Fright Fest 2018: Nosferatu (1922)
Silence is terrifying. Sure, screams and loud sounds will make you jump; there is something eerie about the silence. When moving pictures were first introduced in the late 19th and early 20th century: sound was absent.
For most movies this added little benefit and a lot to the imagination, what did the character sound like, were birds singing in the background? Sound is important for the very survival of creatures of all kinds; it allows for prey to hear the predators approaching from the distance. The lack of silence allows the predator to kill, unnoticed.
Vampires in all accounts are the perfect predator, they blend in among us, hunt from the shadows and use the noise of the metropolis to stay silent. At least, the modern interpretations, but what if we take a look back in cinematic history, where sound was absent and the darkness could only be cured by the grace of light. Continue Reading
Creature Features in Review: COMING SOON!!!
Greetings folks! Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. As we begin this new year it is my great pleasure to announce the start of a brand new “In Review” series. Creature Features…beloved by many, loathed by some, irrefutable masterpieces that tell a tale of where the world is during each era of release. From the nuclear wastelands of Hiroshima in Godzilla and the radiated test sights in Them! to the hideous shadows in swamps and space fiends coming to terrorize quiet small town America in Critters and Swamp Thing to the worlds of mad science and mythology to humanoids and mutations, Creature Feature films have been at every turn in pop culture. Spanning decades, here at Machine Mean, thanks to our mob of talented and twisted guest writers, will bring to you beginning this Thursday and running until December, on every Thursday a Creature Feature in Review. Set your clocks and mark your calendars.
The fun begins this Thursday on Jan 5, 2017.
Follow the series on Twitter at #MonsterThursday
The Strain (TV Series 2014- )
Nothing is more alluring for both audiences and writers than dusting off old tropes. This is true. There is no argument against this statement. Resistance is futile. Boom. Done. Let’s pack it away, boys. No? Okay, I guess we could talk a little more about this very general statement I just made. And if I’m going to be talking about housekeeping motifs and tropes, do me the favor and humor me by nodding your head or something and when passersby asks why you’re nodding your head, you tell them about this brilliant piece you’re reading, as I delve into this odd analogy to FX’s dark horror show, The Strain. Let it be known now, while I may make mention of some of the newer seasons, my focus will mostly be with the first season, as it is the best and has one of my top ten TV/movies favorite openings/pilots. The only big let down with the second season is the new kid they got to play Zack Goodweather, as he plays a larger role in the second season, he became downright annoying and I’m secretly hoping something really bad happens to him. If that was the point then bravo to the writers cause I really do loathe that little bastard. Anyway, that’s not really why we’re here, is it? Tropes. That’s the term I used before and that is precisely what I want to talk to you about. Dusting off aged tropes is, in my humble opinion, an excellent method of storytelling. The classics for horror being Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Frankenstein, etc. etc, and how can we use these today? In this endeavor, The Strain is an excellent example we can learn from.
Before we scourge the graveyard any deeper, here’s a quick synopsis from our favorite source, IMDb:
A mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism ravages the city of New York.
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, if you please, for another stunning synopsis from IMDb. Well, they’re not wrong. There is a virus going around, and it certainly creates hosts that act very vampiric. A very fresh take, I think, on the classic vampire trope. No. This isn’t Lestat. These are monsters, as well they should be. And I love this reimaging of the vampire. The Strain uses invokes classic myths, such as The Master, or “patient zero,” as one of the characters refers to him as, in a way of explaining the legend to a couple of non-beliving doctors. Silver and sunlight are also here too. But no longer crosses and garlic, both of which are hardly ever mentioned. So, despite that the fangs are gone and they have a “stinger,” a worm like tentacle, that the vamps use to “latch on” to their prey, it’s still very much in tune with the aged trope. Better, in my opinion. While we all love Bela, the dashing vampire is too tired nowadays, and xenophobia is more rapid and in your face for such subtlety. We need monsters. Vampires are not lonely outsider boyfriends that sparkle. They are killers, and worse. They are a virus, a scourge, a blight. Some films get it right. 30 Days of Night was good. And Let the Right One In was an instant classic.
What really sets The Strain apart is the use of some of the more classic character types that are largely ignored in modern vampire storytelling. Sure, you cannot have a vampire movie without the preverbal “Dracula,” and in The Strain, we get The Master, who is without question truly terrifying and oddly alluring. But besides the “Dracula” character, what else is offered. I’m going to start off with my favorite. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing, we get Abraham Setrakian, an aged, very aged professor now turned pawn shop proprietor. His history within the context of the show is very rich. Setrakain is a Holocaust survivor who was taught by his grandmother regarding certain “creatures of the night.” As a young man, Setrakian believed her stories to be just that, stories. For a young Setrakian, the Holocaust proved to have enough horrors of its own without the need of mythical monsters. However, as it would seem, the concentration camp, Treblinka, in which Setrakian is incurred is besieged by, not just from war and death and human injustice, but also by a physical parasite that moves about during the night. Witnessing the creature with his own eyes, his grandmother’s stories flood back and he works quickly at finding a way to dispatch this monster. He fails at this but survives the encounter and the war. He then dedicates his entire life at tracking down The Master and his creations and riding the world of the Strain.
The Van Helsing motif in Setrakian was very well thought out, taking the old trope and making it more, giving it more life and substance. For me, Abraham really makes the show enjoyable, especially during flashback episodes that show Setrakian’s evolution.
Another interesting twist with tropes is the Renfield motif found in not just one character, but two, each with their own set of motives that feel very parallel to each other. The first is a human named Eldritch Palmer. While Renfield in the film and Bram Stroker book feels both pathetic and sympathetic, Palmer takes that notion to a different level. Due to his disabling sickness, whatever condition he seems to suffer from physically does not hinder the power of his will, his sheer determination to get whatever it is he wants. And what he wants most of all is to live. This desire seduces him in aligning with The Master and helping the Strain spread over New York. We feel bad for him, as we do with Renfield, for the kind of life he must have had, never knowing which breath would be his last, while at the same time we are appalled by his greed for life and uncaringness towards others. The second Renfield character is in the person of Thomas Eichhorst, played wonderfully by Richard Sammel. Eichhorst is, for lack of a better word, the Master’s right-hand man, but in reality, he’s more of a puppet than anything else and is in fact used quite literally as a puppet whenever the Master feels like “speaking” through him. But his character is more alluring for me than Palmer is. Palmer is just pathetic, especially in season 2. An old groveling to maintain his authority. Eichhorst has an interesting history that is connected with Setrakian, making the motivations for their rivalry very believable, and solidifying Eichhorst as a fan favorite baddy.
There are other characters in the show, a lot of hunters and community leaders, most do not necessarily correlate to classic Dracula trope. We could say that Dr. Ephraim Goodweather could be a close match to a Jonathan Harker motif. But Harker wasn’t really a well thought out character in the movie, perhaps more so in the book. There is one character though that needs mention. The part of Kelly Goodweather as a trope for Mina Harker. While the Master’s fascination with her still begs the question, her role is without a doubt very much Mina-like. When she is turned, she is used, more or less, as a tool to find her son, Zack Goodweather, and in turn to stop Eph and the merry band of vampire hunters. The Master’s interest in Kelly seems to only relate to his interest in stopping the good doctor, perhaps using Kelly and keeping her around just to taunt him.
Have you ever heard the statement, “There is nothing new under the sun?” It’s a saying from Hebrew scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:9. I’m often fond of saying it, especially when fellow writers pitch me their book or story idea and ask if it’s too much like another story. I’ve done the same as well, wondering if this “new idea” is too much like something else. Recently I published a short story with Matt Shaw is his release of Bah Humbug! An Anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. My story is called “Happiness U.S.A.,” and is “inspired” by a classic Twilight Zone episode titled “Garrity and the Graves.” The basic concept is a con artist that travels through an old west town and cons the town into thinking he can resurrect the dead. The catch is that the people in this old west town do not want their dearly departed returned to them, and so to put them “back in the grave” they have to pay Garrity more money. This is one of my favorite shows and one of my top favorite episodes. It’s both cheeky and disturbing, as many Twilight Zone episodes are. And I wanted to do my own take on Mr. Garrity and this old west town. But my version, my dusting off of the classic trope/motif was asking myself, what if Garrity wasn’t really a “con” artist per say, what if he could really bring back the dead. What kind of person or being could do something like that? An angel…or devil? So I took that concept and made my town of Happiness a small Texas oil town back in the mid-1970s. And the price the people of Happiness will have to pay will be much steeper than gold or silver.
This feels like a long way around to basically say, it’s okay to resurrect old trope, give them a good dusting, and retell the story in a new and exciting way. The Strain just so happens to be my favorite example and I wanted an excuse to talk about the show. I’ve started in on the novel the show is based on. There are some differences, but the meat and potatoes are pretty much the same. So if you need a recommendation, you’ve got it. Give this show and book a go. You will not be disappointed.
AND if you happen to be curious about that Christmas anthology I mentioned, follow the image below.
And if perhaps I can tempt you with one more book. I’ve got a new novel that released this week. Conceiving (Subdue Book 3). “…an evil [is] biding its time…waiting for them all,” Conceiving can be read as both a standalone or as part of the series. You can find out more about the book here. Or you can check it out on Amazon. Currently, the book is marked down to $0.99, but only for a limited time. Available for both kindle (or kindle apps) and on paperback.
Get Knocked Up!
Okay, maybe the title of this post is a little what kids call”clickbaity,” but hey…I make no excuses. The world is what it is. Filled with click baits…and fake news sites…and paranoia…and silent conversations over Thanksgiving dinner… (sighs) Well, now that I have you here, assuming you fell for my ingenious trap, I’m more than ecstatic to announce the release of my new book, Conceiving. Now available on Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. This book really does feel like a long time coming, especially when considering that Dwelling and Emerging released back in December 2015, almost a full year ago. Anyhow, if you’re new to the series and don’t want to spend time catching up by reading the first two books, no worries. Information regarding the first two books is included in this new one without being drab, but only generally. So you know what happens and are not lost in this new book. If you’ve read both Dwelling and Emerging and have been waiting for this new book to release, I bid you welcome home. The real benefit of reading the entire series is the intimacy of getting to know the characters and experiencing why and/or what they are in Conceiving.
Conceiving is a supernatural thriller of which I would humbly compare to the likes of a mashup between Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Old and new readers will follow the somber adventures of Bobby Weeks, one of the major carry overs from the series, and Luna and Ronna Blanche, minor characters in the series that now have larger roles. New characters include Boris and Neville Petry, and yes Neville is a girl.
The Petry’s are my new favorite. A young couple wanting what most young couples want, a family, a dream home, and dream jobs. I imagined Boris like this “cool” history professor if such a thing can exist. He loves his area of expertise and wants to move up the ranks of his profession and among his peers. Like most academics, he wants to be respected and revered for his work. Neville, on the other hand, I saw as this young college educated woman who doesn’t really believe women need to be “stay at home” moms or wives, but choices to take on that role. She often compares herself to her mother, but not always positively.
In the fashion of how I typically tell stories, these individuals and groups begin separated, facing their own troubles alone, but there are forces at work pulling them together, inching them toward some cataclysmic event that will shatter their perception of reality and perhaps take more than just their sanity.
Conceiving is available on Amazon kindle or kindle app. You can get your copy here for the low price of $3.99……..https://goo.gl/4EWzSU
Or if you’re a traditionalist and prefer paperback, you can get your copy here for $15.99…….https://goo.gl/5pTAQ4
Universal Monsters in Review: Drácula (1931)
Swooping down from the Carpathian Mountains comes…Senior Drácula…. HOLD UP! You may be wondering, “But Thomas, haven’t you already published a review on Dracula?” Oh yes. I certainly have. If you’re brave enough to search the catacombs of Machine Mean, you’d be likely to stumble across a few. From memory, I’m fairly certain I’ve written a review on the Roxy Theater initial release of Dracula. I’ve written a post on Dwight Frye who played Renfield. And I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post celebrating Bela Lugosi, who we all know and was in fact buried as Dracula. But now comes the time, my friends, when we finally get to review the Spanish version of Dracula. According to film historians and most of everyone else in the biz, it was not uncommon for Universal Studios and most of Hollywood to produce Spanish or French or even German adaptations of their films. The unique thing about Drácula is that the Spanish version was filmed during the night on the same set and during the same time as the one we’ve all come to love and adore. That’s right folks, Dracula and Drácula were filmed at the same time, the American Todd Browning directed version during the day, and the Spanish George Melford during the night. The only real difference being the director, the cast, and subtle differences in wardrobe. In fact, according to Lupita Tovar, the Mexican-American actress who played Eva (love interest of both Harkin and Drácula), in the new introduction offered in the Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection, said that because the Spanish film was done on the same set as the American version, the actors used the same markings on the floor that directed them where to stand while being filmed. In this way, Drácula is a near perfect shot-for-shot version of the original.
Now, given the near perfect similarities between the two films, there’s been a rumor among horror fanatics and run-of-the-mill fans alike. The rumor is that the Spanish directed Dracula is better than the American shot version. There is no secret of the troubles Todd Browning’s version faced. Watching the movie even now, one can see how it seems pieced together with more than a few mishaps on stage. The one saving grace was the powerful magnetism of the cast of actors, mostly Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye (if you ask me). In transparency, I must confess, last night as I inserted the DVD, my thoughts went back to those rumors, of how the Spanish version was superior to the original. And after watching the wonderful Lupita Tovar give the introduction, one would think certainly the rumors were true. Well…I’m sure you’re asking by now, “Was it? Was the Spanish version better than the American?” Before we get into that, let’s back things up for a moment and fill in some gaps for those readers who have not yet watched Dracula or even read the Bram Stroker novelisation (poor souls).
Here is a synopsis of the American film:
The dashing, mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), after hypnotizing clerk Renfield (Dwight Frye) into his mindless slave, travels to London and takes up residence in an old castle. Soon Dracula begins to wreak havoc, sucking the blood of young women and turning them into vampires. When he sets his sights on Mina (Helen Chandler), the daughter of a prominent doctor, vampire-hunter Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is enlisted to put a stop to the count’s never-ending bloodlust.
And here is the synopsis of the Spanish film:
Soon after beginning work for Conde Dracula (Carlos Villarias), the clerk Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio) learns that his employer is, in fact, a vampire who lives on human blood. Now under Dracula’s spell, Renfield helps his master travel to London, where the vampire takes another victim (Carmen Guerrero). Dracula also has eyes on the lovely Eva (Lupita Tovar), but her fiancé, Juan Harker (Barry Norton), and a wise professor named Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) seek to stop him.
Some slight differences but otherwise pretty much the same. As it should be, given they’re both working with the same script. One of the biggest differences that I noticed right away was how much more easily it was to follow along with the plot of the Spanish version of Dracula. If that was more of my familiarity with the subject or not, I cannot say for certain, but I did find it easier this time around. And even though the Spanish crew was using the same sets as the American one, those sets seemed to have better lighting, maybe this has to do with them filming at night rather than during the day, but the mountains and rooms and villages looked brighter and I enjoyed getting another perspective of the uniqueness and craftsmanship of those designs. The costumes looked mirror image to those of the American version of the film, the one difference (that I noticed) was the design of dresses Eva and her friend wore, which is to say, a little more low cut in the breast region. Lupita Tovar comments on the same during her introduction of the film, quoting that the director had told her the dresses made them look sexy. Watching the film today, the design feels on point to what we normally see in more classy movies, however, I can imagine watching this back in 1931 during a more conservative film era.
The real nitty-gritty for me boils down, not to stages or costumes or scripts or lighting, but the actors themselves. Did the Spanish-American actors outdo the originals? Perhaps I’m bias, seeing how I’m a huge fan of the original…that being said, I had some qualms with some of the performances in the Spanish version. The biggest star of Dracula will inevitably be Dracula. In the original, we were introduced to Bela Lugosi, a very exotic actor (at the time). With Drácula we were introduced to Carlos Villarias. Both actors were largely unknown, and both were recent immigrants to California, Lugosi hailing from Belguim and Carlos from Spain. Despite Carlos’s advantage of being able to act while speaking his native tongue, Bela to me was the better of the two Draculas. It is even more amazing when we consider how Bela was not yet proficient with the English language during the time when Dracula was being filmed and recited the script phonetically from memory. Now, I’m not saying Carlos was a bad actor. He was good, it just…his portrayal as Dracula felt very comedic to me. His facial expressions were, to be frank, hilarious, and thus it was hard to take him seriously.
Secondly, both versions of the lawyer/clerk Renfield were played marvelously by both Dwight Frye and Pablo Alvaerez Rubio. They both felt very empathetic and loathsome…however, again perhaps due to my bias as a fan of the original, Dwight Frye gave the role the extra added creepiness that brought the movie to a whole other level. I was completely fine with Pablo as Renfield until the boat scene with the dock crews searching for survivors and discover the poor clerk below deck. That image of Fyre looking up from the staircase and his maniacal giggle still gives me chills. All Pablo offered was laugh like some loon. And there were a few other scenes, like when Renfield crawled on the ground toward the fainted nurse, Dwight seemed to me like a spider, Pablo…well, I don’t know what he was doing.
Third, the only other really important character to get right would be Professor Van Helsing. In the American version, we are treated to the likes of Edward Van Sloan. In the Spanish version, we get Eduardo Arozamena. Both performances were pretty much the same, in fact, both actors even looked a lot alike. The only difference being the subtle charismatic acting of Van Sloan versus a more pragmatic acting by Arozamena. For me, personally, again perhaps due to my bias, I prefer the American version of Van Helsing. As for the damsel, a truism for most Universal Monster movies during this era, again both Mina (Helen Chandler) and Eva (Lupita Tovar) were very well done. But, looking closer, a think I prefer Lupita Tovar’s performance over Helen Chandler’s. She was not only more exotic, but she was also more sympathetic, in my opinion.
So…who was better? Dracula or Drácula. Were the rumors true? No, and yes. There were many aspects of the Spanish version that I enjoyed. The sets. The more developed story structure. Even some of the acting. But, I think, there is more to love with the original Dracula. Bela and Frye, for starters. And despite the issues with filming, Todd Browning brought a sort of stylization and his own strange vision to the quality of direction in Dracula that George Melford did not have. That’s not saying Drácula is not good. It certainly is and ought to be screened by any fan of horror or fan of the Universal monsters. I’m actually really happy the creators of the 30-movie boxset included this version. Otherwise, I may have never given the movie a chance. But when compared to the Dracula filmed during the day, there just are no substitutes.
My review: 3.5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new Subdue Series, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.
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Is Robocop (2014) a political movie?
Is Robocop (2014) a political movie? This is my question that I want you to consider as we discuss certain reoccurring themes throughout the film. For starters, yes I know I’m way behind the curve here for a movie review. What can I say? I missed Robocop in theaters and was only able to finally sit down and watch it over this past weekend. And to my surprise, this was not the 1987 version of Robocop. Sometimes remakes go to far to re-imagine or recreate the nostalgic feel of the original, and while this Robocop has certain 80’s-esk qualities, it is in itself, its own movie. The 1987 Robocop was…well..to put it bluntly a 1970’s grindhouse picture filmed in the 1980’s. Grindhouse (or savage cinema) is all about random acts of violence, but not any ole violence; grindhouse overexposes the audience to violence in order to send a cultural/political message about the time in which the movie was made. In the 1970’s, it was about Vietnam and Watergate and all that mess and disillusionment. The 1987 Robocop was giving a magnificent nod toward the over-consumption, over-consumerism, over-cooperated culture America had entwined herself during the 1980’s with over the top, albeit grotesque, hyper-violence. As film historian William Latham has noted, “seeing a corporation as the ultimate savior and the villain at the same time, where a man becomes a product, gave [Robocop] a special meaning in the 1980’s.” If we boil it down, the message of a grindhouse picture during the 70’s is the same as it is during the 1980’s, which is to say: Does the end justify the means? My question before you today is if Robocop (2014) is still a political movie? We’ve left behind the 20th century, some fourteen years now. Does the same message of justifiable means linger on in the 21st century? Do our ends justify our means? Instead of going through the entire film (which would take a while to digest), we’ll discuss two of the most powerful themes dominate in this new Robo-endeavor.
Robocop starts off with Samuel L. Jackson, not a bad way to start a film, playing the part of Pat Novak, a television talk show host (something similar to what you can find on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly Factor) giving a discussion over the use of a unmanned police robots in the United States. His stance is very clear, stating: “Omnicorp law enforcement robots are being used in every country of the world, except our own….why are we [Americans] so robophobic?” To prove his point, Jackson’s character, Novak, cuts from his monologue to a film crew broadcasting from a Iran-esk country where Omnicorp “peacekeepers” are demonstrating a live-action sweep of a recently pacified neighborhood. Novak’s positive position is juxtaposed with close ups of the neighborhood population whose faces are a combination of fear, resentment, confusion, violation, and anger. As the film crew continues their broadcast, we discover that not everyone has accepted pacification. There is a small group of suicide bombers that are planning to strike back. Their attempt fails, obviously, but just when we’re thinking the end justifies the means, the young son of one of the suicide bombers runs out into the street to join his father carrying a kitchen knife. One of the larger bipedal tank-like drones warns the boy “to drop his weapon.” Out of fear, no doubt, the boy refuses and as the camera pans away, we hear gun fire in the background. Pat Novak will tell you, very bluntly that the ends justify the means, because “those droids just saved my coworker,” but did they? His comment about the safety of the film crew is another juxtaposition, this time against the death of the young boy with the kitchen knife. This scene may have a different ambience for you; for me the message is about our current use of unmanned drones in foreign operations and the current debate on drone use over U.S. soil. The beginning scene here begs the question: does the use of drones to keep soldiers safe a justifiable end to the means of using drones in foreign and domestic operations were the loss of innocence could have been avoided?
We cut away from Pat Novak’s lingering lament for our robophobic culture and arrive in a near-future Detroit. Corruption abounds and sets the main catalysts in motion setting up the creation of Robocop. Raymond Sellars’ argument before a legislative committee, that drones do not feel anger or resentment or prejudice, but act according to the limits of the law. And on the other end of the pendulum is Senator Hubert Dreyfuss whose sole purpose throughout the film is to defend the legislation in place that prevents the use of unmanned drones in police duties because, according to Sen. Dreyfuss, machines cannot experience what it is like to kill. They have no feeling toward killing and as such cannot conduct themselves in a manner in which life has value. This back and forth is somewhat of a dual allegorical picture of our current political situation and the “means justifying the ends” question throughout the film.
While all this is contemporary and interesting, it does not compare to the second most powerful scene in Robocop (2014). Ignore Alex Murphy’s flat superhero-esk character for a moment and focus on his resurrection as Robocop. There is really a lot to chew on here, lots of ethical questions and metaphysical ones to be sure, such as the meaning of free will and the illusion of it and all that jazz, but what I want to look at is the imagery of amputees, especially wartime amputees, that becomes a bigger more meaningful part of the movie. When we get to the “lets put a man in a machine” part we’ve all seen in the trailers and Keaton’s spectacular acting, we open up in one of the research and development/rehabilitation areas within Omnicorp. We know its Omnicorp because of the technicians and doctors and the fancy sign on the door, right? But take all that away and limit this to single image and we get the feeling we’re in an army rehabilitation hospital. This could be a familiar scene at Walter Reed Medical Center or Brooke Army Medical who provide rehabilitation for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation or burns. The “man becoming a product” message William Latham commented on for the 1987 movie is still there, but for me it is not the most dominant message. This also is a major disconnect from the original film. In the 1987 version Alex dies from his wounds and is brought back to life via Omnicorp salvaging his brain and transplanting, along with his face, into a machine. No one knows about the operation until everyone knows about the operation. In the 2014 version, the transformation between man and machine is liken to extreme prosthetics. Alex Murphy did not die, he was saved with the operation. Now, the “saved” part comes under question when his wife (who must sign permission for Omnicorp to do this operation on Alex) asks “what kind of life will he have? You say you can save him, [but] what does that mean?” This, in my opinion, is a very power question, especially when it becomes juxtaposed with the image of the dissembled Murphy. In order for Murphy to face the reality of his situation, Dr. Dennett Norton, with the use of a mirror, begins to take away the robotic parts of Murphy, leaving only his organic self, which is basically only his face, brain, one hand (no arm, just the hand and nerves), and his heart and lungs that are contained in a sac like substance. And at the end, in a very horrific moment, Murphy cries out, “Jesus…there’s nothing left…there’s nothing left of me….”
The extreme amputation and prosthetic becomes a major issue throughout the remainder of the film. Even the vengeance quest is extremely short compared to the longevity of how Murphy deals with, or badly deals with, his new life as a man with prosthetics. Instead of a vengeance as justifiable means to an end, Murphy is put through the ringer of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world. In many ways, Robocop (2014) becomes one of the first movies to actually question and illuminate PTSD, amputation, post-war family dynamic, legislation, political talk-show mongrels, and corruption. The piecing together of man and machine is a classic horror motif that draws all the way back to Frankenstein (1931) a movie that dealt with similar issues for a different post-war generation. As film historian David Skal has commented on the form of Frankenstein, the symbolization of the monster that represents “displaced, suppressed, and reshaped humans to conform with the machine world. Whale’s film depicted a monster squarely in the grip of this confusion, a pathetic figure caught, as it were, on the barbed wire between humanism and mechanism.” The “pathetic” tug we feel in the new Robocop is Alex’s self image or how he sees himself. After being shown what remains of his organic form, he demands never to be shown himself again, especially not to his wife. This self-loathing in a post-war image is another throwback to an earlier horror monster from another time, consider The Phantom of the Opera (1911), when Gaston Leroux writes, “Look! You want to see! See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!”
Assume the credits roll here. What did you think of the movie? Was it political? And most importantly, did the ends justify the means? Answers are never clear-cut. However, movies like Robocop help us deal with the mental processes we continue to struggle with, even though we may never arrive at same agreed upon destination. Its worth pondering and coming to our own conclusions.
With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
The Hands of Orlac: 90 year review
The Hands of Orlac (or Orlac’s Hände) is a dark humorless movie. Much like all German Expressionist films, The Hands of Orlac is filled with madness, depression, disenfranchisement, alienation, and death motifs. According to film historian Lotte Eisner (a remarkable woman who, because of her Jewish heritage, fled from Germany in 1933 to escape growing persecution at the hands of the Nazis, she was later captured while in hiding and sent to a concentration camp in Aquitaine, France. Eisner survived the war and enjoyed a long and memorable career until her death in 1983), in her work The Haunted Screen:
“Mysticism and magic, the dark forces to which Germans have always been more than willing to commit themselves, had flourished in the face of death on the battlefields. The hecatombs of young men fallen in the flower of their youth seemed to nourish the grim nostalgia of the survivors. And the ghosts which had haunted the German Romantics revived, like the shades of Hades after draughts of blood.”
From a blue-collared film historians perspective, such as myself, German Expressionism, as it seems to me is just as any other film in regards to depictions of the time in which they were made using symbols, imagery, and themes to show the audience an expression of the directors and/or writers interpretation of some event or trend; however, German Expressionism is, in its own style, heavy-handed in its imagery and symbolic relation to the age in which it was made. In effect, German Expressionist films, such as The Hands of Orlac, give us a gut wrenching depiction of the aftereffects of World War I. Consider that in Austria-Hungary alone, some 1,495,200 soldiers died during the Great War, including 480,000 that would die as prisoners of war. The Storm of Steel, a phrase coined by German solider, writer, philosopher Ernst Jünger, is considered to be the first mechanized war. And according to European historian Eric Brose:
“[The] ghastly maiming machines of modern war had changed…the streets [of Europe] of 1914, [that were] so full of life and youthful vigor, [into monstrous] defacement’s, [men with] their lips and jaws blown away, feeding tubes inserted where mouths had been, wads of gauze stuffed in nose holes bigger than silver dollars…and piles of amputated body parts. [The] survivors among these half-men would somehow have to adjust to civilian life” (Brose, pg. 77).
The German Expressionist movement is a byproduct from said “adjustment.” Down to a film, The Hands of Orlac is an amazing story; heart wrenching when interpreted in its own subjective history. One of the most chilling scenes is a horrific train wreck towards the beginning of the film, in which the main protagonist, concert pianist Paul Orlac loses both his hands. Disturbing enough for sure, but paralleled with the history of 1924 when the streets of Austria and Germany were filled with mutilated veterans, the scene is all too real. Journalist and critic John J. O’Conner, during the 1990’s commented regarding the uncomfortable expression we often find in film, that “horror is not limited to comic books. Primal nightmares are rooted in reality, and the overlapping of images can be disorienting.”
The wife of Orlac, Yvonne pleads with a surgeon to save her husbands hands. The surgeon does, but uses the hands of a recently executed murderer called Vasseur for the transplant. Here again, we are presented with a dual image: pianist and murderer. One bound to creation; the other, bound to destruction. Its interesting that director Robert Wiene (famed director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) had used this dual relationship and struggle for poor Paul Orlac. Before the Great War, Europe had enjoyed an era of artistic relativism. In March of 1899, composer Richard Strauss was considered to be rather ordinary “elegant-looking man whose odd style matched the polyphony of [his] strange [performance in] A Hero’s Life.” Strauss, much like Paul Orlac, was a famous conductor of music. In A Hero’s Life, preformed in Frankfurt’s Municipal Museum (though the building would survive WWI, it would be destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII) to an audience made up of European aristocracy who sat uncomfortably in their chairs, clinching against a melody that reflected a mood anguished by the birth pains of modernity. According to historian Brose, Richard Strauss’ performance pulsated, not just with disdain for the new social transformation, but also with the rapid growth of industrialization and technological change occurring within a “political structure poorly [suited] to withstand such [a] challenge.” One of the most curious moments during Strauss’ A Hero’s Life was when, while crouching, he would suddenly stand upright and point toward the brass players hidden on either side of the orchestra, as if with a wave of his baton, Strauss orders a battalion of conjured soldiers in a “forward march.”
Wartime destruction is not the only euphemism Wiene conjures. Consider also that five years after the Great War had ended, “almost three million civilians in Germany and Austria-Hungary…[were] succumbing in great numbers to tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhus, and a deadly new mutated strain of influenza.” For the people living in the times of 1920’s Europe (while America enjoyed the Jazz and roar of prosperity), the horizon was truly apoplectic. And the films during this era embraced those very sentiments. Have you considered the themes of some of our most beloved movie monsters here in America? Where do you think Frankenstein and Dracula were born? .
The remainder of the film besets a tortured Orlac, who can no longer play the piano, becomes destitute, and is eventually blackmailed by the convicted and supposedly executed murderer Vasseur. I won’t spoil the end for those of you who haven’t given this film a gander, but I’ll say that it had a somewhat bizarre if not entirely cheerful ending. Among many firsts, The Hands of Orlac is a precursor to the forensic crime movies found during the Weimar film era. The plausibility of using wax impressions or similar techniques to falsify prints seems far fetched, this was pre-CSI. Forensic science was just becoming a method for police/criminal investigations. And though the method is used incorrect in the film, the director moves us to question if it can be reliable, as Orlac’s proof of innocence comes from eye witness testimony and not from this new age science detectivery, something completely opposite compared to today, as witness testimony has been proven to be far less reliable than scientific evidence. Perhaps another jab by the director toward modernity during post-war malaise. Basically, can people be trusted behind the cog and wheel of industrialism? A notion that has forever remained a centerpiece for film; a question we are left to ponder as Orlac, with reassembled hands, carries his distraught wife off into the sunset.
David J. Skal, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, W.W. Norton, 1993.Lotte H. Eisner, The Haunting Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt, University of California Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (September 29, 2008).
Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Book Review: “I’ve Got The Light of Freedom: the organizing tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle.”
One of the greatest pursuits in social history is understanding the peoples narrative. Social history looks at the collective memory of ordinary people and their contributions while living “everyday lives.” Social history is precarious to be sure. The evidence is collective in buck shot and is tedious. There is too little scholarly research done in understanding ordinary people and their history from the bottom up. Mainstream historians focus on prominent persons; singular people or in small groups made famous or infamous by some popular or well-known event. Consider the Civil Rights Movement and how schools are teaching kids about famous leaders within the movement or famous people from the movement who may have not been leaders per say, such as: MLK, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X…and…and that other guy! There is another popular misconception that the Civil Rights Movement was lead by the southern Christian church. Rev. Aaron Johnson, a WWII vet, in 1962 was among the first of a few churches (First Christian Church) in Greenwood, Mississippi who actually showed interest in the voter registration and citizenship movement. Rev. Johnson has often pointed out in interviews that people give too much credit to churches during the Civil Rights Movement than was actuality; people saw leaders who were ministers and assumed churches were at the root. During the Birmingham, Alabama campaign, no more than 10% of the churches were involved. Although difficult, and especially time consuming when collecting evidence and testimony, social history, history from the bottom up, is an important perspective when looking at historical events, such as: the Civil Rights Movement, and in elevating truth over popular misconception and assumption.
Historian and sociologist Charles Payne, in his work, “I’ve got the light of freedom: the organizing tradition and the Mississippi freedom struggle,” has accumulated countless first person testimonies of ordinary people who lived and breathed the Black Freedom movement in the southern delta and the particular history from which the Freedom struggle grew out of. Charles Payne reconstructs historical truth and gives a more accurate depiction of the Civil Rights Movement as it was for regular everyday people living in the rural south. The working class become illuminated as the leadership responsible for giving the movement vitality. Payne steers away from popular mythology regarding popular figureheads of the movement and instead focuses on the organizing process in Mississippi spanning thirty years or more, from the 1940’s through the 60’s.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite books for the Civil Rights Movement. Don’t get me wrong, charismatic leaders are an important qualia for any movement, be it for equality, labor, or otherwise; however, the life and blood of movement are in the ordinary people (the you and I’s of the world) who in the course of their everyday lives play a critical role in moving a movement. And Payne tells the story as a true social historian, from the lives of regular people. My favorite family from his book was the McGhee’s. Laura McGhee (or mama) seem to have had a reputation for personal fearlessness, demonstrated in her first attempted to register to vote in 1962 before the big groups and big support from organizations like CORE and SNCC. Mama also encouraged her friends and neighbors to follow suit. She own her own farm outside of Greenwood, Miss. where she taught citizenship classes, and hosted meetings and rallies. Mama also encouraged and supported her three sons, who were all active during the 1964 Freedom Summer Project era. Silas McGhee, her youngest thought the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was a sham because it only offered rights he thought were already legislated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Silas tested the new bill to see if anything actually changed because of it. In July 1964, Silas walked into the Leflore Theater (whites only) and sat down to “watch a movie.” He was asked to leave by the management. The following day, Jake McGhee went to the same theater, but had to fight his way out of an angry crowd after being asked to leave. A few days later, both Jake and Silas returned to the same theater and when asked to leave they scarcely made it out of a mob that had formed outside. In August 1964, after shuttling SNCC workers all day, Silas was shot in the head while waiting out a storm in his car. He survived and in the span between June and December 1964, Silas and Jake were arrested seven times between them. The courage of the McGhee’s inspired those around them to take more direct action in testing the limits of legislation and in traditional mainstream history, their story would simply be a footnote, easily and sadly overlooked.
If you are interested in digging deeper into the Civil Rights Movement and reform, check out Dr. Payne’s book, “I’ve got the light of freedom.” You will not be disappointed.
Charles Payne, “I’ve got the light of freedom,” five out of five stars!!!
A Grotesque Mannequin: Europe’s Old Conscious within a New World Paradigm (1945-2002)
World War II in Europe had come to a horrible end. The ashes of homes, roads, and people covered a once lush countryside of an epoch healing within the bruised and blushing scars of WWI. Survivors faced an unimaginable future in 1945. According to historian Eric Brose, “the infrastructure of an entire continent – roads, railroad tracks, tunnels, train stations, bridges, port facilities, and airports – lay in ruins” (Brose, 267). The casualties were beyond imagination, and among the maimed and broken soldiers, the women murderously raped and rapid suicide following wars end, Europe peered into the same mirror Elie Weasel once did after the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, and watched the reflection of a disfigured corpse crying out for retribution, contemplation, and atonement. Europe was torn apart and reassembled according to new existential principles. In the years following 1945, Europe’s old consciousness was forced to occupy a new paradigm and marched unsteadily from post war malaise, through the Cold War and the atomic age, and terrorism. In the popular and controversial films of Post-WWII Europe, such as: The Bicycle Thief (1948), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), and Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and the particular history each film reveals, we will peer into the mirror ourselves and ascertain how postwar Europe’s displaced, suppressed, and reshaped reassembly was sadly unsuccessful. But we’re talking nearly sixty years of history here! How could we possibly cover so much time and so much history in is meager blog? Simple, we can’t. Instead, we’ll cover the evolution or devolution (depending on how you interpret events) in each decades most predominate historic theme.
The beginning in the end…1945:
In the autumn of 1944, Käthe Kollwitz, a preeminent German sculptress who had attempted to convey the bitterness and helplessness felt during the post war years following World War I, lamented regarding the resurgent bestial realities of the new age when she said, “I am dying in this faith [in humanity]. People will have to work hard for that new state of things, but they will achieve it” (Brose, 266.) Kollwitz held out, despite the unimaginable devastation, “the life of the world might move forward” (266), that somehow the dignities of the individual could be elevated above the authority of the state, that people would avoid mechanized-obedience and become ethical, moral creatures, concerned with the suffering of others. However, in the chaotic aftermath of World War II, the political landscape darkened once again and old motifs, such as: Nazism and Fascism will prove hard to eradicate. According to historian Eric Brose, with communism sweeping into Eastern Europe uninvited, “Understanding reality and coping with life’s dilemmas became even more difficult as the Grand Alliance came apart along ideological seams and the far more frightening image of atomic Armageddon appeared on the horizon” (Brose, 267). In the midst of the atom, Europe picked the pieces of her crumbled and fractured landscape.
In the aftermath of 1945, as displaced people huddled together in Red Cross camps, dreaming for the return of normalcy, Europe struggled in understanding the causality of WWII and the Holocaust. In doing so, Europe reassembled according to new existential philosophical principles in the growing shadow of countless mass graves and post war malaise. According to Brose, philosophers and the great thinkers of the post war age, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, struggled to understand the “authentic state of being.” Basically, these thinkers were motivated in answering the question of war, why it happened, again, and why the Holocaust happened in a modern society by understanding the reality of a hostile and threatening world and the complexity of human problems and moral dilemmas. These “existentialists” urged that “individuals controlled their own density by the choices they made” (Brose, 268). The pursuit is understandable, but the determinations, I think, are harder to grasp, especially for those of us who never experienced Europe at war, and the generations that did are rapidly fading from memory. To help future generations understand the determinations those existentialist thinkers were searching for we can look at the films of the era these dilemmas were actually being grappled with, which is the struggle between existentialism and the pessimistic and optimistic qualia of human nature. In films, such as, The Bicycle Thief (1948), audiences confronted the existentialist understanding of á priori morality, the existence of a self-evident moral, law-abiding society where certain values are taken seriously (Goldstein, 489), juxtaposed with the grim images of grisly, ruined lives; thus becoming an issue between morality verses reality.
Furthermore, consider the evolving relationship between father and son in The Bicycle Thief, during which the father obsesses to find his stolen bicycle, an important symbol of individuality during an era of overcrowded cities. In the pursuit to regain his independence, the father’s relationship with his son changes drastically throughout each episode. Before the bicycle was stolen, when the father’s individuality was intact, smiles abounded, the mood was carefree and light, and there was purpose despite the apparent dirtiness of the city and the chaotic state of employment. With the bicycle, the family dynamic seems normal and fluid; when the bicycle is stolen, and when the father loses his chaotic pursuit, outnumbered by the thieves, outnumbered by the protective neighborhood, outnumbered by an unsympathetic police presence, outnumbered by the disassembled bicycle parts at the market, the same family dynamic and their dreams for a better life become swallowed whole into the faceless sea of the crowd. The Bicycle Thief tares apart and reassembles existential principles in the reality that the individual cannot overcome the larger nature of society where in desperate situations people will act accordingly to desperation. A society in which individuality as become faceless in the overcrowded cities; where the human connection with each other has become twisted and malformed.
The loss of individuality and community were at the epicenter during Europe’s progression toward reconstruction. It was the ambiguous care of refugees in displacement camps, where Jewish and non-Jewish survivors, laborers, and German nationalists who fled the Red Army in Eastern Europe, who converged together in a cesspool of disillusionment and desperation, and although Allied forces worked diligently to provide the necessities of life for the uprooted souls that numbered in the millions, who had “no alternative but to remain day after day” (Perry, 273), the remnant of “death, physical injury, loss of human dignity, and material destruction left most Europeans bereft of energy for anything other than piecing their lives back together” (Perry, 269). It was during this period when Germany faced criminal and moral guilt for justification and/or rationalization regarding the commission of the Final Solution and other atrocities of war as simple acts of patriotism (Brose, 274). This is the backdrop where the precarious geopolitical differences between the Soviet Union and the United States collided. When Hitler’s crumbing house finally fell in the early spring hours of May 1945, as German High Command, General Alfred Jodl, surrendered unconditionally, the need arose within the Allied ranks to push German political, diplomatic, military, and industrial leaders toward a nationwide effort of denazification, disarmament, and democratization. According to historian Brose, the first step in this program was to “somehow [deal with] Nazi War criminals [and] to set a postwar example of rule of law” (Brose, 282). However, despite all the overall agreement to bring justice to Nazi leadership for “war crimes,” and “crimes against humanity,” the continuity of chaos proved divisive between the United States and the Soviets. While the Americans wanted an international law against future acts of aggression, which had already been established in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, the Soviets hesitated to condemn aggression as an initiation of war (as their own government was born from “aggressive liberation” during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917).
Nevertheless, the Nuremberg Trials began in November 1945. The first docket showcased twenty-two Nazis considered to be “top level defendants,” including: Hermann Goering, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, Julius Streicher, and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Brose, 283). Among the cohorts there remained an empty seat reserved for Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellery and Hitler’s private sectary. Bormann made an excellent candidate for the first round of executions for his part as a major player in the collaboration of the mass murder of millions; however, Bormann had been mysteriously disappeared after his May 1945 escape from the Fuhrerbunker in his attempt to evade the approaching Red Army. The Bormann myth has been queerly popular in the decades following the Nuremberg Trials. Told like a monster story, various and conflicting sightings across the globe were reported, adding to a strange and abundant fascination with the at-large war criminal motif. At-large Nazi fascination reflects, in a way, an innate desire to separate oneself from the actions of perpetrators. As if to say, the monster is out there in the unknown, an unordinary entity, and as such, controlled by an unordinary fate. However, in the late 1990’s, scientists tested and confirmed the DNA of skeletal remains discovered at the bottom of a mass grave in Berlin in 1972. It was Martin Bormann, who committed suicide mere hours after leaving the Fuhrerbunker, unable to escape the chaotic streets of a crumbling Berlin; a banal and uninteresting demise for such a wildly popular myth. In the end, the Nuremberg Trials witnessed the execution of 486 Nazi perpetrators, a majority of which was hanged.
The Atomic Age and Cold War Malaise 1950’s-60’s:
The Cold War had effectually swung in from the gallows of Nazi perpetrators, ushering in a new paradigm with the old consciousness torn out from the nerve steam of Fascist ideology, grinded and reassembled into a grotesque machination of something that once was. There is no other movie that recants this strange new creature other than Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964). Considered by many film historians and critics to be Stanly Kubrick’s best work, Dr. Strangelove provokes “laughter through tears” in a nightmare comedy designed to stir a response toward nuclear strategy and weapons (Maland, 190). According to historian Charles Maland, the “American consensus to which Dr. Strangelove responds was rooted in the late 1930’s and in the war years [when] Americans began to feel more threated by the rise of foreign totalitarianism” (Maland, 190). The paradigm of fear was solidified after the Axis defeat during WWII and the “economic prosperity fostered by the war [effort]” (Maland, 191). Dr. Strangelove shows us a world unaware of this continued paradigm dominating the American “social and political life through the early 1960’s” (191) using dark comedy in a dramatic world that no longer made sense. Kubrick describes making Dr. Strangelove during an interview in 1970, he stated:
“It occurred to me I was approaching the project in the wrong way. The only way to tell the story was as a black comedy, or better, a nightmare comedy, where the thing you laugh at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible” (Maland, 196-197).
According to Maland, Dr. Strangelove utilizes nightmare comedy as a method of satire to expose four dimensions of the Cold War consensus: “anti-Communist paranoia, the culture’s inability to realize the enormity of nuclear war, various nuclear strategies, and the blind faith modern man places in technological progress” (Maland, 198).
The comedic use for illustrating technological mishaps of a nation can be somewhat disturbing, if not entirely revealing. Consider the scene in Dr. Strangelove where the distraught American President Muffley attempts to call Soviet leader Kissov and the back and forth parodical small talk is mixed in with talk of a renegade American B-52 inbound for the Soviet Union to unload its cargo, the bomb. According to Maland, Dr. Strangelove challenges the fundamental assumption of the fear paradigm, where the nearsighted nationality “[and] human death instinct leads man first to create machines, then to use them for destroying human life” (Maland, 205). Kubrick prods a contemplative stance on technological marvels: has technological means surpassed the bounds of human rationality and morality? Though Dr. Strangelove does not suggest that Soviet leaders are any better, it does, however, suggest that perhaps “no nation-state has a monopoly on foolishness and that the backstage strategies of military and political leaders are simply exercises in paranoia” (Maland, 206). But what does this say of Dr. Strangelove himself, the man who the film is named after? Dr. Strangelove doesn’t say much during the movie, not until the end at least, but his character is carefully crafted and shaped to represent the grotesque surviving mannequin of fascism. When Dr. Strangelove speaks his poorly hidden German accent comes through and becomes more obvious the closer the bomb is to being launched. Dr. Strangelove’s broken and crippled body moves sporadically in quick violent jerks as he attempts to contain something bubbling within. And when the bomb becomes inevitable, Dr. Strangelove bolts his arm upward, eerily reminiscent of the Sieg Heil (German hail to victory) salute.
The character Dr. Strangelove represents the monster once thought destroyed, a fascist creature devoid of feeling, horribly cold, and calculating (Maland, 202-203); the film Dr. Strangelove gives voice to Käthe Kollwitz’s 1944 lament, that though people would have to work hard, a better state can be achieved. Kubrick’s astonishing work, Dr. Strangelove, evokes her passion for a resurgence of social justice and social awareness in a society that has embraced, if not utterly conformed to the paranoia enabled by the House Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthyism, and the growing discontent of the late 1950’s, a decade plagued by othering, a symptom indicative to the historical context that spawned, according to historian Konrad Klejsa, “[the] impulse which led to the decision to start developing an atomic bomb [in the first place]” (Klejsa, 438). However, Kubrick also begs the question: do people want to work to achieve a better state or what is the better state? By 1968, it was becoming apparent that denazification could not shake the old ghost of National Socialism. The voices of those maimed by the machinations of war were becoming extinguished in the great wind of militant indifference toward world destruction, the bomb, nuclear holocaust. This disconnection really shows the disenchantment and horrible calamity of the era.
Europe’s Uncertainty during the 1970’s:
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970′s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of theBunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters. And while the film is somewhat of a bore, the character development and the unshackling of Katharina toward the end is an important conceptualization of the possible effects of extreme othering and incredible swings on the pendulum.
Moving into a new era (1990’s-2002):
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1994 seemed like a sunbeam cast on a dreary landscape haunted by ghosts and monsters for nearly a hundred years. However, throughout the post-WWII years, with the stream of immigrants coming into Europe, old animosities and ideologies resurfaced (Brose, 457). As the iron curtain fell over Moscow, once restricted communities were once again able to move toward the “imagined good life in the West, and labor shortages soon [followed] giving way to sluggish [economic] growth and high hovering unemployment after the 1970’s” (Brose, 457). During the 90’s, the European Union sought to make labor movement within Europe easier, whilst simultaneously making immigration stricter. In 1995, Jacques Chirac stated a common sentiment among Europeans, “France cannot accept all the wretched of the earth” (Brose, 457). In Germany, the ressentiment against “outsiders” seems even more staggering considering their contextual history, with, according to Brose, “10,037 hate crimes” committed in 1999. After a century of othering, it would seem old motifs have survived for the dawn of the 21st century.
In the film, Bend It Like Beckham (2002), director Gurinder Chadha tackles the growing issue with xenophobia in a post 9/11 world, where, according to historian Brose, terrorist attacks “ushered in a period of intense cooperation on security and defense between Europe and the United States” (Brose, 459), which in no small way exasperated tensions between migration and emigration. Throughout the film, dual characters Jess, an orthodox Sikh, and Jules, a seemingly average white female Brit, deal in similar situations that confront the complex limitations of society. Gurinder Chadha’s film, much like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, also calls back to the 1944 lament of Käthe Kollwitz, as Jules and Jess challenge multicultural barriers that surround them in their place in 21st century history. The best illustration for this positive call for change can be seen in the final montage sequence in Bend It Like Beckham, after Jess’ father tells her to fight boundaries, but simultaneously is unaccepting of Jess’ love interest with couch Joe, an Irishman. Demonstrating with each boundary overcome, there are still more boundaries to cross. The final breakdown at the close of the film shows Jess and Jules “spotting” famed soccer player David Beckham at the airport, representing the resurgence of Englishism, followed by Jess’ sister’s pregnancy, representing family and tradition, and followed at the end with Jess’ father playing lacrosse with Joe. The finality of the film gives audiences the impression that there doesn’t need to be a stereotype “British,” or “American,” or “German,” culture, but that a melody of multiculturalism could work. As we look back at the close of the 20th century, we can see evidence of the failure of accepting the other; however, the 21st century is still in front of us.
The mirror Elie Weasel peered into after the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, when we saw himself as this ghostly apparition, a reflection completely unfamiliar to him, his body tortured by all he suffered during the Holocaust, we too must beg the question of our own reflections and the reflections made in history. The physicality of Europe was in no small way torn asunder. But when Europe was reassembled according to new existential principles, was she born again or was she tragically the same entity forced to occupy a new paradigm, a sown monster marching rigidly from post war malaise, through the Cold War, into the atomic age, and eventually facing new forms of terrorism and xenophobia. In the popular and controversial films of Post-WWII Europe, such as: The Bicycle Thief (1948), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), and Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and the particular history each film reveals, we witnessed the continuity of old ideologies that originally gave birth to the maiming machines of war that gnarled a post WWI generation whose voices had been extinguished in the great wind of Russian Revolution, the complete and utter failure of the Weimar Republic, the rise and fall of the Nazis and ultimately the horrific revelation of the Holocaust. The history archived in films, such as: Battleship Potemkin (1925), M (1931), and Jud Süss (1940), along with novels like, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), demonstrate the progression of chaos in Europe, while films like, The Bicycle Thief (1948), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), and Bend It Like Beckham (2002) demonstrates, sadly, how the fabric of fascism and extreme othering were simply ripped from one body and sown onto another. For the most, this was a 20th century history; what can be said of the 21st? Will the monster continue to terrorize the countryside? Or can we hold out for hope, as Käthe Kollwitz once did, and “believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart” (Anne Frank, 1944)?
D-Day 3D: Normandy 1944 @ Houston Museum of Natural Science
Heads up history nerds! Opening at the Houston Museum of Natural Science between May 23rd and running through June, D-Day 3D: Normandy 1944 is a 3D film presentation what looks to be a docu-drama, blending multiple cinematographic techniques, including animation, CGI and live-action sequences. Though D-day is one of the most violence moments for the U.S. forces during WWII, the presentation looks to be geared toward a younger audience. Just spit-balling here, but D-Day 3D wont be your typically meaty Ken Burns take on the war, instead, according to the Houston Museum of Natural Science website, the presentation will be an educational tribute to those who gave all on the beaches of Normandy, bringing “this monumental event to the world’s largest screens for the first time ever. Audiences of all ages, including new generations, will discover from a new perspective how this landing changed the world. Exploring history, military strategy, science, technology and human values.” Obviously, this isn’t for the “hardcore” of us, but who cares?!? This still looks like fun and its a great promotion for history in general. So get your young-ins together and hitch up the fam-mobile and head downtown and support the troops who stormed those beaches and the history that followed. You can check out the advertisement below.
For more information regarding D-Day 3D, check out the Houston Museum of Natural Science website.
For more information regarding D-Day actual, check out American Experience on PBS.
Political Unrest in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970’s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of the Bunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters.
While the film itself is a somewhat dull watch, until the very last bits of the movie when Katharinaunshackles her discontent, fellow historian Jack Zipes does an excellent job separating these two renditions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum while they are simultaneously attempting to convey the same story. However, his comment regarding the drama of American, so-called, “good cop, bad cop” motif is somewhat lacking. The American filmic expressions of the late 60’s and early 70’s, depending on the genre you’re talking about, are not vague impressions of the time in which they were made. Consider the gruesome social critiques in the up and coming era of Savage Cinema, especially the word of Wes Craven, in films like: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes as perfect examples of political unrest in American cinema. Savage Cinema was loud, gruesome, and not the lease bit disturbing, but these films also compelled audiences to question the validity of the times. Last House on the Left, if anything else, begged the question if reactionary violence was a justifiable resolution. The Hills Have Eyes was a critique about repression and violence and repercussion using the most taboo form of expression: cannibalism. And there are many more examples during this era to pick from. Regardless, Zipes makes an interesting case regarding the wild swings on the pendulum during Germany’s political unrest of the 1970’s with the RAF and student base movements. The media, if anything, should keep government (of all walks) in check, not condone extreme reactionism.
Sources: Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1976.
Fannie Lou Hamer: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
While some leaders of the Civil Rights Movement empowered others to test the limits of oppression, other leaders tested those same limits themselves. Fannie Lou Hamer is an inspiring example of the direct action response against injustice, inequality, and oppression. While leaders like Ella Jo Baker developed ordinary people into becoming grassroots leaders, building upon their own potentials and sense of social justice, Fannie Lou Hamer, despite all the hardships: losing her job, being harassed, shot at, partially blinded and beaten, challenged the limits of oppression in Mississippi more directly by inspiring those around her to get out and vote, canvassing, and eventually forming a new political party called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In 1964, Mrs. Hamer spoke against the all-white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic National Convention in New Jersey, delivering a passionate account of the 1963 police beatings of Winona, Mississippi, which had left her partially blind. Both leadership styles were equally important during the Black Freedom Movement. One typically could not work without the other, as it was Baker’s influence over SNCC and how SNCC conducted themselves in Ruleville, Mississippi that inspired Hamer to take a more direct role in the battle for equality.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) arrived in Ruleville, Mississippi during a period of widespread social discontent that had been building momentum across the Deep South states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi since the 1920 Great Migration. Before the fateful summer of 1962, according to historian Chana Lee, Fannie Lou Hamer was a middle-aged plantation timekeeper who speculated that, “hard as we have to work for nothing, there must be some way we can change things.” Sentiments commonly heard among laborers, sharecroppers, and rural disenfranchised in the Delta of Mississippi. When SNCC descended on Ruleville, Mississippi in August 1962, James Forman and James Bevel set up a mass meeting to discuss with the community about voter registration. Hamer was disinterested at first; however, she eventually decided to attend the meeting being held at her Ruleville church, Williams Chapel Missionary Baptist Church; the only house, according to Lee, that “allowed voter registration workers a forum” (this is an important part of history to note, its commonly assumed churches played a large role in the Civil Rights Movement, and while churches were important, their numbers were few and far between).
SNCC alums Bob Moses, James Forman, and Reginald Robinson were among the speakers who discussed with Ruleville audiences about their constitutional rights as citizens of both the United States and as state constituents. They discussed the power of the vote. According to Lee, SNCC’s presentation “lit a fire in Hamer,” she was instantly attracted to their commitment in maintaining local autonomy and empowering local leadership, building up those who would remain when the young activists inevitably returned home. Among those who signed their names as volunteers, Fannie Lou Hamer emerged as a leader by sheer consensus among her peers because, according to Lee, “her bravery made them brave,” and because of her impromptu testimonial had encouraged others to join. The community do doubt looked upon Hamer as a natural leader because of her timekeeper position on the farm. As a timekeeper, Hamer was responsible for tabulating the hours that each wage laborer worked on the farm and for measuring the cotton that each sharecropper and day laborer picked that day. According to historian J. Moye, “The Job had placed Hamer in a position of trust and honor… [and] in time, Hamer had developed a reputation for being fair to her coworkers at risk to her own job.” Hamer was looked to as a woman who was concerned with social justice before she ever became involved with the Civil Rights Movement.
When Fannie Lou Hamer “flunked” her first voter registration test, her resolve to challenge the limits of oppression intensified; unfortunately though, so did the means of the oppressors. When the small group of Ruleville volunteers returned to Indianola, Mississippi, Hamer was confronted by her terrified and shaken family. News of her voter application had reached plantation owner W.D. Marlow who was “blazing mad and raising sand” that one of his tenants had done such a thing. Marlow demanded that Hamer return to the registers office and withdraw her application or face eviction from the plantation. It did not seem to matter to Marlow that Hamer had failed her literacy exam; all that mattered was the apparent shame of having one of his employees challenge how things are run in Ruleville, which no doubt caused some embarrassment for him among his friends in town. According to historian Lee, Fannie Lou Hamer left with little hesitation, despite knowing that there were some difficult days ahead and that her husband, Pap, would have to remain on the plantation because of their family’s fragile economic situation. Hamer went to stay with friends Mary and Robert Tucker in Ruleville, who were already building a reputation for taking in voter registration activists. But even here Hamer was not safe. According to Lee, on September 10, 1963, ten short and agonizing days sense her departure from the angered and bitter Marlow and his plantation, the Tucker residence became one of many victims in a wave of drive-by shootings taking place across Ruleville during the SNCC-leg voter registration campaign. Night riders targeted activists “Mississippi style – politically motivated, pointed in intent, and indiscriminate in consequence.” Fortunately, no one was harmed during the shooting. Despite financial woes, shootings, and harassment, little could deter Fannie Lou Hamer from continuously testing oppression. Instead. these attacks steeled her resolve, because, according to Hamer, “They take me from my husband and they take my home from me. But still, at the next election, I will be there, voting just as much as white folks vote.”
Fannie Lou Hamer was a woman of indomitable will. Hardship, harassment, shootings, beatings, name-calling, being jailed and other means of violence could not deter this courageous southern middle-aged black woman from testing the limits of oppression and making her voice heard in the rural counties of Mississippi. Even with the tragic death of Medgar Evers, an NAACP Greenwood branch organizer, shot in the back in his driveway of his home, did little to slow Hamer down. The loss of friends was taking its toll. In 1964, David Dennis lamented at the memorial for James Chaney, “I’m tired of going to funerals…I’m tired!” The deaths of Evers and other activists was a crushing blow on the spirits in rural Mississippi, but somehow, these tragedies inspired Hamer to fight even harder. According to historian Lee, Hamer would “[rise] with the sun” and go out during those early morning hours to canvass among day laborers in the fields, and in the evening, join small countryside churches where she sang freedom songs and preached a message of hope “to anyone who would listen about the power of the vote.” And on April 26, 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party came into being with a rally of just over 200 people in the state capital of Mississippi, Jackson. For months prior to forming the MFDP, Fannie Lou Hamer had worked tirelessly to get on the ground floor of the traditional Mississippi Democratic Party, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not breach the traditionalist political lines of the Old South.
According to Victoria Gray Adams, a Mississippi businesswoman who supported SNCC and eventually became a full time activist herself, remarked regarding the formation of MFDP that it had grown “out of the frustrations of people attempting to participate in the regular political structure.” The MFDP emerged in 1964 as a direct action against the all-white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. According to Miss Adams, “We were doing our politicking; we were making our speeches,” and it was here when Fannie Lou Hamer gave her famous televised testimonial. On the morning of August 22, 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, along with, as Adams nicknamed the “big guns,” three national civil rights icons: Martin Luther King Jr. (SCLC), James Farmer (CORE), and Roy Wilkins (NAACP) made statements on behalf of MFDP to the credential committee; however, it was Hamer’s emotional recounting and exposure of Mississippi’s brutal treatment of blacks that summoned the attention of the nation. Even a nervous Johnson, who had pulled all his legislative aptitude to secure moving the Civil Rights Act a mere few months earlier through Congress, was almost hysterical about keeping pressure on the Credentials Committee not to side with the MFDP and during Hamer’s speech had prompted the television network broadcasting the Democratic National Convention to cutaway to cover a press conference at the White House. However, despite LBJ wanting to lessen the impact of the MFDP testimonials (and keep favor with the Dixiecrats), Hamer’s message got out; according to historian Lee, MFDP “received hundreds of telegrams in support of it efforts.” According to Miss Adams, the MFDP challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention “really frightened the powers that be,” by giving the MFDP and the people they represented a national stage and voice, an incredible challenge to the limits of oppression.
Women like Fannie Lou Hamer were inspiring leaders who continually tested the limits of oppression in the South Hamer is the perfect example of Ella Jo Bakers famous saying, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” Hamer was, despite losing her job, harassment, shooting, beatings and imprisonment, a strong woman who embraced direct action as a means of challenging the limits of oppression throughout Mississippi. By helping form a new political party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Hamer gave others new means of challenging those same limits of oppression because, in her own words, she “thought with all my heart that if the Constitution of the United States means something to all of us, then I know they would unseat [the all-white delegation].” Fannie Lou Hamer is an important historical leader in the Black Freedom Movement. She tested the limits of oppression in seemingly impossible ways, and inspired ordinary people, just as Miss Victoria Gray Adams, that “everybody has something to say and something to offer.” May her memory and her deeds continue to inspire today and tomorrows generations.
Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: the Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Women in American History), (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000).
Victoria Adams, ed., Hands On the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in Sncc in They Didn’t Know the Power of Women, ed. Faith S. Holsaert et al. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012).
J. Todd Moye, Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi 1945-1986, (The University of North Carolina Press, November 17, 2004).
Ella Jo Baker: “If you have strong people, you don’t need strong leaders.”
While some Civil Rights leaders tested the limits of oppression in the South themselves through direct action, some empowered others to test those same limits. Ella Jo Baker was a natural born leader who empowered others by developing ordinary people into becoming grassroots leaders, building upon their own potentials and sense of social justice. Baker encouraged young activists, like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), to listen and become inspired by the testimonies of those suffering under racial oppression in Mississippi and throughout the Deep South. Baker wanted these young turks to extract lessons that could be applied to future freedom struggles. Ella Jo Baker was an important leader in the Black Freedom Movement who tested the limits of oppression by getting to know everyday people and believing passionately, just as former SNCC activist Victoria Gray Adams did, that “everybody has something to say and something to offer.”
During an interview with historian Charles Payne, Lawrence Guyot, a SNCC activist in Mississippi and an organizing member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, recollected a moment during SNCC’s collective history when Black males were “surging forward” into leadership positions. Guyot remembered making the macho mistake of telling some of the women, some of which included Fannie Lou Hamer and Victoria Gray, to “step back a little bit and let the men move in now.” According to Payne and historian Barbara Ransby, Guyot had made a similar comment in the presence of Ella Baker in 1965 and “she calmly corrected him.” Baker told Guyot that “[He had] proven that there are some men who can do a very good job but you have to learn never, never make the mistake of substituting men in quantity for women of quality.” In a way, Baker’s rebuttal to Guyot exemplifies the kind of person she was. Ella Baker was an “insurgent intellectual,” albeit patient, woman who, as Ransby describes, “Fought militantly but democratically for a better world.” The sum of Ella Baker’s activist career spans from 1930 to 1980, fifty years of touching lives and contributing wisdom, playing a pivotal role in developing Black Freedom Movement organizations, such as: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), In Friendship, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), functioning, as Ransby describes, “an outsider within.” Of the organizations Baker had the most influence, empowering to test the limits of oppression, were those young militant students in SNCC.
On February 1, 1960, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond and Ezell Blair, four black college students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and “refused to move.” After several days and without serious incident, Woolworth submitted to desegregate the lunch counter. These four college students ignited a movement that rippled across the South and gave hope to some of the older activists, like Ella Baker, who saw potential in the vigor of the growing student sit-in movement, the potential for something more grandiose, maybe even perhaps, as historian Ransby describes, “a new type of leadership” within the Black Freedom Movement. According to Ransby, Baker took immediate action and brought the students together on Easter weekend, 1960, to discuss (she hoped) future militant action and developing an independent organization of young people. The Southwide Student Leadership Conference on Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation was a huge success. The gathering took place at Shaw University, Baker’s alma mater, attracting more than 200 student participants; even those who wanted to protect their own local autonomy were curious to hear what others had to say.
The celebrity of Martin Luther King Jr. attracted many of the 200 student participants when they heard the news he was going to be speaking at the event. However, we must avoid compartmentalizing the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement as a series of nonviolent protests led by charismatic ministers. Not all leaders are necessarily charismatic or popular. Consider historian Ransby’s interesting distinction between King and Baker and the students who would eventually formed SNCC. According to Ransby, despite most of the student activists having never heard of Ella Baker before the Shaw meeting, “It was [Baker], more than King, [who] became the decisive force in their collective political future.” It was Baker who nurtured the student movement. It was Baker who offered the sit-in leaders what would become their signature model of organizing. It was Baker, not King, who taught the students the meaning of self-determination rooted in organizing communities into testing the limits of oppression and to withstand violence at the hands of white supremacy, in places where the people had the hardest lives, places in Mississippi with the “greatest direst need,” places such as: Cleveland, McComb, Greenwood, and eventually Ruleville.
Ella Jo Baker was involved with many organizations and movements, including the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, but her involvement with SNCC had the most the impact. Victoria Adams remembers meeting Ella Baker and feeling as if “we had always known each other. She was never a stranger, somebody I had to get to know. She was a very little figure, with a very strong and imposing voice.” Even now, those who survive today remember Ella Baker as a master teacher who inspired the way they fought the Black Freedom Movement, because, just as Adams often said, “the [real] strength with the Civil Rights Movement was in the fact that there were so many local people involved, [doing] the day-to-day work. Local people made the difference.” Ella Baker taught activist like Adams to “get to know everyday people,” because everyone had something to offer and if you have strong people, you don’t need strong leaders.
The Masquerade of Death: A Progression of Chaos in Europe (1925-40)
There is a popular concept to interpret cataclysmic events as harbingers for Last Judgment. Understandably, looking to the galloping Four Horsemen is a popular motif when events in the world seem out of control. Consider the sketch by Otto Dix in 1917 simply titled, Hand to Hand Fighting, where in orphic cubism soldiers are mangled together in an orgy of violence. Dix had presented this work as a depiction of the cycle of life during the Great War, which had erupted in central Europe during the summer months of 1914. In 1917, as a German solider, Dix would have been deep in the mud and death, surrounded by “lice, rats, barbed wire, fleas, shells, bombs, fire, [and] steel” (Brose, pg. 81), elements characterized by trench warfare. According to historian Eric Brose, in just 1915, “Well over two million men fell on the western front” (Brose, pg. 81); this is the world in which Dix makes deep and often chaotic brush strokes, mockingly showing us a world of ghastly maiming machines of war (Brose, pg. 77). From this foundational nightmare a chaotic history unfolds, the history of a post Great War Europe, of Russian Revolution, of Weimar Germany and the road to WWII and ultimately, the Holocaust. And in films as well, such as: Battleship Potemkin (1925), M (1931), and Jud Süss (1940), and post Great War novels, like: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), we can see the hoof prints of an apocalypse that has already happened.
The most interesting notion of the apocalypse are the prophets who foretell impending doom.
In March 1899, composer Richard Strauss was considered to be rather ordinary “elegant-looking man whose odd style matched the polyphony of [his] strange [performance in] A Hero’s Life” (Brose, pg. 38). Strauss conducted A Hero’s Life in Frankfurt’s Municipal Museum to an audience made up of European aristocracy who sat uncomfortably in their chairs, clinching against a melody that reflected a mood anguished by the birth pains of modernity. According to historian Brose, Richard Strauss’ performance pulsated, not just with disdain for the new social transformation, but also with the rapid growth of industrialization and technological change occurring within a “political structure poorly [suited] to withstand such [a] challenge” (Brose, pg. 51). One of the most curious moments during Strauss’ A Hero’s Life was when, while crouching, he would suddenly stand upright and point toward the brass players hidden on either side of the orchestra, as if with a wave of his baton, Strauss orders a battalion of conjured soldiers in a “forward march.”
But how did the end begin? What was it that set the fuse burning out the colonial world, exploding into a world at war?
Richard Strauss, along with his other contemporaries dealing in moral artistic relativism, whose work became obsessed on the fragmented and fractured foundation of the world, seem to have been oddly sensitive to apocalyptic visions (Brose, pgs. 64-65). Modernity was on the move, marching to the trumpet call and the inevitability of war in Europe. According to Brose, several developments had increased this inevitability. Consider, Europe and her long history of discontent and conflict among a growing population squeezed within smaller and smaller country states – each with an unquenchable desire for independence. Or consider the booming industrial and technological revolutions pitted against a system of multiple colonial rivalries, each maneuvering into either alliances or opposing armed encampments. Or perhaps, the escalating urge from these colonial states to purge discontent brought on by dynamism through acts of war. Or even perhaps, heightened anxiety weighed on the shoulders of finite leaders pointing an accusing finger between each other (Brose, pgs. 74-75). Obviously, we can estimate that there was no single factor that ushered Europe into the Great War; but rather was each a deadly mixture in an already boiling pot. There is some debate on the initial spark that set the fuse. Brose among other historians point toward the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. According to Brose, “six Serbian terrorists united in a convoluted and still shadowy conspiracy to…destabilize the Austro-Hungarian Empire and make way for a South Slav state” (Brose, pg.75).
Looking to the ethnic grievances of these six Order of the Black Hand assassins as the ignition that set Europe into a horrifying four year conflict seems plausible, even with its conspiratorial flare. As news of the Archdukes assignation spread, Bosnian Muslims and Croats distanced themselves by firebombing Serb businesses, Vienna threated ultimatums to set loose the “anti-Serb zealots in the army like Hötzendorff” (Brose, pg.75) and sought backing with Germany, while Russian Tsar Nicholas II weighed defending the “honorable” relationship with their fellow Slavic and Christian Orthodox ally Serbia (pg.75) against internal unrest. As established allies, France backed Russia. Armies mobilized. Warning given. Mediation floundered. On August 4, 1914, with German carvery thundering into natural Belgium, London decided on the side of France. The Great War had officially begun (Brose, pg.76).
The Storm of Steel, coined by German solider, writer, philosopher Ernst Jünger, the Great War is considered to be the first in mechanized warfare. According to historian Brose:
“[The] ghastly maiming machines of modern war had changed…the street [of Europe] of 1914, [that were] so full of life and youthful vigor, [into monstrous] defacements, [men with] their lips and jaws blown away, feeding tubes inserted where mouths had been, wads of gauze stuffed in nose holes bigger than silver dollars…and piles of amputated body parts. [The] survivors among these half-men would somehow have to adjust to civilian life” (Brose, pg. 77).
As the armies mobilized and marched during those late summer months of 1914, the Great War quickly became a war of attrition with each faction burrowing deep within the blood soaked earth (Brose, pg. 78) in an nightmarish zigzag pattern of endless trenches, feebly protected by a mash entanglement of barbed wire. Machine-gun nests and heavy artillery became hellish bloodhounds guarding the killing zones between enemy trenches. In 1915, a “greater horror” was unleashed: “a thick yellowish-green, ground-hugging cloud of poison gas that caught gagging, chocking, dying allied soldiers completely by surprise” (Brose, pg.81). The Great War was the world in which Otto Dix would capture in his paintings and drawings throughout the remaining years of his life, a world where “butchers (artillery) smash the person next to [you] into pieces with one blow and mockingly cover [you] with blood and flesh and guts” (Brose, pg.81). Sacrifices increased throughout 1916 on both fronts with an estimated eighteen million lost by years end (pg. 84).
And so it began. The Storm of Steel, as Jünger had called it, recalling from his own experiences in the trenches, witnessing the old stag of colonialism come crashing down, its legs broken by the sheer weight of mechanization. But how did we enter the war? In an era of progressive-ism, how could the isolated United States ever get involved with something so far away? Well… perhaps the reasons are too convoluted, too precarious, much like that of the countries of Europe, to narrow a definitive answer for why?
Nevertheless, in the early morning hours of April 1917, the U.S. declared war with Germany. Our staunch isolationism broke apart after relations were aggravated with German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann’s “ridiculous ploy to entice Mexico and Japan into a war against the United States” (Brose, pg.97). Leadership within Germany crumbled as her labor force began to strike. Troops would not follow the monarchy into last-ditch battles. “Workers’ and soldier’ councils, formed in emulation of revolutionary Russia the previous year, [spreading] quickly” (Brose, pg.99). In 1918, Russia fallen apart due to civil war and revolution throughout 1917, spreading across Central and Eastern Europe. Austria-Hungary dissolved. The war was coming to an end. On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed, ceasing the usually thundering boom of artillery fire and ushering unto the land a strange silence among the thirty-seven million dead, wounded, or missing. Upon this queer scene, one can imagine the surviving forces climbing carefully out of the trenches, gazing at the mutilated landscape and asking themselves, “What do we do now?”
Indeed…what do we do now? What happens to the world after she tears herself apart?
As the drum beat of the Great War faded, the galloping march of Pestilence and Famine spread across the postwar landscape. According to historian Brose, “five years after [the Great War] started, almost three million civilians in Germany and Austria-Hungary…[who were] succumbing in great numbers to tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhus, and a deadly new mutated strain of influenza” (Brose, pgs. 100-101). The End Times would have most certainly been a popular motif among the hungry and diseased ravaged villages and cities of 1919. And to make matters worse, the Treaty of Versailles, with its harsh provisions of War Guilt placed upon Germany, gave Europe no real chance for economic recovery – guaranteeing “a war of revenge” (Brose, pg. 103) down the already bloodied path. Further bolstering this season of discontent, on the eastern front, the Red Army forces that grew from the Bolshevik revolutions of 1917 and 1918 had swelled to five million by 1920, spreading communist rule across Byelorussia, the Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and finally Georgia in 1921 (Brose, pg. 107). Reflecting on the words of President Woodrow Wilson, that the Great War would be a “war to end all wars” (Brose, pg. 107), and in light of the apocalyptic developments throughout Europe, one has to wonder if the end hadn’t already come.
The Battleship Potemkin (1928) is considered to be a masterpiece of silent cinema (Bordwell, pg. 61). According to film historian David Bordwell, “Potemkin seeks to arouse emotion and partisanship [while] aiming at [a] revolutionary pathos” (Bordwell, pgs. 61-62). Commissioned by the Soviet government to commemorate the uprising of 1905, director Sergei Eisenstein created within Potemkin a film filled with metaphorical motifs and analogies resembling, what he considered the natural process of rebellion (Bordwell, pg. 99). One needs only to look to the scene with the boiling soup followed by the shot of angry sailors, or the scene with the rotting meat filled with maggots and the ship doctor claiming, “These are not worms” (Bordwell, pg. 71), a humorless comparison, or even more blood curdling montage bounded of the Odessa Steps, the massacre, where women and children are mowed down against an unstoppable unreasonable Tsar military force. This, of course, further exacerbates the widening gulf between bourgeoisie and what represents for working class why the Bolshevik revolution happened in the first place.
Though The Battleship Potemkin is based on events that occurred in 1905, the film was made in 1925, serving as an historical record for the time in which it was made. So what does Potemkin say about 1925? Consider historian Brose and his comments on the history of Europe in the Twentieth Century, when he states:
“It was not just that communism had survived, a victory that shaped the next seventy years. Of significance were also the ways that people – party officials, workers and peasants, parents and children – changed. For many years subsequent historians concurred that war and civil war brutalized the population and coarsened public life to the point where much worse atrocities – the mass executions – became all but inevitable” (Brose, pg.166).
Potemkin tells us that The Great War did not win the day for democracy, it further exacerbated it; whilst simultaneously promoting, as Stalin states in his work, The theory of the Proletarian Revolution, “a great popular revolution…which had such an important ally as the vast mass of the peasantry who were oppressed and exploited by the landlords” (Goldstein, pg. 236). Potemkin used images with the cowardly priest, dominating ship captain, and the relentless firing squad on the Odessa Steps, to remind the people of the corruption of religion, the corruption of the aristocracy, and to remind the people of the unifying revolutionary cause.
The masquerade of death was in full swing during Germany’s Weimar era. Recognizable developments were taking place. According to historian Konrad Heiden, “inflation [had] plagued Germany throughout the first years of the republic, brought on by financing [a] war through bonds…” (Heiden, pg.144) and with the steep reparations demanded from the Treaty of Versailles, beginning in 1923, the republic’s currency was valued roughly 4.2 billion marks to the America dollar (144)! This hyperinflation infiltrated every aspect of life, especially for the working class German, where store food lines took an eternity to move forward and when “you reached the store, a pound of sugar might have obtained for two millions; but, by the time you came to the counter, all you could get for two millions was half a pound, and the saleswoman [would say] the dollar had just gone up again” (144). By November 1929, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann launched a season of reconciliation with France, Britain, and the United States, finally ending the crippling hyperinflation (though, keep in mind that most of everyone’s savings had been wiped out and the U.S. Stock Market Crash that happened back in October 1929 was on the verge of pulling Europe into another depression); however, despite this period of increased economic stability, those who were effected most would not forget and would effectively blame the Weimar Republic.
Fritz Lang’s cult film M, though seemingly simple, is suspect. Consider how, according to film historian Anton Kaes, “M was not among Germany’s top ten features of 1931 [and] the film received mixed reviews [with] only modest box-office returns” (Kaes, pg.138), yet despite being overshadowed by the eventual collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism, M is not only a rich source for historic symbolism in the midst of a chaotic 1931, but also because it represents the emergence of National Socialism. The history surrounding M, the political and social crisis of the Weimar Republic, cannot help but have some kind of impact on the film. In a way, M captures the surrounding worldwide recession and apocalyptic dreariness during the 1930’s, the mass unemployment and rise of criminality and political discontent that eventually lead to the rise of the Nazi Party (Kaes, pg.140). According to historian Kaes, “the original title [of M] was Mörder unter uns (meaning…Murderer among Us),” which, in a strange way, combines the “explosive atmosphere of Germany two years before Hitler’s assumption of power” (Kaes, pg. 141) and the infamous murder trial involving SA (Hitler’s “Storm Troopers) hit men who had murdered a member of the communist party in the late fall of 1930. Besides using M as an interpretation for one of the notorious Four Horsemen, historian Kaes reflects on the films own history as it represents itself in 1931 and asks if indeed, “were the Nazis ‘murderers among us’” (Kaes, pg.141)?
Consider the final scene in M and the row of weeping mothers who plead: “This [trial] will not bring our children back to life. People should… take better care… of their children” (M, 1931) as a literal foreshadowing of the up and coming far right (Nazi party), of the youth being swept up in the momentum of National Socialist revolution. According to Kaes:
“M presents a society at war with itself. Serial murder recalled wartime slaughter, and the heightened state of mobilization of an entire community echoed experiences from the home front…[focusing] on the downtrodden lumpenproletariat, [including] washerwomen and fatherless children, criminals and beggars, haggard prostitutes and slovenly policemen” (pgs. 143-144).
M is a representation of the public’s strange fascination with murder in 1931 Germany, suggestive in imitation murder, which “displaces and shields us from real murder” (Kaes, pg.146), thus, in an ironic twist of things, “murder and its mass marketed representations feed on each other” (Kaes, pg. 146). Basically, murders are covered by the media in noir-esk fashion, thus inspiring future killers to commit asks of violence, which in turn is reported by the media, and so on and so forth; all the while, sitting on the backdrop of current events relating to culture and social n(m)ormality. According to historian Kaes, the Great War was still a “living memory [of] national shame of defeat and [resentment of] the financial and moral burden” (Kaes, pg. 151) embodied in the Treaty of Versailles and the failures of the Weimar Republic.
All Quite on the Western Front, released a year prior in 1929, alongside M, acts as a companion view into the Weimar era. According to historian Modris Eksteins, in his work, Rites of Spring, “All Quite can be seen not as an explanation but as a symptom of the confusion and disorientation of the postwar world” (Eksteins, pg.283). The story of All Quite is about Paul Bäumer and his gang of school friends turned German soldiers sent to the trenches to fight an inescapable futile war, in which the world beyond no longer knows them (Eksteins, pg. 281). As Paul states:
“I stand up. I am very quiet. Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear. The life that has borne me through these years is still in my hands and my eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me” (All Quite, pg. 295).
According to historian Eksteins, in the final scene of the book, when Paul dies “yet strangely [is] at peace with his destiny” (pg. 281), certain axioms “lose their meaning [when people] die violent deaths – patriotism, national duty, honor, glory, heroism, valor…” (pg. 281-282) all become meaningless in the hallows of the destructive nature of war. All Quite was written in 1929 about life in the trenches somewhere between 1914 and 1918; however, this book, according to Eksteins, is not a memoir, All Quite is an “angry declaration about the effects of war” (pg. 282). Alongside M, All Quite had warned of the coming of the pale horse. All Quite wanted its readership in 1929 to journey within themselves and face the realities of the effects of war; however, in 1933, after Hitler’s rise to power, All Quite found itself on top of the pyre, burnt at the University of Berlin for being “politically and morally un-German, [and a] betrayal of the soldiers of the world war” (Eksteins, pgs. 298-299). But despite the warnings in M and All Quite for internal reflection instead of external othering, the pale rider had arrived, and his name that sat on him was Death.
According to historian Susan Tegel, the notoriety of Jud Süss (1940) derived “solely from being an antisemitic film which was [also] a box-office success” (Holocaust and the Moving Image, pg.76). After the fall of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich produced nearly 1,100 featured films, of those, only 229 were credited as being propaganda. Of these, according to Tegel, “only 96 were Staatsauftragsfilme (or state-commissioned films), and of them Jew Süss was one of the most important” (pg.76). Why? The early periods during Third Reich cinema, as far back as 1933, featured few Jewish tropes; in retrospect, they were the thundering backdrop to a growing storm. It wasn’t until 1940 when Germany was introduced provocative characters, such as, Joseph Süss Oppenheimer. According to film historian Eric Rentschler, in his work, The Elective Other, Jew Süss was:
“Nazi cinema’s most controversial and contested film, just as its director, Veit Harlan, is (next to Leni Riefenstahl) the Third Reich’s most controversial and contended filmmaker [that held the ability to] ignite fierce passions [among the people, insomuch as] it [also] became the central exhibit in [the directors] postwar trial for crimes against humanity” (pg.149-150).
On one hand, the focus is forced at one target, a target that doesn’t, according to Hitler, belong in Germany, and preparing “the German populace for the ‘final solution,’ the deportation and mass murder of European Jewry” (Rentschler, pg.149); while on the other hand, this fabrication of “the enemy” becomes a necessity in creating a complete Gemeinschaft (or gemülichkeit) reality, in other words, the Nazi could not exist without the Jew (pg. 154).
Till the very end, Jew Süss remained Joseph Goebbels’ most effect piece of propaganda manifested in the guise of provocative “historic” entertainment; suggestive in research as it was in the portrayal of, so-called, “accurate” caricatures of the other, “latterday [Dracula’s] who…infect the German corpus” (Rentschler, pg. 156). According the Rentschler, Jew Süss is a monstrous entity in the history of cinematography (pg.150), but for the German people of the Third Reich, Jew Süss was something much more sinister. The film claims historic accuracy, though generic at best, for Germany. The tale of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer was something familiar, though perhaps not easily recognizable. Jew Süss played off pre-established notions of anti-Semitism, which gave historic evidence “that penetrated surface appearances and promised to show the Jew’s ‘real face’” (Rentschler, pg.155), and the fate of a country who allowed Jewry to exist among its population. According to film historian Rentschler, if we can “read this film as a Nazi fantasy, it can tell us how Germans in the Third Reich saw the other and how they defined themselves in relation to that other” (pg.154). It’s interesting to note that there are few German heroes or sympathetic characters in Nazi cinematography; however, apparently the characture Süss (Ferdinand Marian) “received fan mail from [smitten] female spectators” (pg.158).
The nightmarish fantasy of Jewish “machinations [sucking] the Swabian state dry” (Rentschler, pg.156) can be clearly seen in the dialogue between characters Karl Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, and Süss Oppenheimer, the shifty nomad “whose preferred countenance is the masquerade” (pg.155). Towards the end of the film, during an evening of fireworks and entertainment prepared by Oppenheimer, the Duke, in a cathartic moment, asks for Süss to reveal his inner face, pleading, “Ha, what does he really look like, what does he really look like?” (154). Süss replies sarcastically, “How am I really supposed to look?” According to Rentschler, film maker Viet Harlan, in his Nazi propaganda film Jew Süss invites the audience to beg the question: who or what is the Jew? And the above scene illustrates a inferred response: according to Harlan, Jews are sadistic and cruel creatures, masters of disguise and manipulators of image, beastly and equally cunning (pg.155) who offer the German corpus an alternative self, a conjured attractiveness derived from a long “tradition of anti-Semitic projections that accompanied the rise of the German bourgeoisie” (pg.164). Basically, they are to blame for the woes of post Versailles Germany.
I’ve commented on this particular film several times already, but I must continue to press that upon the film’s release to the public, subsequent responses echoed “sentiment [that] Jew Süss was horrible and authentic, fantastic yet…frighteningly real” (Rentschler, pg.155). For the German people of the Third Reich, Jew Süss presented for them a real and lasting image of the “Jewish problem,” a problem that would need to be resolved through action set in reality, the deportation and extermination of European Jewry. According to European historian Jackson Spielvogel, Hitler was determined to carry his Nazi ideology across Europe, establishing his own brand of New Order. For Germans on the home front, “Nazi domestic policies…were influenced by war conditions, [and] also by Hitler’s perception that Germany had collapsed in World War I because of the home front” (pg. 220). The once revered savior of Germany was becoming more and more tyrannical in his determination in not repeating, so-called, past mistakes of 1918. In September of 1939, there was a notable contrast in how the German people identified with, once again, going to war. According to Spielvogel, “in August 1914, there had been crowds cheering in the streets, a profusion of waving flags, processions, and flowers to accompany German troops marching off to war” (pg.230). But as Hitler reignited the machines of war, the people remained silent. The only sign of enthusiasm was from “devout Nazis who believed the Führer was always right and who were eager” (pg.230) for vengeance. In the face of lacking total enthusiasm and support, Hitler was even more determined to maintain morale on the home front, than, one could say, winning the war itself. It would seem, according to historian Brose, that the Nazis only had eyes for the Jew (Brose, pg.227).
Interpreting cataclysmic events as harbingers for the End Times is an understandably popular motif, especially when events in the world seem to be spinning out of control. When we consider life in Europe during the Great War, which had erupted during the summer months of 1914, and the world of “ghastly maiming machines of war” (Brose, pg. 77) the war ushered in, a deeper history unfolds. Much like Richard Strauss, along with his contemporaries dealing in moral relativism, when we obsess on the fragmented and fractured foundation of the world, we can begin to see apocalyptic signs when there are none (Brose, pgs. 64-65). Don’t get me wrong, modernity was certainly moving Europe into an inevitable war. What followed was terrible and frighteningly real. And from here, another history begins to tell the story of a battered society who refused to focus on the internal outcomes of a devastating war and instead on the external excuses and outlets. From here we witness Russian Revolution, the disenchantment of Weimar Germany and her road to National Socialism, and ultimately the Holocaust, the greatest, tragic form of othering. The history, achieved in films, such as: Battleship Potemkin (1925), M (1931), and Jud Süss (1940), along with novels like, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), the progression of chaos in Europe becomes clear in the muddied hoof prints of the notorious Horsemen.The only question that remains: “Where does the story go from here?”
The Fall of the House of Hitler: Nazi Cinema and the Third Reich 1939-45
The fall of the Third Reich possesses certain quintessential features of a gothic tale: a haunted house (state), dreary landscape (total war), sickness (anti-Semitism), a duel personality (Nazism & European Jewry), and madness (Holocaust). For all its identifiable historic events, part of the terror in the Reich’s final years (1939-45) is in its vagueness. We can say for certain is that the majority did, on some level, eaten from the völk laced cake of Hitler’s ideology. What we cannot say for certain is when the German populace started to doubt their Führer. Nazi ideology had worked to bring Germany together through propaganda and popular fascist motifs. But in the end, we begin to see through cinematographic evidence that the people of the Third Reich had witnessed the true intentions behind the mask of their Führer. The spring months of communal spirituality (gemülichkeit) had passed; the cold bitter months of disillusionment and discontent were blooming. Attempts in maintaining national cohesion is what drove Nazi propaganda, through films, such as: Jew Süss (1940), Münchhausen (1943), and Kolberg (1945); however, the blur between ideology and actuality was beginning to become more clear. If we can say anything with some certainty, it is that a majority of the German people had revered Hitler and ate his völk laced cake of Nazi ideology, but when did the façade diminish? When did the German people begin to regurgitate the poisonous consummation of belief? Through the course of this discussion, we will walk the dreary landscape of Hitler’s crumbling house, depicted in the above mentioned films and their history, with the hope of revealing the cataclysmic cliff between a charismatic leader and a disillusioned people.
The deliberate genocide of countless human lives is something that cannot be discussed dispassionately (Spielvogel, pg. 255). However, in the pursuit of accountable history, we can, at least, discuss among the various aspects concerning the Holocaust, albeit we must do so with empathy, sincerity, and the upmost respect for each individual life. The burden we are left with in studying and writing about these dark days in history is answering the question of what. What moved Hitler to enforce his “final solution?” What or how did the Germany people react to such a thing? Was the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe planned from the beginning, or was it simply an (de)evolution of popular thought? According to historian Jackson Spielvogel, author of Hitler and Nazi Germany, “Hitler’s ideological stance [in his manifesto, Mein Kampf, clearly] called for the elimination of the ‘evil’ Jews if the Aryan race were to survive” (pg. 256). To begin with, we can say from what we know regarding historiography, that Hitler manipulated an emotional response, an already predisposed suspension for the causes of Germany’s failure in WWI, among a post Treaty of Versailles population. That somehow, the fall of Germany was the fault of the Jew. What we cannot say is if he actually believed that Jews needed to be eliminated. However, in the end, Hitler did use “popular sentiment in Germany” (pg. 256), in essence, to eventually carry himself to power, because to some extent, the people agreed with the rhetoric that spued from the Führer’s sermonized rants. Had the people not agreed, perhaps Hitler would have never had the support to infiltrate the Weimar Republic.
This begs the question of how widespread anti-Semitism was among the German people. It could be said that there was, at least, two traditions of anti-Semitism in Germany: the religious and the political. Consider the medieval Christian opinion that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ. Though attempts were made to convert Jews to Christianity, gradually the two became even more divided, festering a sense of fear and hatred for Jewry among thirteenth century Germany. Consider the final works of Martin Luther, who had advocated peace and love and patience, because Luther had believed that after “Christianity had been corrected by the Reformation” (Spielvogel, pg. 258), the Jews would naturally move toward conversion. When Luther became aware that the Jewish community simply did not wish to convert, regardless of Christian creed, he became indignant, increasingly impatient, angry, advocating violence and malcontent towards Jews in Germany. According to Spielvogel, “in 1543, [Luther] published a bitter tract against [the Jews] entitled The Jews and Their Lies, in which he characterized the Jews as criminals desiring world rule…and a plague to Germany” (Spielvogel, pg. 258). During the rise and continuation of the Third Reich, Luther’s poisonous words against the Jews were constantly publicized during Nazi party rallies as an “historic account” from a legendary national hero.
Secondly, consider anti-Semitism as a political beast. The power of anti-Semitism can be found in an historic account of German nationalism. From the old empirical state of 1871, Germany, even then, had a sense of misfortune to have Jews within their nation, implying that even when a Jew was to be born in Germany that does not make them a German; she is still a Jew (Spielvogel, pg. 258). According to Spielvogel, prior to WWI, political anti-Semitism did begin to decline, losing its appeal among the German people; however, during and after WWI, anti-Semitism found new soil in the hearts and minds of the German people through discontent with of the Weimar Republic, the depression, and especially among of the angry right-winged voices of the conservative German Nationals Peoples Party (Nazis). In the two areas of human rational thought, the political and the religious, anti-Semitism was equally strong and fervent; however, history also teaches us that this was not a symptom unique to Germany. So we are left to postulate the nagging question of how widespread and embedded hatred and fear of “the Jew” really was in Germany. Anti-Semitism seems to have been enough to get Hitler in power, but was it enough to follow the Führer’s “final solution,” and total war, to the very end?
Regardless of the debate between developed or naturalistic racism, the fact of the matter is, it exists in all forms and classes of society. There seems to be on some baser level a natural instinct of suspension for “the other,” those that look or act or talk different then ourselves. Here in America, we have had our own sordid tales of fear of “the other.” Consider our long history with slavery, Civil Rights, the Red Scare and McCarthyism, to name a few examples of our own brands of intolerance. However, it seems rather absurd to compare America with Nazi Germany, for obvious reasons. So, what really makes the difference between the expected levels of racism in society and the extreme, such as the case with Germany’s Third Reich, Hitler’s “final solution,” the Holocaust, and total war? Enduring a major war whilst maintaining control of the hearts and minds on the home front was the challenge, according to historian Jeremy Noakes, author of Nazism: 1919-1945 Volume 4, German Home Front in World War II, “for which [the Nazi regime] had been preparing [for] since its takeover of power in 1933” (pg.465), namely, against what Hitler and the Nazi party declared as “Jewish-Marxist agitators.” The responsibility of ensuring the people that Germany would “never again [be stabbed in the back],” fell upon the shoulders of Hitler’s minister of Propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels.
Speaking to a group of radio officials soon after his appointment as Minster of Propaganda, Goebbels related that “the mobilization of the mind is as necessary, perhaps even more necessary than the material mobilization of the nation…We did not lose [WWI] because our artillery gave out but because the weapons of our minds did not fire” (Noakes, pg. 465). Here, Goebbels is insinuating that Germany did not lose the first war because of German military efforts, but because the hearts and minds of the people had been compromised. In the early years of the Third Reich, Goebbels’ propaganda machine remained rather vague and focused primarily on instilling “military spirit” and a nationalistic pride in films such as: Triumph of the Will and Hitler Youth Quex; however, as the Second World War progressed, the function of propaganda shifted to “mobilize[ing] the energy [of] commitment of the population for the war effort and to sustain [German] moral” (Noakes, pg.466). At first, propaganda was generated to convince the population that the German aggressions carried out from 1939-41 were actually a measure of pre-emptive defense. However, even as early as 1940, and continuing through 1945, Goebbels’ propaganda effort “turned up the heat,” becoming less vague, and began to focus on, what Hitler deemed, the internal threat. In the face of probable defeat, propaganda emphasized, through literally works and cinematography, a “conspiracy orchestrated by the Jews who dominated both [war fronts]” (Noakes, pg.466). In works such as, Sozialparasitismus im Völkerleben (Social Parasitism in the Life of the Nations) and Jew Süss, the “naturalistic application of the word parasite to the Jews [blended] with the mythical images of a vampire…[as a] purely ‘scientific’ argument” (The Jewish Parasite, pg. 20-21). For Nazi instigators and propagandist, such as Alfred Rosenberg and Goebbels, the issue with the Jew was not a moral judgment, but a “biological reality” (pg. 22). For Goebbels, the goal was to convince through media, in characters such as Joseph Süss Oppenheimer, that the Jew was no more than a tentacled parasite that would gradually invade society “through the open wounds of the people, consuming their creative forces and hastening the doom of [the German population]” (pg. 22).
Jud Süss, also known as Jew Süss, was more than a racist film. According to historian Susan Tegel, the notoriety of Jud Süss derived “solely from being an antisemitic film which was [also] a box-office success” (Holocaust and the Moving Image, pg.76). The Third Reich produced nearly 1,100 featured films, of those, only 229 were credited as being propaganda. Of these, according to Tegel, “only 96 were Staatsauftragsfilme (state-commissioned films), and of them Jew Süss was one of the most important” (pg.76). Why? The early periods of Third Reich cinema, as far back as 1933, featured few Jewish tropes; in retrospect, they were the thundering backdrop to a growing storm. It wasn’t until 1940 when Germany was introduced to provocative characters, such as: Joseph Süss Oppenheimer. According to film historian Eric Rentschler, in his work, The Elective Other, Jew Süss was, “Nazi cinema’s most controversial and contested film, just as its director, Veit Harlan, is (next to Leni Riefenstahl) the Third Reich’s most controversial and contended filmmaker [that held the ability to] ignite fierce passions [among the people, insomuch as] it [also] became the central exhibit in [the directors] postwar trial for crimes against humanity” (pg.149-150). Jew Süss performs as Hitler’s existential partner. On one hand, the focus is forced at one target, a target that doesn’t, according to Hitler, belong in Germany, and preparing “the German populace for the ‘final solution,’ the deportation and mass murder of European Jewry” (pg.149); while on the other hand, this fabrication of “the enemy” becomes a necessity in creating a complete gemeinschaft (or gemülichkeit) reality, in other words, the Nazi could not exist without the Jew (pg. 154).
Till the very end, Jew Süss remained Joseph Goebbels’ most effect piece of propaganda manifested in the guise of provocative “historic” entertainment; suggestive in research as it was in the portrayal of, so-called, “accurate” caricatures of the other, “latterday [Dracula’s] who…infect the German corpus” (pg. 156). According the Rentschler, Jew Süss is a monstrous entity in the history of cinematography (pg.150), but for the German people of the Third Reich, Jew Süss was something much more sinister. The film claims historic accuracy, though generic at best, for Germany. The tale of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer was something familiar, though perhaps not easily recognizable. Jew Süss played off pre-established notions of anti-Semitism, which gave historic evidence “that penetrated surface appearances and promised to show the Jew’s ‘real face’” (pg.155), and the fate of a country who allowed Jewry to exist among its population. According to Rentschler, if we can “read this film as a Nazi fantasy, it can tell us how Germans in the Third Reich saw the other and how they defined themselves in relation to that other” (pg.154). It’s interesting to note that there are few German heroes or sympathetic characters in Nazi cinematography; however, apparently the characture Süss (Ferdinand Marian) “received fan mail from [smitten] female spectators” (pg.158).
The fantasy of Jewish “machinations [sucking] the Swabian state dry” (pg.156) can be clearly seen in the dialogue between characters Karl Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, and Süss Oppenheimer, the shifty nomad “whose preferred countenance is the masquerade” (pg.155). Towards the end of the film, during an evening of fireworks and entertainment prepared by Oppenheimer, the Duke, in a cathartic moment, asks for Süss to reveal his inner face, pleading, “Ha, what does he really look like, what does he really look like?” (154). Süss replies sarcastically, “How am I really supposed to look?” According to Rentschler, film maker Viet Harlan, in his Nazi propaganda film Jew Süss invites the audience to beg the question: who or what is the Jew? And the above scene illustrates a provoked response: according to Harlan, Jews are sadistic and cruel creatures, masters of disguise and manipulators of image, beastly and equally cunning (pg.155) who offer the German corpus an alternative self, a conjured attractiveness derived from a long “tradition of anti-Semitic projections that accompanied the rise of the German bourgeoisie” (pg.164). Upon the film’s release to the public, subsequent responses echoed “sentiment [that] Jew Süss was horrible and authentic, fantastic yet…frighteningly real” (pg.155). For the German people of the Third Reich, Jew Süss presented for them a real and lasting image of the “Jewish problem,” a problem that would need to be resolved through action set in reality, the deportation and extermination of European Jewry. According to Spielvogel, Hitler was determined to carry his Nazi ideology across Europe, establishing his own brand of New Order. For Germans on the home front, “Nazi domestic policies…were influenced by war conditions, [and] also by Hitler’s perception that Germany had collapsed in World War I because of the home front” (pg. 220). The once revered savior of Germany was becoming more and more tyrannical in his determination in not repeating the past mistakes of 1918. In September of 1939, there was a notable contrast in how the German people identified with, once again, going to war. According to Spielvogel, “in August 1914, there had been crowds cheering in the streets, a profusion of waving flags, processions, and flowers to accompany German troops marching off to war” (pg.230). But as Hitler reignited the machines of war, the people remained silent. The only sign of enthusiasm was from “devout Nazis who believed the Führer was always right and who were eager” (pg.230) for vengeance. In the face of lacking total enthusiasm and support, Hitler was even more determined to maintain morale on the home front, than, one could say, winning the war itself.
During the first years of the war (1939-41), the Nazi Blitzkrieg (rapid conquests) won many victories for Germany, and from these conquered enemies came a mass procurement of materials for war. On the home front, armament product was unnecessary, and so, the maintained production of consumer products, and the importation of grain, silk, champagne, lace, chocolate, and “other goods from occupied Europe kept the German people relatively content” (Spielvogel, pg.231). However, near the end of 1941, in the face of fighting a two front war, a change in priorities could no longer be avoidable. The cost of ultimate victory began to weigh heavily on the minds of the German people. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, was keenly aware of the growing problem. But each message of Hitler’s genius was becoming increasingly rejected in the face of continued defeat in battle. According to Spielvogel, by 1942, “Goebbels had come to believe it was time to be brutally frank with the German people about the real military situation Germany faced” (Hitler and Nazi Germany, pg.239); however, Hitler, still fearing losing control on the home front, refused Goebbles’ suggestion. The mood and morale of the German people deteriorated as rapidly as British bombs had begun to fall on German cities; war had come home to rouse discontent and disillusionment against the fracturing ideology of the Nazi regime.
In the face of Hitler’s crumbling house, Goebbels sought to transform military defeat into spiritual renewal. According to film historian Eric Rentschler, the Minster of Propaganda “painstakingly choreographed and [in] electrifying performance, he let out all the stops, rousing his listeners with a call for ‘total war,’ a comprehensive remobilization” (The Ministry of Illusion, pg.193) of both mind and spirit. The film Münchhausen premiered on Ufa’s twenty-fifth anniversary as an form of psychological escape from the 900 tons of bombs, thousands of destroyed buildings, 600 fires, 711 civilian casualties, and more than 35,000 homeless, for a shell-shocked Berlin still living in the Third Reich (Rentschler, pgs. 193-194). Münchhausen acted as a placebo, a German fantasy of sensuality, decadence, and eroticism, all the things Germany had been denied in Nazi containment and control polices, because the realities of life in the Third Reich were beginning to become unbearable; discontentment was becoming more difficult to muzzle, and the bark of the German voice desired escape.
Baron von Münchhausen, another historic transfiguration of late eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, was an “improbable first-person [narrative, sustaining] …a bizarre humor and an immodest staccato, commingling hyperbole and tongue-in-cheek” (pg.194). The Baron is always “a background player in history [parading] in the age of memorable monarchs. He becomes the lover of Catherine the Great and he is a captive at the court of the Ottoman Emperor Abdul Hamid I. Reference is [also] made to Maria Theresa of Austria and to Stanislaus II of Poland” (Peter Christensen, Baron Münchhausen and the Third Reich, pg.14). Pursued by the Inquisition, the baron commandeers a balloon, traveling upward, to the moon in what could only be described as a “Nazi Wizard of Oz, [constituting] undoubtedly…the grand exception [of traditional propaganda], so it would seem, among the feature films of the Third Reich” (Rentschler, pg.201).
According to Rentschler, “for its original audience, [Münchhausen] offered therapeutic relief, a tale about a man who masters his own destiny and marshals the march of time” (pg.195); a story about Germany eternal, a Germany in which, as the film states, “Everybody knows about…but no one really knows” (Münchhausen, 1943). With state-of-the-art wizardry, Goebbels “sought to reanimate a paralyzed nation” (pg.196) and heroize absentee fathers in the face of Baron von Münchhausen as the state, and his faithful companion, Christian Kuchenreutter, as the German fighting man.
The iconic central image of Münchhausen straddling a cannonball as it zooms through the air, turning toward the audience and tipping his hat, will forever immortalize the baron as a human projectile; Germany as a human projectile in the efforts of total war. Despite its wide and celebrated reception, Münchhausen is still a fabricated world with a “sham hero [inviting] its audiences to share the fantasy;” a desperate attempt at resuscitating the hearts and minds of the German people. According to Rentschler, the baron could be interpreted as the Third Reich’s last action hero, a ditch effort in transforming the mythic image of the Aryan race into a living reality; however, dissolving before the viewer, Münchhausen reveals the machinations of Nazi propaganda and the “hollowness of special effects…whose ultimate extension could be but one thing: the end” (pg.213).
In The Shadow of Death in Germany at the End of the Second World War, author Richard Bessel notes that “during the last year of the Second World War, more Germans died than in any other year before or since. [Essentially, by] …1945, Germany became a land of the dead” (pg.51). The most significant contributor of death for Germans was in military action, “which claimed the lives of [a] astronomical numbers of soldiers in the final stages of the war.” To say the least, death was at the very center of daily life in Germany. However, this loss of life came not in the first years of the war, but in the waning and bitter months between January, and lasting till Germany’s eventual surrender in May, of 1945. During these months, the Soviet offensive crushed the Wehrmacht from East Prussia and into southern Poland. The Allied bombing campaign against Germany was at its highest peak, cities across Germany were bombed day and night, and a few were even utterly destroyed. Of the Germans that did not die, 12 million were homeless. According to Spielvogel, out of the 21,000 antiaircraft guns and German fighter planes located throughout western Germany, none “were sufficient to stop the Allied planes. [The majority of] antiaircraft guns were manned by teenage boys and girls as more men were drained off into the army” (pg.242). In contrast to the end of WWI, when German troops still stood well beyond the borders of the Reich as they surrendered, in the last battles of WWII, both solider and civilian were still fighting and dying within Germany; according to Bessel, “the dead fell not in France or Russia, but in Berlin and Breslau” (pg.52). In a radio message from a Heinrich Himmler, the acting Supreme Commander of the Replacement Army, to the Governor of Lower Bavaria, the following orders were given:
“The Reichsführer SS issues the following instructions… [you are to] maintain a stubborn, uncompromising determination to carry on [and] where there is a white flag…all the male persons of the house concerned are to be shot. There must be no hesitation in carrying our these measures” (Noakes, Vol. 4, pg.658).
And, according to Bessel, in the final months, “the Nazi regime made a point of displaying the corpses of ‘cowards’ so that all could see” (pg.53). Günter Grass, recalling some sixty years after the fall of the house of Hitler, as a seventeen year old boy in the Waffen-SS, that “The first dead that I saw were not Russians, but Germans. They were hanging from the trees; many of them were my age” (Bessel, pg.53). Such public death was not the only method the Third Reich used to manipulate the German population. An entry in Joseph Goebbels’ diary articulates the spawn of total war, in a confession of sorts, just a few weeks before his own suicide, that “we must always lead the German people back to the basic thesis of how we wage war and make it clear to them that they have no other choice but to fight or to die” (Bessel, pg.54).
As German civilians began becoming accustomed to living in bombed out building and air-raid shelters, propaganda films, such as Jew Süss and Münchhausen, effectively lost their appeal, especially as more and more theaters were being destroyed by Allied bombs, and as the Allied forces, on both fronts, began to become closer and closer to Berlin. Goebbles’ propaganda films in 1945, including Kolberg, were only effective insomuch as in their actual predictions of the coming horrors that awaited Germany, especially German women. According to author Atina Grossmann, in her article, A Question of Silence: The Rape of German Women by Occupation Soldiers, “Goebbels’ propaganda – for once – turned out to be correct… [In later accounts] many women reported feeling that they were reenacting a scene in a film they had already seen when the drama they were expecting actually unfolded: soldiers with heavy boots, unfamiliar faces, and shining flashlights entered a darkened cellar, searched for weapons and watches, and then revolver in hand, commanded the proverbial, ‘Frau, Komm’” (pg.52). By 1945, in the wake of the encroaching Red Army, such depictions as above, and other sordid accounts of rape, were becoming widely publicized; a shared collective experience during an event of general crisis, both horrific in nature and frightful in execution (pg. 53).
Released on the anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power, January 30, 1945, Kolberg came at a time when all of Germany knew “the war was long-since lost” (Culbert, pg.449). Kolberg was one of the last propaganda films to come from the desperate mind of Joseph Goebbels: a cinematic justification for complete and utter total war. Goebbels spared no expense, pulling out all the stops, in what would obviously be one of the last propaganda films in his ministry. The actors’ performance was as superbly as if it were their last, as was the case for Heinrich George, who performed in such films as: Metropolis (1927), Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex), and Jew Süss, who would later die in a Soviet concentration camp in September of 1946. Thousands of soldiers were pulled from the front lines as extras to give aid to Veit Harlan’s vision of exaggeration, an artistic depiction of the courage and strength and unity of the German population in the face of such desperate situations (Culbert, pg.451), carrying the message to never surrender. In a speech made by the passionate character Nettelbeck to a despondent Gneisenau, he pleads, “We know every stone, every corner, every house. We won’t surrender even if we have to claw the ground with our nails. In Kolberg we don’t give up. They’ll have to cut off our hands or slay us one by one” (Kolberg, 1945). Yet even Kolberg could not turn the tide. Hitler’s house had fallen. The once revered leader of the Third Reich, on January 16, 1945, hid in what would be known as simply, the Bunker: his final wartime headquarters, which would later become his tomb. In his last testament, Hitler continued with the same arguments, that “international Jewry would eventually be seen as the culprit” (Spielvogel, pg.217). And on April 30, he and Eva Brown, his recently wed wife, committed suicide, their bodies were quickly burned, per Hitler’s request, and one week later, on May 7, the remaining forces of Germany surrendered unconditionally.
We know how the story ends. Through such films as: Triumph of the Will (1934), Hitler Youth Quex (1933), La Habanera (1937), Jew Süss (1940), Münchhausen (1943), and finally, Kolberg (1945), (to name a few) we are given a sneak peek behind the curtain of how effective Nazi propaganda played in the hearts and minds of the German people. Arguably, we can assume that there was indeed widespread support and acceptance of Hitler’s Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism among the lives of the common Völk. The first three films mentioned above illustrate the acceptance of aesthetic fascism, the indoctrination of youth, and the importance of obedient mothers within the development of the Third Reich, in the guise of “genuine” entertainment. However, beginning with Jew Süss, Hitler’s Iron Gate had begun to close ever so tightly. Jew Süss gave the German people a collective and singular enemy to focus their discontent and anger. Münchhausen was the first of many attempts in distracting the Germany population to the realities of war.
However, as we reach the dawning months of 1945, films like Kolberg depicted Goebbles’ last attempt to provoke mass suicide in fighting to the last man, woman, and child; all the horrors of total war. It was during these moments during the war in which the German people, the once exalted and mighty Völk, regurgitate the poisonous conception of belief in their Führer’s ideology nightmare. As Allied forces marched through the streets of Berlin, most Germans welcomed them with a sigh of relief, but as they began to look around them, I’d imagine they probably recalled the promises the Führer had made: that he would win the heart of the world, but to do so, he would need Germany to play their part. Mass death was no doubt traumatic for Germany. However, in a way, it was also opportune excuse; creating on one hand deep imprints of brutality and death that lingered in a postwar culture, and on the other hand, the trauma was, one could say, an easy space goat in avoiding the memories of their overall involvement in the criminality of the Third Reich. Either way, Germany paid the high price of Hitler’s Third Reich in the coming years of the Cold War. The German people had given Hitler everything, and they likewise enjoyed, for a time, the sweet depravity of the völk laced cake, for if anything, Hitler’s ideology did create a seemingly unified gemeinschaft, but at what cost? Upon the ashes of Hitler’s fallen house, and the stink of millions lost, within the second half of the twentieth century, somehow the German people were able to rebuild themselves from the wreckage, something resembling a “normal” peaceful society.
Montgomery, 1955: the proving grounds of mass noncooperation
To be honest, this is the first review, post, article, paper, i’ve ever written on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m sure i’ve quoted a few words from famous speeches, i’ve no doubt hash-tagged or paraphrased some portion of the man’s life, but, to date, i’ve never taken the time to really write about him. Its a shame really, in the all to brief 39 years of his life, there is so much to be said, especially during the Civil Rights era, with his involvement spanning (arguably) from 1955-1968. In just thirteen years, a man only really known for as the son of Martin Luther King Sr., would rise of the unequivocal leader of a nonviolent Negro revolution. King was a man not lacking personal accomplishments, some of which included: the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream,” awarded five honorary degrees, named Man of the Year by Time magazine (1963), and became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1964).
One of the most enduring bits of King’s history, is from his humble beginnings with the Civil Rights Movement, before it was even the Civil Rights Movement. In the “cradle of confederacy,” also known as Montgomery, Alabama, history was brewing. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was, as it seems, a “proving ground” for future nonviolent protests. Was the bus boycott intended to such proposes? No, before the boycott, no one, especially King, expected the magnitude of overwhelming participation from the people. Consider Jim Crow was in full swing, and before Rosa Parks became the Rosa Parks, she had already previously encountered the cruel and humiliating treatment of bus drivers enforcing segregated busing codes. During one encounter, in 1943, after already paying her fair, the bus driver ordered Mrs Parks to enter the bus from the rear, instead of the front as you would typically enter a bus. Before she was able to climb on board, the driver took off. Or consider when Vernon Johns, a black pastor, “tried to get other blacks to leave a bus in protest after he was forced to give up his seat to a white man, only to have them tell him, ‘You ought to knowed better.'”
The last bit, from Vernon Johns’ testimony, really gives a clear and haunting picture for why King had feared how the bus boycott could be a failure. He feared, along with other local leaders, that the majority had accepted Jim Crow to the point of non protest and cooperation. However, much to his and his wife’s astonishment, on the morning of December 5, 1955, around six o’clock, from the privacy of their kitchen window they watched the first of many buses drive by with only a few white passengers. None of the black population were riding the buses. It was here when the King’s first witnessed unanimous mass noncooperation with the how African Americans were being treated on the buses. After a quick drive around town, King estimated around 99% participation; he had previously assumed (or prayed for, more actually) at least a 60% participation. And what began as a single day of protest, in the wave of mass participation, turned into a year long struggle. On November 13, 1956, “the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal court’s ruling, declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was officially over.”
Though, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was small, its impact helped launch of what Roberta Wright called, “a 10-year national struggle for freedom and justice, the Civil Rights Movement, that stimulated others to do the same at home and abroad.” How? Why? Well, in the words of King, “there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by oppression. there comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice. The story of Montgomery is the story of 50,000 such Negroes who were willing to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery until the walls of segregation were finally battered by the forces of justice.”Sources: Martin Luther King Jr., “Stride Toward Freedom,” Beacon Press, 1958. “Martin Luther King Biographical,” Nobel Peace Prize article, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html. (Accessed on Jan 20, 2014). Lisa Cozzens, “The Montgomery Bus Boycott,” http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/civilrights-55-65/montbus.html (Accessed on Jan 20, 2014).
Charles Lindbergh: before the Spirit of St. Louis
If you don’t know who Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974) is, then the first you should know is why he’s famous…or was famous. You may have only heard his last name, Lindbergh, in connection to something to do with aviation or perhaps the Lindbergh baby, the kidnapping of Charles’ son, Jr. Whatever the case may be, you should at least know that on May 21st, at 10:21 p.m., 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh became the first person to cross the Atlantic from New York City, to Paris, France nonstop. Not only did Lindbergh cross the Atlantic, but he was the first to do so solo. From his biography, “Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field, near New York City, at 7:52 A.M. He landed at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, on May 21 at 10:21 P.M. Paris time (5:21 P.M. New York time). Thousands of cheering people had gathered to meet him. He had flown more than 3,600 miles (5,790 kilometers) in 33 1/2 hours. Lindbergh’s heroic flight thrilled people throughout the world. He was honored with awards, celebrations, and parades. President Calvin Coolidge gave Lindbergh the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
The reason why all this was a big deal is because after WWI, aviation had been romanticized. Pilots lived considerable short lifespans and folks all over adored their heroic feats. But even after the war and tales of aerial dogfights dwindled, aviation was still vague and new, especially in America, despite being its birthplace. Consider that during the spring of 1927, there were no commercial flights, only stunt performers and Barnstormers. Charles Augustus Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis changed everything. By late summer 1927, Lindbergh was on tour “throughout the United States to encourage air-mindedness on behalf of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.” So, if you didn’t know who Charles Lindbergh was, you should at least know about his legendary flight. And though his name isn’t often uttered in public conversations anymore, he was an important piece in the fabric of our collective memory. But Lindbergh, just like most people in history, did not start out as an international superstar. Lindbergh had rather humble beginnings, some of which have fallen into obscurity. Here are a few worth consideration:
- Charles Augustus Lindbergh…had only been flying solo for about four years before his famous transatlantic flight.
- Lindbergh is not his original family name, his grandfather changed it to Lindbergh from Månsson in 1859 after fleeing Sweden under “dubious” circumstances. Something to do with an affair with a mistress and an illegitimate son, Lindbergh’s father, and a financial scandal. Månsson left his wife and four children when he came to America with his new wife/mistress and son.
- Charles had an unimpressionable childhood. After his flight, reporters flooded his hometown in Little Falls, Minnesota looking for anecdotes about his boyhood, yet none of his past school mates could think of any.
- Charles went to school with Theodore Roosevelt’s sons.
- He flunked out of University of Wisconsin…
- …only to excel as an aviator.
- Lindbergh had a short career as a stunt performer, wing walker, Barnstormer. He stopped after a failed attempt at taking off from Main Street in Camp Wood, Texas…in which he spun his plane through the front window of a hardware store.
- He was known as a cruel practical joker.
- After only serving one year in the Army Air Reserve, Lindbergh emerged with the rank of Captain.
- Charles Augustus Lindbergh was only 25 when he became the first person to ever cross the Atlantic nonstop.
History is full of unsung heroes. It really isn’t all that difficult to find remarkable people whose memory of has somehow faded away. Consider your neighbor across the street, you can’t remember his name but he served as a paratrooper in the 82nd’s three parachute infantry regiments and took part in one of the largest airborne assaults in history, during D-Day on a little beach called Normandy, France. Or the quite lady who sits next to you in church who at one point in her life served on the front lines in Vietnam, patching together wounded and mutilated soldiers. The names of these unsung heroes are kept hidden away from mainstream awareness, neatly tucked away in some old and dusty record, filed away undisturbed. Some of the most tragic among unsung heroes are from our own historiography, our forgotten allies. During the Revolutionary War, despite the considerable hardship placed upon The People of the Standing Stone, the Oneidas helped free us from the British Empire. Yet, unless you’re a historian or really into Revolutionary history, you’ll never hear about the Oneida people who refused to follow the majority of their kin, the Iroquois Confederacy, and thus separating themselves, with much heartache, from the remaining Five Nations. While the entire Oneida and Tuscaroras tribe deserves recognition for fidelity to the revolutionary cause, today we’re going to talk about just one Oneida, Polly Cooper.
Why should you know who Polly Cooper is?
Good question, i’m glad you asked!
Polly Cooper is one of the best examples for who the Oneida people are collectively. She was a generous woman who was also courageous and indomitable. During the cruel winter between 1777-78, a time of few wins and heavy loses against the British and also a precarious time for the Oneidas, as they were doing their utmost to keep the entire Six (technically seven) Nations neutral in the conflict between, as they saw it, two brothers, Polly Cooper arrived at Valley Forge on the morning of April 25, 1777. According to historian Joseph Glatthaar and James Martin, “the Oneidas had enjoyed an abundant corn crop the previous year, and they knew about the food shortages facing Washington’s army,” as the lone woman on this over 250 mile expedition, Polly Cooper “joined to show Continental soldiers how to prepare the hulled corn soup that served as a mainstay of the Iroquois diet.” The American situation was indeed, to say the least, desperate. Many of the Continental soldiers, starving, were boarding eating the corn raw, which would have swelled the stomachs causing internal damages and in severe cases, death.
While the warriors familiarized themselves with “Washington and his army,” Polly familiarized herself with those in need, the troops. She “went to work preparing hulled corn soup…[and] although the Oneidas lacked the corn and transportation capacity to feed the entire army in Pennsylvania, any little bit helped.” Polly not only fed Washington’s hungry soldiers, but she showed them how to improve “the nutritional quality and taste of their sparse diets” by mixing available fruits and nuts to the pot. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture how much Polly Cooper did for the morale of Washington’s army.
Polly Cooper accepted no payment for her service. And, according to oral tradition, Washington and his staff was so impressed with her generosity that “the commanding general’s wife, Martha, gave Polly a shawl, a gift that the Oneida people still cherish.” However, her name is nearly forgotten in the annals of mainstream history and at best, a footnote even in American Revolutionary research. In the restoration of our collective memories, we should remember the name Polly Cooper and the rest of her Oneida and Tuscaroras brothers and sisters, without whom the revolutionaries would not have persevered in claiming their independence.
The History and Future of Everything
Here’s an amazing video done up by the ingenious minds of KURZGESAGT & WAITBUTWHY!
Roanoke Colony: a few things everyone should know
Somehow, the story of Roanoke Colony has lost its historic significance. Its an ambiguous story to be sure, with little surviving evidence and first person testimony and a growing sense of legend. Regardless, the story of Roanoke Colony is an important memory to keep alive. Why? Despite its ambiguity, there are significant first encounters we cannot ignore. Encounters of idealism and philanthropy, violence and decapitations, of life and new discoveries, and also of murder and death. These are some of the first encounters between English settlers and natives of the Late Woodland Indians of the coastal Carolina region, the very same who would later encounter more colonists in Jamestown and possibly as far north as Plymouth Rock. Here are a few things everyone should know regarding this early history of English colonization:
Sir Walter Raleigh inherited the patent for colonization in America from his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who had drowned while attempting to colonize St. Johns, Newfoundland. The patent was issued by Queen Elizabeth I, who did not really care so much about establishing a permanent English settlement in America per-say; but rather, a pirate base for English privateers, such as the infamous Sir Francis Drake, who were terrorizing Spanish outposts and fleets in the Caribbean and along the Florida coastline. However, because the contract was about to expire, Sir Raleigh was forced to execute the expedition post-haste, leaving the colonists so ill-prepared and so severely dependent on local inhabitants for food, that they never actually built anything except for crude defensive structures and living quarters.
The “lost” colony everyone talks about wasn’t the first “lost” colony to disappear from Roanoke Island. Technically, the first colonists to be “lost” were roughly fifteen men made up mostly of slaves and captured natives from the Caribbean left behind by Sir Francis Drake (who arrived at Roanoke Island under the assumption that there was supposed to be an actual working pirate base for him to unload some of his cargo), and a few men from the English garrison to hold the fort and maintain an English presence in America…with no real promise to return… When John White’s crew landed on Roanoke Island in 1587, a full year later, there was no sign of the men left behind.
The mystery of the “lost colonists” of Roanoke Island, the lost members of John White’s crew, including his daughter Eleanor Dare and granddaughter, Virginia, is really no mystery at all. Considering the misadventured exploits of the previous expedition with Govern Lane and company and their not-so-stunning rapport with the local Algonquian (Late Woodland Indians of the coastal Carolina region) communities which culminated with the destruction of Dasemunkepeuc village and the murder and beheading of Wingina, the weroance (leader) by one of Lane’s servants, a young Irish boy named Edward Nugent, is it really a surprise when White was persuaded to leave the colony and seek help from England after George Howe was “murdered while fishing alone in shallow water,” that upon his delayed return he found the settlement abandoned? However, what’s important to note here is that, surprisingly, not every native tribe hated this fresh group of colonists. Somehow White, among the Secota, Aquascogoc, and Damonquepeio tribes, was able to reestablish a positive relationship with the nearby Croatoans. The same name that so happened to be carved into one of the fort posts of the missing colony. “After failed attempts [to find the missing colonists] and poor weather, the fleet White is traveling with sets course for England.” White had intended to search further south on Croatoan Island for the colonists, but the crew (all privateers) refused to do so. The “real” mystery then becomes, not so much about what happened, but what definitively happened to the colonists who disappeared. Yet, history is full of little ambiguous pieces of memory; very few things are ever truly definitive. White died three years later in 1593 and the next expedition, under the authority of King James, known as Jamestown, would not happen for an additional seventeen years.
Roanoke Colony is an amazing story to be sure, but leaving it in myth and folklore devalues the lessons we can learn from this early memory of English settlement in America. Basically, in summation, a couple botched attempts at colonization and some of the first relationships and contacts among native peoples of among the Algonquians, the supposed same groupings colonists in Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, 22 & 37 years respectively after Roanoke, encountered and how these new encounters first effected and transformed the “New World.”Sources: Michael Leroy Oberg, “The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians,” University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
My Brother’s Keeper: Understanding the Holocaust Series part 2 (Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Deniers)
Knowing when or if to act is a convoluted and complicated matter. There is a interesting proverb that steams from the biblical account of Cain and Abel when God had asked Cain the whereabouts of his younger brother. Cain, in his jealousy, had secretly murdered his brother and when confronted he gives a cruel retort with, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Today, this turn-a-phrase is more commonly associated with the notion of individual responsibility for another person’s actions. Basically, are we responsible for the actions of our brothers and sisters. In the broader sense, are we responsible for the actions in our home, our village, our town, our state, or even our country? The Holocaust is a peculiar moment in history in which when looking into the actions of perpetrators, bystanders, and deniers, said question begs an answer. Hitherto, in part one in this series, we’ve sought a deeper understanding of the Holocaust by understanding Hitler and Nazi ideology, and though the two play a significant part, we must now also consider how the people reacted or didn’t if we are to discover some underlying answers to the most problematic questions we have regarding the Holocaust. The hardest answer we can attempt to infer is in understanding who these villains were. Were the perpetrators, the “ordinary Germans” living in the Third Reich, banal, that is, ordinary? And likewise, were the abysmally silent bystanders also banal? And, even more provocative, were their actions, or in most instances, indifference, toward mass persecution and ultimately mass annihilation of European Jewry just as ordinary?
In part one of “Understanding the Holocaust,” we looked at how pseudospeciation can turn “outsiders” into monsters and the disastrous effects of such a worldview, now we’ll look even deeper at the perpetrators, bystanders, and deniers and discuss, to some extent, why it is just as dangerous to view them with the same monstrous perspective.
But, before we can understand the minds of perpetrators, bystanders, and deniers, we, as Christopher Browning, author and historian, has often mentioned, must be aware that when we look into “the behavior of any human being, [which] is, of course, a very complex phenomenon, the historian who attempts to ‘explain’ it [indulges] in a certain arrogance.” Nonetheless, we will attempt this “arrogant” feat regardless. Why? If we do not talk about these issues and histories, even the more dark and mutilated moments of the human experience, general explanations and over-encompassing assumptions will end up blurring the context of memory. Instead our goal should be what is most important, the things we can walk away with, the lessons we can infer, while avoiding presentism at all costs.
With that said, the two contentions regarding the banality of evil is best understood between the two more prominent historians who have done considerable work in this field, Hannah Arendt and Jay Lifton. Arendt shows us how these killers are not otherworldly monsters or caricatures, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Her conclusion to this sense of banal evil developed during her coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial during the spring months between April 1961 and May 1962. Eichmann had been captured in Argentina for his part in the mass annihilation of European Jewry as Judenreferat, head of the Gestapo office for Jewish Affairs. Eichmann, from the comfort of his desk, had organized the transport systems which facilitated the mass deportations of millions of European Jews to extermination camps and for drafting Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich’s letter ushering the final steps toward making Nazi occupied Europe utterly judenfrei.
Eichmann was seemingly indifferent throughout his trial. He often claimed that “of Jews I had nothing to do. I never killed a Jew, or a non-Jew, for that matter. I never killed any human being.” However, according to Arendt, “the degree of responsibility increases as we draw further away from the man who uses the fatal instrument with his own hands.” Basically, Eichmann cannot claim noninvolvement in aiding and abetting the mass annihilation of European Jewry just because he sat behind a desk and didn’t physically “with his own hands” kill anyone. In Eichmann s case, the pen was more deadly than the sword. With a single signature or memorandum, millions went to their deaths. Nevertheless, Eichmann continually pressed that he was “not the monster I am made out to be,” and when he seemed to be contemplating the historiography of the Holocaust, Eichmann, near the end of his trial, declared it to have been “one of the greatest crimes in the history of Humanity.” Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for crimes against the Jewish people on a total of four counts: causality of murder, creating conditions in which Jews would be destroyed, indirectly promoting physical and mental anguish, and creating a memorandum to abort the pregnancies of Jewish women against their will in Theresienstadt (a transit/labor camp). In light of the charges, Eichmann proposed to his judges “to hang me in public as a warning example for all anti-Semites.” Though, this was in no way a sincere statement of regret or remorse for his actions, because according to Eichmann, “repentance [was] for little children.” Adolf Eichmann was hanged on May 31, 1962, just before midnight. During his trial, Arendt was continually surprised by this seemingly frail and banal man. Given Eichmann’s reputation amongst survivors and former SS staff who knew him, she had expected a monster, a beast shouting from his lock box some defiant Nazi eulogy. But he did either of those things. He was quite. He was an aging man with no real remorse. He could have been anyone’s neighbor in a quite little suburb. Invisible.
Psychologist Jay Lifton, on the other hand, offers a differing interpretation regarding Hannah Arendt’s view on the banality of evil. From his research on mostly Nazi doctors, Lifton has concluded that the phrase “banality of evil” has been overly used as a pseudo-characterization for the entire regime of Nazi perpetrators, bystanders, and deniers. Lifton accepts that “Nazi doctors were banal, but what they did was not.” Basically, Lifton is insinuating that when these ordinary men carried out demonic acts, they, in the process of those actions, changed. Lifton uses physicians in his study because of our shared qualia in seeing inherently trusted practitioners who are supposed to be healers take part in something as grotesque as the sanction and participation of mass extermination. In his article, “This World is Not This World,” Lifton mentions several conversations he had with survivors of the Holocaust, especially focusing on survivors of Auschwitz. During one such discussion, the survivor had asked “Were they [Nazis] beasts when they did what they did? Or were they human beings?” Lifton responds to the survivor agreeing that most Nazi doctors were “neither brilliant nor stupid, neither inherently evil nor particularly ethically sensitive, they were by no means the demonic figures – sadistic, fanatic, lusting to kill – people have often thought them to be.” Lifton moves away from the mad dog interpretation in which most people would associate with Nazi perpetrators, a direction most historians would agree, including Hannah Arendt; however, while Lifton shows us that these Nazi doctors were not “faceless bureaucratic cogs or automatons,” but actual human beings, he is also moving us toward a notion that is dangerously unrealistic. According to Lifton, the”doctors” participation with the euthanasia programs, the extermination of the mentality handicapped and the development of the Nazi medical ideological theory (based on the current worldwide phenomena regarding eugenics or racial purity), these perpetrators transformed entirely by “conditions conductive to evil.” Essentially, Lifton wants you to believe that ordinary people through extraordinary means can become something unordinary and unbanal. Evil that is “not of this world” is something we intuitively want to believe.
Jay Lifton’s work is both massive and impressive in dealing with the psychology of Nazi doctors and perpetrators, but in his contention with Ardent’s view on the “terribly and terrifyingly” ordinariness of evil, he seems to be ignoring our natural inclination that evil is something which resides out there, in the beyond, in the forest amongst the number of faceless Einsatzgruppen waiting and willing to aim the final killing shot aided with the cold steel of the bayonet. He refuses to look up into the faces of men and women we call perpetrators and bystanders, the faces someone else in the world might call brother or sister, father or mother. Lifton does make some rather extraordinary deductions regarding the humanistic qualities these perpetrators of die endlösung (the physical extermination of European Jewry) share, but he is also dangerously teetering the natural human tug toward dismissiveness, that their actions were somehow not their own. But, as Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Jerusalem has stated:
“[We] must remember that the Nazis were no inhuman beasts, but were perfectly human. That indeed is the problem. If they were inhuman, not like the rest of us [or as Lifton has stated, ‘not of this world’], we could just dismiss the whole issue – we are essentially different from them. But that is not true. There were unusual circumstances, to be sure, and an unusual coincidence of factors that led to Nazi atrocities. But the capability of all humans to behave like they did exists, at least potentially… the Holocaust must be seen as an extreme point on a line that may lead humanity to self-destruction unless…prevented.”
The issue with the dismissive qualia in Lifton’s view on Ardent’s banality of evil is in its denial of free will, free action. Lifton seems to paint with a broad brush that all seemingly ordinary perpetrators, in their actions, became inhuman and likewise through their inhumanity could no longer change or alter their destiny. While certainly our environment, culture, and other external factors can shape our perspective, we cannot so easily discount the abundance of historical evidence that continues to say otherwise. If Lifton is correct, then why, despite being immersed in racist and anti-Semitic propaganda, did only 80-90 percent of the men from Reserve Police Battalion 101 (Einsatzgruppen, or “killer troops,” who followed behind the regular German Army through Poland and cleared out Ghettos) instead of 100 percent actually take an active role in any killing? Or even among the ones that did, why were they issued alcohol after each Ghetto clearing. Why was, as noted by one of the policemen, “the shooting of infants and small children was avoided by almost all the men involved,” as they were clearly ordered to do so? Or why, when giving the order to clear out the Polish Ghetto in Józefów, did Major Trapp (also known as Papa Trapp) break down into tears when he gave the “frightfully unpleasant task to his men?” Did they simply not transform enough, as Lifton seems to suggest? Or were they just regular guys who could only go so far?
In a way, it would be much easier to agree with Lifton and assume that these killers were “not of this world,” and were likewise not us. This gives us the opportunity to avoid responsibility in taking action against such unordinary men. However, to the contrary, these evil doers were in fact just as ordinary as us. But its easier to sidestep than it is to take responsibility. Yet with each sidestep, someone else seems to pay the price. Consider the testimony of one survivor as they are reported to have said some thirty-five years after the death camps, how “one of the most painful aspects of being in the camp was the sensation of being totally abandoned.” If we allow evil deeds to become unbanal, we are, as Bauer has concluded, simultaneously dismissing our own involvement, dismissing “our task…to fortify elements in us that will oppose…utter immorality.” This denial that we are indeed our brother’s keeper can be seen throughout the historical account of the bystanders of die endlösung. Historian Ronnie Landau, in his encompassing and ingenious work, The Nazi Holocaust, considers the role of bystanders as:
“passive accomplices to Nazi brutality…[and that] the savage destruction of European Jewry was aided and abetted by the inaction and indifference of [these] various peoples of Nazi-dominated Europe, [including] churches, neutral countries, the international Red Cross and even those countries fighting against the Nazis.”
Simon Sibelman, the Leon Levine Distinguished Professor of Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies expresses even stronger discontent concerning bystanders, that in their “utter indifference to what they saw [are] somehow [appearing to be] less human…” and in the face of indignities suffered by the Jews, “to remain perfectly indifferent [and] adopt total passivity is a denial of human responsibility.”
The way we skirt responsibility as keepers and simply stand idly by while others are being persecuted feeds into Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil. Were bystanders otherworldly evil or simply “terrible and terrifyingly” human? Consider the banal actions of Father Coughlin, an American Catholic priest who could fill stadiums with folks craning to hear his thoughts regarding the Jewish Question, fascism, and Communism. In a radio broadcast on the night of December 11, 1938, (one month after Kristallnacht, widespread vandalism and murders of Jews in Germany) Father Coughlin avidly dismissed the persecution of European Jewry whilst simultaneously endorsing Nazi ideology concerning the fight against Bolshevism and how it was a worldwide Jewish trait to support Bolshevism. Strange by today’s standards, but perhaps not as much in Father Coughlin’s day. Yet even in its context, stereotypes abound and are just as damaging. Consider also the story of a young polish woman, who in a rare instance hid a group of armed Jewish refugees in her farmhouse in the small town of Kock, Poland. After being discovered by a company of men from Reserve Police Battalion 101 during the month of Judenjagd, or “Jew Hunt,” which lasted throughout October of 1942, the young polish rescuer was somehow miraculously able to escape the ensuing battle. However, the German police unit, after “interrogating” and then executing the survivors, was able to track the woman down to her father’s estate in a nearby village. There, “Lieutenant Brand presented the father with a stark choice – his life or his daughter’s. The man surrendered his daughter, who was shot on the spot.” Despite the cold reality this story represents, we must be careful not to make rash judgement’s or assumptions. However, we can say regarding the fathers actions was that it was indeed terrible and wrong. Why? Because it is our natural inclination to protect our children, both as a moral imperative and also a biological imperative. But can we call this seemingly uncaring father a monster? We most certainly want to. He did act monstrously, but in the end he is simply terrifyingly human. Some people listen to their moral intuition, no matter what. And some people are simply cowards, banal in every sense of the term.
However, not every bystander became a perpetrator in their indifference, some made the stark choice to act. We must remember, though, that the rescuer was not absent of fear or rationality. They knew what was at stake. Rescuers did not simply ignore the topsy-turvy moral reality in which Germany had found herself during the 20th century; these indifferent banal bystanders choice freely to act, and thus became rescuers and likewise were going against several apposing external and internal factors, including: against the grain of social and political normalcy, against legislation of the Nazi government (Nuremberg Laws), and also the internal fear of being discovered. Not just from the government, the SS, or from prying neighbors loyal to the Führer, but also from within, those the rescuers were attempting to rescue in the first place. And how rescuers dealt with those fears are as diverse as the rescuers themselves. Some, mostly the adolescent teens or young twenty-somethings, were able to ignore their fears with the “naiveté of their youth.” And according to Eva Fogelman, Holocaust historian and author of Conscience and Courage, others were able to assume stage roles (play acting) as a way to cope with the constant fear of discovery. Some were involved with underground movements or part of some other network with other rescuers; albeit, the more who knew, the more dangerous the situation became. If one was to fall, the other risked being discovered through “interrogation.”
Forms of spiritual transcendence helped as well, and, also, there were those whose rescue actions in themselves became therapy for anger and resentment harbored against the tyranny and brutality of the Third Reich. The most interesting notion of being a rescuer is in its banality. The banality of good is an interesting testament to the reality that the role of rescuer doesn’t require feats or acts of superhumanism, or perhaps as Jay Lifton might say inhuman acts “not of this world.” The banality of good is the innate ability to see others, not in terms of “us” and “them,” but simply “us,” the shared human experience. This story of the banality of good can even been seen in the agonized and analyzed actions of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat, and member of the Axis powers mind you, who feverishly issued as many as 10,000 visas to a large clamoring desperate group of Lithuania Jews “pushing against the gate of the consulate,” in the city of Kaunas on the hot summer morning of July 1940, before being forced by Soviet troops to leave the country.
Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil can even be understood within the phenomenon of modern day Holocaust deniers. According to Deborah Lipstadt, Holocaust historian and author of, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, the denial of the Holocaust has become one of the most disturbing notions of indifference and dismissiveness in history. The rhetoric of Holocaust deniers that she describes, in detail, is sinisterly reminiscent of Germany’s modus operandi concerning anti-Semitism inherit in Nazi ideology. At base, the commonalities of deniers are linked with classic stereotypes regarding Jewry: that there is a worldwide Jewish conspiracy for economic and media control. The denial seems to be, for those in the Third Reich, similar to the reports Joseph Goebbels had given about the deportation of European Jewry to concentration camps, which as stated by the Minister of Propaganda, not about annihilation, but rehabilitation. For modern deniers, doubt has been cast over many different facets of the Holocaust itself, such as: rejecting that there were six million Jews in Europe, the gas chambers, purpose of creating the Holocaust “myth” (a so-called Zionist conspiracy), and perspective (Germany was taking state actions against enemies within the state) and so on. However, both for all deniers, the Third Reich and modern “revisionists,” the denial itself is simply, at root, anti-Semitism masked behind the clever guise of pseudohistorical interpretation. Both those living under the weight of the Third Reich and the “revisionists” blur the annihilation of six-million Jews simply because of an inherently human predisposition to deny our own capacity for horrendous acts, the same capacity to which Lifton bases his view regarding the banality of evil, that when ordinary people do sinister things, they become something entirely unordinary.
Instead of facing reality in the banality of evil we call the Holocaust, despite how difficult it is, deniers consciously reject any and all historical truth that the crematoria did in fact exist as witnessed by survivors such as Helen Lewis, who in an interview with Carol Rittner, an historian and Sisters of Mercy nun, upon arrival at Auschwitz from Theresienstadt was told to “look up at the smoke. Can you smell it? Do you know what it is? It’s a crematorium but not a normal crematorium. It burns the bodies of people who were gassed a short time ago.” Instead, deniers believe the entire project as some far-fetched Zionist-tall-tale, because, for whatever reason, conspiracies are easier to accept then anything resembling what really happened and what people are really capable of, which was: the destruction of six million Jews, who suffered and died at hands of terrible and terrifyingly banal people, either by being rounded up and shot by the Einsatzgruppen or selection, worked to death or initially being ushered into the gas chambers, or by starvation and disease in the camps, or even by medical experimentation or hunted down in the forests and towns of Nazi occupied Europe. According to Lipstadt, underneath, the deniers are “invective about Jewish power and influence and… [are convinced] that Jews have the most sinister intentions.” We could, of course, simply dismiss the claims deniers are making, because their claims are so obviously ridiculous; however, we need to consider something “terrible and terrifyingly” ordinary they represent. Consider that we are now, as of 2013, two generations removed from the events of the Holocaust. The memory of survivors and first person accounts and testimonies are quickly falling into the realm of ancient history. General knowledge regarding the Holocaust has already stared to decline. According to Lipstadt, a Gallup poll conducted during the 1990’s, to ascertain the public’s level of general knowledge regarding the events during the Holocaust, a whopping 38% adults and 24% high school students “incorrectly [explained] what is meant by ‘the Holocaust.’”
The Gallup poll was taken during the 90’s, nearly twenty years ago; there is little doubt that the percentages of Holocaust ignorance will continue to increase. The real danger than becomes, as Lipstadt has implied, a growing assault on memory. Unfortunately, unless something changes in the way we educate, the natural inclination people have to deny the most heinous acts of humanity because of a general lack of historical knowledge, will allow Holocaust denial to grow more influential in the years to come. Our responsibility as our brother’s keeper is emphasized by Sir Ian Kershaw, a British historian on 20th century Germany, in his memorable phrase that “the road to Auschwitz was built by hatred, but paved with indifference.” Deborah Lipstadt brings us back to the issue of responsibility as keepers, both in our communities and in keeping historical memory relevant and accurate, in her statement that:
“Those of us who make scholarship our vocation and avocation dream of spending our time charting new paths, opening new vistas, and offering new perspectives on some aspect of the truth. We seek to discover, not to defend. We did not train in our respective fields in order to stand like watchmen and women on the Rhine. Yet this is what we must do. We do so in order to expose falsehood and hate. We will remain ever vigilant so that the most precious tools of our trade and our society – truth and reason – can prevail. The still, small voices of millions cry out to us from the ground demanding that we do no less.”
Unfortunately, according to historian Christopher Browning, “in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, [a world] in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization…modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts to induce ‘ordinary men’ to become willing executioners,” and unless, as Anne Frank has stated in her famous diary, “unless humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start over again.”Sources: Christopher Browning, “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland,” New York, reissued 1998. Carol Rittner, “Anne Frank in the World: Essays and Reflections,” New York, 1998. Deborah Lipstadt, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” New York, 1994. Eva Fogelman, “Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust,” New York, 1994. Hannah Ardent, “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” New York, 1963. Jay Lifton, “The Nazi Doctors, Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide: This World is not This World,” Da Capo Press, 1988. Ronnie Landau, “The Nazi Holocaust,” Chicago, 2006. Robert Abzug, “America Views the Holocaust (1933-45): a brief documentary history,” Bedford, 1999.
Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.