Two Evil Dudes
I have a love/hate relationship with history, those who read it, read into it, interpret it, and work it like a series of scattered puzzle pieces that need be re-collected and pressed into place. Everything is connected. Who knew that the cod was the most significant creature to rise from Darwin’s evolutionary pool, or that salt was directly linked to both the development of the computer chip and nearly all medical advancements of the past 60 years? But patterns do exist, correlations can be made between events, individuals, and natural phenomenon. No matter how fishy the historian’s art seems to me at times, no matter how perfectly the puzzle pieces fit together, and no matter how much historical interpretation can seem to borrow from the lawyer’s art (“So therefore, my client can not be responsible for his actions since the seeds for them were planted at the Battle of Lepanto, which occurred five hundred years before he was born,”) the truth is that as a writer, I love recognizing the pattern and thread running through “things.” The discovery of the narrative thread both inside and outside of one’s own work is wonderful. There is no better feeling when that intuition strikes. (nerd)
I have a bit of the idealist streak in me when it comes to history as well. Maybe the Buddhist streak is more appropriate. There is a poem by Milosz about an old man tending his tomato garden during the height of the World War II inferno; the refrain I believe is “there is no other end to the world.” As the world ends around him, he continues to live according to ageless rhythms. Change occurs but nothing fundamentally changes. Tomatoes will grow if cared for.
I like the idea of dying in anonymity. It doesn’t really worry me that in the end I will lie beneath a grave stone visited infrequently and then not at all. Soon enough, all sign of one’s existence gets erased. This to me is the ageless rhythm. We should embrace it, since the alternative is so horrifying.
Late last year I spent about 3 or 4 months reading Alan Bullocks’s Hitler and Stalin and I don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable reading a book. If you want to get up close and personal with real life monsters, if you want to be ensnared by the scope of their inhumanity (realizing that you are feeling awe literally sickens you,) and if you like battering against the dual questions of how could they do the things they did, and why did they succeed for so long, then set aside some time and read the book; otherwise stay away from it. The book will leave you feeling quite small, but very grateful that you didn’t have to live through the experiences of their victims.
Who was the scarier monster? I have to go with Hitler, even if the devastation Stalin caused is still being felt. And trying to imagine yourself as a member of Stalin’s party is pretty sobering. You would essentially work you way up the ladder eliminating as many of Stalin’s enemies as possible until you were the only one left, at which point you would be eliminated. You eliminated others to ensure yourself the best possibility of being eliminated. I imagine this plays out in corporate America fairly often.
Hitler was scarier for many reasons, one being that he was a fucking nobody who had absolutely no business being anywhere near the power center of a modern industrialized nation-state. He was peter pan, a boy who didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. But the stars aligned somehow and he became a leader and conqueror who inspired unquestioned loyalty from his followers, so much so that they committed the greatest atrocities in human history in his name. Bullock at one point refers to him as “the great Sorcerer.”
Hitler never doubted that greatness was in store for him (never mind how skewed his idea of greatness was); this egoism is so scary because it so intoxicating. Would any of us tell our children that they should not dream big dreams, but rather go for a quiet life, welcome a quiet death and not worry that their name will be unremembered?
Now, Barry, how is it that "(nerd)" made it into the final draft of this post?
That said, this reminds me that I want to pen a will specifying that my dead body be left out for the weekly pickup. Or is THAT still illegal in Massachusetts?
Now, last question: I wonder if Hitler wore green tights beneath his Lederhosen?
Hitler most definitely had green tights under his Lederhosen, the nerd slipped in because I didn't have the luxury of running this by you first, and I cannot say whether it is still illegal to self-will your body to the trash; have you read Nicholson Baker's Box of Matches? There is this wonderful scene where the main character thinks about a suicide machine that leaves no "residue" for the survivors. He imagines this elaborate pully system attached to a shoutgun that collapses into a pre-dug hole once the gun goes off; this then triggers the backfilling of the hole, the dirt of which already has grass seed in it. Might not sound too funny but it is. You have to read that book; if you haven't read that book yet, you must, I order you to.
Okay, I have added this book to my Amazon shopping cart, assuming I can't get it at the BPL. I can probably get it at the BPL, though, can't I?
But back to body disposal: If they won't pick me up in the trash, why can't I just be burned in my backyard? You know, IN A GARBAGE CAN IN MY BACKYARD? How bad could I smell? (Hm….) Why do my loved ones have to pay thousands of dollars for this service? Why, America, WHY?
I am now officially hijacking your post away from these Two most Evil Dudes, so I'll stop.
BPL should have it.
I think a better way than trash disposal is the burial at sea. Would cost much less for your family; renting a boat for two hours can't be that expensive…a couple of weights, a quick one two heave ho over the side, and bye bye body.
not to capitalize on only 1/100th of your post, but…surely there was something more to Hitler's development than "a nobody who has big dreams." please tell me there was something more!!! (or do i have to read the book, too?)
Right after I sent the post for review it hit me that the other reason for Hitler's success was that he was chronically underestimated by nearly everyone. No one took him seriously, even Stalin, after the start of the invasion failed to admit that it was happening. Again, why the book is so troubling. It was as if he had this ring of good fortune that allowed him to do the most awful things.
Another factor I didn't mention was the first world war. Hitler fell in love with the comraderie of battle and the death that followed. The war finally grounded him, gave him direction.
yeah, yeah, yeah…but what about his MOM???? she must've been a raging psycho bitch. right?
My grandfather Walter was a POW , i asked him one time about the horrible things hitler did , he told me he could have spit on hitler a few times and i thought that was cool,then he said " adolph was a wannabe artist" i thought that was weird , he passed on in 1994, years later i was watching HBO the movie Max was on and if you have not seen it Hitler was supposed to meet a Jewish art dealer,and the dealer did not show,because earlier Hitler addressed a small group of soldiers and other Germans and said kill all Jews, well 3 guys killed the art dealer as he was on the way to talk to Hitler, that just fueled the soon to come fire. I have no idea how Walter knew of this.
There is a History Channel special about Hitler and Stalin, which is about as close as I get to reading anything, and I loved the part about Stalin being so upset that hitler invaded Poland that he retreated into his bedroom for several days before emerging to kick his ass.
Hitler's rise to power is a fascinating subject, simply because it should never have happened. Just as you say, he was essentially a nobody, underestimated because of his status.
What scares me is how easily it could happen again.
In the most recent posts on history, everyone seems to be saying "pay no attention to history because it's all lies written by the victors."
And that's true to an extent.
But reading and watching varied sources on Hitler, Stalin, or any totalitarian bastard (even American ones) is good for your brain.
Excellent post and excellent comments!
And here is how I feel about Nazis: http://vodpod.com/watch/841650-encounter-with-naz…