning of World War II in London and Malta.  Cleave does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of oppression which must have been felt by the British before 1942:

“[Mary] loathed the way the newspapers printed maps with the stark Nazi symbol on a field of plain white, as if Hitler had sent armies of erasers.  Better to crowd the swastikas in, to have them jostle for space.  [For her class, she] drew them deliberately crooked.  Her swastikas were degenerates that leaned at sickly angles and resembled one another vaguely, the offspring of first cousins who had married against the family’s advice.

Finally, she drew Britain, being generous with the width of the English Channel and giving the British Isles three times the area on the blackboard that they merited.  She thought it unfair to expect children to understand that it was possible to resist, from an island the size of her hand, a tyranny that stretched the whole width of the blackboard from Brest to Bialystok.”

It is not really a book about the war, but about friendships, family relations and love affairs in the shadow of great uncertainty and disruption.

Highly recommended.

Breaking the Siege

Slide1A Pattern of Prayer, part 3: A Pattern of Desperation
February 28, 2016 | 2 Kings 19-20
(Hezekiah’s prayers)

Before the period of modern warfare, it was common for cities to be fortified and for attackers to camp outside the walls, laying siege to the city, hoping that starvation and plague would defeat the defenders. When surrounded by a competent army, it was difficult for a city to break the siege without outside help.

Air access now make sieges less likely, but occasionally they have been used in modern wars.

You will recall that in August 1939, Hitler and Stalin entered into a non-aggression pact which divided Poland and a number of other countries between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. This pact cleared the way for Germany to invade Poland and begin World War II. The Germans and Soviets refrained from fighting each other for nearly two years. Continue reading Breaking the Siege

The last sure war

“The times were full of certainty, ” [A.J.] Liebling later wrote.  “I have seldom been so sure I was right since.”  An AAF crewman who completed fifty bomber missions observed, “Never did I feel so much alive.  Never did the earth and all of the surroundings look so bright and sharp.”  A combat engineer mused, “What we did was something awfully damned good, something I don’t think we’ll ever have again as long as we live.”

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, 640 (2013).

“A complete lack of imagination”

Everybody gets more and more on edge.  A sense of humor and a great faith, or else a complete lack of imagination, are essential to the project.

Eisenhower, in a private letter, on the days leading up to the invasion of Europe, as reported in Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light 14 (2013).