Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Around the Horn

  • Right of the Mother's Life: Lusophonic blogger ___ Nuno Guerreiro of Rua da Judiaria has an excellent post explaining Jewish theological views on abortion (I usually explain to people that abortion has the same gravitas as amputating an arm.) Nuno stresses that abortion is mandated by Jewish law (halacha) in some cases. Here is the Googlized translation.

  • Whipping sh!tties?: Take a look at the survey of US Dialects. It looks at the different things Americans say and how they pronounce them. I had fun looking at those things that are clearly "New Englandisms"--things like tag sales and cabinets. (Reference at Far Outliers.)

  • Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has two posts on controversial depictions of African Americans. They deal with Griffith's Birth of the Nation and Porgy and Bess. The first was protested by NAACP for its heroic depiction of the Klu Klux Klan (James Card, in Seductive Cinema, quotes a rabbi who felt ashamed for having cheered on the Clansmen.) The second was protested because it "glorified the worst in black folk and urban street culture."

  • Writer Shane Maloney gave an interesting speech to the students of Scotch College. Here is one gem: "It is not your fault, after all, that your families decided to institutionalise you." (Reference at Barista.)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Wunsiedel: A Small Town against the Neo-Nazis

A town of 7,000 in Upper Franconia struggles with the reputation of being a neo-Nazi gathering place. Every year Nazis make a pilgrimage to Wunsiedel to honor Rudolf Hess, who was Adolf Hitler's deputy and a Nazi party leader. Because of these commemorations, the town has the reputation for extremism.

In truth, there is nothing special about Wunsiedel. Rudolf Hess never lived in the town: it was merely the place where family members were buried. The local minister describes Hess' 1987 burial as nothing more than an act of mercy. But because of the presence of Hess' grave, Wunsiedel is forever linked with the neo-Nazi movement.

This year, 3,000 neo-Nazis, both young and old, came to Wunsiedel. The town is powerless to stop the meeting: Bavarian courts have said that the commemorations are legal so long as no symbols of National Socialism are employed. Mayor Karl-Willi Beck and the citizens of the town tried to block the parade of extremists. After the police forced the citizens to give way, they attempted other means to disrupt the gathering. Clowns walked back and forth along the pilgrimage route in order to distract the children. The mayor wants to prove that "Wunsiedel is bright--not brown!"

Myths of Alta California

Crossposted to Cliopatria.

I spent several days in California visiting my parents. They no longer live in Los Angeles, moving to one of the interior valleys about a decade ago. This was the first time I had been in California and did not visit LA–--it was no longer my home. And as Goa Xingjian says, it is impossible in a city for any place to belong exclusively to one person. Still, I was a tourist in the place of my birth.

The Temecula Valley, where they live now, has undergone immense change in a short time. It is high desert nestled between tall mountains. The climate is generally dry, and trees are precious. Initially, there were numerous orange groves; to the south there are avocado groves. There is also a small wine country with a dozen and a half vineyards. Every time I visit I am impressed by the progress made by the winemakers

The landscape is a piece of the Mexican desert pushing into California. In fact, there are a number of strong, long-standing Mexican-American communities. It is possible to see a long distance from almost anywhere within the valley. My Connecticut-born wife thinks it is picturesque, but not quite hospitable.

This area has come under pressure as new housing developments are raised and new people move in. A few orange groves have disappeared. Cookie-cutter houses obscure the original buildings that were appropriately weathered. The new residents commute to far off San Diego and Orange Country ... and to LA in some cases. They don’t understand the Mexican Americans who live in the area.

Being a tourist at home allowed me to do tourist things that I would not have done before. One thing I wanted to do was explore Spanish Colonial influence. Local myth in New England is intimately entwined with the founding history of America: people tend to see all American history originating from them. I was happy to show my wife the history and myths of old California with which I was raised.

The myth, of course, is that of Catholic missions and Father Junipero Serra: a Franciscan who was sent to establish a firm Spanish presence in Alta California against the encroachment of British and Russian traders and to Catholicize the natives. The mission were outposts whereat Europeans and natives coexisted. They were the basis for the settlement of California. The pastoral image of monks and natives living together in harmony persists today. The reality was that the mission system, while growing, was fragile, and the religious goals of the missionaries conflicted with the goals of the crown, which wanted to turn natives into Spanish citizens. To this end, the state founded towns: there were parallel policies that led to the settlement (in the European sense) of California.

We drove out to two missions, San Juan Capistrano and San Luis Rey (a beautiful drive over the mountains). Each mission left me with a different impression. San Juan Capistrano completely fit its romantic image. The mission is right in the middle of the city, surrounded by streets that run parallel to the walls. Large parts of the structure have been not been rebuilt, giving that classic look of a ruin. The large church has been left completely open to the elements, its roof having collapsed in an earthquake. The gardens are filled with colorful plants; there are running fountains. Numerous artists paint the famed bells. Parts of the mission dedicated to artisanship are open and thoroughly explained. There is even a little display showing the piano whereat “When the swallows return to Capistrano” was composed. So close to the street, the mission is more of a park than an historical site–a respite from urban life among romantic surroundings.

San Luis Rey has been restored. The damage that it experienced has been repaired, and it appears to be more functional. The mission is painted in a stark white, and stunning site as it is some distance from its city. One of the last missions that was built, it was meant to look more like a baroque Spanish church. Details that would normally have been created with wood carving, stained glass and marbled stone were painted in. Imported statues of religious figures were evocative and emotional. The museum was well organized, showing the articles of daily and religious life. Most of these came from Spain, although some were produced in Mexico and (in rare cases) locally. Posted by Hello

Despite its restoration, San Luis Rey probably did more to recreate the impression of a mission against the Southern California landscape: a stark white edifice against high mountains, surrounded by land affected by drought. I was transfixed by two photographs that showed the conditions of both mission in the mid-nineteenth century. Not only were they in need of repair, but the landscape was desolate. Time has given richer flora to both San Juan Capistrano and San Luis Rey (thanks to the likes of William Mulholland). However, the former looks like a piece of paradise in a hectic world. The former reveals more of the imposing presence of the Church when it was first built, something that could have been alien and unfamiliar. Furthermore, San Juan Capistrano gave the impression that the missions were self-sufficient because of the centrality of displays of artisanship, a notion betrayed by San Luis Rey. Posted by Hello

Friday, August 27, 2004

Beautiful Decay

John Brinckerhoff Jackson was a founder of "landscape studies", an interdisciplinary collision of environmental sensibilities and aesthetics. The book A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time is a collection of essays on diverse but related subjects. Half the book deals with the landscape of New Mexico as it has been formed and interpreted. The second half considers various ways that the American landscape has been informed by, and has deviated from, European notions of man’s relationship with land and nature.

The book is filled with interesting and useful observations:
  • Architecture is built on European notions that home is more than shelter: it is refuge from the private sphere. Consequently, non-European cultures like the Hopi do not have the same concern for architecture is their dwellings, seeing no boundaries between shelter and public life.
  • Climate determines much of the ritual calendar. The Colorado Plateau, which begins in central New Mexico, is the definitive end of the Mexican world: the plateau experiences winter weather, which affects how people live and plan.
  • Jackson appreciates the value and functionality of "vernacular buildings"--specifically mobile homes--even though they do not fit into architects' and urban planners' ideals of beauty and community.
  • Most Americans find respite in recreational spaces that resemble nature rather than in nature itself. Much of the natural landscape is not penetrated by Americans.
  • All new construction, once stridently different and foreign among its natural surroundings, finds its place in time. The fact that it was foreign is forgotten, and people act as if "radio and television towers" are a natural part of the ecology.

Jackson's discussion of how New Mexico was painted and photographed grabbed me. New Mexico is a landscape of ruins--Indian and Spanish Colonial--and ruins were the site that tended to attract artists. Decay became a premier means of describing and depicting the New Mexico landscape:
The relentless progress of ruin and abandonment has been interpreted as a kind of romantic flowering, something to be recorded before it is too late ... There was never a face but the old and defeated, never a sign of continuing life, but many sad pictures of deserted graveyards. This vision, repeated by artists in many other parts of the country, seems in retrospect to have been less a reflection of reality than a way of expressing a nostalgic version of history: a desperate, last-minute recording of old and once cherished values, the New Mexico chapter in that once popular chronicling of "vanishing America" ...

Fascination with ruins ran deep in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Landscape painters and illustrators from Europe painted ancient buildings that had since collapsed and had become unusable. They also painted local life around these ruins, showing that they continued to attract people.

This was also the attitude of travelers who visited my beloved Rhine and in southwestern Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. They focused on the decaying castles that lined the hill tops along the middle river valley. They tried to contact something of the emotions of the past, looking for a mystical experience in the crumbling stones. (Celia Applegate did a great job of analyzing how people in the Palatinate took to those same ruins, propping them up and studying them extensively.)

This was but one Rhineland that travelers could have seen--there was also the industrial region, the Rhine as one of the roots of industry on the continent. The geography of the river valley framed a very specific view, blocking any view of the modernizing world. In this way, too radically different interpretations of the landscape could coexist. Ironically, some of the popular tourist attractions are the factories that are collapsing on themselves.

Something that I wish that Jackson would have addressed is why ruins continue to be useful. Why did people settle near missions and churches that had been abandoned? Why did governments undertake expensive projects to complete buildings in styles that were centuries old? Why did a failed and abandoned world become the focus of settlement in so many places?

Alsace Hate Watch 2

The newest hateful incident, for once, was not targeted at Jews or Muslims, but at Christians. A protestant cemetery in Wolfisheim was profaned on Tuesday night. Swastikas and insults were painted on tombstones and local walls. However, local authorities suspect that this was an act of retaliation: groups of young people, who hang out around the cemetery, have been chased away regularly. According to the mayor:
Quelques bandes de jeunes venus en voitures se réunissent régulièrement depuis plusieurs mois le soir dans la commune, et notamment derrière le cimetière profané, créant souvent des troubles à l'ordre public qui ont nécessité l'intervention de la gendarmerie.
[Rough translations: For several months groups of youths have come in cars to meet up regularly in the evening in the community, most notably behind the profaned cemetery, often disturbing the public order and necessitating intervention by the genarmerie.]

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Back from Alta California

I spent five days in California, visiting the folks, so I will get back to my regular blogging habits soon. What's on the menu?
  1. Continuing my evaluation of the relationship between ethnic Germans and Italians abroad and Fascism.
  2. Reporting on my vacation, including my attempts to teach my New England-born wife about the myths of old California as well as my impressions of how the inner valleys are changing.
  3. A run down of articles on separatism and regionalism in former Soviet Republics, India, and the Great Lakes.
  4. A review of Joseph Roth's Rebellion.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Painful Love

Before she left for the land of cheese and beer, Brdgt and I were talking about the perfect length of book for a graduate student. We cannot read books one right after another; we must read several things at a time. Furthemore, we must read things for research that are not books--administrative records, minutes for meetings, hand-written journals, etc.

As a result, the length of the perfect book (for our reading pleasure) is about 120 pages. The novella is the perfect book. A tightly written story that can be read, if motivated, in a few hours and that is not so complex that it cannot be put down for a few days. Sometimes I fear buying or checking out longer books because they might languish on my shelves without every having been touched. Happily, I have several such small books waiting for me: Joseph Roth's Rebellion, Italo Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Heinrich Böll's The Silent Angel (a great writer from Cologne about the destruction of the city after WWII), Cees Nooteboom's Philip and the Others, and Pierre Michon's Master and Servants (actually a collection of novellas).

I few days ago I read Making Love by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (from Belgium). In 116 pages it describes the end of a relationship--and end that comes long after the love has left. The couple is in Japan where the woman will mount a fashion show; her lover is only there for support. But their lovemaking is painful--very painful--if you have seen the ending of Wings of the Dove, you know what I mean. Obvious these two people ought not be together.

That incident sets off a romp through Tokyo on a snowy night. They stick together solely for reasons of familiarity, but they have nothing loving, or even cordial, to say to one another. As the woman starts to work on her exhibit, the man slips away.

The book is tightly focused on the experiences of each moment. The man (who is the narrator) obsessively looks around, describing his environment, just to find things to occupy his mind in the long periods of ennui. His conversations with the woman are annoyances that cannot end soon enough. These long descriptions are rich with details about daily life in Tokyo (restaurants, clubs, business meetings, architecture, subways and trains ...). On the surface, they are intriuging pictures of how the Japanese live; in context, they emphasize the alienation felt by the couple.

My big problem with the book: the man travels with a bottle of hydrochloric acid, perhaps his "out" if he feels completely trapped (he does not commit suicide in the book, nor does he dwell on it). This seemed contrived.

This is a well written book. The prose are quick; every word had been carefully chosen (and translated into English). But it is difficult to say why people would want to read it. It is a painful subject, and Toussaint makes the reader feel the emotions of continuing a farcical romance. There is no out: nothing that lets the reader feel that one person has betrayed the other, no affair, no attraction to another, no illness, abuse or addiction. There is no contrivance that drives the couple to dissolve. There is only a loss of momentum--only the end.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Soccer and National Unity

Just a quick, unfiltered thought:

Two nights ago, some commentator at the Olympics in Athens said that interest in the games in probably low because no great conflict is being played out. He argued that past games were driven by Cold War competition: US vs. USSR, east vs. west, good vs. evil. He went on to note that al-Qaeda had no Olympic team.

I would disagree. The saga of Iraq's soccer team is such a story. It is not a conflict between different sides (even though they play opponents), but a challenge to succeed despite recent history. Furthermore, it is a challenge to see if the soccer team can act as a symbol of national unity. Don't laugh! The team of the united German nations won the World Cup, becoming a common symbol around which Germans could rally. Arguably, Germans were better off. However, the Iraq team could help to ease the ethnic division, even if for one moment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Another Great Lakes War

Crossposted to Cliopatria

A new war in Central Africa may break out.

On August 13, a group of Hutu rebels attacked a refugee camp in Burundi, killing 160 Banyamulenge refugees (Congolese of Rwandan and Burundi descent, most of whom have been identified as Tutsi) at the Gutamba Refugee Camp. It is believed that the rebels came from Democratic Republic of Congo.

The presence of Hutu rebels–genocidaires responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide–and the support that they have received from Kinshasa for almost a decade has been a major concern for Rwanda and Burundi. The genocidaires continued to attack Tutsi in the two Kivu provinces and in Ituri, and they transmitted their racial hatred to other Congolese groups. (This report describes the regional connections between the Kivus, Rwanda and Burundi). Twice Rwanda and Burundi invaded Zaire/Congo in order to protect ethnic Tutsi.

There have been only brief intermissions in violence in eastern Congo since the ceasefire. Violence continued at the lower levels, below what the states considered the legitimate subjects for diplomacy. Nevertheless, they have been carried out by armed militia groups, some composed of demobilized soldiers. Stephan van Praet of Human Rights Watch says that the peace talks don't address the issue of justice at low levels, thus perpetuating the "cycle of impunity."

Diplomats from the two small Great Lakes nations have lost all their fair in the ongoing negotiations with Kinshasa.
"The process has broken down and we need to repair this break down," Azarius Ruberwa, the head of RCD and one of Congo's four vice presidents, told United Nations radio.

"We need to stop, re-read the (peace) agreement and the conclusions of the negotiations because it is incomprehensible that, during a peace process, genocide of Congolese people takes place abroad," he said.
Furthermore, politicians from both Rwanda and Burundi have suggested that they are thinking of another war:
"I have not ruled out an offensive against the DRC aimed at making them respect our country's borders," General Germain Niyoyankana told reporters.
Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congolese commander, has also made threats:
"I am not attacking now ... I will be here in Goma mourning for a few days. By then hopefully the people of good faith will have taken the appropriate decisions ... This won't happen again."
The previous fighting was significant because it expanded to include states beyond those on the Great Lakes, most notably Angola and Zimbabwe, as the different states started to fight for mineral interests in the Kivus.

Taking time to look around

Most competitors on the Amazing Race scream at natives to do things for them--as if volume can overcome the language gap--and scream at each other, worried about completing some absurd task. Trying to stay alive on the show, they become ugly Americans--more than they might be naturally. When they are eliminated, they claim that they have had the adventure of their lives.

Chip and Kim are different. I feel that they are having the adventure of their lives. They look around and take in what they can of the landscape around them. Last night, they actually sat down to enjoy a precious moment of hospitality in a Tanzinian village. That showed class.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

French Memory
International Baseball
Silent Movie

Just a few quick notes:
  • I put up my first post at Cliopatria on WWII memorial ceremonies in France and Franco-American relations.
  • Far Outliers has a number of posts concerning baseball around the world, in particular in Asia (here, here, and here). Joel talk a lot about baseball, and you can find info on Japanese leagues in the archives. I have myself been thinking about European baseball: there is a nascent league in Northern Ireland, and I am curious about Dutch baseball--I notice that Netherlands has a team in the Olympics.
  • Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has a post about protests against Birth of the Nation in Los Angeles in the 1920s. For those of you who may not have known me for a while, I knew Lawrence Austin, who operated the silents-only theater Silent Movie on Fairfax in Los Angeles. Mr. Austin was a gentle and generous man: I wish that I attended the night that he showed Birth of the Nation to tell you what his comments were.
  • I should come up with something to say about Georgian separatism, more than what I have previously writte.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Argument for Repatriating Jobs

[Aside: ]I am suffering from allergies today--only G-d knows what is making me sneeze--and I don't have the patience to add a lot of commentary to this.

The CNN show "In the money" had an interesting interview with Dustin Crane concerning the costs (not the savings) of outsourcing jobs to India. Here are some interesting excerpts:
... we did a business case analysis of setting up our operations for software development offshore, we found that the labor rate is just one of many attributes that add cost -- or labor rates save money, but there are other attributes that add cost to doing business offshore. When we looked at the business case and realized that these additional costs really took away much of the savings, we found that the savings just were not as big as everyone expects. We have studied many U.S. companies, and actually did a survey and discovered that many of them expected 40 to 60 percent savings. But as it turns out, those savings turn out to be somewhere between minus 20 percent and 20 percent ...

... U.S. companies have bought into the concept of saving money by looking at the low labor rates, but if you look at knowledge transfer, the cost of communications, the cultural differences and trying to explain the needs of the solutions that were trying to be built over there, also the infrastructure difficulties. There are a number of factors that net-net add up small amounts of additional costs, maybe 10 percent there, 15 percent additional cost there.

Plus, you are dealing with a very remote location across the world, which means the meetings are held 10.5 hours out of sync, and these things all kind of add up and chip away at the cost savings. If you focus on one thing, and that is the labor rates.

And India has done a really good job at selling those labor rates and enticing U.S. companies [emphasis mine] to set up these software development companies.
The transcript to the entire show is here (the segment is about half-way down the page).

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Bizarre Nazi Triangles Part III -- Chile

Read Part I -- Introduction
Read Part II -- Brazil and Peru


The April 2004 edition of The Americas has an article by Marcus Klein on the relationship between Germans in Chile, Chile’s Fascist movement, and their role in anti-government activities.

Like other fascist parties, the Movimiento Nacional Socialista (hereafter Nacismo) formed in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power. The party’s admiration for the NSDAP could not have been more visible–or more problematic. Nacismo imitated Nazi symbols, mannerisms (like the salute), and organizations (they had their own version of the SA). However, emulation was mostly on the surface: in other ways the leaders of the party tried to develop their own ideology.

Nacismo was immediately popular with Chilean Germans who, on the one hand, wanted to preserve their German identities and on the other, were disturbed by recent successes of communism in Chile. German organizations (Klein points out the German youth groups in particular) worked closely with Nacismo, and Germans joined the party in large numbers.

Because of the outer imitation of NSDAP and the large presence of Germans, most Chileans felt that Nacismo was nothing more that an agent of the Third Reich that worked to undermine the nation. It was criticized as an import from Germany that did not represent Chile. Under pressure from the criticism, the leaders of Nacismo were forced to adapt: they defended the native roots of their party, and they dumped Nazi symbols in favor of Chilean. By 1937, Nacismo was still trying to prove itself: members had been involved in several violent incidents, and it was widely believed by both government and public that the party was directly supported by the Third Reich–both ideologically and financially–to overthrow the state.

Party head Gonazalez tried to distance Nacismo from Nazism. He became critical of Nazism and the Third Reich. He tried to realign Nacismo within the national political spectrum. He even criticized Chilean Germans. As Klein points out,
he increasingly distanced his movement from Nazism, avoiding, as a report of the German Embassy stated in August 1937, any identification with Nazi Germany, if only ‘ideational.’

If the German embassy believed that Nacismo was not its tool, the public did not. And at least one of the two charges against Nacismo were proven true. In 1937, a court claimed that the party was not trying to overthrow the government; in September 1938 it did try–its coup was a miserable failure.

As Nacismo nationalized itself, it distanced itself from the support that it received from Chilean Germans. The new emphasis on creole identity was not in keeping with the desire to preserve German identity. German organizations stopped working with Nacismo: the youth groups and the party went in different directions. Germans were still over-represented, but they were not attracted to it because it was an expression of identity:
[Germans] were proud of their origins and traditions and not willing to accept the Nacistas’ idea of complete cultural integration.
Nevertheless, the German presence within the party remained strong–not for reasons of identity, but for reasons of nationalism:
... ‘ethnic affiliation’ was less important than the ‘active participation’ in an organization that promised, as they saw it, a ‘better Chilean future.’
This might not be a ringing endorsement of Chilean Germans, but there affiliation with Nacismo would continually distance them from Nazi Germany and from a politics based on ethnic identity.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Rising above the footnotes

Good news! Thanks to Geitner Simmons' (of Regions of Mind) numerous recommendations (too many to link on the fly), Ralph Luker and the cast at Cliopatria will add me to their group blog. I could not be happier. Of course, this site will continue ... I still need somewhere to talk about Ollie (the miracle bunny), my little day trips around New England and New York, and my interest in vintage baseball. And I need somewhere to dump my random pictures of Gothic churches and pretend that they are significant.

My wife and I spent the evening with Brdgt of Fear of a Female Planet and her husband--they are leaving for Wisconsin where she will begin her doctoral studies this fall. I know that she will be a big hit. I have to mention the place whereto they took us in Cambridge--I cannot remember the name of it, but it is next a small square across from Tower Records. My wife had a wonderful glass of wine there: Josef Leitz, from the Rheingau--very sweet, but very compact.

Finishing up on my little comparison of Nazis abroad may take a little more time than I expected. I should have Brazil and Czechoslovakia in short order. Alsace and Low Countries cuts very close to my research--I have lots, perhaps too much, to say about Germany's efforts to contact Germans and Germanic ethnic groups. If you are impatient, I recommend looking through Griff nach dem Westen, a wonderful collection about early twentieth-century research into the German borderlands and the movement of peoples into Northwestern Europe.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Alsace Hate Watch 2 (updated)

Actually, a week has passed and nothing bad has happened in Alsace. However, there were other desecrations of graves in Yonne, a town in nearby Burgundy, as well as in Lyon.

Dernières Nouvelles D'Alsace is reporting that Deputy Emile Blessig of Saverne (site of the desecration of a Jewish cemetery) will propose that the French national assembly outlaw gatherings by Neo-Nazi organizations, limiting the right to assemble in France. Blessig draws comparisons with terrorism in justifying such measures:
At the international level, terrorism has made democracy its enemy while much closer to us, we help to grow an intolerance that is nothing more than another form of terrorism.
This may be one of the first attempts in France to associate violence at home with terrorism. However, Blessig wants to proceed cautiously--lawyers should carefully craft a law that defines the appropriate limits of assembly :
It is necessary to react to every action, but equally to promote democratic values [in the future].
[Updated 8:22 am:] For once I can reference an English language article: the New York Times' "Thwarted in Germany, Neo Nazis Take Fascism to France" highlights the current problems with hate in Alsace.
... The fascist tendency of some younger Alsatians cannot easily be ascribed to economic deprivation or a sudden influx of immigrants. Unemployment in the region is about 8 percent, several points lower than the national average, and the immigrant population, mostly made up of North African and Turkish workers imported to meet labor shortages after World War II, has grown only incrementally in recent years.

Instead, many people here say history is to blame ...

"There was never a de-Nazification in Alsace because the region was treated as a victim," said Georges Yoram Federmann ...

"There's a lack of vigilance," said Pierre Levy, a local member of France's Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, complaining that there was little local outrage about neo-Nazi sympathies. He worried that French society's tendency to trivialize such incidents could lead to a resurgence of fascism. ...
I think that the Alsatian politicians ought to look at the problem more deeply, at least in a historical sense. Arguably the region was never de-Nazified. But it also did not pass through the Dreyfus Affair with the rest of France. Alsatians were never forced to choose the République over racism. It should also be mentioned that much of Alsace's current Jewish population are not descended from the large communities that existed before WWII--they did not survive the Nazi occupation, as Alsace was directly incorporated into the Third Reich. They were replaced by immigrants from all corners of Europe and North Africa. Alsatians may not see the contemporary Jews of Alsace as French Jews.

[More important:] The article also describes the recent rally of 300 Neo-Nazis in Hipsheim (just south of Strasbourg) at the end of July. An article in Est Republicain ("Les Alsaciens réclament une loi contre les réunions de néonazis") describes the problems that mayors have dealing with gatherings of extremists:
Le maire du village [Hipsheim], Antoine Rudloff, a expliqué après coup qu'il avait été « trompé » par le locataire du terrain et de la salle qui avait évoqué une simple « fête entre copains » lorsqu'il avait fait la réservation au printemps. Aucune infraction n'a été constatée par les gendarmes qui se sont rendus sur place.
« Les élus locaux sont souvent pris au dépourvu : quand ils prennent conscience de la véritable nature de la réunion, il est souvent bien tard pour réagir, surtout si l'on considère la violence et l'agressivité potentielles des skinheads », relève Emile Blessig, député (UMP) du Bas-Rhin.

[Rough translation: The mayor of Hipsheim says he was deceived as to the nature of the gathering when arrangements were made. The gendarmes did not find any infractions when they came to the location.

"The local elected officials are often taken unaware: when they become aware of the true nature of the gathering, it is often too late to react, moreover when one considers the violence and potential aggressiveness of skinheads," reveals Deputy Emile Blessig.]

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fruitlands and Harvard Shakers

Last week we drove out to Central Massachusetts to see Fruitlands, an experimental community from the early nineteenth century. Fruitlands is located on a sloping hill above the Nashua River in an secluded location.

The community was founded by transcendentalist Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) and British philosopher Charles Lane. In the early twentieth century Clara Endicott Sears turned the land into an exhibit for the Fruitlands utopia as well as creating three other museums: one for local Native American art, one for the nearby Harvard Shaker community, and another for her collection of Hudson River School paintings.

Alcott and Lanes were interested in communitarianism, are were determined to create a community that could exist independently from the rest of society. They bought a farm to house themselves and their families; others bought farmland in the area. The community, for some reason, set itself up mid-summer, and was disbanded by the next January.

Part of the problem is that they failed to create enough supplies to allow them to survive the winter. The other part was the emotional drain on the families. Alcott and Lane spent time away from the community, raising money. They were friends of both Emerson and Thoreau. Emerson thought the two men were crazy, claiming that they continued to reach behind their backs to see if their wings had sprouted.

When things looked bad for Fruitlands, Alcott, spent time at Thoreau's farm. He tried to convince Alcott to become celibate with him. In the meantime, the families were thrown at the mercy of the local Shakers. Eventually, the Alcott family left them farm to find shelter with the local Shakers; the farmland itself was sold off to Joseph Palmer, a nut in his own right.

The farmhouse is one of the four museums; it is typical of a home from the era. The grounds outside were filled with sculptures from an artist who tries to find anthropomorphic characteristics in found items. The hills are covered with goldenrod and ragweed--pretty, but an allergy nightmare. The other museums are interesting. The Native American Museum has a small, but well-chosen, collection of local crafts. It's strength is the representation of native life after King Philip's War.

The Shaker house, which was relocated to Fruitlands, was less interesting--not as compelling as other Shaker Museums like Hancock Shaker Village. The gallery had some impressive Hudson River paintings--one of the Yosemite Valley seemed familiar--as well as examples of local Shaker crafts. Most of these were woven objects.

We drove from there to a peach orchard (they are in season now--had to make cobbler later). Then we went in search of the Harvard Shaker Village. The buildings are not part of a preservation effort--placards mark the beginning and end of the community. Most have been modernized--the brick covered over with siding, the dormitories subdivided into apartments. You had to look hard to see how Shakers had actually built these homes. Sad.

Finally, as we were driving away, my wife stopped to take pictures of these ruins. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Passing of Wolfgang Mommsen

German Historian Wolfgang Mommsen, who came from a notable family of historians (father was noted Romanist Theodor, his brother Weimar expert Hans), died while swimming in the Baltic Sea. Heart failure is suspected. Mommsen was an expert on the Second German Empire, Bismarck, and German imperialism. His book Theories of Imperialism is standard reading in modern European history.

Read what Mommsen wrote about the German invasion of Belgium in WWI here.
[Update]: New article on the investigation into his death.

Go, South Central!

Now I have my clear favorites to win. Chip and Kim are nice, and they had those huge smiles as they were crossing the Nile ... too cool.

In other Amazing Race news, self-proclaimed Christian/confirmed hypocrite Brandon models for alleged satanic rock band AC/DC ... too funny.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Bizarre Nazi Triangles Part II -- Peru and Brazil

Please begin here with Part I -- Intro.


Peru had a small, but economically and politically affluent, Italian community. During the crisis over Ethiopia Italian Peruvians created the Nucleo di Propaganda in order to mobilize a propaganda campaign to encourage Peru to support Italy against the League of Nations. However, they were less interested in helping Italy to establish Fascism in Peru, according to Orazio A. Ciccarelli:
The community’s integration into Peruvian society and economy had made its members less than eager to embrace any cause that might endanger their peaceful and prosperous existence in Peru. [Furthermore the community] criticized Rome’s courting of President Benavides as potentially damaging to Italian interests in Peru ... They believed that Rome was undermining the community’s future security by its pursuit of the Peruvian president who ruled only through control of its military establishment.


The Italian community of Brazil was much larger (around three million), and its involvement with Italy more complex. They formed their own party, Açáo Integralista Brasileira (hereafter Integralists), but adopted the model of the Nazi party rather than Fascism. Italy flirted with the Integralists, even giving financial support to a radical minority whom (the ambassador to Brazil believed) would attempt to rebel against the government. Italy’s support was actually weak and uncertain: they wanted to countermand German influence within Italy more than anything else. Rome was never happy with Integralists: they followed “democratic formalities” and they were interested in national development rather than international struggle. In the 1937 elections, Integralists were happy to follow “normal” political procedures in a politically corrupt nation. As Ricardo Silva Seitenfus notes, Integralists probably rigged elections that allowed them to nominate a candidate for president, but they were not prepared to overthrow the state, as the Italian ambassador wanted:
[The ambassador] was consequently driven to near despair when [the Integralists] confirmed his fears by insisting on compromising with legalism and constantly repeating the same refrain: ‘Liberty-Democracy’.
Defeated in the elections, Italy judged that:
[Integralists] suffered from two acute weaknesses, the lack of a hero and heroism and the unrealistic concern of leadership for the legal process.
Two things changed the nature of the 1937 elections. First, Italy would back president Vargas after convinced by Berlin that he could be courted into a pact of anti-communist, pro-fascist nations. Italy had no more use for the Integralists, and cut them off. Second, Vargas banned all political opposition, depriving the elections of any meaning. Cut off from Rome and feeling cheated in the elections, a radical group from within the Integralists made a laughable attempt at a coup in May 1938 . They were easily defeated, and Vargas used the defeat of the coup to clean up the rest of the party. All that the coup revealed about the Integralists is that its radical wing was quite small, and the rest of the party would not follow its lead.

The attempted coup by the radicals of the AIB offers little proof that Italy was able to motivate Italians abroad. The foreign offices were not able to convince them to subvert the government , and the aid they gave was meager. Furthermore, Italy cut off its ties with the Integralists and cast their lot with the Vargas regime, which looked to becoming a Fascist power on its own with loyalties to the Axis powers. The coup itself was a reaction to corruption of the Vargas regime, not an expression of ethnicity on the part of the Integralists.

Continue with Part III -- Chile

Bizarre Nazi Triangles Part I -- Intro

Michelle Malkin has written a book that tries to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans (and German- and Italian-Americans to a lesser extent) during World War II. According to the book description:
Everything you've been taught about the World War II "internment camps" in America is wrong: - They were not created primarily because of racism or wartime hysteria ... New York Times best-selling author Michelle Malkin sets the historical record straight-and debunks radical ethnic alarmists who distort history to undermine common-sense, national security profiling ...
In interviews Malkin claims that internees received a soft treatment that did not impinged on their liberties. These results, which are debatable on their own, have been extrapolated to mean the government, in its “war on terror”, can intrude on civil liberties without meaningfully denying them personal freedoms and political rights.

Malkin does not assess whether internments were either effective or necessary. Were either Germany or Italy successful at mobilizing ethnic Germans and Italians abroad in order to subvert nations?

The rise of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany stoked ethnic pride around the world. Both nations were seen as taking leading roles in world affairs, confronting the limitations of constitutional democracy and international politics. Influenced by their pride, Italians and Germans joined and formed political parties that modeled themselves on Nazism and Fascism. Italians and Germans could be powerful groups that lobbied their governments to support the diplomatic initiatives of the Axis powers.

The Axis power attempted to make contacts with ethnic Germans and Italians. The Axis governments saw them as tools for engineering global politics: creating groups that would not only advocate their governments to take stances favorable to the Axis, but that would subvert governments, replacing them with Fascist regimes that could be controlled from Berlin and Rome.

However, the Axis powers discovered two things. First, these Fascist political parties were unwilling to go on the offensive against their nations. They would not undermine state constitutions or subvert the legitimate political processes in order to advance the interests of the Axis powers. In general, these Fascist movements outside of Europe were interested in “law and order” rather than anti-constitutional. Second, Fascist parties suspected the support they received from Germany and Italy. They wanted their nations to be independent from foreign influence, including other Fascist states. They were not interested in a “Fascist International.” Being extremely nationalistic, why would they kowtow to Hitler and Mussolini?

In essence, ethnic Germans and Italians had become good conservative nationalists, who were interested in advancing their new nations on the basis of ethnic and anti-democratic principles. They were unlikely to make themselves tools of the Axis powers. The Fascists parties that they formed and joined could be unsavory in themselves, and I do not want to diminish the corruption that they represented, and they were anti-constitutional and anti-democratic. But the triangle between the Axis, ethnicity and constitutional subversion was weak.

I will blog this out over several days, discussing various cases from world history that how ineffective Germany and France were, and how ethnic groups were not motivated to overthrow the government. In some cases, Fascists found collaborators after the country was taken over, but only afterward. The cases that I intend to discuss are: Peru, Brazil, Chile, Alsace, Low Countries and Czechoslovakia.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Vintage Stadiums for Vintage Baseball

This weekend's Hartford Courant describes attempts by ex-Yankee Jim Bouton and others to build a baseball stadium where vintage baseball games can be played.
Bouton is trying to raise $3 million to restore historic Waconah Park to its century-old glory, to house both the Hillies and a modern minor league team ...

Greg Martin, the father of vintage baseball in Hartford and founder of both the Senators and the Fourth of July tournament held for the past five years in Bushnell Park, has an idea to turn Dillon Stadium into a vintage ballpark that would hold 4,000 to 5,000 people. It would pick up some of the design of old Bulkeley Stadium of happy memory in the South End. The Senators would play there, and the ballpark could, through the magic of a portable mound, also be used for college baseball as well as scholastic soccer and football.
Baseball has been largely absent from the Connecticut River Valley since the Great Depression. The Mayors of Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA have tried to attract minor league teams for years with poorly conceived schemes that have been underfunded and that would cause major disruptions within urban neighborhoods. The closest minor league baseball is always more than one hour away: it is almost as easy to see the Red Sox play in Boston, thus less attractive to see A-ball.

Vintage baseball could be more successful in the valley. The teams are composed of former professionals and college players. They have a certain allure for playing with old rules and in old-style uniforms. They draw crowds whenever they play (see my description of a vintage baseball tournament). What they lack is a permanent place where they can play. Moreover, these plans try to draw on existing spaces rather than create new ones.

Sunday's Courant also has an article about baseball in Hartford in the 19th and early 20th centuries and an article about the evolution of vintage baseball.

More on baseball: Architect and Classicist John Massengale of Veritas et Venustas has an entries about rebuilding Yankee Stadium and its effects on the Bronx community. Here is an article on baseball in Japan.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Good Husband

Rabbi Lazer Brody of The Lazer Beam has a post of (what he calls) the Ten Commandments for a Husband:
  1. Never criticize your wife, no matter what. In an environment free of criticism, she'll blossom emotionally, and she'll do everything in her power to please you, so ultimately, you won't have anything to criticize.

  2. Never make a negative remark about her parents or family. Call your inlaws once a week. If you develop a good relationship with them, your wife will forever hold you in high regard.

  3. Never say "no" to your wife; if she asks for something that you can't afford, tell her you'll get it for her as soon as you have the money.

  4. Spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day listening to your wife - not talking, just listening. Show her that her life is important to you. If possible, you should set aside an hour a day for quality communication time together (sitting in front of the TV with beer and pretzels is not quality communication time!).

  5. Never go to bed angry.

  6. Agree on a mutually-acceptable third party (a clergyman you trust, etc.) to air your differences.

  7. Never say a derogatory word about your wife to anyone.

  8. If your wife is displeased with you, don't be angry; it's usually a sign that The Almighty is displeased with you. Rather than arguing with her, do some soul-searching, and you'll see how things work out.

  9. Smile always, and try your best to speak softly to her always. Nothing makes a wife nervous like an angry husband.

  10. The more you trust in G-d, the more you'll develop inner strength. Wives love nothing more than a husband with inner strength.

These are all interesting ways to make a marriage better. Of course, I don't expect everyone to agree with the religious context that Rabbi Brody has placed around these.

What I find interesting about these "commandments" is the extent to which they should be followed. It is if they suggest that a husband should give his wife every ounce of respect that she could deserve. It is much easier in a relationship to play the tit-for-tat game. Rabbi Lazer suggests that no anger on the part of a husband is justified, which is probably true. Furthermore, he puts a lot of responsibility for the wife's condition on the husband.

The most interesting of the commandments is the fourth: one-half hour of just listening, no talking. We tried this. Twice this week I let my wife speak to me and said nothing else. Nothing else was happening. I was not folding clothes or cooking food. I just listened. And it was hard--for my wife. She gave up after less than fifteen minutes and said, "I am tired of my own incessant yammering!" I like the idea of this exercise, but is there some way of making it slightly more participatory on my part so that the exercise is more participatory rather than solo.

The important undercurrent of all these commandments is "... [i]n an environment free of criticism, she'll blossom emotionally ...". Perhaps that is reason enough to follow them.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Alsace Hate Watch

[Preface:] Hate crimes in Alsace appear to be increasing in frequency. I am considering reviewing conditions in Alsace for Jews and Muslims on a regular basis.

Last week 34 graves were profaned at a Jewish cemetery in Saverne. A few days later all the Alsatian senators, the prefect of Bas-Rhin, the president of the regional council, as well as local politicians and Jewish leaders, joined together at the cemetery to denounce these incidents. (Link to follow).

Today, 15 tombstones were desecrated with Swatikas and symbols of the SS. These were the graves of Muslims veterans in the military cemetery of Cronenbourg, which is a northern suburb of Strasbourg. The letters HVE were painted on a nearby wall: they are a reference to Heimattreue Vereinigung Elsaß, an organization that is illegal because of its ties to Neo-Nazi groups in Germany.

300 graves have been desecrated since April (list of incidents up to early July) (chronology of anti-Muslim incidents since 2002 in France). The police have arrested only a fourteen year old boy. Interior Minister de Villepin has already condemned the desecrations (other condemnations). Adrian Zeller, president of the regional council, has asked for 15-18,000 Euros to serve as a reward for information.

Unsolicited Ollie Photo Posted by Hello

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Polish America

Regions of Mind draws out attention to Henryk Sienkiewicz (here and here), a Polish author who won the Nobel Prize in literature in the 1900s. Sienkiewicz, a nationalists who wanted to see the fragmented parts of Poland brought back together into a Polish nation, drew inspiration from the American landscape when imagining the Polish past:
Sienkiewicz's most popular work in Poland was "With Fire and Sword," an 1884 novel describing dramatic battles between Poles and Cossacks along the Polish-Lithuanian borderland. Curiously, Sienkiewicz never visited that region and to describe it, he drew on images he recalled from his visits to the American West.

Thus, to describe a trip down the Dneiper, Sienkiewicz employed imagery he recalled from a trip down the Mississippi. He depicted the "wildlands" of the Polish-Lithuanian border area as American-style priairie. ... [S]cholar Frank Fox writes, "when the Poles were finally overwhelmed by Tartars, the scene resembled Custer's Last Stand, with brave Poles substituted for the Seventh Cavalry."

Sienkiewicz drew his images from his own visits to the United States (particularly the Prairie regions). Looking over the sparsely settle land, he saw a land on the cusp of modernization:
At the top of the telegraph poles were attached horizontal crossbar, giving the appearance of crucifixes. All around a grey, endless plain covered with sweetbroom and occasional patches of snow, and the long row of crosses, sad and funereal, as far as the eye could see. They seemed to mark the path leading into the valley of death, or to represent monuments upon the graves of wanderers.

As Mr. Simmons explains, Sienkiewicz mourns how the settling of the prairie disturbs the unspoiled environment.

: Germans have told me that they see cable crossed landscapes as typical of what America looks like.

Having my interest in Sienkiewicz piqued, I discoverd that he had a tremendous impact on modern literature. Nationalists were inspired by his use of the trilogy to create patriotic epics. Sienkiewicz, according to Jon Smith, inspired Frank Norris, Thomas Dixon, Frank Norris, Upton Sinclair, and Winston Churchill (among others) to treat national history in the form of literary epics. (Did he displace Walter Scott as the model?)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Old European Streets

There is some debate going around the blogosphere concerning the aesthetics of traditional building designs: start here, go here, but you should keep looking up David Sucher's City Comforts (he has no answer yet, but I bet he will speak authoritatively). The central question is as compelling as it is poignant: can what we build now be as beautiful as what we inherit from the past?

Much of the discussion concerns modernism (or new brutalism, as my friend Lars called it):
  • big boxes
  • no ornamentation
  • no vision from the urban oligarchies
  • no sidewalk shops
  • (st)architects do not design with respect to the look of the neighborhoods
  • artisans have become expensive
  • cities do not have the power they once had
Some blame corporate capitalism; others the lose of aesthetic sensibilities. It's hard to argue that new architecture is an improvement. No one praised the new buildings that were put in place of those destroyed by bombing in Germany. Instead everyone gushes over the restoration and reconstruction of lost buildings (like Dresden's Frauenkirche).

And yet, some of these problems are not new. I have been pouring over Victor Hugo's travel letters. Hugo is great: he takes great pains to describe how a city looks and feels. Someone described Hunchback of Notre-Dame as a biography of Paris through architecture. I love this reflection that he gives of the small cities nestled up against the Rhine River Valley, giving a sense to how interconnected and vertical they were:
At every turn of the river there appears a group of houses, cité or bourgade. Above each group of homes appears a keep in ruins. The cities and villages, spiked with gables, towers and bells, look like a barbed spire at the place at the base of the mountain from afar.
Looking out to the Munster of Strasbourg, he notes how the buildings around it frame the image of this monster in pink stone: the narrow streets, the high gables, the half-timbered homes. Everything around it lends beauty to the building.

However, Hugo has little positive to say about Mannheim, a city that was quite modern for its time: the prince electors followed good enlightened advice and called for straight streets that intersected at right angles, turning the whole city into a giant grid. Even today, there are coordinates rather than street names. Other writers, like Forster and Cooper, viewed Mannheim with contempt. Even redesigned in the Classical style, Mannheim did not work.

Similarly, the large neo-Classical buildings that the Germans erected in the late nineteenth century are alienating. Not because they are not aesthetic, but because they are these monstrosities that crowd out all life. They are dead space.

None of this clears up the question. Neither "Big Plans" nor independence of design made for beautiful cities. Those places that retained their charm were built piecemeal.

I must admit that I feel that the better preserved/better rebuilt cities are more pleasing. I have many great memories of wandering through small urban streets, almost lost as the buildings close me in, seeing small shops, turning the corner to have a national monument revealed to me. Even the ultramodern tram in Strasbourg is magical in the backdrop of the old houses.

Germans seek property from Poland

The Prussian Claims Society (Preußische Treuhand), in a move that will be seen as grossly insensitive and divisive, will seek the return of property confiscated by Poland. The property belonged to Germans who were forced to resettle after WWII, leaving territory that was once part of Prussia but had become part of Poland in compensation for the Polish territory that was awarded to USSR.

Since reunification, many Germans have sought restitution of property of which they had been dispossessed. Millions were forced to move from East Prussia. They were a celebrated group in the early BRD and received special aid. The displaced Germans remained a cohesive and conscious group within German politics, maintaining their own small political party.

The Claims Society intends to press claims in Polish courts, and if they are dismissed, in EU courts. Schröder said that he could not "turn history on its head": the property losses were just in the light of the war that Germany had waged. He resolved to prevent restitution:
Property issues related to World War II are no longer a subject of controversy between our two governments ... Neither the German government nor any other serious political force supports any restitution claims still being voiced. This is our position, and we won’t hesitate to make this position clear before international courts, if need be.
Furthermore, the Claims Society intends to seek the return of property from Czech Republic (when it was Czechoslovakia). The process resembles the efforts to have property in former East Germany returned--a process that was counter to the spirit of reunification as elucidated by Helmut Kohl.

The Claims Society leader,
Rudi Pawelka, insists that they do not want to start a dispute and they do not want to make Poles homeless. Reassurances have not calmed Poles, for obvious reasons. Moreover, Pawelka insists that the societies efforts are based on those of Jewish organizations. The comparison has angered Jews as hurtful.

Separatists and Provincials (Georgia, Moldova, Iraq)

  • Georgian President Saakashvili has been successful up until now integrating separatist movements into the national government. Separatists aided in the "revolution" that deposed Shevarnadze. However, the South Ossetia region, which was an autonomous province under the previous government, has remained hostile to Saakashvili.
    South Ossetia first declared independence from Georgia in 1991, directly after Georgia seceded from the Soviet Union. ... Shevardnadze avoided conflict by granting the region autonomy and satisfying himself with the fact that South Ossetia’s independence was not internationally recognized. President Mikhail Saakashvili, however, ousted Shevardnadze in November 2003, and at his inauguration pledged to make national unity the cornerstone of his administration.

    South Ossetians would prefer to rejoin Russia rather than remain part of Georgia. Russia has further exacerbating tensions: tied to the oil-rich Caspian region, Russia has tried to win over south Ossetians in order to protect its interests in the region and to keep foreign power from profiting from separatism elsewhere in Russia.

  • Pro-Russia separatists blocked railways in Transdniester, Moldova. The group took over Transdniester twelve years ago under the fear that they would become part of Romania. The move was taken in retaliation to instruction in local schools that used Latin script rather than Cyrillic. The territory is effectively cut off from the capital.
  • Finally, NPR has a report on provinces and the power of chiefs in Iraq (Tribal Head in the Sunni Triangle proposes US Talks). Using the example of Al Anbar, the report describes how provincial chiefs maintain power--Hussein could not get rid of them, so he tolerated them--and how they might be useful in stabilizing the country.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Centenarian who fought WWI for Germany, WWII for France

Picture from Frankfuerter Allgemeine Zeitung

The daily L'Alsace has an article on Charles Kuentz, a man of 107 years from Colmar. Kuentz has become a celebrity for several reasons. First, he was a soldier for Germany during WWI, fighting in Russian, Champagne, and Flanders. Second, he was a soldier for France in WWII, defending against the German invasion. Third, he is the last surviving German veteran from WWI despite his French nationality. His life epitomizes the experiences of Alsatians as they have been fought over and exchanged between nations, but in the end he says, "I am an Alsatian and will always be."

Kuentz reflects on his life as just an example of the history of Alsace as it changed back and forth between nations. He even credits his survival to the distrust that he experienced as an Alsatian. His German captain suspected that Kuentz would desert after he refused to return to combat; the captain gave Kuentz a leave, sparing him from several days in which he company was heavily shelled and suffered massive casualties. After WWI, he returned to Colmar to work for the French postal service.

After the 1940 invasion of France, Kuentz was demobilized and allowed to return to Colmar. His son became a malgré-nous (a forced conscript into the Waffen SS) and died in 1944 in a German uniform. Kuentz himself received the Iron Cross, but the French government will not give him the Legion of Honor given to WWI soldiers who were still alive after 1995 because he served a foreign army.

Kuentz shows little bitterness about the war. He is surprised that he has become something of a celebrity, in France because he did not win the Legion of Honor, but also in Britain among survivors of Flanders. Many British soldiers have befriended Kuentz even though he fought against them. The only thing that appears to move him to tears is the memory of the comrades he lost when he went on leave.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Fly Away from Crowded Cities (Saratoga)

This weekend my wife and I took a trip back to Saratoga Springs, New York. Unlike our first visit, we were less impressed by the town. Part of the problem was that the town had become flooded with people coming to bet on horse racing. Another problem was that we confronted New York’s decaying tourism industry more directly.

Tourism in the Saratoga region was built around geysers and mineral baths. Jon Sterngass explains that other industries were an extension of the original appeal of the waters (quote from Scott Martin’s review of Sterngass’ book First Resorts):
As trips to spas became fashionable in the early nineteenth century, the Springs' promoters ... engaged in a building spree that would transform Saratoga from virtual wilderness to a premier tourist destination. ... While the promenading, flirting, and other amusements in which guests engaged seemed "to exist outside the market economy," ... visitors sought not a respite from urban life, but an "intensified version of it," ... a "sanitized rusticity without muck or smells... .”
Saratoga Springs commercialized, adding horseracing, casino gambling, and a thriving souvenir trade to the allure of its healthful mineral waters.
We encountered the two poles of Saratoga on this visit: the races and the spa.

We went to the races first. Most people lingered outside of the track proper. They poured over schedules with statistics as they calculated their bets. They drank and ate while talking about gambling. There were a few merchants around, peddling their wares. Large monitors kept gamblers informed of the changes in races and showed races as they occurred. The stands inside the track were half-filled (at best). We wondered why people were not interested in viewing the action more directly. The area outside the track had its appeal: people could shop and converse. But the action inside was neglected.

We stayed for only two races: they were spread too far apart to maintain our interests. Instead, we went over to the Saratoga Spa Park. Just as at the race track, the focus of the park was being neglected.

The park itself had been commissioned by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1929. Feeling that the waters as a resource were being wasted, he wanted to build a spa in the European style. Water was pumped in from various sources for patrons to enjoy while they promenaded around an Italianate building with Roman columns.

From a distance the spa is impressive with its dark red bricks and long covered walkways. Up close, things are crumbling. The buildings are now state offices, no longer used as baths. No one seemed to take any interest in these edifices. Indeed, the golf course and the hotel within the park garnered more attention. I was especially taken by the sentiment on this placard promoting the spa as “real nature”: | Posted by Hello

Gambling and playing golf have displaced the pastimes which made Saratoga a popular destination. It is as if these things– which could happen anywhere–have started to define Saratoga above the things that made it unique. Posted by Hello

We left Saratoga to drive out into the Leatherstocking region in search of Howe’s Cavern, a small underground cave which has had a longstanding regional appeal. Not as grand as Carlsbad, it was a relief to get out of the humidity. Posted by Hello

Statehood and Culture

Sometimes the internet fulfills its potential for exchange of ideas. Such was the case with my précis on A Wilderness so Immense. My interest was in the complex geography of America: how different paths of expansion existed and they would clash with one another.

Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has used his vast knowledge of the history of the South and its relationship to the rest of the country to add to my original comments (in ways I could not have myself). One of the most interesting issues that continued beyond the purchase was what to do with (what would become the state of) Louisiana:

I've written before about how the absorption into the United States of French-speaking Louisianans, with their French legal system and other non-English habits, raised unprecedented cultural, legal and political challenges for the United States:

[“]... The following year, Congress debated the accession of Louisiana into statehood. Congressman Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts ... voiced concern about absorbing what he termed “the mixed, though ... respectable race of Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans who bask on the sands of the mouth of the Mississippi ... it would be but the first in a relentless sequence of such additions whose cumulative effect would be such a grotesque distortion of the original compact as to be the ‘death blow to the Constitution’ and force the dissolution of the Union.”

In 1811, Congress approved statehood with majorities of two-to-one in both houses. Not that the cultural collisions between the Anglo and French residents of Louisiana had been entirely resolved, of course.[”]
Looking over this post, I am reminded of how other territories achieved statehood for strategic reasons, most recently Alaska and Hawaii. In many cases, the state had not been “nationalized” in the sense that the residents had assimilated American culture. In New Mexico, language and culture could still be considered to be at odds with the norms of the rest of the nation. And there are people who would criticize Hawaiian statehood: only a year before admittance, the islands were a protectorate.

These American examples stand in opposition to German cases. In 1815 Prussia annexed the much of the Rhineland as part of the Congress of Europe. The Rhinelanders were closer to the Prussians than the “Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans” of Louisiana were to the Americans of the original states. But Louisianans achieved statehood, gaining political rights (some groups excluded) within the nation. Four years later Rhinelanders were submerged within Prussia, becoming a province that had little direct influence over the central government, let alone administration of their own affairs. There was no constitution, and only a symbolic parliament. “Rhine-Prussia” would be further displaced when Germany was unified in 1871: other areas achieved the status as Laender (somewhat similar to states) whose status was comparable with Prussia; the Rhineland remained submerged within Prussia.

There were cultural differences. Prussia made war on the Catholics of the Rhineland in the Kulturkampf. Prussia tried to replace the Napoleon-inspired Rhenish Code with their own. And Prussian Junkers had to learn to tolerate the merchants, bankers, and steel and coal magnates.

I do not want to overstate my point. Many Rhenish leaders learned how to influence government. Many like David Hansemann and the Camphausen family would be named ministers in Berlin. But these paths to power were open only to a few. The German Kernland (land of national origin) had no direct political power; Louisiana did. It would appear that Americans, despite their reservations, felt that admittance to the union was a better way to preserve territory. Prussia would never allow the same to occur.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

The Fury of August

The memory of the First World War is fading. The horror of the Ur-Katastrophe does not register. Some are looking to noble wars (WWII) in which the fate of humanity laid in the balance. Others are embracing controversial wars (Vietnam) as a means of discovering what military power means to their political party. Last night, the History Channel played several hours of the documentary World War One in Color: the colorized films of soldiers and combat (both real and staged) made the experiences of combat more visually rich; the testimony of British soldiers and quotes from memoirs added to the story; but the story itself was nothing new. Ninety years after Wilhelm II declared war on Russia, the First World War is becoming fossilized in the past. [Added on edit:] This is the last opportunity to remember the First World War when any of the combatants are alive, yet more attention has been garnered by the sixtieth anniversary of the Warsaw uprising.

Several years ago Niall Ferguson asked if the war needed to be as long and destructive as it was. More specifically, he asked whether it was in Britain's interests to fight: a quick defeat of France would have saved Europe. When he proposed that Britain was mistaken, Ferguson set off a controversy in which historians began to question the extent to which Germany was responsible: did not the alliance systems and imperialism predetermine that the European nations would come to arms? Fritz Fischer's research that placed blame on Germany became less certain. Other historians have asked about specific issues: a communique from Bethmann-Hollweg that asked Austria to stop short of completely defeating Serbia; the reason why Wilhelm II did not seem to be planning for war, taking a cruise instead. Overall these arguments have become another way of talking about WWI as a senseless war (even Vietnam is recognized for how it transformed the generation that fought it.)

The literary legacy of WWI is enormous. Outside of books and films that dealt with the war directly, the images and tropes of trench warfare influenced how other twentieth century wars were written up. As Paul Fussell explains, modern notions of irony were born in the trenches.

Every now and then a new film comes out. I recently watched Bertrand Tavernier's film Capitaine Conan. In the tradition of Paths of Glory, it explores cowardice and justice as generals push for aggressive prosecution for the mistakes of men in a war the generals themselves cannot understand. I find this film especially remarkable because it shows how the war spilled over into the period of amnesty as peace: the soldiers are forgotten, taking their frustrations out on the people of a newly created republic until they are called to stop the entry of Bolsheviks.

El Jefe

I am currently reading Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, which narrates the end of the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (whom Dominicans called El Jefe (The Chief)) in the Dominican Republic. The novel deals with how nations, as a group and as individuals, free themselves from abusive, authoritarian regimes . There are actually two narratives, each taking place in different time periods. The first takes place 1961, telling the story of the assassination and the explaining the reasons why the individual conspirators became involved in toppling Trujillo. Each of these chapters goes into the backstory of one of conspirators, explaining how Trujillo stole their dignity and was able to control them. In the second narrative, a daughter of one of Trujillo’s loyal ministers returns to remember the atrocities of the dictatorship by confronting her father, who now has little ability to communicate.

Trujillo with Eleanor Roosevelt

This novel is dense. I would compare Vargas Llosa’s writing style to Thomas Mann. On the surface it is a political novel that is rife with historical characters and events; deeper down it delves into the psychology of humiliation and obedience. Within a single conversation characters think about atrocities and crimes that occurred, like the massacre of Haitians in the 1930s. The conspirators failed to act, explaining away the crime while underlying their powerlessness. In the background, there is constant discussion about how the Dominican Republic’s relations with the US were changing. Impatience and disapproval under Eisenhower were turning into conflict under Kennedy. The conspirators saw the tide turning, and adjusted accordingly.

However, each character was touched by Trujillo directly and profoundly. El Jefe kills their siblings. He fucks their wives. Trujillo shamelessly boasts about his sexual exploits in front of these men. And he keeps them close by. These humiliations silence the men and makes them obedient, but the pain also simmers inside them. Probing into the psychology of these men, Vargas Llosa questions whether their motives were moral or personal, asking if the difference between the two matters.

Certainly killing Trujillo does not heal the country. The later narrative–the confrontation between Urania and her father, the disgraced minister, is a reckoning with the past that can only come with time. Her conversations with her father are accusations for his cowardice in the face of a monster. Urania returns to the island for the first time in decades. She is obsessed with the Trujillo years, consuming great quantities of scholarship. But she feels less anger over the regime in its totality than how it affected her personally. She trembles at the thought that Trujillo may have slept with her mother, but she has difficulties shaking the notion that the years of dictatorship were prosperous and safe.

Vargas Llosa is unforgiving in his portrayal of El Jefe. He has a sexual appetite that is both insatiable and sadistic. He is obsessed with enhancing his sexual prowess, while at the same time he diminishes that of his supporters. He pursues his enemies abroad, organizing their deaths in such a way that his enemies are disgraced as well.

Many passages in this book are disturbing. Like many of the books that I have read about Rwanda, I stop often to reflect on what I have just read. Too many are interesting. In one of them, Urania confronts her father about Ramfis, Trujillo’s son, who was an asshole in his own right. As a minister the father was quiet about Ramfis’ sexual violence. Only when Ramfis notices his daughter does the father warn her, showing his unwillingness to face the crimes of the regime. (I could not help compare Ramfis’ behavior to that of the families of other dictators.)
“The handsome Ramfis, he committed endless abuses. How you trembled at the thought of him noticing me.”

Her father did not know, because Urania never told him, that she and her classmates at Santo Domingo Academy, and perhaps all the girls of her generation, dreamed about Ramfis. With his thin mustache in the style of a Mexican movie star, his Ray-Ban sunglasses, his well-tailored suits and the variety of uniforms he wore as head of the Dominican Air Force, his big dark eyes and athletic build, his solid-gold watches and rings and his Mercedes-Benzes, he seemed favored by the gods: rich, powerful, good-looking, healthy, strong, happy ...”

“You can’t imagine how often I dream of him, Papa.” ...

“What else could he have been but the parasite, drunkard, rapist, good-for-nothing, criminal, mentally unbalanced man he was? My friends and I ... didn’t know any of that when we were in love with Ramfis. But you knew, Papa. That’s why you were so afraid he would notice me and take a liking to your little girl, that’s why you looked the way you did the time he kissed me and paid me a compliment. I didn’t understand a thing.”