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I started writing a blog post yesterday but it’s now up to 1500 words and I don’t know what to do with is, so instead I’ll urge you: Plan your Saturday night now! Here’s a preview: In a world …

Aww yeah, baby: C-SPAN 3.1 Saturday, January 24, at 8pm and midnight, Eastern time. Or 5pm and 9pm, here on the edge of the American West.

This is a lecture2 from the World War II class that Ari and I debuted as a co-taught course in 2012, but which this year I taught all by my lonesome; I’m sure it shows. The subject is some of the various ways in which the motive of revenge overtook the strategy of the Axis and the Allies.

At some point after airing the full video will be here and also you’ll be able to get a podcast and listen to me holler at you while you drive.


1The connoisseur’s C-SPAN.
2Yes, C-SPAN 3’s Saturday night programming is a filmed college lecture; look, either you’re the audience for this or you aren’t.

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William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is fifty. Ron Rosenbaum re-introduces it:

The arrest of Eichmann, chief operating officer of the Final Solution, reawakened the question Why? Why had Germany, long one of the most ostensibly civilized, highly educated societies on earth, transformed itself into an instrument that turned a continent into a charnel house? Why had Germany delivered itself over to the raving exterminationist dictates of one man, the man Shirer refers to disdainfully as a “vagabond”? Why did the world allow a “tramp,” a Chaplinesque figure whose 1923 beer hall putsch was a comic fiasco, to become a genocidal Führer whose rule spanned a continent and threatened to last a thousand years?

Why? William Shirer offered a 1,250-page answer.…

He was one of a number of courageous American reporters who filed copy under the threat of censorship and expulsion, a threat that sought to prevent them from detailing the worst excesses, including the murder of Hitler’s opponents, the beginnings of the Final Solution and the explicit preparations for upcoming war. After war broke out, he covered the savagery of the German invasion of Poland and followed the Wehrmacht as it fought its way into Paris before he was forced to leave in December 1940.

The following year—before the United States went to war—he published Berlin Diary, which laid out in visceral terms his response to the rise of the Reich. Witnessing a Hitler harangue in person for the first time, he wrote:

“We are strong and will get stronger,” Hitler shouted at them through the microphone, his words echoing across the hushed field from the loudspeakers. And there in the flood-lit night, massed together like sardines in one mass formation, the little men of Germany who have made Nazism possible achieved the highest state of being the Germanic man knows: the shedding of their individual souls and minds—with the personal responsibilities and doubts and problems—until under the mystic lights and at the sound of the magic words of the Austrian they were merged completely in the Germanic herd.

Shirer’s contempt here is palpable, physical, immediate and personal. His contempt is not for Hitler so much as for the “little men of Germany”—for the culture that acceded to Hitler and Nazism so readily.…

Shirer had a remarkable eye for the singular, revealing detail. For example, consider the one Eichmann quote he included in the book, in a footnote written before Eichmann was captured. Shirer takes up the question of the actual number of Jews murdered in what was not yet widely called the Holocaust and tells us: “According to two S.S. witnesses at Nuremberg the total was put at between five and six millions by one of the great Nazi experts on the subject, Karl Eichmann, chief of the Jewish office of the Gestapo, who carried out the ‘final solution.’” (He uses Eichmann’s first name, not the middle name that would soon become inseparable from him: Adolf.)

And here is the footnote that corresponds with that passage:

“Eichmann, according to one of his henchmen, said just before the German collapse that ‘he would leap laughing into his grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.’”

Clearly this footnote, mined from mountains of postwar testimony, was intended not merely to substantiate the number of five million dead, but also to illustrate Eichmann’s attitude toward the mass murder he was administering. Shirer had a sense that this question would become important, although he could not have imagined the worldwide controversy it would stir. For Shirer, Eichmann was no bloodless paper pusher, a middle manager just following orders, as Eichmann and his defense lawyer sought to convince the world. He was not an emblem of “the banality of evil,” as the political theorist Hannah Arendt portrayed him. He was an eager, bloodthirsty killer. Shirer will not countenance the exculpation of individual moral responsibility in the “just following orders” defense.

In fact, Shirer had a more encompassing objective, which was to link the obscene criminality of individuals to what was a communal frenzy—the hatred that drove an entire nation, the Reich itself. What distinguishes his book is its insistence that Hitler and his exterminationist drive were a distillation of the Reich, a quintessence brewed from the darkest elements of German history, an entire culture.

Shirer’s is one of a few impressive books I read when I was young that are the source of all the things I know that I don’t know where I know them from.

John Demjanjuk has died.

Reuters: “Former Nazi guard Demjanjuk dies in Germany aged 91”
BBC: “Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies”
Al Jazeera: “Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies in Germany”
NYT: “John Demjanjuk, 91, Dogged by Charges of Atrocities as Nazi Camp Guard, Dies”

NYT: Why so circuitous?

Jerusalem Post editorial here.

And, relatedly, a fascinating New Yorker review by Richard Brody of Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, including discussions of the making of Shoah.
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In June of 1945, Nicholas Kaldor had a talk with John Maynard Keynes about the war. Assigned to the US Strategic Bombing Survey, Kaldor briefed Keynes on their findings.

He said that at no time had our bombing seriously interfered with German manufacture…. There was in fact a gigantic increase in output between 1942 and 1944. The really serious effects of bombing were confined, first of all to oil, where our previous optimistic conclusions were confirmed, but, above all, in the destruction of the German railway system from the time when we tackled that seriously. That had been devastating in its military consequences.

On the bright side, Kaldor said, this meant that reconstruction might be relatively simple: “the great bulk of German industry, if labour and raw materials and power were available, could be started up at full capacity again within a very short time.”

As for direct benefits to Britain, he told Keynes, “the most serviceable form of reparations we could get, he thought, would be to take over Speer and his staff and ask them to rationalise British industry.” Turning to more serious matters, Kaldor said Speer’s staffers believed Germany had lost because they had not fully mobilized for war. Women had not gone wholesale to work, “no doubt as a result of their ideology about the place of women in the home.”

Keynes reflected, “It is because we feared we might be beaten that we won, and it is because they were sure that they had won that they were beaten.”

Everybody knows Casablanca is a great work of art (and a great work of art generated by a Cornellian, at that). Everybody knows, too, that Casablanca was embedded in a particular historical moment, too – it served to vindicate the recent, necessarily wrenching American volte-face1 on the subject of Europeans and their war.

History also bled through to the screen in the movie’s best scene – the singing of the “Marseillaise”:

Casablanca was shot in 1941 during the German occupation of France, at a point where many questioned whether or not the United States would ever step in to help, [UPDATED: Not true. Though the play was written before US involvement.] when nobody knew how the whole thing was going to turn out.

And the scene included actors who, in real life, had a lot at stake. To shoot Casablanca as a believable port town, producers brought together one of the most ethnically diverse casts in film history, and a lot of these extras turned out to be Europeans who had fled to America to escape the Nazis — that is, they were basically real-life refugees. They had left homes, friends and families behind, and at this point really didn’t know if things could ever return to normal. Which makes us wonder if the director didn’t stage the whole war just to get that scene.

It’s the scene that makes Laszlo believable as a resistance leader: in front of the singing Nazis he orders the band, “Play the ‘Marseillaise’. Play it.” It’s the scene that justifies Rick’s decision at the end, which is based in part on self-knowledge – when Rick snaps “Play it,” it’s so he can wallow in nostalgia; when Laszlo snaps “Play it,” it’s so people will kill Nazis.

Casablanca: one of those rare things that’s really as good as everyone says it is.


1If I can’t use French in a post about Casablanca when can I?

Why would you do a story about a photo, without the photo?

You know, it’s not as bad as Prince Harry, but even if these guys had no education, they must have seen a movie once. It’s hard to believe they didn’t have any idea.

Not the right silhouette for me, but the only one I could find.

There’s far too brief a review of Bodnar and Dower’s new(ish) books in the TLS.

Me: Hey, want to watch this DVD about World War II?

11 y.o. son: Maybe.

Me: What do you mean, “maybe”? It’s World War II!

11 y.o. son: Is it the shooting part? Or the talking-and-making-peace part?

H72273kIt’s December 7th, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of FDR’s speech to Congress, in which the President said:

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

It is a “date which will live in infamy” as Roosevelt said, but not much longer in living memory:

The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack will be the last one marked by the survivors’ association. With a concession to the reality of time — of age, of deteriorating health and death — the association will disband on Dec. 31…Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter, said there weren’t enough survivors left to keep the organization running. “We just ran out of gas, that’s what it amounted to,” he said from his home in Atlanta, after deciding not to come this year. “We felt we ran a good course for 70 years. Fought a good fight. We have no place to recruit people anymore: Dec. 7 only happened on one day in 1941.”

This is not unusual: wars, spectacular events, and catastrophes bring the survivors together to bond, frequently in organizations devoted to the memory of the event. Those survivors have finite lifespans, however, and when they pass, so too do the organizations. The Boxer Rebellion (obligatory self-aggrandizement) witnessed the creation of the Military Order of the Dragon, an association of those veterans–from a range of western countries–who had fought in China in 1900. They had reunions and a newsletter throughout the first half of the 20th century. The order published a book in 1912. But by the 1950s, the membership was dying off, and the newsletter put out the following in 1952:

Activity…has taken a drop the past few years. The average age of Mandarins [the title they gave veterans] is between 75-78 years….Before long, though, the Hereditary ‘Chinos’–sons, daughters, and down the line–will have to take over.[1]

They didn’t, not having the connection to the events that their spouses and parents did. Thus, too, with the Pearl Harbor veterans, and so December 7th, its memories fading, is handed finally over to history for care and safekeeping.

[A good article on a similar theme, sent in by my co-blogger Eric Rauchway, who must now recuse himself from discussing the UC-Davis pepper spray incident]

[1] Military History Institute, Spanish American War Veterans Survey 42/12, McKinney, Lewis.

Winston Churchill by Seymour Chwast, Push Pin Graphic #80, 1979, via the excellent Charles Forsman:
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The liberation of Paris in August 1944, featuring the column of Capitaine Raymond Dronne.
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