BOOMERANG

michael lewis

This gossipy book does not penetrate; it replies on and conveys surfacy impressions. It is told in a loose journalistic style to recount lives of various actors, none of whom have stayed as movers and shakers. As a book of the times (2008-2011 – setting, years, attitudes of people and countries), it keys the paint of subjects, but presents nothing unusual or memorable.

In one chapter Lewis visits Germany, and ends up on the Reeperbahn (Red Light District in Hamburg). Red lights affirm Lewis the luxury of citing Alan Dundes, venerable, cherished professor of folklore at Berkeley. Lewis talks about Dundes’ essay describing German impressions of s–t. 

Although writing a book about finances, apparently Lewis was unaware of the financial power house Hamburg was. After World War Two it was the largest city in West Germany. Frankfurt had the bourse, but Hamburg had the trade. Historically Hamburg was home to George Phillipp Telemann, who wrote music for five local churches and is a master beside Bach and Handel. Centuries before Telemann Hamburg was a city in the Hanseatic League. Boomerang would have been a much better book if Lewis had stuck to finance and history rather than whimsical escapees into s–t.

I found this book on a library-sales shelf, 25 cents, which is a lot better than the dust jacket price, $25.95. But no index, no footnotes, no bibliography, nothing to make it appear researched or authoritative, it’s a read to skip. 

MIND OF A PEOPLE

A life’s worth of reading had led me onto an issue separating Western thought from most of the world. The issue comes down to the individual and society. It is not every individual doing what he wants; every person must conform to minimum standards and behavior. The issue becomes one of a law and order country enforcing its society on individuals pursuing rights, freedoms and liberties. Vladmir Putin and the Chinese cherish society on terms only whimsically understood by the leaders in power. Individuals in those countries have lost liberties and freedoms to think, believe or communicate anything beyond the party line.

In history Germany had a choice to accept individual freedoms or accept the state security of law and order, as defined by persons in power. In each century, eighteenth to the twentieth, the Germans failed to enlighten themselves. The Germans and their historians know of this failing, but authors fail to understand why the country and its people could not reform: Those Germans today rely on long-established, intellectual philosophical bases which are admired worldwide for their intellectualism. The Germans have believed reliance on tradition and indigenous custom gave any person all the freedom any human being could desire. Reading that history much of it by German authors, I’ve never had the mindset better presented than by Howard Morley Sacher, The Course of Modern Jewish History.

Sacher provides a term for the German mindset: Germany’s Christian Romantic Tradition. The Germans have never had a Christian Romantic Tradition. They’ve had separation and war. Indeed, from 1618-1648 the Germans fought one another, aided by the French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedes and anyone else who wanted to join in. One-third of the German population perished during the Thirty Years War.

Yet the Germans persisted, allowing localities to follow accepted traditions and customs which frequently excluded anyone who was different: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, the educated, businessmen, etc. Local societies became stultified, yet the Germans persisted in the fairy-tale beliefs of their Christian Romantic Tradition.

No one quoted James Madison to support extending rights, liberties and freedoms. They relied on custom and tradition: What German leaders imagined that happened in the Ninth Century was good for the German people in the Twentieth Century. What the ancients said; what the church said; a brilliant man, a German who lived 500 years ago said this or that, telling Germans exactly how to live lives in 1933.

Sacher writes,

As material prosperity declined with the tapering-off of war expenditures, the harassed German Mittelstand relapsed

briefly – but significantly -into impotence. The nationalist secret societies,…, struggled fitfully for a while, and then

were throttled to death by the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819. Constitutionalism vanished like a wraith, while romantic

conservatism burgeoned forth in the works of political theorists, artists, musicians, and writers, who harked back to

the dear dead days of Gothic medievalism, and who endowed very tangible feudal and class interests with the

magic of an ideology. Immanuel Fichte and Georg Hegel deduced from the past that the welfare of the State-

Leviathan took precedence over the happiness of individuals. The theological Schleiermacher sanctified the state

on the level of theology. German prose and poetry conjured up the past in fairy tales, legends, epics; music was

rewoven about the themes of minnesingers. Law, too, was visualized by Savigny as the result of inexorable

historical circumstances. The sustained emphasis upon tradition, the past, and the state augured ill for the

liberals, the reformers, the emancipators – and especially for the Jews. (p. 103)

Thus as decades passed and society changed, the human beings did not abide realism and history. They learned the historical fantasies concocted and promoted by each generation of leaders. Inhibitions became more traditional, customary and accepted.

For in Germany conservatism worked; it created the State; it created prosperity; it created power. For sixty years

before the emergence of the empire, Kant, Fichte, Herder and Hegel had argued that the needs of the Christian

German state took precedence over the needs of the individual. Droysen and Ranke delved deep into Germany

history to support this contention. Now, in one massive coup de main, Bismarck validated all the theorizing that

had gone before. If conservative nationalism had been a respectable philosophy in pre-Bismarckian days, it

seemed positively irrefutable after 1870. (p. 222)

If it remains part of Germany today, and historical fantasies and good times in the past is a large part of the lore of many countries [those readily accepting totalitarianism, tyranny, the despotism],only bad can come from that mindset:

World War I was not simply a product of rival economic imperialisms. We know now – indeed, World War II has

helped to teach us – that Germany’s foreign policy, her decision to resort to hostilities, were the ultimate result

of the myth of the German folk destiny, of militant pan-Germanism, and of the idealization of the Leviathan-State.(p. 419)

Supported by philosophical fantasies no where near reflecting rational human behaviors, digging up historical legends many of which came from England [Tristan, Holy Grail, Tristan and Isolde were Welsh and Irish lovers] and constructing a sociology which was completely detached from ethics and morals, the Germans next concocted a very primitive political system to allow themselves to put their wonderings into practice.

Background

I read a lot of history; I read it in sprees. For a year twentieth century history has been my nut, primarily the two European wars and Germany and the Soviet Union. There are times I’ll find an author, and buy books from Amazon or Bookfinder (and others), but most of my reading comes from used books, stuff bought at library bookstores or library sales.

Why read history? To understand more completely. In Barrons today, Jack A. Ablin of BMO Private Bank, is quoted (M16): “It is hard to conceptualize from our Western point of view, but roughly 80% of Russians surveyed believe that economic growth and jobs are more important than their form of government.” I agree. That has been an issue many books I’ve read over the last year, decade, scores of years.

However, I went to read three volumes by Richard J. Evans, the first being, The Coming of the Third Reich (borrowed from the library). In total the three volumes are about 1500 pages. I read the Preface, and Evans discusses other survey books telling of the Third Reich. He notes William L. Shirer’s books, The Rise and Fall and says it is weak, but he fails to mention it is the first. It is unusual for a historian to criticize, outside critical literature, books. He is complimentary to everyone he mentions, English and German historians. He finally, and has to mention Gordon Craig, an American, but only one of Craig’s books: The Politics of the Germany Army 1640-1945.

I finished the Preface and wondered why it was incomplete: Gordon Craig has a book, Germany: 1866-1945 (1978). It seemed spot onto Richard Evans’ topic, but it wasn’t referenced. A German who became an American wrote three volumes, the last covering 1840-1945. Hojo Holborn was a brilliant historian; he died in 1967. Reading about the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and its culture, one finds Hajo Holborn mentioned. He was part of German academia and participated in the culture before the Nazis came to power. He left Germany in 1933 after losing his university position.

I wondered why Hajo Holborn and Gordon Craig’s other books were not in the Preface. I looked at the bibliography where they were also absent, saving Craig’s German Army book.

I turned the page to Chapter 1, page 1, line 1 or Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich:

       “Is it wrong to begin with Bismarck?”

Richard Evans book was published in 2003, almost forty years after Gordon Craig’s book. I realized I had read this book before. I stopped reading. Indeed, Germany: 1866-1945 by Gordon Craig, Chapter 1, Page 1, line 1 reads: 

       “Is it a mistake to begin with Bismarck?”

SPEER – A FINAL VERDICT, Joachim Fest

The last chapter of this book, the conclusion, is a masterpiece. What is Albert Speer’s life worth apart from being Adolph Hitler’s architect and munitions minister? Not much, unless Speer can be used as a model of an early twentieth century German boy, man, adult to explain why the Germans, each of them lemmings, ran off the cliff again, after the horrible tragedy of World War One. This biography gives suggestions but does not provide a thorough analysis.

The book reveals little about the Nazis, although one anecdote is noteworthy. On April 24, 1945 Speer met Heinrich Himmler, SS honcho, who believes wrongly he is to become Hitler’s successor. After saying good-bye to Hitler, Speer has just left  Berlin, now under assault by the Russians. Himmler dresses down Speer, telling him he won’t be part of the new German government and since no building will be done in the foreseeable future [bombed out Germany in April 1945], Speer’s services as an architect won’t be needed. Knowing that Himmler is an abject coward, Speer offers him his plane so Himmler can visit Hitler one last time and say good-bye. Himmler refuses the offer.

There is a sense in the biography that Speer’s IQ ran ten points higher than anyone he dealt with, until May 1945. There is no confirmation in the biography. An elevated IQ will cause restlessness in a young man as thoroughly as wine, women, drugs and mental illness. Was there recognition that the boy, Albert, was bright other than excelling at school, and everything he did came to him easy?

Apparently not. It is not part of the biography. To give a sense of Speer and the society he grew into as an adult, one must write a Life and Times book – sociology, cultural affairs, religious matters, academic successes plus biography. A boy usually gets his initial bearings from his family, but Speer’s parents were distant and not affectionate. A boy is exposed to society though institutions – schools, social organizations and churches. Speer was never religious, but what of the other institutional influences? The book suggests that Speer had no anchor and no safe harbor, despite being married, until 1931 when he heard Hitler speak: First speech – reasonable; Speer joins party. Second speech – distasteful; Speer didn’t like it. Third speech – offensive; Speer remains in party. The party was someplace to be.

There is the statement that joining the Nazis and accepting architectural commissions was the easy way. Nature had made life and society easy for Speer, someone who did not know how to work through problems: Solutions came to him easily. When life comes to an individual easily there is a human tendency to claim self-righteousness and being right, all the time. Yet, Speer’s problem was after April 1945 when life, events and circumstances, and his psychology was not easy to handle or deal with, and for a long time about many issues Speer was lost forever. 

The problem with the biography and in German history with the rise of the Nazis becomes 50 million lemmings ran Germany off the cliff – a highly cultural, highly educated, a sophisticated, intellectual people could not see the the Nazi danger, avoided observing what was going wrong and continued to follow until foreign armies had crushed the country. If it were one person who had gone off the cliff, that would amount to nothing. If it is 50 million, that is a story that needs telling in full. 

NOT I

Not I by Joachim Fest

Many facts in this volume need to be known, but the author reaches the wrong conclusion. Fest wonders how Hitler, Nazism and the Third Reich took swift root in Germany. He presents a persuasive argument, but in the end Fest didn’t get it. One statement: “Democracy…if one approached it responsibly was rather boring.” (378) 

I concede that most of what happens in a democracy is not exciting UNTIL DEMOCRACY MUST BE USED. DEMOCRACY becomes efficient and powerful, much more so than totalitarian systems like Nazi Germany where everyone must wait for the chief thug to awaken from his beauty sleep to make the wrong decision.

DEMOCRACY might be boring it it is not material, relevant or important to balance the interests of individuals, or the interests of the individual versus society, or the interests of an individual versus groups of individuals, of the interests of groups of individuals versus those of other groups. Instead, the people of a totalitarian country have no need to worry because the chief thug can make snap decisions and the problem is eliminated.

DEMOCRACY is boring if considerations, elements and factors constituting and defining freedom and liberty are uninteresting to a people who are grabbing the feet of the chief thug, heiling him at every chance and giving their lives to the caprice of a mentally ill victim of medical malpractice.

In essence Fest does not explore as fully as he should to excuse the actions of the German people into 1945. Unlike Fest’s father who never cooperated with the Nazis, Fest seems to accept still the German influences which infected his family: The glories of German culture.

This book admirably adumbrates circumstances leading the Germans to Hitler: Education, family, culture and society. Fest’s father is political; he attends political meetings. But one wonders about the naiveté and the ignorance. After the War starts the father discusses with a like-thinking neighbor whether they or anyone could justly kill a tyrant. The men discussed St. Augustine and Johannes Althusius (158). Assassination if a political act. The killer does not need theological or philosophical sanctions.

This disconnect to reality reminded me of Lenin’s comment about the Germans: (paraphrased) The Germans could not occupy a train station unless the window were open for sale of platform tickets.

Fest writes “…trust in the German culture always won out…A nation…that had produced Goethe, and Schiller and Lessing, Bach, Mozart and so many others would simply be incapable of barbarism…” (181) Having laid out facts, Fest presents a few examples. Germans quote Goethe to one another. Fest employees Goethe in the text sometimes to provide explanations. The German reaction seems to be if Goethe did it or talked about it, the solution is obvious; the matter is resolved. 

Note Americans and English use authorities, but Abraham Lincoln played games with Shakespeare. In Illinois his friends and he would recite the Bard, not as an authority about life, but to gain the upper hand.

An uneasy sensation comes from reading Not I. Germans are not always living in reality. Gather all the facts and weigh them against individual wants and needs. But Germans carry a load with them, what they call their culture which directs and controls their lives. When Germans wants their culture to restrain the Nazis and save the nation, they imposed too much culture. Culture became meaningless, and the Nazis used culture icons smartly. I believe when Hitler had succeeded to avoid war at Munich and much of Czechoslovakia was taken, German radio made the announcement and punctuated it with a Beethoven symphony, as a grace note.

How detached were the Germans swept into poetry and culture? A neighbor of Fest’s neighborhood was “singing in her wailing tremolo that she was doing to dance into heaven…” (182) Americans, at least, want to dance in the streets.

Americans knew what to do with German culture. Fest became a prisoner of war. Upon his arrival at the POW camp, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (supremely beautiful music) “thundered from all the loudspeakers, and was still doing so nine days later when we left; day and night without stopping and with an annoying click after the sixty-fourth bar.” (295) I’m not sure Fest appreciated this aspect of American punishment combined with humor.

If I read Not I correctly (I doubt because I can’t believe such poor, ignorant advice departing from reality), Fest’s father urges him to study the Italian renaissance, especially Fifteenth Century Florence. That city as supposed to be the happy combination of art and culture plus and a positive political system. How can anyone be more wrong? The American Founding Fathers studied all Italian politics intensely and thoroughly and realized how temporary were those affair. Florentine politics were obviously not exemplary. Machiavelli thought not. He had to write The Prince.

Fest fails to provide an explanation why Germans who prize intelligence, education and knowledge did not take lessons from World War One: The failings of the German government and shifting politics (in the end it wasn’t a monarchy but a military dictatorship), the inadequacy of its leaders, limits to military success and relying to much on the military, and a necessary restructuring of the whole government. The Germans did none of those things after the First War, although the facts were before them. They acted on ignorance, misinformation and myth (stab in the back). In the end the Germans could only rely on an excuse, a superior culture. [Note the Germans had to wait until after World War Two (1955) to get an excellent book about World War One, Germany’s War Aims in the First World War, Fritz Fischer.] 

Lessons to take from Not I and the German domestic experience is how wrong a people can be. The Germans were not just misled by an evil tyrant and his herd of evil doers, but many in the country supported him, disregarded the horrors of Nazism and overlooked their deteriorating lives. Fest writes about members of his own family who refuse to talk about the Nazi years in Germany, although they knew Fest was researching and writing about those times. It is equally odd that more books like Fest’s have not been published. Germans, telling where they got it wrong, could do much to influence humanity for the better. My perception is that they have avoided that responsibility, unlike European Jews who wrote under the most adverse conditions during those times, to save humanity.

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, William L. Shirer

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, William L. Shirer

In a memoir, A Native’s Return, W. L. Shirer tells about selling The Rise and Fall to a studio and the meeting the studio chief in 1960. Shirer was an East Coast guy, and he took along two East Coast friends: John Houseman and George Roy Hill, then a Broadway director.

The chief greeted them and while leading the way into his office, says to Shirer: “For three nights my wife and I have read your book [The Rise and Fall].”

Shirer looks at Houseman who says, “That’s absolute bullshit.”

Nobody can read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in three days, let alone three nights. It is an invaluable book by a writer/journalist writing about people he saw in action twenty years before. In this writing he got to tell a more complete story. Most of it centers in foreign policy and diplomatic efforts, incidences Shirer was able to observe and report at the time. The text presents well, spelled out or implied, about this blunder of that one. Shirer hits the German-Soviet Union August 1939 Pact, partitioning Poland and designating spheres of influence, hard. He notes correctly that Stalin’s agreement started the War: Hitler likely would not have invaded Poland with no agreement if the Soviet Union had not committed itself and Hitler were not certain.

It was an enormous mistake for the Soviets, a nation of chess players. Two little-known Soviet accommodations to German war successes included shipping supplies from Murmansk to Norway in 1940 and shipping rubber across Russia to Germany. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Soviets were confused, perplexed and overwhelmed – the Soviets had done almost everything the Germans wanted. But the German Army was professional and proficient. Millions of Soviet citizens were killed; complete Soviet armies were destroyed; and three million prisoners of war were captured (few lived to see the War’s end).

This complicity is observed, and a balance is noted. The Soviets complained that they had to face the German Army alone in Europe in 1942-1943. Early on the Germans did not make the mistake they made when invading Russia. Shirer notes the D-Day invasion force and its provisioning was a huge effort before June 1944. He notes the completely inadequate German preparations to invade Britain in 1940 and gives the assessment that the British would have chewed up any Germany army put ashore in Britain. Perhaps Stalin wanted the British and Americans to be as reckless with their men as the Germans and Russians were with their own.

Equally poor was the ability of the French and British to foresee foreign policy and diplomatic mistake after mistake. At one point Shirer says Charles Lindbergh was “startlingly naiveté.” Lindbergh was a moronic dupe. Yet at one place Neville Chamberlain (British Prime Minister) was “well meaning,” but Shirer hardens against the mustached P.M. Having read Shirer’s description of Munich (French/British surrender of Czechoslovakia September 1938), it is easy to conclude the only thing Chamberlain failed to bring to Britain after the negotiations was a toothbrush mustache. As PM Chamberlain interfered with Churchill’s plans to defend Norway. In short the best service Chamberlain performed for Great Britain was to die in November 1940.

Shirer notes what the German’s learned: Had the Czechs fought the Germans in 1938 Germany may have finally won but it would be greatly weakened the German army and left it incapable of pursuing further war.

Throughout the history Shirer noted the assassination attempts to kill Hitler. This is a matter of course, but the attempts are not equal and should not be treated that way. The assassination plot before the Munich agreement was very credible. Shirer’s book is an early history and is not as complete as Joachim Fest’s (and others) book on the same subject.

!I have read much about World War Two. Reading The Rise and Fall, I realized the war was fought in stages: I. Rhineland occupation, 1936; Austria Anschluss, March 1938; Czechoslovakia, 1938. Those lands and their industrial and economic bases were captured with no or little destruction. II. Poland, September 1939; Scandinavia, May 1940; Netherlands, Belgium, May 1940; France, June 1940. Those lands sustained more damage, but the industrial and economic base would be restored. III. Britain, Soviet Union, Balkans, Africa – the Germans were invading lands that were destroyed or desolate and the population was targeted. Little benefit came to Germany by having its armies run 1,500 miles across eastern Europe.

Equally maniacal and idiotic were Nazi racial policies. I have not read it but surmised if the Germans were not so obsessed with killing people and more devoted to overcoming their opponents’ military abilities, Germany had a chance to win the war. Shirer somewhat discusses this point especially with the invasion of the Soviet Union(June 1941). But the Germans were incapable of treating any occupied peoples (Danes and Dutch included) as anything other than second-class human beings.

Omissions occur in an 1140 page book like this. The text concentrates on The Rise of the Third Reich. The telling of The Fall, one-quarter of the book (December 1941 to May 1945), concentrates on the military and Nazi leadership.

By in large absent from the book is Third Reich Domestic Germany, and much Sociology of the German People – there is no humor, comedy or black humor.

Military campaigns especially those adversely affecting Germany are raced through e.g. the air war against Germany is told statistically (except the German people wanted to lynch captured American and British fliers). That air war kept 70 percent of the Luftwaffe at home defending the fatherland; the Soviet army benefitted from the lack of air support.

The German people knew they were losing the war – lines on a map got closer, but more likely they witnessed bombed out cities, factories, facilities and homes. “The White Rose” protests (February 1943) seemingly came from nowhere because the German people are portrayed as monolithic.

There are evaluations by German generals justly criticizing Eisenhower’s hands-off participation of the Sicilian and Italian campaigns.(1943, 1944)

A theme in the book is suggested by the facts, but I did not sense it was cogently advanced. It is obvious that the Nazis tried to construct a very robotic society founded on terror and murder. Most of the terror and murder are set out, but other forms and uses of coercion to conform and to comply are omitted. Any society urges compliance from its population and uses overt and subtle means to insure order and stability. The idea of happiness might arise from these efforts: If everyone is content doing the same thing, everyone should be happy. I don’t know if anything like this postulation popped up in Nazi Germany. I suspect it had to – the rulers’ definition of happiness for each individual – is present in any totalitarian society. Shirer does not get around to tell his readers about it.

When The Rise and Fall was published (and perhaps today), the Germans grossly objected to it as anti- German and anti-Germany. The book is fair; those German critics and defenders are wrong. Those German critics and defenders exalt in German culture. It is true that the Germans excelled in music and advanced that art much. I note though that Mendelssohn was considered Jewish, and by the late ninetieth century the Germans were not the best composers. (Mahler was Jewish.) The other arts? Painting: Albrecht Durer, the best German painter but who since 1530? Sculpture – Nada. Literature: Goethe, but who else throughout the nineteenth century – persons who weren’t Jewish, or considered non-Aryan, disreputable and degenerate like Thomas Mann? Education: The Germans had to best universities until the brains left, and the Americans got the pickings. Film: Thank you for sending Billy Wilder and many other great talents.

If the Germans base their superiority on uncontaminated, cultural and intellectual attainments, Shirer tells the Nazis destroyed that superiority immediately. Shirer suggested but fails to analyze how a people so supposedly artistic sensitive and appreciative of fine arts and achievements, can be politically dense, stupid and inept. An idea was recognized that the Germans swooned about the arts and intellectual accomplishments; so long as that production was possible, Germany was superior. After the Second War Bertolt Brecht conceived the axiom (paraphrased): Maybe the Germans will now stop thinking about trees. (quoted in Hitler, Joachim Fest.)

Shirer gives no cause and effect, but there is a suggested answer. German philosophy. While many European countries experimented and implemented enlightenment policies and improvements, making strides to remove themselves from the strictures surviving from medieval society, the Germans looked at the enlightenment and ran the other way: Shirer writes an essay(Chapter 4) about the creeps of German philosophy – Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and Marx. Divorced from any human exposure and experience these men advanced concepts of people, their thinking and society that decades later resulted in National Socialism, Hitler and the horrors perpetuated. As part of their intellectual superiority the Germans got caught up in ideas completely remote – intense philosophical stories, pretentiously profound, devoid of faith and disassociated from any human thinking and behavior. That an an excellent definition of a Nazi.

If German critics and defenders complain about The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, they should start with this pillar of William L. Shirer’s book.