Tag Archives: Thomas Mann

Polarized

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Polarized –
Making Sense Of A Divided America
By James E. Campbell
Princeton University Press – £22.95

You can compromise between good, better, and best, and you can compromise between bad and worse and terrible. But you can’t compromise between good and evil.

                    Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) – ‘One-Sided Party Polarization’

And so say all of us; well, most of us anyway.
At the moment however, there’s surely far more disparity within the realm of American politics, than, erm, well, perhaps anytime in it’s history.
At least within living memory, put it that way – which is where this stark and rather bold book ought to stand loud’n’roud within the current, quasi-blasphemous institution that both tellingly and rather laughingly, refers to the American Constitution, as if it were its own.

As if it were a standing joke – which clearly, Donald Trump, and his vile inner-circle are; although countless gullible innocents the (predominantly western) world over, will continue to believe the United States to be a nation of political moderates.

It absolutely isn’t.

The US is so utterly divided, it’s nigh impossible to distinguish between good, better and best, bad and worse; let alone good and evil. Although within the context of mainstream American ideology, it isn’t long before James E. Campbell writes: ”As rough as our political debates can be, and they can get quite vicious, happily we are not on the precipice of another civil war.”

Oh really?
Seems to me the US is most definitely on the precipice of something.
It might not be out and out civil war, but there’s absolutely no question that one of the most powerful countries one earth, is almost on the verge of self-imploding.
If not falling apart.
If not, along with (the former Great) Britain, very fast becoming the laughing stock of the world. A conundrum, which, in the big scheme of things – primarily that of Trump’s colossal ego – isn’t a particularly good thing.

The nine chapters of Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America pretty much contends as much throughout.

Hence my earlier description of these 246 pages (excluding Acknowledgments, Appendix, Notes, References and Index) being somewhat stark and outwardly bold: ”Some contend that party polarization has grown particularly severe in recent years as political leaders and activists sought ideological purity within their parties, particularly within the Republican Party. The ultra-polarization of American politics, as the claim goes, has been largely a one-sided or asymmetric affair. Republicans became a far-right ideological party while Democrats remained a fairly moderate and pragmatic centre-left party. This claim of one-sided party polarization was made most strongly by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their provocatively titled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Mann boldly claimed that ”Republicans have become a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition” (‘One-Sided Party Polarization – Republicans Gone Wild’).

You can say that again (and again).
One need only refer to the Trump’s out and out, inflammatory dismissal of The Paris Agreement, to wholeheartedly agree, if not endeavour to come to terms with the above.
And a whole lot more.

Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America goes some way in deciphering the current shambles that is American politics; but I’m sure even Campbell must be somewhat surprised at the dire depths to which American politics has unfortunately sunk.

David Marx

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The Decision

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The Decision – A Novel
By Brita Bohler
Haus Publishing – £14.99

”Everything about that man is repugnant, the tough performance of the ‘ordinary soldier,’ the melodrama, and that voice. ‘That man sounds like a rabid chained-up dog,’ he says to Katja every time a speech by Hitler can be heard on the radio. The voice reveals the man’s limitless resentment, the festering vindictiveness of someone who has been rejected again and again, the eternal failure. The permanent loser who is good for nothing but who, with his calculated eloquence, stirs up the people’s wounds and has cleverly connected his own vindictive feelings to the feelings of the inferiority of the masses.”

How eloquent itself.

How correct, and, dare I say, perfect a summing up of such a vile human being that both coaxed and led Germany unto the precipice of nigh utter and complete destruction.

It is 1936 and the great German novelist, Thomas Mann, has to make a terrible and almost impossible decision. Over three days in Switzerland, the writer is tormented by the indecision as to whether or not publicly denounce the ghastly Nazi regime in the Swiss press.

Hence the title of this brave, utterly well-conceived, revealing and what’s more, rather beautiful book.

The Decision by the Dutch authoress Britta Bohler, quintessentially tells the story of what can happen and become of the human soul, when ravenously forced to be complicit within the confined parameters of a political, human hell.

What’s more, it does so with all the magnanimous, truthful fortitude of a writer, who wishes to both share and bequeath the reader with what it must have been like to have been an intelligent individual, trying to come to terms with a barbaric regime.

A regime what’s more, that was clearly out of control: ”And suddenly it burst and everything found a way out. All that had remained unarticulated for a long time had finally come to the surface and had, as it were, naturally seized control of the whole country. Like an acid that slowly but surely seeps into the soil, deeper and deeper. An acid that penetrates all the layers until everything is corroded and damaged. And the populace, wounded and misunderstood, numbed by the promises, considers itself future-oriented, brave, and revolutionary. What a dismal misunderstanding!”

Haunted by the aforementioned decision as to whether or not choose exile and to abandon his German readership – not to mention all and any hope of ever returning home; this overtly powerful, yet concise book, sheds an intrinsically critical light on what it must have been like for Mann to live through (and come to terms with) three of the most traumatic days of his life. In so doing, it inadvertently asks us how we might have behaved in similar circumstances.

Simultaneously tortured and terrific. The Decision is an absolute gem of a read.

David Marx

The Swastika’s Darkening Shadow

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The Swastika’s Darkening Shadow – Voices From The Holocaust
By Monty Noam Penkower
Palgrave Macmillan – £20.00

The Nazi regime’s firm conviction, driven by a pathological view of the Jew as the incarnation of evil threatening German and world survival, was expressed and progressively implemented with shameless candour. Writing in his diary on September 5, 1944, Victor Klemperer, a Romance languages Professor in Dresden who had converted to Protestantism and married an ”Aryan” piano teacher, captured this reality in a telling metaphor: ”The Jewish problem is the poison gland of the swastika viper.”

As can probably be surmised before even having read a word, The Swastika’s Darkening Shadow – Voices From The Holocaust, depicts the ghastly ideology of escape-goatism in all its truly fundamentalist, nasty, myopic glory. Time and again throughout what is a very fair and accurate analysis of that which the title proclaims, author Monty Noam Penkower reminds us that during the thirties, Central Europe – not to mention the world as a whole – was inextricably aligned with Germanic (political) wrong doing and impending doom for European Jewry: ”With ever thickening shadows of war clearly visible on the horizon, realpolitik reigned supreme in these corridors of power. As a consequence, Europe’s defenseless Jews, facing unprecedented anguish, would find few allies to answer the call of conscience.”

Not only is this self-evident in the opening quote – especially the utterly moronic depiction of the situation as pronounced by Klemperer – it is further, succinctly underlined by ”Germany’s most illustrious novelist and a non-Jew married to a Jewish woman who had converted to Lutheranism, Thomas Mann,” who in chapter two (‘The Vise Tightens: 1936-1937’), decried: ”God help our darkened and desecrated country and teach it to make its peace with the world and with itself!”

Whether Germany has done so or will indeed, ever be able to do so, is, like an array of countless socio-religiously induced, thorny issues, open to much deliberation.

The continuing trajectory of such deliberation is a colossal understatement – as these 255 pages readily substantiate. The mere fact that the continuation of the opening quote reads: ”Remarkably, but commonly overlooked, Poland and Romania were home to far more virulent assaults against Jews in the 1930’s until Kristallnacht, while mounting legislation and brutal anti-Jewish attacks could readily be seen elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe.”

The Swastika’s Darkening Shadow finds Penkower leaving no political nor theological stone unturned; the result of which is a book that occasionally reads more like an exceedingly well researched document, which, given the subject matter, is utterly understandable. And given the approach, almost desirable.

Part of the reason for this being said approach lends itself to an openness, not to mention pin-point accuracy – as it absolutely does not allow for cover up, nor bias.

Surely it wasn’t rocket science to ascertain that Hitler ””had ceased to be normal” as regards the treatment of the Jews,” but still much of the civilised world declined to heed the aforementioned call of conscience. To my mind, this was and will forever remain, a devastating disgrace so far as global morality is concerned. How will we ever be able to live with the following: ”We scream, we groan, blood mixes with earth, we die, and a whole generation is destroyed. Then there is silence, while waiting for history to open a window to salvation at the moment when the whole world is choking to death.”

This book is indeed something of a tough read – not due to the way it’s written, but rather, some of its seemingly out of control subject matter.

Once this is realised and placed alongside the gritty and altogether, internationally enlightening substance, it’s easy to applaud the comments made by Anthony McElligot, Professor of History at the University of Limerick in Ireland: ”In The Swastika’s Darkening Shadow, not only does Monty Noam Penkower provide us with an important collection of little known documents charting the worsening condition of Europe’s Jews, while the international community either ignored their plight or dithered in the six years or so preceding the outbreak of war in 1939, he prefaces this with a masterful analysis, rich in detail and with panoramic brush strokes. Elegantly written, The Swastika’s Darkening Shadow is going to become an essential reference for anyone studying the Holocaust.”

David Marx