Today we have posted essay number 16, The Orgiasts, in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part 3). (Find it under Pages in our margin.)
Here is part of it.
The Orgiasts (One)
Peter Weibel (1944- ): Riot as Art
Otto Mühl (1925-2013): Crime as Art
When the tumult and the shouting of the “sixty-eighters” died down in Western Europe, and the terrorists were dealt with by the law courts, and the shallow ideas of the New Left had crystallized into an orthodoxy as “political correctness”, the shocking of the bourgeois – the chief impetus of the movement – was carried on for years in “Action Art”.
In Austria, which claimed to be its home, the political dimension of Action Art (Aktionismus) was inspired by the satirical “happenings” which anarchist groups performed as part of the sixty-eight fun-revolutionary protests.
Though at first the movement was just as dedicated to the defiance and denigration of the civil authorities as the student protests, Austrian Aktionismus actually came to be sponsored for a time by the state. By the late 1970s, exhibitions of Action Art were funded by the government, and even opened ceremoniously by ministers of culture. The artists were celebrities: acclaimed by the media, honored in the universities, given awards and generous grants. Many Austrians were proud of them.
But at the start, when the artists first performed their obscene acts, and painfully assaulted their audiences, they were arrested. Even then they were not held for long. There was an outcry from the progressive intelligentsia: “This is ART. Couldn’t the official barbarians understand that?” The official barbarians hung their heads in shame. This was an age when almost anything was allowed to ART. Criminal violence it may be, but it may not count as crime when it was ART.
In the summer of 1968, a group of Austrian Actionists toured Germany – Munich, Essen, Cologne – with a repertoire of performances in support of the student rebellion. They appeared in sports-halls and amphitheaters “before audiences of 2,000 and more”. They built a water cannon “with extra strong pressure” to turn on to the audience. One of them, Peter Weibel, explained to me (some years later):”The idea of the gathering was rebelling for Vietnam, and the audience had come to demonstrate that they were in solidarity with the Vietnamese who were suffering from American aggression. We believed that solidarity only counts if you are suffering too. But there the audience was, just sitting and not suffering at all. They were there to protest for Vietnam, but they were eating, drinking, doing nothing but waiting to be entertained, exhibiting the typical schizophrenic condition of this society. So we turned water on them.”
The audience did not accept the assault passively, not even for the sake of Art or Vietnam. They threw bottles back at the artists, and then the artists whipped them.
“But first I hurt myself. I worked with fire. Before turning the water on them or whipping them I burnt my own arm. I put chemicals on my skin and set fire to it. This was to show that I earned the right to make them suffer by suffering myself. It was saying to them, ‘Look, I’m in pain so I have the right to be taken seriously.’ In Cologne I had to go to hospital afterwards, and there they didn’t believe me that this was an art action. They called the police and the police thought I had been experimenting with explosives. But my intention was to make rituals. No masochism was intended. While I was burning I was smiling all the time, to say, ‘Look, you can trust me, I won’t lose my nerve.’ ”
He had to work hard on his whipping technique because, he said, “I used a very long whip and I couldn’t make it move fast enough at first, and people in the audience used to catch hold of it and pull me towards them, or jerk it out of my hands, until I learnt how to do it properly so that I cut their faces before they could do anything. The end was always a riot. The police came to stop it, we were arrested, and then we were fined. But that was part of the Action. ‘WAR, ART, RIOT’ the show was called. It was a campaign. Like a military campaign, only with Art.”
In that same momentous summer, one of the founders of the Action Art movement, Otto Mühl, along with other Actionists, put on a performance in the auditorium of the University of Vienna titled ART AND REVOLUTION. They announced that it was for the victims of the Vietnam war. Mühl described it to me as “pissing, shitting, beating, and masturbating while singing hymns”. He and the other artists were arrested and imprisoned.
By the later 1970s, Mühl had stopped giving public performances, preferring to concentrate on “self-expression psychoanalysis and therapy through sexual activity and all other natural functions”. His theories on psychotherapy, he said, were “derived from those of Wilhelm Reich – and also of course from Sigmund Freud, our Viennese Urvater of psychoanalysis.”
Otto Mühl had founded two communes: one in Vienna, and one on a farm, Friedrichshof, in the Burgenland near the border with Hungary (which was then, and for another two decades, under an oppressive Communist regime obedient to the Kremlin). He named the country commune “The European Center of the Action-Analysis (AA) Organization of Conscious Life-Praxis”. Followers of his movement formed “branches” in Berlin, Hamburg, Kiel, Bremen, Oslo, Geneva, and Paris. At the start of his campaign Mühl visualized a “world commune organization, a global society made up of communes”, all of them following the pattern set at Friedrichshof, for the better health and happiness of mankind. In 1976, membership of his organization peaked at a little over 500.
Central to Mühl’s “praxis” was Selbstdarstellung, or “SD”, meaning self-expression, carried out in groups under a Self-Expression Leader whose aim was “to exorcise the small-family person” – der Kleinfamilienmensch – from the communard-patient. The process, Mühl maintained, was “Action Analytical Art”. His Selbstdarsteller had to become a performance artist. Before an audience of fellow communard-patients, he/she “wanders through childhood and corrects the damage that was done” to him/her. “The audience will be deeply moved when the patient recreates the scenes of his childhood damage, lets himself fall into a birth-experience and demonstrates the meaning of health as a new-born baby. From the re-enacted birth-experience – often accompanied by an enactment of ‘the killing of Mummy and Daddy’ – the final self emerges in the Selbstdarstellung, which is also called ‘dissolving the genital armoring’.” Beyond that, he’d explain, “lies not only cure but true liberation”; that is to say, an ability to experience “psychophysical orgasm” by which the patient/artist is liberated to enjoy “full sexual and social freedom”. The person has “found his/her identity in orgasm”.
What actually happened in the performance ending with a rebirth? What was Otto Mühl’s work as an artist-therapist? Simply sexual activity in public. “Free sexuality is an integral part of commune-society. The exclusive two-person relationship is a sickness of the small-family person” Mühl told me. (He also, in an unguarded moment, confided to me that he was “surprised to find that many of the male patient-artists developed impotence in the course of the treatment”.)
Although the achievement of personal liberation from authority was one of the chief aims of the therapy, the commune had strict rules. Both men and women, for instance, had to have their heads shorn of all hair and to dress in uniform trousers with a flap in front “to facilitate work” – namely, copulation-masturbation-therapy. The enterprise was dedicated to the defiance and destruction of “authoritarianism”, and the method was regulated in a sternly authoritarian manner.
It was a life-style of enforced asceticism, combined with extreme libertinism. All bodily functions were on display; the bathrooms and toilets had no doors. No member was allowed privacy, or money, or any personal property. “The commune rejects commercial and profit thinking.” On joining, a member made over all his property and wealth to the organization, including real estate and income from any source, even student grants. Members were discouraged from making contact with their “small family” (more commonly called, in English, the “nuclear family”) or anyone in the outside world, because “society predetermines their emotional misery, as if the world were ruled by an evil spirit”.
The communal life itself, according to Mühl, was “an art form”. So was every performance of “direct art actions”, which consisted of persons – often, if not always, drugged – performing sexual activities before the rest of the assembled group, “with objects, animals, excreta” and fellow communards of either sex and every imaginable erotic desire. Photographs of the actions were taken, collected, edited, and published in professionally printed and bound volumes.
Children were admitted to the Mühl communes with their mothers. Some were born in them. “Children”, Mühl said, “grow up in the commune without sexual repression, so they will be healthy and socially well adjusted. The sexual activity of the parent is not concealed because nobody is made to feel that it’s forbidden.”
But adjusted to what society? …
The practice of any conventional form of art was discouraged (though Mühl himself painted in a private studio standing apart from the main buildings of the commune). “It is enough that the commune life is itself an art-form,” he said.
And so, in his theory, was death: “killing people is an element of art to come.”
“to make art – you do not need a piano – detergent and jam and urine will do – art may slip into every material and out of every hole – everybody can do art if he can find the pepper – boycott the pigs controlling the mass media – do not buy newspapers or tv-sets or cinema tickets – blast the opera houses – from now on all there is will be presented directly, coitus, torture, medical operations, destruction of people and animals and other objects is the only theater worth seeing – the rest is nonsense! – the inner life will be reduced to bodily acts – religious and political pigs can only be stopped by brutal use of all means – pornography [contrary to other statements] is a suitable means for curing society of genital-panic – the elements of art to me are eating, drinking, shitting and pissing, fucking and killing people. – these are the hot irons of our times – murder as art.” …
Obama’s “war on coal” is actually, of course, his “war on capitalism”.
Stephen Moore writes at Investor’s Business Daily:
At the very moment President Obama has decided to shutter America’s coal industry in favor of much more expensive and less efficient “renewable energy”, coal use is surging across the globe.
A new study by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences detects an unmistakable “coal renaissance” under way that shows this mineral of fossilized carbon has again become “the most important source of energy-related emissions on the global scale“.
Coal is expanding rapidly “not only in China and India but also across a broad range of developing countries — especially poor, fast-growing countries mainly in Asia”, the study finds.
Why is coal such a popular energy source now? The NAS study explains that many nations are attracted to “(relatively) low coal prices … to satisfy their energy needs”. It also finds “the share of coal in the energy mix indeed has grown faster for countries with higher economic growth”.
In sum, using coal is a stepping stone to prosperity. So much for it being a satanic energy source.
Hardly a day passes without evidence that coal is making a major comeback:
- Some 1,200 coal plants are planned across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India, according to the World Resources Institute.
- Coal use around the world has grown about four times faster than renewables, according to the global energy monitoring publication BP Review of World Energy 2015.
- German coal “will remain a major, and probably the largest, fuel source for power generation for another decade and perhaps longer”, the Financial Times concludes.
- “The U.S. is dropping coal plants at an unprecedented rate, but still nowhere near as quickly as India is adding them,” Bloomberg Business reckons.
“By the end of this year, some 7.5% of the U.S. coal fleet will have disappeared … . But by 2020 India may have built about 2.5 times as much capacity as the U.S. is about to lose.”
Then, of course, there’s the world’s biggest coal addict by far — the People’s Republic of China. According to a 2014 report from Eric Lawson of Princeton University, a leading climate change apocalyptic on the left:
“The reality is that fossil fuels dominate China’s energy landscape, as they do in virtually every other country. And the focus on renewables also hides the fact that China’s reliance upon coal is predicted to keep growing.”
Lawson’s calculations of how coal use is growing in China are jaw-dropping. “From 2010 through 2013, (China) added half the coal generation of the entire U.S. At the peak, from 2005 through 2011, China added roughly two 600-megawatt coal plants a week for seven straight years. And according to U.S. government projections, China will add yet another U.S. worth of coal plants over the next 10 years, or the equivalent of a new 600-megawatt plant every 10 days for 10 years.”
All this underscores the foolishness and futility of the Obama climate-change regulations designed to drastically reduce coal production in the U.S.
The great excuse for the Left’s “war on coal” is that it’s burning adds CO2 to the atmosphere. And the Left has spread the dogma that CO2, the food of all green plants, is a pollutant, a “green house gas” which “causes global warming”.
But even assuming that to be true, as Stephen Moore apparently does …
As we use less [coal] and the rest of the world uses more, the impact on global temperatures will be very close to zero.
Coal production in the U.S. is much safer and less carbon-intensive (clean coal technologies have reduced pollutants by 30%) than coal from other nations. So Obama’s war on coal may make global warming worse.
Some might say this gesture by the Obama administration to cut off coal production in the U.S. is a useful first step to save the planet. Except this isn’t just a cheap sign of goodwill.
It’s a tremendously expensive gesture that will cost America hundreds of thousands of jobs, raise utility prices by as much as $1,000 per family and reduce GDP by as much half a percentage point a year when we are already barely growing. The poor will be hurt most.
What makes the Obama administration regulations doubly destructive is that the U.S. has more coal than any other nation.
With at least 300 years of supply at a value of trillions of dollars, we are truly the Saudi Arabia of coal.
To leave it in the ground would be like Obama telling Nebraska to stop growing corn, Idaho to stop growing potatoes and Silicon Valley to give up on the digital age.
Ironically, the president justifies his war on coal by arguing, “We must lead so that others will follow.” But outside of dreamland, the rest of the world has no intention of following Mr. Obama’s act of economic masochism.
Most nations value getting richer over getting greener — as well they should.
Given the sad state of our economy today, so should we.
There has been a heated exchange of views in our comments sections on some of our recent posts dealing with Nazis, Communists, and other socialists, particularly on yesterday’s post, Tomorrow belongs to them, and the extract from Jillian Becker’s essay The Fun Revolutionaries, July 26, 2015 (posted in full under the title The Darkness of This World [Part Two], to be found under PAGES at the top of our margin). Today we post an article by Jillian Becker on the same subjects, with an explanation of how it came to be written.
A new production of Hamlet is being put on at the Barbican Theatre in London, starring the impressive actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. The director, Lyndsey Turner, sees generation rebellion as an important aspect of the story, and observes that the events of the play take place some 30 years after a war between Denmark and Norway (a war which Denmark won). The assistant-director, Sam Caird, wrote to me on June 8, on behalf of the director, asking me (as the author of Hitler’s Children) to come and speak to the company about generational rebellion in West Germany in the late 1960s, when the New Left movement protested against the parent generation of the Third Reich (which of course lost the Second World War). I felt honored by the invitation, but explained that I could not travel from America to speak to the company, much as I’d have liked to. Instead I promised them a paper on the subject. Here it is:
Generational Rebellion and its Effects in West Germany, 1967-1977
Most of the declared causes of the 1967-1968 student protest movement in West Germany were ideological. The protestors were for pacifism, and against authoritarianism, capitalism, militarism, nuclear arms, the re-armament of Germany, and – intimately associated with all that – “Amerika”. A more immediate cause, and the one they felt most strongly about, was university reform. They wanted more representation on the governing boards, and the dismissal of teachers who had been members of the Nazi party.
Immediately after the Second World War, the victorious Western allies had carried out a “denazification” campaign. It had worked well. Most West German voters became firm democrats. Their children grew up knowing what the Nazi regime had done, but its ideology was literally locked away from them. Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, for instance, was inaccessible to post-war generations. One could look at it in a university library, but only if a professor certified that one needed it for approved research. With that sort of policy, the campaign went too far. All ideas should be critically examined.
Shame and guilt kept most parents from talking to their children about what they had done and thought in the years of the Third Reich. Nevertheless, as a generation, the parents were stigmatized in the eyes of their grown children. Those fathers who survived the war had their personal authority weakened by the Nazi police state, and fathers and mothers alike were demoralized by defeat and the revelation of the death camps. The student protestors held the crimes – though not the defeat – against the older generation in general. Some of the more radical activists proudly proclaimed that they were doing what their parents had failed to do: denounce and defy the Nazi regime. They disregarded the fact that they were doing it many years too late. They saw Nazism in all authority – in the schools, the universities, the Federal government, the states’ governments, the press, the commercial world, the military, the police, the banks, and “Amerika”.
Among the fiercest of the student rebels were children of liberal parents. Their sons and daughters accused them of not doing enough to compensate for their past, and of hypocrisy – preaching egalitarianism but living in luxury while others were poor.
In fact, almost nobody in West Germany was poor. All classes had worked extremely hard; and aided by the Marshall Plan, by which America provided vast sums for reconstruction, they had succeeded beyond all expectation in creating astonishing prosperity. It was called an “economic miracle”.
And the student rebels have been called the “the spoilt children of the economic miracle” – ungrateful for the freedom and plenty bestowed on them. They were well housed, well fed, well educated, supplied with all the goods the cornucopia of the West could pour on them. What did they have to complain of?
The answer they needed came from the New Left political philosopher, Herbert Marcuse. He asserted that the apparently free peoples of the West were oppressed by plenty and repressed by tolerance. They were hoodwinked into an illusion of contentment by material abundance and ample choice, while they were actually subject to the vicious tyranny of big business, the military-industrial complex, and “American imperialism”. The student protestors, he declared, were the “advanced consciousness of humanity”, whose mission it was to lead the revolution.
It may seem strange that of all West Europeans, these young Germans, with their country divided between a Communist east and a free west, should be so easily persuaded that New Left Communism was preferable to liberal democracy. Some of them were even refugees from Communism, their families having fled to the West before the Berlin wall was built. How could West Germans be unaware of the poverty, the privation, the bleakness and anxiety of life on the other side of the Wall? Why did the students so naively swallow the Soviet line that the Russian-led Warsaw Pact was all for peace, while American-led NATO was a war–monger? Why did they so furiously demand that the West destroy its nuclear bombs, but not Russia? How could they not know that in the USSR rebels against the system were routinely imprisoned, tortured, killed? If they did know, the knowledge had little or no effect on their passionately held opinions. They blamed America for the war in Vietnam, the wretchedness of the peasants in South America, the oppression of the Iranians, and inequality everywhere; but the USSR they exonerated, and even admired, no matter what it did. Why? Because they accepted the lie that Communism is the opposite of Nazism, rather than its twin, which it is.
A voice raised in support of the protestors was that of the journalist Ulrike Meinhof. She wrote for a leftist periodical, Konkret, owned by her husband. Her columns were ardently pacifist, anti-American and pro-Communist. Her foster-mother Renate Riemeck, who had fled from Communist East Germany, typified the attitude of liberal West Germans to Communism. She believed that “anti-Communism was the fundamental foolishness of the twentieth century”.
Through the early months of I967, the demos in the universities and on the streets grew ever bigger and more unruly, and clashes with the police ever more violent. The students hurled stones at the police and clubbed them with thick staves; the police charged and struck about them with their batons. (Only a very few of the marchers knew that Soviet agents had launched the movement. Not until the fall of the USSR did evidence emerge that it had funded the “peace movement” in Western Europe.)
On the 2nd June, 1967, there was a very large demonstration in West Berlin protesting a visit by the Shah of Iran, and in the midst of a skirmish a student was shot and killed by a police bullet.
For days and nights following the event there were meetings of student organizations for highly emotional discussions of what had happened and what should be done. There was general agreement that the shooting had proved them right – the fascist state was out to kill them. They must organize for resistance. They could only answer violence with violence. At one gathering, a young woman named Gudrun Ensslin shouted , “It’s the generation of Auschwitz – you cannot argue with them.”
Protest demos continued at intervals for another year. In February 1968, older citizens, including large numbers of trade union members, staged a massive counter-demo organized by the Berlin senate, to protest against the students’ revolt and “anarchy”. It was a rare public display of anger by the parent generation.
After the middle of 1968 the students’ movement faded. The majority of protestors were mollified by new university constitutions granting the students more say in the conduct of their affairs. But there were some who could not easily give up the heady excitement and return to normal life. And there were a few who did not find their way back at all.
In 1969 there were random bomb attacks on property, and though they harmed no people, they created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. The official explanation was that those responsible were “isolated individuals and small militant groups on the fringes of the New Left”. But not everyone believed it. Rumors spread of an “underground resistance” being formed. Gudrun Ensslin, the woman who had shouted that the older generation could not be argued with, and her lover, Andreas Baader, had firebombed a store in Frankfurt in March 1968.
They had been sentenced to three years in prison. But as the “fascist” authorities were in fact lenient to a fault, they soon let them out again, pending an appeal. The arsonists absconded, helped by sympathetic members of their parents’ generation: lawyers, parsons, teachers, professors, doctors, journalists, artists. As soon as asked, they provided the fugitives with cars, money, and apartments. Later they excused their weakness by pleading for the terrorists that “their hearts were in the right place, their aim for peace was good, only their violent method was wrong”.
When Baader was re-arrested and returned to prison, after he had been on the run for nearly a year, Ulrike Meinhof helped him escape again. She sought permission for him to work in a public library with her, and the all-too-soft authorities granted it. While they sat together in a room barred to the public, three raiders shot their way past two armed policemen guarding the prisoner, and got him out through a window. Ulrike Meinhof fled with them.
In their reports of the drama, the media designated Baader and Meinhof as the leaders of the group. They called it the “Baader-Meinhof gang”. At the same time the group itself took the name “Red Army Faction”. Its members robbed banks, shot policemen, bombed public buildings, maimed, kidnapped, tortured and murdered until most of them were caught and brought to trial.
At every point of the story until that stage was reached, the authorities of the Federal Republic of West Germany, far from exhibiting fascist tendencies, acted with so much restraint that it often amounted to foolhardy indulgence – at least partly because they feared to be accused of “authoritarianism”. It was the terrorists who acted like fascists.
Their generation could be called “Hitler’s Children” simply because they were born in the Hitler period. But when applied to the terrorist rebels, the label means more than just a generational relationship. It implies a family resemblance between the Nazis and the New Left activists.
An incident in their history illustrates the similarity. On June 27, 1976, an Air France airbus, on its way from Tel Aviv to Paris, was hijacked by two Germans and two Arabs. The pilot was forced to fly the plane to Entebbe, in Uganda, which was then under the dictatorship of Idi Amin (a keen fan of Adolf Hitler). The Jews were separated from the rest of the passengers. In return for the lives and freedom of the Jewish hostages, the terrorists demanded the release of fifty-three prisoners, of whom forty were held in Israel and six in Germany.
Among the Jewish hostages there were some who had been in Hitler’s concentration camps. Yet again they found themselves being sorted out from others by Germans, to be victimized and possibly killed. Again they were ordered about at gunpoint, slapped and shouted at to move quickly: “Schnell!” One of the captives showed the Germans his arm with a number indelibly branded on it, and told them he had got it as a prisoner of the Nazis. He said he had supposed that a new and different generation had grown up in Germany, but with this experience he found it difficult to believe that the Nazi movement had died. One of the hijackers snapped back that this was something entirely different from Nazism; that he was a member of the Red Army Faction, and what they wanted was world Marxist revolution. But the man with the number on his arm and the other Jewish captives could not see a difference.
All but four of the Jewish hostages were rescued by Israeli commandos. Along with the Arab hijackers and 48 Ugandan soldiers, the Germans were shot dead.
Did the terrorists themselves really believe that their actions would inspire a general uprising in West Germany? Or were they just playing a very dangerous game? As they had no obvious cause of their own to justify their tactics, they have been called “the fun revolutionaries”. They themselves feared not being taken seriously, which is why some of them, including Meinhof, Baader and Ensslin, went to Jordan in June 1970, to join the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and undergo “urban guerrilla” training.
The PFLP is an Arab nationalist and Marxist group, founded by a Greek Orthodox doctor, George Habash, who believed that his fight for the Palestinian and Arab nationalist causes was a necessary part of world revolution. He and his men came to despise the German men as soft, inept – and unserious. Both sides disliked each other, though Meinhof said that the training was “much more fun than sitting at a desk with a typewriter”. After two months the Germans returned home.
It was with the PFLP that some members of the group later co-operated in the hijacking of the Air France plane to Entebbe. Three of the six German prisoners whose release was demanded were “Baader-Meinhof” members, but Andreas Baader himself was not on the list. And by that time Ulrike Meinhof was dead, having hanged herself a few weeks earlier. New terrorists joining the “armed struggle” were not sorry to be rid of them. And their former helpers in the general population had finally lost sympathy with them. Meinhof had been given up to the police by a teacher with whom she had sought asylum.
Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin all killed themselves in prison: Meinhof in May 1976, before the court had given its verdict at their trial; Baader and Ensslin in October 1977, after they were sentenced to “three times life plus fifteen years”.
Some members of the gang admitted when they were caught that they had joined because it was “so romantic to go underground and make revolution”. Meinhof might have come close to convincing herself that she was working effectively towards the transformation of the world, but she became ever more confused, to a point where she was rapidly losing her reason. Ensslin, volatile and truculent, and Baader, a doltish bully and natural delinquent, finally understood when the judges pronounced their sentences that what they had done would not be admired, or excused, or forgiven. The game was over.
Their last hope was for martyrdom. They tried to make their suicides look like murder by the “fascist” state. They fantasized that their deaths would enflame multitudes to rise and avenge them by making revolution at last. Of course nothing of the sort happened. They neither led nor inspired a Communist uprising in West Germany. But all the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, and in October 1990 Germany was reunified.
An afterword: What did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union think of them? A Moscow publication of the late 1970s said (rather to my dismay) that I was right to call them “Hitler’s Children”. And it explained that the CPSU scorned them because they were “left-wing Communist individual terrorists” – meaning they were not controlled by the Party – and as such, according to Leninist doctrine, they were not acceptable participants in the “revolutionary armed struggle”.
Jillian Becker June 2015
The Germans have always had the best tunes. Even the abominable Horst Wessel Lied is marvelous marching music if you don’t listen to the words.
And here is a clip from the film Cabaret set in the twilight of the Weimar Republic when Hitler was rising to power. A beautiful blond boy, a member of the Hitler Youth, sings a beautiful rousing song, Tomorrow Belongs To Me - all about a springtime of national life, nature, beauty, HOPE AND CHANGE. The song rouses a whole Biergarten full of young and middle-aged Germans, who rise and belt it out with the boy, passionately. Only one old man – probably a veteran of the First World War – looks full of sadness, regret and foreboding. And two of the protagonists of the story get up and drive away in disgust.
And yes, the beauty of the music and the youth singing it make the hope and triumph infectious. For a true insight into the rise of the Third Reich these few minutes could not be bettered. Anti-Nazi propaganda films, no doubt effective in their way – and certainly necessary – could never give so illuminating an understanding of what happened to the German nation in the 1930s. They depicted ugly harsh military-authoritarian types barking peremptory orders or doling out death. Would such have won the heart of a European nation? No – it was Romanticism; the romance of race, of the earth, of beauty, of power that did it.
Watch and hear, and you will almost certainly feel how the song can stir the blood. And then, if you are a civilized and rational being, and have civilized values, you will almost certainly turn him off in disgust.
Many public voices are now pointing out how this moment in history recalls the 1930s and the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich; how Obama’s deal with Iran recalls Neville Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” deal with Adolf Hitler.
They are right.
What of Iran? The Ayatollahs? Islam? Plain plug-ugly though they are – will tomorrow belong to them?
Probably. And they will bring another Holocaust to the Jews (and everyone else) in Israel.
Mike Huckabee says that Obama, through his deal with them, “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven”.
Though we are not normally fans of Huckabee, this time we praise him for his foresight and candor.
PS. Chamberlain was not like Obama. Chamberlain was a decent man who misjudged Hitler. Obviously, Obama wants Iran to get the bomb, so he must want Israel to be destroyed. There is a far closer resemblance between Obama and Hitler than between Obama and Chamberlain.
Today we have posted essay number 15, The Fun Revolutionaries, in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part 3). (Find it under Pages in our margin.)
It is about the New Left rebel movements in Europe in 1967 and 1968; the Baader-Meinhof gang; the “Paris May”; and the political philosophers who incited and excused the violence that led to terrorism.
Here is part of it. As usual, we draw attention to the importance of the information in the footnotes (not added here).
The Fun Revolutionaries
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
Guy Debord (1931-1944)
The New Left arose in the Western world in the late 1960s. Its name was not intended to distinguish it from the Leftist regimes of Russia and China, and its philosophers and activists did not become famous for criticizing Stalin and Mao Zedong. What made it “new” was chiefly a momentous change in a central Marxist doctrine, forced upon it by History herself: the working class was no longer the bearer of “revolutionary consciousness”.
What had happened? The workers in the capitalist West had simply let the side down by becoming prosperous, and – what was worse – happy in their prosperity. They could not, would not, be persuaded it was in their interest to overthrow a system that provided them copiously with the good things of life.
It was a disappointing and downright treacherous development, and Communists found it hard to get their heads round it. While the revolution was still inevitable, who would become the dictator of the new order if not the proletariat? Some theorists reached in desperation for the Lumpenproletariat, the underclass of vagabonds, beggars, low-life criminals, which Marx himself had rejected as revolutionary material. But most shifted their hopes to the underdeveloped Third World with its vast reserve of underdogs, the “victims” of “imperialism” and “colonialism”.
One of the most prominent theorists of the New Left, Herbert Marcuse – considered by many to be its progenitor – reached for both the underclass and the Third World. He wrote: “The people [ie. the workers] recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment … [But] underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployable. They exist outside the democratic process. … Thus their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.”
He recognized, however, that the revolution needed to be led by persons who could understand what he was talking about. Who could those be but the young educated sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie?
They represented, Marcuse said, “the most advanced consciousness of humanity”. It was their mission to lead the exploited but ignorant “substratum” against the established order. They could understand that while the capitalist order might look good, really it was bad. Its material abundance lulled people into an illusion of contentment. Its tolerance was really a form of repression. By leading the revolution, they could liberate the free from freedom and rescue the well-provided-for from plenty. And they did not actually have to give up anything, or go anywhere to do it. They must only “give themselves to the Great Refusal”; say “no” to liberal democracy and capitalism, and with their advanced consciousness, feel at one with distant victims.
The thousands of young rebels who marched down the streets of West European university cities on Sundays and fine spring evenings in 1967 and 1968, did not have to read the works of Sartre, Foucault, Lukács, Marcuse … to know what they thought and taught. The intellectual atmosphere of the West was saturated with their ideas. Rising generations had only to breathe to be intoxicated with a passionate hatred of freedom and everything else the West stood for.
They knew Marcuse’s flattering description of them; and they knew that not every Marxist professor agreed with it. Louis Althusser did not think the student protestors could or should lead the revolution which he continued confidently to expect the workers to bring about. But he did allow them to consider themselves working class; to “identify with” the proletariat. Louis’s wife Hélène told him that she saw no proletariat – or none likely to make revolution and establish a dictatorship in fulfillment of Marx’s prophecy. In Louis’s eyes, that was sin and apostasy. So he strangled her to death.
What did the student protestors say it was all for, the anger, the tumult and the shouting? Gently-reared, well-nourished in safe and comfortable homes, educated in lavishly equipped academies, these beneficiaries of Western Europe’s post-war economic recovery (greatly assisted by America’s Marshall Plan) had no cause of their own. But Marcuse told them they were oppressed by plenty and repressed by tolerance. And Althusser told them they could be let off being bourgeois as long as they felt they were working class. They did not have to be for anything, only against their country, class, and civil order: against capitalism; against the bourgeois; against “authoritarianism”; against having to taking exams; against the “military-industrial complex”; against nuclear arms in the hands of Western powers (but not in the hands of the Soviet Union); against war in general, and the current war in Vietnam in particular, where America was supporting the South in conflict with the Communist North. America embodied almost everything they were against. America was “imperialism” itself.
Released by Marxist philosophy from the bonds of conventional morality, and being well supported materially by their compatriots whose labor allowed the country to afford the luxury of gesture politics, they joined together fiercely and joyfully in the marches, the sit-ins and teach-ins, the interruptions of public events in lecture rooms and concert halls, the abuse of figures in authority, and sometimes in actual physical clashes with the police – those ready representatives of “authoritarianism”. They felt brave, while knowing that the police would not hurt them. When, occasionally and without intention, in the midst of a skuffle, the police did hurt one of them, they were blissfully outraged, and claimed they had “brought the fascist out of the policeman” so everyone could see how right they were to protest.
Most of the demonstrators were satisfied after a while with making angry gestures and shouting for revolution. Before the decade was over they had had enough of it, and the movement petered out.
But in Germany there were a few who could not bear to give up the fun, the excitement, the romantic pretence that they were leaders of a revolution. To prove their worthiness for that role and show themselves to be more dedicated, more daring, more active, more heroic, more self-sacrificing, more angry in the cause of pacifism than all the rest, they resolved to use violence in the cause of anti-violence. They would kill for peace. They would bomb for the revolution and the Communist paradise that lay on the other side of it.
So it happened that in Germany small gangs of terrorists emerged out of the student protest movement. One of the first bombs planted by German terrorists maimed a child for life, and destroyed the livelihood of a painter who was working through the night on the walls of a newspaper office, by blowing off his hand. The most notorious group called itself the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion). It was better known by the name the media gave it: Baader-Meinhof, after one of the men, Andreas Baader, and one of the women, Ulrike Meinhof, who formed and led it.
“There is nothing I would not do, however base, to change the world,” Ulrike Meinhof said. And she and her merry band did abominable things: kidnapped, killed, burned, shot, and bombed, to improve the world.
For a while they felt quite safe. Their parents were professors, politicians, lawyers, teachers, doctors, clergymen, journalists, businessmen, some even movers and shakers of the Federal Republic of Germany, and most of them had been sympathetic to the protest movement. Many of them were impressed – as their children expected them to be – by the lengths the “absolutists” were prepared to go to for the higher good and their own liberation from bourgeois values. The older wiser heads opined, “Their hearts are in the right place, only their methods are wrong.” Only maiming and slaughtering their neighbors; only putting fear of injury, agony, and death into all who went about their business in public places.
As a result of this indulgence, the terrorists were genuinely astonished by the punishment meted out to them when they were arrested, tried, and found guilty of grave crimes. The fun was over for them then. They finally had to believe that they would actually be imprisoned for a very long time, perhaps for the rest of their lives; they, “the most advanced consciousness of humanity”, who had only done what the best minds of their parents’ generation had urged them to do! The courts did not appreciate that what they had done was necessary for the establishment of heaven on earth. The Judges did not share the opinion the status quo had to be swept away so that the inevitable new world could be born. They and the general public had only to peer over the Berlin Wall at that part of Germany which had been flung – along with the other east European countries – under the jackboot of Soviet Russia after World War II, to be sure that they would rather be repressed by tolerance and enslaved by plenty than live over there with scarcity and fear.
Some of the terrorists, including Ulrike Meinhof, who passed through Communist Germany on their way to and from terrorist training camps in the Middle East, did not like what they glimpsed. The glimpse told them that a life there would not do for them. Although they had voluntarily taken the lampshades off the lamps in their West Berlin communes to demonstrate their scorn for luxury, they had never had to go without central heating, ample food and good quality clothes; and they who had chosen to drive to the scenes of their robberies, arsons and murders whenever possible in a (stolen) Mercedez Benz, laughed and shuddered at the cheap plastic-bodied Trabants with their noisy two-stroke engines and their smelly exhaust which they sighted and smelt in sparse numbers on the strangely empty and ill-kept roads of East Berlin.
In truth the entire student protest movement was frivolous. It was all posture and gesture. All fake, the pity and the indignation – everything except the conceit. Worse, it was mockery. For such as they, the most fortunate of the human race, to claim to be fellow sufferers with selected victims of oppression and poverty, was to make mock of them and their plight. The charade of insurgency was performance art on a grand scale. But neither they nor their hooray-chorus of philosophers and professors saw it for what it was. Despite their “advanced consciousness”, they were oblivious to the cruel sarcasm of their masquerade. …
Full substantiation of what is said here about the Baader-Meinhof gang can be found in Jillian Becker’s book Hitler’s Children. (Click on its cover in our margin.)
Here’s the deal that Obama has made with Iran, reported by Omri Ceren who has proved to be the most reliable provider of information on the negotiations:
The following has all been confirmed:
(1) The Iranian nuclear program will be placed under international sponsorship for R&D – A few weeks ago the AP leaked parts of an annex confirming that a major power would be working with the Iranians to develop next-generation centrifuge technology at the Fordow underground military enrichment bunker. Technically the work won’t be on nuclear material, but the AP noted that “isotope production uses the same technology as enrichment and can be quickly re-engineered to enriching uranium”. The administration had once promised Congress that Iran would be forced to dismantle its centrifuge program. The Iranians refused, so the administration conceded that the Iranians would be allowed to keep their existing centrifuges. Now the international community will be actively sponsoring the development of Iranian nuclear technology. And since the work will be overseen by a great power, it will be off-limits to the kind of sabotage that has kept the Iranian nuclear program in check until now.
(2) The sanctions regime will be shredded – the AP revealed at the beginning of June that the vast majority of the domestic U.S. sanctions regime will be dismantled. The Lausanne factsheet – which played a key role in dampening Congressional criticism to American concessions – had explicitly stated “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.” That turns out to have been false. Instead the administration will redefine non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear, so that it can lift them. The Iranians are boasting that sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank, NIT Co., the National Iranian Oil Company, and 800 individuals and entities will be lifted. That’s probably exaggerated and a bit confused – CBI sanctions are statutory, and will probably not be getting “lifted” – but the sense is clear enough.
(3) The U.S. collapsed on the arms embargo – Just a week ago Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.” Now multiple outlets have confirmed that the embargo on conventional weapons will be lifted no later than 5 years from now, and that the embargo on ballistic missiles will expire in 8 years. No one in the region is going to wait for those embargoes to expire: they’ll rush to build up their stockpiles in anticipation of the sunset.
(4) The U.S. collapsed on anytime-anywhere inspections – The IAEA will get to request access to sensitive sites, the Iranians will get to say no, and then there will be an arbitration board that includes Iran as a member. This concession is particularly damaging politically and substantively because the administration long ago went all-in on verification. The original goal of the talks was to make the Iranians take physical actions that would prevent them from going nuclear if they wanted to: dismantling centrifuges, shuttering facilities, etc. The Iranians said no to those demands, and the Americans backed off. The fallback position relied 100% on verification: yes the Iranians would be physically able to cheat, the argument went, but the cheating would be detected because of an anytime-anywhere inspection regime. That is not what the Americans are bringing home.
(5) The U.S. collapsed on PMDs [possible military dimensions] – This morning the Iranians and the IAEA signed a roadmap for a process that would see Tehran eventually providing access for the IAEA to clear up its concerns. This roadmap differs in no significant way from previous commitments the Iranians have made to the agency, except now Tehran will have received sanctions relief and stabilized its economy.
Of course yet another “deadline” (hahahaha!) has been passed in the Capitulate-to-Iran talks now going on and on in Vienna.
And according to the latest report by Omri Ceren – all of whose reports have so far proved to be accurate – the US is preparing to cave yet again. (And so will the rest 0f the P5+1 group – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany – ostensibly participating in the negotiations but really just letting the US lead the verbal dance to surrender.)
Notice that the European Union is also represented there by Frederica Mogherini, grandly named the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The parties missed another deadline this morning, and talks are now expected to go through the end of the week. Mogherini told reporters this morning: “I am not talking about extension. I am talking about taking the hours we need to try to complete our work.” (?) The overwhelming consensus from press and analysts here in Vienna nonetheless hasn’t changed: the parties will indeed announce some kind of agreement before they leave, though it will almost certainly have details that will need to be sorted out in future negotiations. How that aligns with the administration’s legal obligation to provide Congress with all final details the deal is anyone’s guess at this point.
Meanwhile the Obama administration and its allies are laying the groundwork for another U.S. collapse, this time on inspections. Couple of indicators:
(1) They’re giving up on promising “the most robust inspection/verification regime in history”
Here’s President Obama during his April 2 speech about the Lausanne announcement: “Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history”.
Here’s White House spokesman Josh Earnest at the beginning of May echoing the boast: “what President Obama has indicated must be part of any nuclear agreement… is the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program”.
But now here’s White House validator Daryl Kimball talking to Politico a couple days ago: “this particular agreement will establish the most extensive, multilayered system of nuclear monitoring and verification for any country not defeated in a war“. Catch the caveat about wartime defeat? …
For 20 months the administration promised Congress that Iran had been sufficiently coerced by sanctions that Tehran would accept anytime/anywhere inspections. Many in Congress disagreed and urged the administration to boost American leverage by working with the Hill to pass time-triggered sanctions. The administration responded with two different media wars that included accusations – including some by the President – describing lawmakers as warmongers beholden to “donor” money. Congress was right and the administration was wrong. Why would lawmakers now accept a weaker inspection regime than what the administration said it could secure, and what administration officials smeared lawmakers for doubting?
(2) A new talking point is that the IAEA’s technology makes up for the P5+1 collapsing on inspections
This appeared in two articles yesterday (the NYT and the Daily Beast). The two stories are fantastically geeky reads about the IAEA’s toys, but that’s not what the administration officials and validators wanted to focus on. Instead you had Energy Secretary Moniz telling the NYT that the technology “lowers the requirement for human inspectors going in” and Kimball telling the Daily Beast that the technology meant that the IAEA would be able to “detect [nuclear activities] without going directly into certain areas”.
This argument is terrible and scientists should be embarrassed they’re making it.
In its story the NYT quoted Olli Heinonen – a 27-year veteran of the IAEA who sat atop the agency’s verification shop – all but rolling his eyes:
Mr. Heinonen, the onetime inspection chief, sounded a note of caution, saying it would be naïve to expect that the wave of technology could ensure Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. In the past, he said, Tehran has often promised much but delivered little. “Iran is not going to accept it easily,” he said, referring to the advanced surveillance. “We tried it for 10 years.” Even if Tehran agrees to high-tech sleuthing, Mr. Heinonen added, that step will be “important but minor” compared with the intense monitoring that Western intelligence agencies must mount to see if Iran is racing ahead in covert facilities to build an atomic bomb.
The most fundamental problem is that IAEA procedures require physical environmental samples to confirm violations. They can use futuristic lasers and satellites to *detect* that Iran is cheating. But to confirm the cheating they need environmental samples, and usually multiple rounds of samples. Without that level of proof – which requires access – the agency simply wouldn’t tell the international community that it was certain Iran is in violation.
That’s before even beginning the discussion about why technology can’t make up for access to people, facilities, and documents – without which the IAEA won’t even know where to point its lasers and satellites.
But this is what the administration has left: the Iranians can’t be expected to grant anytime/anywhere access but that’s OK because the IAEA has cool toys.
Have the Iranians conceded anything? Is there anything the US has not conceded?
Has the whole performance been nothing but a charade to cover Obama’s determination that Iran should get its nukes?
Why would he want that? To make sure Islam is a strong force in the world? So the state of Israel will be destroyed? So the United States will be a weaker force in the world?
Or …. ?
As the indigenous European populations commit slow suicide, Muslims pour into their continent to replace them eventually.
Mark Steyn writes:
Europe has a growing shortage of Europeans.
Germany’s birth rate has collapsed to the lowest level in the world and its workforce will start plunging at a faster rate than Japan’s by the early 2020s, seriously threatening the long-term viability of Europe’s leading economy … The German government expects the population to shrink from 81m to 67m by 2060 as depressed pockets of the former East Germany go into “decline spirals” where shops, doctors’ practices, and public transport start to shut down, causing yet more people to leave in a vicious circle. A number of small towns in Saxony, Brandenburg and Pomerania have begun to contemplate plans for gradual “run-off” and ultimate closure, a once unthinkable prospect.
Why is this even news? Almost a decade ago, a guy called Mark Steyn wrote a book called America Alonein which he said everything the Telegraph piece said yesterday. Those East German towns?
Almost every issue facing the European Union – from immigration rates to crippling state pension liabilities – has at its heart the same root cause: a huge lack of babies. Every day you get ever more poignant glimpses of the Euro-future, such as it is. One can talk airily about being flushed down the toilet of history, but even that’s easier said than done. In eastern Germany, rural communities are dying, and one consequence is that village sewer systems are having a tough time adjusting to the lack of use. Populations have fallen so dramatically there are too few people flushing to keep the flow of waste moving. Traditionally, government infrastructure expenditure arises from increased demand. In this case, the sewer lines are having to be narrowed at great cost in order to cope with dramatically decreased demand.
The Telegraph quotes the German government’s own figures predicting a population decrease from 81 million now to 67 million by 2060. In America Alone, I suggested the population would fall to 38 million by the end of the century. Given that it is in the nature of demographic death spirals to accelerate once you’re below 1.3 children per couple, my number may be an underestimate. And when you consider that in most German urban areas the only demographic energy now is Muslim, those 38 million turn-of-the-century “Germans” will be posterity’s rebuke to the Nuremberg Laws. As I wrote in 2006:
Americans take for granted all the “it’s about the future of all our children” hooey that would ring so hollow in a European election. In the 2005 German campaign, voters were offered what would be regarded in the US as a statistically improbable choice: a childless man (Herr Schroeder) vs a childless woman (Frau Merkel). Statist Europe signed on to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged African proverb – “It takes a village to raise a child” – only to discover they got it backwards: on the Continent, the lack of children will raze the village. And most of the villagers still refuse to recognize the contradictions: You can’t breed at the lethargic rate of most Europeans and then bitch and whine about letting the Turks into the European Union. Demographically, they’re the kids you couldn’t be bothered having.
Lest you think this an exaggeration, look at the graph accompanying the Telegraph piece [see it below], contrasting Germany and Japan’s demographic decline with France’s ostensibly healthier fertility rate. The reason for that is that France has the highest Muslim population in western Europe, so it has a bright future of crowded maternity wards full of babies called Mohammed. And all this was known a decade ago: – when, already, 30 per cent of German women and 40 per cent of university graduates were childless, just like Angela Merkel.
On those numbers you’re living in a present-tense culture: no matter how great you are, you’re a civilizational boy-band; a generation later, someone else will be there, and no one will be singing your songs. …
Okay, this passage [in the book] is a wee bit lurid:
[In] Europe by the end of this century … the grand buildings will still be standing but the people who built them will be gone. By the next century, German will be spoken only at Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering’s Monday night poker game in Hell.
But the point is: It’s not wrong. in 2006, Germany already had a shrinking and aging population, and potentially catastrophic welfare liabilities … and no politician who wished to remain electorally viable was willing to do anything about it. It’s not the total number of people that matters, it’s the age distribution: that decline from 81 to 67 million will wind up skewing the population very geezerish. But, again, this was all known a decade ago. I pointed out the percentage of the population under the age of 15 …
Spain and Germany have 14 per cent, the United Kingdom 18 per cent, the United States 21 per cent – and Saudi Arabia has 39 per cent, Pakistan 40 per cent and Yemen 47 per cent.
When you’ve that many surplus young people, they’re going to go somewhere else. Some of the African numbers are even higher, which is why there’s that endless flotilla of boats across the Mediterranean. Because when a teeming shanty town is next door to a not-terribly-gated community of under-occupied mansions, it would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.
Nearly a hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire was brought to an end when the German-Turkish alliance was defeated in the First World War. Its former territories in the Middle East became independent states or temporary mandates of European powers.
Efraim Karsh, reviewing a new book* on the subject, corrects errors of fact on which its author relies – and which have been all too generally accepted.
The corrections are important, so we reproduce the entire article:
A century after the catastrophic blunder that led to the destruction of the then longest-surviving empire on earth, culpability is still ascribed to the European powers. Rather than view the Ottoman entry into the First World War on the losing side for what it was – a failed imperialist bid for territorial aggrandizement and reassertion of lost glory – the Muslim empire has been portrayed as the hapless victim of European machinations, driven into the world conflict by overbearing powers eager to expedite its demise and gobble up its lands.
Emblematic of the wider tendency to view Middle Easterners as mere objects, whose history is but a function of their unhappy interaction with the West, this conventional wisdom has proved remarkably resistant to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans is no exception to this rule.
To begin with, in an attempt to underscore the Ottoman Empire’s untenable position on the eve of the war, Rogan reproduces the standard depiction of the protracted period preceding the empire’s collapse, or the Eastern Question as it is commonly known, as the steady European encroachment on Ottoman territory. “The looming prospect of a European general war”, he writes, “raised the imminent threat of a Russian annexation of Istanbul, the straits, and eastern Anatolia – and the ultimate dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire among the Entente Powers. France was known to covet Syria, Britain had interests in Mesopotamia, and Greece wished to expand its grip over the Aegean.”
Reality, however, was quite different. Far from setting their sights on Ottoman lands, the European powers had consistently shored up the ailing Muslim empire for well over a century, saving it time and again from assured destruction – from Muhammad Ali’s imperialist bid of the 1830s, to the Balkan crises of the 1870s, to the Balkan war of 1912–13. And it was none other than Russia that acted as the Ottoman Empire’s latest saviour, halting its former Bulgarian subject at the gates of Istanbul, not once but twice: in November 1912 and March 1913. Several months later St Petersburg joined London and Berlin in underscoring “the necessity of preserving the Turkish Realm in its present form”.
All this means that by the outbreak of the Great War, the Ottoman Empire was scarcely a spurned and isolated power in danger of imminent destruction. Rather, it was in the enviable position of being courted by the two warring camps: the German-Austro-Hungarian Central Alliance wished its participation in the war, while the Anglo-French-Russian Triple Entente desired its neutrality. So much so that on August 18, 1914, less than a month after the outbreak of hostilities, the Entente’s ambassadors to Istanbul assured the Grand Vizier of the empire’s continued survival were it to stay out of the war, while the British Foreign Secretary vowed the preservation of Ottoman territorial integrity “in any conditions of peace which affected the Near East, provided she preserved a real neutrality during the war”. Five days later, at Ottoman request, the three powers put down this pledge in writing.
Had the Ottomans accepted this guarantee and kept out of the war, their empire would have readily weathered the storm. But then, by the time the Entente made its far-reaching proposal, Istanbul had already concluded a secret alliance with Germany that had effectively transformed it into a belligerent. This, nevertheless, didn’t prevent it from maintaining the false pretence of neutrality vis-à-vis the Entente, or even feigning interest in joining its ranks, while at the same time laying the groundwork for war and exploiting Berlin’s eagerness for the immediate initiation of hostilities to extract substantial military and economic benefits.
Preserving the myth of immaculate Turkish victimhood, Rogan claims that “the Ottoman leadership had no wish to enter a general European conflict” and was grudgingly driven to the German embrace by the Entente’s indifference, if not hostility, to its predicament. His proof is the supposed French rebuff of an alliance proposal, allegedly made during a visit to Paris in July 1914 by the military leader Djemal Pasha, as well as the British requisition of two warships commissioned by the Ottomans. “The British decision to requisition the ships was treated as a national humiliation in Turkey and ruled out the possibility of any accord between Britain and the Ottoman Empire”, Rogan writes. “The very next day, 2 August 1914, the Ottomans concluded a secret treaty of alliance with Germany.”
The problem with these well-worn stories is that there is no shred of evidence of Djemal’s alleged overture (its only mention is in his memoirs, written after the war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire with the clear aim of exonerating himself from responsibility for this calamity), while the requisition announcement was made on August 3 – a day after the conclusion of the secret Ottoman-German alliance.
But even if the announcement had been made a few days earlier, it would have made no difference whatsoever for the simple reason that the terms of the Ottoman-German alliance had already been agreed on July 28. Moreover, it was the Ottomans rather than the Germans who had opted for an alliance within days of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 – weeks before the outbreak of hostilities; who were the driving force in the ensuing secret negotiations; and who largely prevailed over their German counterparts in deciding the alliance’s broad contours. As Kaiser Wilhelm ordered his more sceptical negotiators: “A refusal or a snub would result in Turkey’s going over to Russo-Gallia, and our influence would be gone forever … Under no circumstances whatsoever can we afford to turn them away”.
The truth of the matter is that the Ottoman Empire was neither forced into the First World War in a last-ditch attempt to ensure its survival, nor manoeuvred into it by an overbearing German ally and a hostile Entente, but rather plunged head on into the whirlpool. War, for the Ottoman leaders, was not seen as a mortal danger to be averted, but a unique opportunity to be seized. They did not seek “an ally to protect the empire’s vulnerable territory from the consequences of such war” but a powerful underwriter of their imperialist ambitions; and apart from their admiration for Germany and their conviction that it would ultimately be victorious, the Entente had less to offer by way of satisfying these ambitions, first and foremost “the destruction of our Muscovite enemy to obtain a natural frontier to our empire, which should include and unite all branches of our race” (in the words of the Ottoman declaration of war).
Just as the fall of the Ottoman Empire was not the result of external machinations but a self-inflicted catastrophe, so the creation of the modern Middle East on its ruins was not an imperialist imposition but the aggregate outcome of intense pushing and shoving by a multitude of regional and international bidders for the Ottoman war spoils in which the local actors, despite their marked inferiority to the great powers, often had the upper hand.
While Rogan occasionally alludes to this reality, these allusions are far too sparse and timid to break from the standard misrepresentation of the post-war regional order as an artificial Western creation. He aptly notes that “the map drawn by Sykes and Picot bears no resemblance to the Middle East today”, yet reiterates the standard depiction of the agreement as a colonial imposition rather than a British effort “to reconcile the interests of France with the pledges given to the [Arabs]” (to use Albert Hourani’s words), or indeed – the first-ever great power recognition of Arab right to self determination (well before President Woodrow Wilson turned this principle into a driving force of international politics). He similarly observes that Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia (or the Hijaz, as it was then known) “achieved independence within frontiers of their own devising”, yet parrots the conventional wisdom that the imperial powers outlandishly “imposed the borders and systems of governments of most states in the region”.
In fact, most states in the region were established pretty much as a result of local exertions. The modern state of Iraq, to give a prominent example, was created in its present form (rather than divided into three states in accordance with the existing realities of local patriotism and religious affinities) on behalf of Emir Faisal of Mecca and at his instigation, while Jordan was established to satisfy the ambitions of Faisal’s older brother Abdullah. Likewise, the nascent Zionist movement exploited a unique convergence of factors to harness British support to its national cause, to have this support endorsed by the international community and incorporated into the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, and to cling tenaciously to these achievements until their fruition in the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948.
Eugene Rogan acknowledges that “the borders of the post-war settlement have proven remarkably resilient”. Yet he fails to draw the selfevident conclusion that this state of affairs reflects their congruity with local realities, instead echoing the common refrain that ascribes the region’s endemic volatility to the supposed dissatisfaction with these boundaries.
Had this actually been the case, Arab leaders would have seized some of the numerous opportunities they had over the past century to undo the post-Ottoman order and unify the so-called Arab Nation; and they could have readily done this by peaceful means rather than incessant fighting. But then, violence has hardly been imported to the Middle East as a by-product of European imperialism; it was a part of the political culture long before. And if anything, it is the region’s tortuous relationship with modernity, most notably the stubborn adherence to its millenarian religiously based imperialist legacy, which has left physical force as the main instrument of political discourse to date.
But to acknowledge this would mean abandoning the self-righteous victimization paradigm that has informed Western scholarship for so long, and treating Middle Easterners as equal free agents accountable for their actions, rather than giving them a condescending free pass for political and moral modes of behaviour that are not remotely acceptable in Western societies. Sadly, The Fall of the Ottomans signals no such paradigm shift.
* The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan. The review first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement and was reprinted in the Wall Street Journal.
Obama’s “understanding” leading to a “deal” with Iran is often likened to the deal Neville Chamberlain thought he had made with Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938. For the easy price of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain believed he had bought “peace in our time”.
There is a resemblance, of course. For the easy price of Israel, Obama believes he has bought peace in his time as president.
But perhaps a closer analogy would be the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939. Two totalitarian powers, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, came to the agreement that launched World War Two.
Iran is a totalitarian power, and so is the White House (though not yet the United States despite what’s going on in that seat of their government).
Total insincerity, extreme cynicism, characterize the US-Iran “understanding” as they did the Nazi-Soviet pact.
The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, named for the foreign ministers who negotiated it, was ostensibly a non-aggression agreement. But secret clauses divided Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland between Germany and Russia.
The pact was signed on August 23, 1939. A few days later, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany. On September 17, Stalin also invaded Poland, and the country was divided between Germany and Russia. On June 22, 1941, regardless of the non-aggression pact, Germany invaded Russia.
Neither the word nor the signature of a Hitler, a Stalin, an Ayatollah Khamenei, or a Barack Obama can be trusted.
We quote from an article in the Washington Times by Cal Thomas:
The United States is being asked to foolishly believe promises by a regime that is religiously motivated to eliminate Israel and ultimately the United States, is the premier sponsor of terrorism in the world, has a record of breaking promises, including past promises about nuclear weapons …
Iran’s chief negotiator at the talks in Switzerland, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, accused the Obama administration of misleading the American people and Congress. Mr. Zarif claimed that in spite of statements from [the US Secretary of State] Mr. Kerry and a “fact sheet” released by the American delegation, the United States is making claims that conditions were reached for the accord that Iran did not agree to.
If the two sides can’t agree on the contents of the framework, how are they supposed to reach a final agreement by June?
Iran has always maintained it is seeking nuclear power for peaceful purposes. If that were true, there would be no need for negotiations.
And, anyway, –
How do you negotiate with someone who has lied from the start and is told in the Koran that lying to “infidels” is permissible in pursuit of Islamic goals?
The Kerry-Zarif “understanding” will bring war as assuredly as the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact brought it. It will just take longer.
The war that will come when Iran has its nukes will be much harder to win than the brief one that would be quickly over if the US destroyed Iran’s nuclear facilities now.
Delaying an inevitable military confrontation, rather than early intervention, allows the enemy to grow stronger with more loss of life and property when war comes. That is history’s lesson.
If Obama looks at history at all, it is to confirm his faith that he is on the right side of it, as he likes to say he is.
Or perhaps he studies it in order to repeat its mistakes.