Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke

The River of History

March 15, 2015

About ten years ago, our daughter Katie was traveling through Europe when she snapped this picture:

ParisGarg

The scene is Paris, as viewed from atop the cathedral of Notre Dame.

That creature in the foreground is unidentified, but there is something about him that I don’t like. Even though he has managed somehow to position himself in a panoramic aspect on the pinnacle of a classic sacred building, I suspect he is up to no good. Nevertheless, in spite of his sinister presence in the photograph, I will just ignore the guy for now, because I want to tell you why I am thankful that my daughter captured this scene, and why I was amazed when I encountered it yesterday.

I was wandering around in the old Dell looking at photographs from years gone by.  Encountering this stark image launched my mind into a series of personal recollections.

Pat, Micah and I had sojourned through Paris during the summer of 2002. We visited the cathedral of Notre Dame, but we did not climb up to this high perch. We did, however, have a great time traipsing around in the grand old City on the Seine that you see here.  Alas, that trip, as vividly entertaining as it was, has begun to fade somewhat in mind. It was thirteen years ago.

But at about this time last year, 2014, I was writing the last few chapters of a third novel, Smoke. And it just so happened that a sizable chunk of the story took place in the area of Paris that you see pictured here.

Notice the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just below that steel-framed landmark people from all over the world were gathering, in the year 1937, for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques. In my story, a young American businessman, Philip Morrow, has a rendezvous with Lili Eschen, a German refugee. Lili is disturbed, however, by the looming facade of the nearby German pavilion. She tells Philip that she would prefer to leave the Exposition and go to a different place.

Long story short, the next day they are ambling on a bridge, looking out over the Seine River. In the photo above you see two bridges. Notice the further-away one, the Pont Saint-Michel. That’s not the one on which Philip and Lili are standing in my novel, but it looks very similar to the Pont Neuf, which is the next bridge downriver, around the bend. Imagine the scene. They are gazing at the river below, and Lili is worried because her family has fled Germany hurriedly, and now (in May 1937) they are in between a rock and a hard place, and faced with some hard decisions. Philip is speaking:

“. . .It’s a whole different world in the country I come from; we really don’t have a clue about what is going on over here in the old world. This Europe, this, well, France itself . . . Germany. It’s almost like a different planet. And Shirley Temple is just . . .” He was shaking his head and chortling at her naiveté. “You can’t take this Hollywood stuff too seriously. I mean, your brother is locked up back in Germany. That’s reality.”

She looked at him with a kind of fierce resolve, but a hint of the smile was still on her lips. “I can dream, can’t I? No law against that, no verboten on dreaming, hoping . . .”

“Sure.” He touched her hand tenderly.

A few minutes later, Philip and Lili complete their stroll across the Pont Neuf. They are on the île de la Cité, in the very heart of Paris; their next stop is an ancient chapel, the Saint-Chapelle. You can see its dark steeple in this photo. On the right, its ascending structure parallels the distant Eiffel Tower of the far background.

ParisSteepl

Gone from this pic is the ugly critter who had been lurking in the foreground of the earlier photo. I’m glad we got rid of him, although I have no clue where he got off too. But I fear he is still hanging around, and we may have to cast him out again before its all over with.

Smoke

Proxy War

July 9, 2014

 

In the world of the 1930’s, two destructive European ideologies were accumulating an arsenal with which to obliterate each other.

Unlike today, when the world is polarizing along ancient religious divisions, the scenario of the ’30s was moving Europe toward a death-struggle between two opposing Western economic ideologies–fascism and communism.

The rise of two masterminding evil geniuses–Hitler and Stalin– enabled their respective war-making nation-empires to rise to their full militarily destructive capacities and impose widespread destruction upon the world. During that period, seventy or eighty years ago, the civil war in Spain became the puppetized proxy war. Militarizing fascist states–Germany and Italy–propped up Spanish insurgents led by General Franco, as he sought to run the Communist-leaning, Soviet-supported government of Spain out of Madrid and out of power.

Today, the hotspot is not Spain; it is Syria. The power-brokers are not the Allies and the Axis; they are the West vs. Islam.

The civil war in Syria, which is now spreading into Iraq, is becoming the proxy war for two opposing ancient strains of Islamic power–Sunni and Shia. Iraq is caught in the middle between Syria (mostly Sunni) against the Shia empire, Iran, on the other side.

This scenario is eerily similar to the European ideology-based polarization of eight decades ago. During the 1930’s, Spain, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were caught in the middle between Hitler’s bloodthirsty power-grab and Stalin’s stealthy gulag death machine.

Today’s version of human-powered depraved bellicosity is not exactly the same, of course, as what was taking shape in the ’30’s, but there are similarities. The student of history can dimly discern these similarities. In our war-bound world of today, Syria, Iraq and other Arab states are caught in the middle, as Spain, Czechoslovakia and Poland were in the former times.

ISIS radicals in Syria are the Islamic version of Franco’s quasi-Catholic fascists in Spain in 1936-1939. They are hiding  their heartlessly demonic destruction behind a facade of the indigenous religion.

Franco’s insurgents were supplied by the emerging-under-VersaillesTreaty-radar Nazi-fascist German Luftwaffe, who shocked the world with their air-powered obliteration of the town of Guernica, Spain, April 26 1937.

Today, ISIS brutes are shocking the world with their brutality in western Iraq, as has happened in Mosul. Now the battle is getting more intense and bloodier between Sunni and Shia , as it was between Fascist and Communist in the late 1930s.

This showdown is one that the major powers, comfortable in their relative prosperity and peace, prefer to watch from a distance and get involved if it becomes absolutely necessary.

In Britain and France in the 1930’s, capitalist power-brokers stealthily supported Hitler’s camouflaged Nazi heathen militarism, because they saw it as a potential defense against Soviet Communism.

Little did they know what Adolf Hitler had in mind.

Is there an Islamic Feuhrer out there in the middle east somewhere now, waiting in the wings to make his big move?

In 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain went to Munich and made a deal with Hitler. He came back to England waving a piece of paper that he thought represented peace. But a few months later, Hitler, having stalled the Allies off long enough to build up his wehrmacht, jumped on Czechoslovakia and Poland like a pit bull on a squirrel. You know the rest.

The world got sucked into a terrible war; millions were killed. Because the Allies were worn out with it all by 1945, Stalin took the scraps in eastern Europe that Hitler had failed to hold and therefore left behind for his former ally. Stalin, the fox, outsmarted and outlasted his ally-nemesis, Hitler. Stalin could not have done it without our help. War makes strange bedfellows.

Nowadays, it looks as though the United States, weary of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, is willing to turn the defense of weak Iraq over to the Iranian ayatollahs, so that ISIS will not take all of Shia-dominated Iraq.  Hitler didn’t want the Czechs/socialists to have Sudetenland either.

Those Iranian Shia will be doing the dirty work in proxy war as Franco did for Hitler and Mussolini in 1936-39.

Is this something like turning the protection of the hen-house over to the fox?

We shall see.

 

Smoke

the Narnia wardrobe

April 10, 2013

Nineteen thirty-four,

Nazis in

Nuremberg attempted to

nullify the glory of God;

nihilistic they were;

nixing the opinions of mankind, by

nineteen thirty-

nine, had made war a sacrament, until there remained

no decency left in their

nefarious reign over Deutschland. In

nineteen forty, they moved against the world, with

noxious occupations in Austria, Czechoslav, Poland.

Nobody could reverse their ruthless belligerance.  Everywhere the

National Socialists went,

no good thing was tolerated.

Never had the world seen such hateful conquest.

Next country over to the west on the

North Sea was the

Netherlands;  when the

Nazis came, some good people there hid Jews so they would

not be found,

nor arrested,

nor sent to death camps.

Near the upper regions of some refuge homes, probably

next to a wall, there might be found a wooden wardrobe, which is

not a collection of clothes, but a rather unusual piece of furniture.

Nailed or hinged to the back of it, there could be a false panel, very

narrow, on the other side of which secret accommodations might

neatly conceal

neighbors or other persons who have fled the

Nazi police, which are the beastly

nemeses of Jews and other innocent

non-aryans. We could say that beyond such a hiding place

nestled behind a wardrobe was a

neverworld of fear and imminent danger that

never should have existed. But the world is a terrible place.

 

Once upon that same awful time, a professorial fellow–

name of Lewis,

native of some quaint and curious shire,

near an Oxford

nook of England– he reported the existence of a

never

neverland. It was, he imagined, a reichish otherworldly scene,

niftily cloaked clandestinely

near the rear of some such nonesuch transportive wardrobe;

now it took innocents away, into a

netherland of frigid fright and badness to a land badly ruled, in

necromancy, and oppressed by an evil queen, a

netherworld region beyond a 1940s’ wardrobe that Lewis

named

Narnia.

Now truly, there is

no such place as Narnia, but if ever there was, I would hope the

noxious fuehrer tyrant should be

negated, and

nullified by children of the rightful King.

 

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Roosevelt’s dilemma

March 18, 2013

In the novel I am writing, Smoke, the Eschen family–Hezekin, Helene, Hannah, and Lili– have just arrived in eastern France. The year is 1937;  the Gestapo have recently arrested their son, Heinrich, and imprisoned him at Dachau.

Under a pall of Nazi-induced fear, the Eschens have decided to risk losing everything–their business and home–by leaving Munich to flee Germany, even though they do not know what Heinrich’s fate will be.

In chapter 14 of Smoke, the refugee family have been taken in by a French family who live across the Rhine border, in the province of Alsace. Now they are sitting at a well-appointed table to share a meal with some newfound friends. We enter this scene at the supper table of the Ravel family and a few of their companions. Helene is describing the Eschens’ situation with the group:

       Helene wiped the tears from her cheek. “What we seek, Madame Leblanc, is a young man, a good man in the very flower of his youth; but he is locked inside Dachau prison—our son, Heinrich. And now it is so very hard to decide what is to be done. Should we stay or go?”

       “Even if you must go. . .somewhere. . .must it be to America? Why not wait here, here in Alsace. You are close here, close enough to respond quickly, if Heinrich were to be released. If you were all the way to the United States, your help for him would be almost impossible.”

       “Our travel visas here are good only for two weeks. But we have relations in New York—they are our people, Jews like us—who are working on our behalf. They are even willing to deposit thousands of US dollars in the banks for us, and send affidavits to endorse for our immigration, so that we can obtain visas to enter the United States and start a new life there.”

      The host, M. Ravel, at the head of the table, inserted, “Peut-etre . . . your temporary visas here can be extended. We may be able to find some help for you with that. Although there is no consulate in Strasbourg, we do know some people are well-connected. Other refugees, like you, have come from Germany and have been able, with a little time, to make better arrangements, to stay in France. Now that you have gotten out, you should slow down and get your bearings, form a strategy to establish communication with Heinrich, if that is possible; there may be more resources here in Alsace that you realize. You really do need to stay close to Germany, Hezekin.” Cartier looked directly into the man’s face, then at his wife. “You do need to stay nearby until Heinrich is released, or at least until you have heard some definite news, or until this whole damned Nazi thing blows over.”

        Henri Leblanc then spoke excitedly, “The Third Reich is not going to go away! They will inflict their German hatefulness on Jews and some others as long as they can! They will not stop until they are forced to stop. Hitler and Goebbels have railed against the Jews since the beginning, even since ’33. It was their intention all along to rob you of your business and then run you out of Germany. But our leaders, Petain or—we need another Clemenceau, or Poincare, maybe that young man, DeGaulle—somebody needs to rise up and intervene la-bas. Every since Hitler waltzed into the Saar last year, with no resistance whatsoever from us, those Nazi brutes who salute and follow his every command without question have been frothing at the mouth to run the Jews out of Germany. That is what the Gestapo is assigned to do, and the Third Reich will not cease its campaign against the Jews—especially the prosperous ones such as you.”

       “But do not despair!” said Henri’s wife. “You have come to the right place. We can help you. We’ll give you sanctuary as long as we can.”

But the Eschens were not the only ones in such a situation as this. There were many others who were fleeing, and would flee, from the tribulation of being Jewish under Hitler’s Third Reich. As the terrible tide of Nazi oppression filled Germany during the next three years, and through the years of World War II, there would be many, many more who sought to leave, and find a new life in places such as Britain, the United States, South America, Africa, and Israel.

What to do with them all? This was only one of many complicated dilemmas that President Roosevelt, as well as Mr. Churchill in Britain and the leaders of the French Third Republic, faced in those tumultuous years before, and during, World War II.

It was the worst of times, even worse than today. May it never happen again to any people group on our planet.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Helene Berr’s bad dream

March 3, 2013

May it never happen here. Not that it ever could, of course.

But it did happen–the nightmare of having some political evil start as a trickle of disturbing news reports that are too close for comfort, then turning into, over a two-year period, a slow plague of arrests that send folks to the black hole.

You heard about Joe? the guy at work, or Shawna who lives down the street; you have a class with him, or you had lunch with her last week. Or god forbid it should ever happen to anyone in your family.

But then it did. They took Helene’s father away, put him in a detention center at a place called Drancy, near Paris, very near where the Berr family lived, even though–even though–their home was in the very shadow of a famous world landmark–the Eiffel Tower.

And even though he was an important man in French industry– a smart, hard-working, successful family man with a major corporation.

It was a surprise–the rude suddenness of it–the arrest falling upon someone so close to home, a member of your own family.

But then, history is filled with such as this.  Not in America, of course, except on tv.

In this true story, you see, the powers-that-be had determined that Raymond was not religiously correct, or maybe not ethnically correct.

The bad dream had started with someone who lives down the street, someone you know casually and you see every now and then, once a week somewhere–at work or school–someone who is a friend of a friend, or a friend of an enemy.

Next thing you know, they get arrested, for no good reason, arrested for not being religiously correct, or ethnically correct, whatevah, u try to fugeddaboudit.

This happened in France, a civilized country of reasonable people, in 1942-44. Since then, it has happened in other places. Before that, it happened in many places. It didn’t start in Germany. Maybe it started in Russia, or Spain 500 years ago, or Babylon 2500 years ago or even before that.

Right now it is happening somewhere. But not in America, of course. Maybe Syria, or Somalia or North Korea, or Egypt or

Helene Berr’s Journal tells the terrible tale of Nazi-occupied France; it is the frightening testimony of one very sensitive, very smart twenty-something girl whose blooming life was forever arrested by the occupying evil. The nightmare is a long, slow slide on a slippery slope of political oppression that you knew in your bones was coming but were afraid to really deal with. It took a couple of years to fully develop. But when it finally did come–you’ve heard of Auschwitz, right?

Yes, it did happen. These things happen, because this is the human race we’re livin in.

This book is not for you who want to be perpetually entertained.  All comfortably-numb online and cable-ready enticements will end someday. Then what happens? Maybe you oughta find out what happens.

No, this book is more like education, although Helene’s recollections of unjust, irrational events as they alarmingly unfolded, are very tender, painfully prosaic in their stabbing truth, like a Dante’s inferno, or Cable’s descent into hell on 500 channels.

Sadder, but wiser, will you be if you read it: The Journal of Helene Berr, translated and commented by David Bellos, published 2008 by Weinstein Books.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Smokefree

February 24, 2013

In the novel that I am presently writing, the young American, Philip, has just arrived, via train, in Strasbourg, France, very near the German border. The year is 1937. A young lady, Lili, who has recently left Germany, has arranged for her father, Hezekin, to drive Philip out of Strasbourg and into the Alsace countryside of easternmost France.

In chapter 13 of Smoke, the novel, we hear Philip Marlowe and Hezekin Eschen converse, as Hezekin is driving the Renault to a farmhouse in the country:

       “Konzentrationslager,” said Hezekin.

“They are special prisons for Jews, where they are concentrated in camps to do slave labor,” said Lili.

Philip’s American mind could not fathom it. “What is so special about you Jews that—“

Hezekin raised his voice: “From ancient times, God has called us out of slavery, and we will never, never submit to it on this earth—not from Pharoah, not from the Fuehrer!”

“What slavery are you talking about now, in 1937, with you a businessman, providing for your family?” Philip retorted.

The voice lowered. “Philip, the Nazis are building slave camps now!” His voice was tense with urgency, eyes flashing with offense. “The SS has built one at Dachau, and they have taken my son, my one and only son, and they have locked him in there with barbed wire all around the camp. What do you call that?”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Now you have, my friend. You are not in America now. This is the old world, the world from which your ancestors—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln—the world of tragedy, and hope, from which they sprung, the world from which their ancestors fled!”

“If this is true—“

“It is true, my friend!

Disturbing video, 1936

January 1, 2013

In my present writing project, a novel named Smoke, the protagonist is a young American, Philip Marlowe. Living in London during the year 1937, Philip finds himself drawn into a terrible vortex of European political currents.

I find that writing this story, which takes place mostly on another continent, and seventy-years ago, is a challenge. Some may think I’m crazy to have undertaken it. We shall see.

For this endeavor, every hour of writing requires, oh, ten or so hours of reading and research to substantiate it. Otherwise the story that I concoct would be implausible and unrealistic. My theory is that search tools on our worldwide web enable new possibilities for global storytelling that are unprecedented. So I’m  forging a sort of historical fictional frontier. We shall see, in the next year or so, if I can pull it off.

Anyway, since the whole thing happens in the year 1937, maintaining a credible level of authenticity in the story is a constant challenge, and requires a lot of work.

My character, Philip, although originally a simple fellow from the mountainous region of North Carolina, is nevertheless representing a worldwide tobacco company, and working accounts in London. The story begins May 12, 1937, the day that King George VI, the stuttering sovereign, is crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Out in the crowded streets of London, Philip and his friend Nathan find themselves suddenly witnesses to the untimely death of an old gentleman. One thing leads to another, and a week or so later Philip finds himself on an unusual mission on the Mediterranean coast of France, after a journey that skirts the Pyrennical edges of the Spanish civil war. In the background and underneath it all are the immense political tectonics of communism and fascism that are slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, catapulting the nations of Europe toward a terrible war.

With my meandering plot lines having brought Philip to the southernmost tip of France, and him having an inclination to travel from there all the way to Belgium on the North coast, I am now researching France in 1937. This is hard to do, because most of the documentation readily available pertains to the war which started two years later, in 1939.

I am more interested, for purposes of this story, in learning and writing about what caused that war than about the war itself.

The main reason World War II happened was one evil megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler, who duped the good German people into following down a perditious path of antisemitic racial hatred and obsessive vengeance against the French and other Europeans, most notably the Russians.

After the first WorldWar had ended, the victorious Allies got together and wrote up a treaty, the Treaty of Versailles,that, as time went by, put a severe crimp on German rebuilding of an economy and society. By the early 1930s, Hitler was able to, in his fanatically diabolical way, take advantage of a resentment that had been mounting inside Germany. He absconded what had formerly been a proud Prussian military tradition, and subverted its nobler aspects with hateful plans for genocide and war.

In 1933 Hitler and his band of national socialist radicals came to power. In taking over the German government, they broke all the rules of law and decency. Because of the dearth and extremities of the times, they were able to get away with it.

In spring 1936, Hitler made an arrogant military move that–probably moreso than any other historical event–set the stage for the terrible destruction that followed during the next ten years–the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. This was an area between France and Germany that had been disputed in earlier times.

Because France had been weakened by its war weariness, still hungover from 1914-1918, and also its debilitating internal contention between socialist and nationalistic factions within its own government, France did not prevent, nor resist, the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. There was, in fact, a sizable German population in the disputed area. There was a similarly problematical situation on the other side of Germany–the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

The choice of the French Third Republic to not stop Hitler and his goons at that point turned out later to be a fatal mistake.

But who knew?

History in the making is only explicable when viewed in hindsight. There were a few who could see, in the midst of what was happening at the time,  what was coming–Churchill, perhaps DeGaulle, an American congressman or two.

During my present search to ascertain the character of France during that vulnerable period, I found a very disturbing propaganda film from 1936 Germany. It captures images of that fateful, though bloodless, German advance into the Rhineland, and also the words of the diabolical genius who had ordered it.

It’s creepy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_8ReKlFVI

Nevertheless,  here is a lesson in history now viewable in 2013, but obtained originally from old 1936 film.

Think about this: What is it that is happening now in our world that will inform our grandchildren, watching utube or whatever, decades from now, about the failings of this present generation?

We cannot know until, if human nature remains the same, it is too late to do much besides talking and writing about it, and watch old videos.  But that is life and death in a fallen world of 21st-century perplexity.

Glass Chimera

Recovery as Idol

December 6, 2012

My present reading (for novel research) of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reichhas revealed a surprising, though very disturbing truth–mainly this:

Under Hitler’s hyperactive dictatorial leadership, Germany achieved, during the mid-1930s, what appeared to be a miraculous economic recovery. By 1933 Hitler had deceived his way into being elected as Chancellor of Germany. From that year 1933, to 1937, unemployment in Germany plummeted downward–from six million unemployed to one million unemployed.

In only four years!

How did Hitler and the Nazis pull off this amazing turnaround? They put people to work building up their war economy. But it was a bellicose accomplishment that would later prove to be their tragic undoing.

Furthermore, on page 262 of the Simon & Schuster edition, Shirer includes this statistic: “The heavy industries, chief beneficiaries of rearmament, increased their (profits) from 2 percent in the boom year of 1926 to 6 1/2 percent in 1938, the last full year of peace” (before Hitler launched his mad plan to enslave Europe, ed.).

And this: “. . .most firms reinvested in their own businesses the undistributed profits, which rose from 175 million marks in 1932 to five billion marks in 1938. . .”

But then consider where that impressive recovery eventually took them–to an agonizing, ill-fated national destruction a few years later.

This history lesson, courtesy of Mr. Shirer’s prodigious research–and his first-hand witnessing of life in Nazi Germany during that pivotal time– should serve as a warning to us.

Do not make of economic recovery an idol. Much more important is the retention– among a free and inquisitive nation of people such as we are– the retention of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for all of us. To that list I would add: the general preservation among us of a decent respect for the rights of all persons and people groups.

Do not make of economic recovery an idol. Freedom and dignity is much more valuable.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

The Breakdown of Society

June 3, 2012

It starts with polarization. Is that okay, or not?

Polarization between left and right; or between conservative and liberal; libertines vs. disciplinarians; religious vs. atheist; sinners vs. saints; Democrat vs. Republican; libertarian vs. socialist;  communist vs. fascist; And of course there’s the original  human version, and most fundamental one of all: right vs. wrong, also known sometimes as “us” against “them.”

Is your personal identity, or mine, defined by one’s decision to take a position on “one side or the other”? Philosophers and sociologists call this way of classifying stuff as dichotomy, an insistence on believing that everything is either one thing or its opposite thing.

In reality, of course, we are all composites of both. I suppose that makes us all mixed up.  Why, my own chosen faith framework, Christianity, teaches that we are all sinners, while we can be, even at the same time by God’s grace, saints. Consequently, we discover that everywhere you look in this world we find, not so much black and white, but shades of gray. Shades of gray in every societal, political, and religious entity and institution that is out there.

And most important of all: shades of gray within my own (formerly) damned self.

Where does this endless diversity of contentions take us? What’s the world coming to? And how will little old me end up in it?

Over my sixty years of life, especially in the last half-decade or so, I have noticed a certain suspect predisposition within myself, and it disturbs me. To describe it simply, I would have to say it can only be called a kind of death-wish on society, because the world is so screwed up. It’s a perverse reasoning that if society–or the nation or the world–were to fall apart because of so much dysfunction and injustice, then conditions would spontaneously emerge that would somehow facilitate my self-actualization as a person,  and hence my fulfillment with a meaningful role in the new society.

But this is madness. I mean, this was Hitler’s problem. And look what happened there.

Furthermore, in research and reading that I have undertaken in the last year or so, I have discovered that I am not the only one who experiences this feeling of delusory self-justification at the expense of societal downfall. There are many others out there whose attitude toward the world is reflected as what some have called “apocalyptic.”

As I  am presently writing a novel, Smoke, which is set in the year 1937, I encountered this word, “apocolyptic” as descriptive of the fascists in Britain during that convulsive period of pre-WWII history. These desperate extremists didn’t care if their movement would bring about the downfall of British society, because they were so convinced that they were right and everybody else wrong, especially the communists across the street (in East London). And Britain’s experience of this polarization was minimal as compared to the Continental manifestations of it just across the Channel.

The whole European world was, at that time, attempting to divide itself according to the two opposing apocalyptic, or revolutionary, movements of that day: fascists vs. communists: fascists in Germany and Italy, Communists in Russia, eastern Europe and possibly Spain. There is so much to say about this, I cannot possibly do it here, so I’ll continue dealing with it in the book I am writing. But I would like to bring to your attention this passage about Germany in 1930, from page 15 of World Crisis and British Decline, 1929-56, by Roy Douglas (St. Martin’s Press, 1986.):

“Economic misery was matched by political chaos. At the General Election (in Germany) of September 1930 there were eleven parties each with a dozen or more representatives, and no single party held as many as a quarter of the total. The Nazis, who had only won twelve seats a couple of years earlier, became second party of the state with 107; while the Communists advanced from 54 to 77. Both of those parties believed in revolutionary solutions, and were perfectly willing to allow the state to collapse in ruins, in order to rebuild from their own preferred foundations. Thus they had no interest in making the economy work as well as possible, and every interest in refusing to cooperate with anybody.”

Sound familiar?

What they had back then was a failure to agree, and consequently, movements of both formerly-centrist positions toward extremes. Ultimately, the only reconciliation of those polarizations was one hell of a big war.

So, is the lesson of history that failure to agree may lead to apocalyptically chaotic rearrangemets of society? It could happen, but I’m not looking forward to it. When I was younger, I thought I might be awaiting some kind of apocalypse. I thought it was beginning in the fall of ’08. But we’re still here, all of us plodding along.

So, in this sixth decade of my time on earth I’m hoping and praying that the world does not fall apart. How about you?

Glass half-Full