Friday, August 26, 2005

Peritonitis is Contagious


“I wondered if Hitler would have been invited to the dinner, if he would have been alive, or Stalin, or Mao, or Pol Pot; and wondered whether even they would have been treated, in the spirit of the evening, to those gazes of pleased wonder and fascination and privilege (“I can’t believe that’s…”) that people bestow when they see celebrity, even evil celebrity. I am sorry to say that I think they would. (A cartoon in the New Yorker got this perfectly: At a New York cocktail party a woman, dazzled and pleased, stands talking to a very tall, thin, bearded man wearing a turban, the woman exclaims” “Not the Osama bin Laden?!”)”

- Lance Morrow describing “Club Med for Monsters” in his “Evil – An Investigation” (page 189)



There must be something wonderful in the Maine air. It seems to clear the senses for a soul, much like the air here in the Kansas Flint Hills clears mine.

About two weeks ago I came across a blogger from Maine named Scot Cunningham. As soon as I read some of his essays it was instant admiration. He has the qualities writers admire in other writers. He has a gentle hand, a quiet spirit, and a clear head. The more I read his work the more I’m reminded of another down-easter named E.B White, whose “One Man’s Meat” is one of my earthly treasures.

It was rainy this morning in Emporia, as it has been for over two weeks now, making it a good time to read. At about ten o’clock I came across these wonderful words that Scot penned a few days ago:

“There’s a distinct difference between taking a walk and taking a stroll. A walk is more of a point a to point b affair, whereas a stroll is more lackadaisical. The objective of a stroll is its leisure; a walk, its intention. On a walk the urgency is to get there now. On a stroll, however, there isn’t any urgency, for time and destination is of no consequence. Wherever we get to is where we are, and where we are is where we have arrived. It’s as simple as that. On a walk you’re more in your head than out. In your head you churn out thoughts about not having enough money from paycheck to paycheck, thoughts about never being to get ahead in life, the ever-nagging uncertainty of your life’s purpose or work. But on a stroll you’re blissfully out of your head and into your surroundings. When I stroll on down to the center of Belfast, I marvel how the ash trees—sixty to eighty feet tall—line and shade High Street with its cascading branches. I become pleasantly aware of the sonorous cry of the gull, the cackling of the crows, the cadences of the insects, sounds that affirm a late summer day.”

The paragraph wonderfully expressed what I wish I could feel right now. My strolls have turned into walks. The urgency of my times seems so often these days to be choking out the eye for beauty and the golden silence of Flint Hills mornings. I try as I make my way along Emporia’s streets to listen to the coo of the doves, but the sounds of the times have even drowned out these gentle messengers.

As I read, and re-read, Scot’s essay I was reminded one of the essays in E.B.White’s “One Man’s Meat, written in September, 1938. The essay was titled “Security.” The world was a very dangerous place then and White was trying his best to maintain a sense of normalcy in the face of the evil that was descending. But he couldn’t escape it. The reality of the greater world was invading the quiet place he had carved out for himself in Maine. On the day the essay was written he was working on this barn when the worlds collided. This is what he later said of that time:

“In some respects, though, a barn is the best place anybody could pick for sitting out a dance with a prime minister and a demigod. There is a certain clarity on a high roof, a singleness of design in the orderly work of laying shingles: snapping the chalk line, laying the butts to the line, picking the proper width shingle to give an adequate lap. One’s perspective, at that altitude, is unusually good. Who has the longer view of things, anyway, a prime minister in a closet or a man on a barn roof?”

“I’m down now; the barn is tight, and the peace is preserved. It is the ugliest peace the earth has ever received for a Christmas present. Old England eating swastika for breakfast instead of kipper is a sight I had as lief not lived to see. And though I’m no warrior, I would gladly fight for the things Nazism seeks to destroy. (Living in a sanitary age, we are getting so we place too high a value on human life – which rightfully must always come second to human ideas.)”

“The sacrifice Mr. Chamberlain made to preserve the Ideal of Peace reminded me of the strange case of Ada Leonard, a strip artist of superb proportion. Miss Leonard, if you remember, took sick of a ruptured appendix; but rather than have it out she risked her life in order to preserve, in unbroken liveliness, the smooth white groin the men of Chicago loved so well. Her suffering was great, and her courage admirable. But there comes a point beyond which you can’t push Beauty, on account of the line it leaves in the face. The peace we have with us today is as precarious and unsatisfactory as the form of a strip artist with peritonitis.”


The civilized world of E. B White’s time, it seemed had rescued the peace. Neville Chamberlain had secured “peace in our time.” Tragically, the peace lasted only about a year. White, prophetically, had seen farther into the distance from his barn roof in Maine than Chamberlain had been able to see from 10 Downing Street. England, and the world, had indeed eaten swastika.

My world is not unlike White’s. The blade has been cast into the heat. Terror and despotism are to be making a comeback. The days seem dark. The war doesn’t appear to be going well. In the face of all this voices crying out for “peace,” rising like soldiers in ranks, calling for “reason.” Up has become down and good has become evil. Right has become wrong. Terror has become “resistance.” Despots have been transformed into saints.

The voices of “reason” were around back in White’s day too. Today’s “America is the great Satan” sounded like this in the 1942:

“No European could exchange places with an American. America is a pitiable country and the Americans are a betrayed people, betrayed by their leaders, betrayed and deceived in a simply indescribable way by their self chosen leader Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He spoke of helping the common man, but filled his election campaign fund with donations from uncaring capitalists. He began by wanting to loose the capitalist chains, but became as much a tool of Morgan as any of his predecessors.”

- From “A Land Without a Heart” (a 1942 Nazi propaganda book on the United States)

Today’s “George Bush is the world’s worst terrorist” sounded like this in 1939:

“With rare honesty, the English Prime Minister Chamberlain revealed his true goals to the world on 12 October. Even neutral observers were surprised at how brutally he rejected the Führer's peace offer and declared a war of destruction on Germany, though the warmonger Churchill and his comrades were undoubtedly pleased. He naturally had to turn the facts upside down. It is the height of hypocrisy that he claimed England's goal was to maintain peace, despite the war cries and the incitements that he directed against the Reich.”

- From Nazi talking points on Great Britain (1939)

Today’s “We have no Constitution. We’re the only country with no checks and balances.” sounded like this back in 1939:

“The Third Reich has been the target of its mockery, hatred, lies and slander since 30 January 1933, especially from that part controlled by the Jews. The American press takes particular pleasure in criticizing Germany on grounds of humanitarianism, civilization, human rights and culture. It has every right to do so. Its humanity is shown by lynchings. Its civilization is shown in economic and political scandals that stink to high heaven. Its human rights are displayed by eleven or twelve million unemployed, who apparently chose to be so. And its culture exists only because it is always borrowing from the older European nations. Such a nation is certainly justified in sneering at ancient Europe, whose nations and peoples looked back on centuries, even millennia of cultural achievements even before America was discovered.”

- From Joseph Goebbels’ “What Does America Want?” (1939)

Today’s “George Bush is a liar” sounded like this back in 1941:

“We have nothing to add to that. England will one day pay a heavy price for this man. When the great catastrophe breaks over the island kingdom, the British people will have him to thank. He has long been the spokesman for the plutocratic caste that wanted war to destroy Germany. He distinguishes himself from the men behind the scenes only through his obvious cynicism and his unscrupulous contempt for humankind. He wants war for war's sake. War is an end in itself to him. He wished it, pushed for it, and prepared for it out of a stupid, destructive drive. He is one of those characters of the political underworld who rise through chaos, who announce chaos, who cause chaos. For countless people the war brings vast suffering, for countless children hunger and disease, for countless mothers and women streams of tears. For him, it is no more than a big horse race that he wants to take part in.”

- From Joseph Goebbels’ “Churchill” (1941)

Today’s “Israel is a terrorist state” sounded like the following passage from Joseph Goebbels in 1941:

“Every Jew is our enemy in this historic struggle, regardless of whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or carries on his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. All Jews by virtue of their birth and their race are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany. They want its defeat and annihilation, and do all in their power to bring it about. That they can do nothing inside the Reich is hardly a sign of their loyalty, but rather of the appropriate measures we took against them.”

- From Joseph Goebbels’ “The Jews are Guilty” (1941)

Today's “The Great Satan will be crushed” sounded like this in December of 1941:

“It is astonishing, hardly believable, how the state of the world can change entirely within a short time. Modern war speaks its own language, and ideas and principles that twenty years ago were standard military theory and practice are now entirely outdated and antiquated. If one compares the world situation of Sunday, 7 December, the day when Japan gave President Roosevelt the appropriate answer to his impudent provocations and shameless affronts, with today, one will without doubt conclude that the position of the Axis powers has improved in a way that even a few days before military and political experts would have thought highly improbable.”

- From Joseph Goebbels’ “A Different World” (December 1941)


Today’s “Saddam was no threat to us” sounded like this in 1940:

“On 3 September last year, two hours after English plutocracy declared war on the German Reich, the British Prime Minister Chamberlain gave a radio speech to the German people in the most broken German. One might call it the first English act of war, and it proved to be the first, worst, and most fateful psychological error that the British plutocracy could make. Chamberlain did not betray who had given him the right to speak to the German nation. He was of the opinion that the German people he was attempting to speak to was in about the same intellectual and spiritual condition as it was after the capitulation of 9 November 1918, when it gave itself up to the arbitrary lust for revenge of the Western powers. The point of the speech was that England had no intention of waging war against the German people, but rather intended to help them. Germany needed only to accept the simple British proposal to get rid of the Führer or so-called Hitlerism, and the result would be a quick and easy peace. We can remark in passing that during the seven months of the war, British plutocracy had long since stopped telling the world such hypocritical platitudes. Its best and most eloquent publicists have long since made it clear that the goal of British plutocracy is to destroy the German people and the German Reich. They wish to return it to its state after the Peace of Westphalia in the year 1648.”

- From Joseph Goebbels’ “Speech Honoring Adolph Hitler’s Birthday” (1940)

Over three generations have passed since Hitler’s henchmen and apologists argued his case before the world. The times haven’t changed much. The faces have different and the rhetoric has been updated to suit twenty-first century man, but the message is still clear. Peritonitis, it seems, is contagious.

The day has given way to evening here in the Flint Hills. It would be a lovely night for a stroll. The rain has stopped and the sun is slowly descending in the west. Yet I can’t bring myself to do it. The stroll would be pre-empted by the cares of my times. Perhaps tomorrow the shroud over my heart will lift. Perhaps tomorrow, or the day after, up will once again be up, good will once again be good, and evil will once again be evil. But right now the sights I see and the sounds I hear in the distance have made the beauty of a stroll more a hope than a reality.

12 comments:

Jerry Hanel said...

Wow.... I was surfing through blogdom and came upon your site. Today I typed up my own rant. I usually don't rant, but state facts about Christianity. I've been surfing alot of blogs lately, and to see those who are both for and against everything from Bush to Creation ranting and rallying their points. Name calling and jeering.. and those who claim to be Christians. I was burned today.

But to find a site as well stated as yours, yet with the well-written pen. There was no slander, no flashing blue signs claiming if you don't agree with them you're not an American (on either side of whatever debate). Your is VERY refreshing. You will definately make a mark in my blog tomorrow.

Allan said...

Very well stated, Phil. One point of clarification though: Tragically, the peace lasted only about a year. - True, except for the poor Czeckoslovakians whose freedom was the price for that year.

Gone Away said...

Powerful stuff, Phil. And I agree completely about Scot Cunningham - discovered his blog a few days ago.

Marti said...

Well hello Clive (Gone Away). Small world is the blogosphere, eh? Or perhaps we are both magnetically drawn to fine writing.

Phil, you've done a splendid job here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Emporia has had quite a bit of rough weather lately, hasn’t it? I’m just over in Mazoorah, 25 miles east of KC. We’re drenched here.

It’s a pleasure to meet you (extends hand to shake). Best wishes to you, long may you stroll!

Ed Darrell said...

As usual you have some thought provoking things to say. White is a good read, a better think.

But, have you ever heard of Godwin's Law?

It was, after all, Bill Clinton who sent the missiles after Osama bin Laden, and then had to endure George Bush complaining about how silly that was during the 2000 campaign. Churchill was a great man. George Bush, alas, is not Winston Churchill. We can pray that he also is no Neville Chamberlain.

As White might have noted, in the 1930s it was American communists who warned against Hitler. And it was disillusioned communists who warned against Stalin in the middle of WWII, when Stalin was our ally.

Still, thought provoking.

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Anonymous said...

“Today’s ‘Saddam was no threat to us’ sounded like this in 1940: ‘...The point of the speech was that England had no intention of waging war against the German people, but rather intended to help them. Germany needed only to accept the simple British proposal to get rid of the Führer or so-called Hitlerism, and the result would be a quick and easy peace.’”

Actually, this sounds more like George W. Bush’s assurances that he wanted to “help” the Iraqi people by liberating them from Saddam Hussein. The “quick and easy peace” sounds like the Bush administration’s pre-invasion predictions for a similar outcome with Iraq. Now that our troops are tragically bogged down in Bush’s “cakewalk,” his administration is changing its tune.

War apologists keep telling the rest of us that a boxed-in Saddam Hussein was the exact equivalent of an on-the-march Hitler, but I see more differences than similarities. I don’t think that a shooting war was necessary. Now that Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” argument has proved false, war apologists are grasping at straws to justify his unjustified war.

Also, I find it offensive to equate today’s anti-war arguments with Nazism. Yet many war apologists are offended by likening the Guantánamo Bay prison to a Soviet gulag. When people begin equating peace with mass murder and torture with freedom, I think the clock has turned back to 1984.


Rob in L.A.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...

Ed

Has Godwin ever heard of the old age that if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and looks like a duck it is in all liklihood a duck.

You may be right. GWB may not be a Winston Churchill, but you can rest assured he is no Neville Chamberlain.

Of course, Churchill would ahve been the first to admit that it was the British people and their firm belief in principle that held Great Britan together during those dark years.

Publius Rendezvous said...

Quite a thought proviking piece. Well researched and well stated, I must say.

dog1net said...

Phil:

First, thank you for your critque of my work. I am humbled by and appreciative of your kind and thoughful assessment of my writing.

Second, your comparison/contrast of today's political climate is a good one. What few people realize or understand is that the rhetoric of Goebbels and Hitler was a rhetoric of fear. Their arguments, ad populum, sought to distract people not by appealing to their sense of reason, but by addressing their specific preducices and misplaced loyalties. In that sense arguments made today by Michael Moore and others against our policies for being engaged in Iraq are very similar. Thus we have a rhetoric that, as you so well point out, argues "terror" as "resistance," and other such nonsense.

As White says, "...you can't push beauty, on account of the line it leaves in the face. The peace we have today is as precarious and unsatisfactory as the form of a strip artist with peritonitis."

Elli said...

interesting read! Thanks for pointing me towards Scot's blog, beautiful writing there!