Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman
Conversation – Instalment 8: Eichmann versus Dosler: Arendt versus Hirschman
Chapter 7. The Last Battle: Freedom and Interpretation
Why did Albert Hirschman immediately enlist in the US army after PearlHarbour? Two months after PearlHarbour one might say is not immediate. However, as Jeremy explained, AH was suffering from a serious bout of pneumonia at the time and then had to have a tonsillectomy. Jeremy has argued thus far that Albert was determined to prove Hamlet wrong, that action could be integrated with thought, that he was bent on praxis. Moreover, there was a self-interest motive. Serving in the American armed forces would secure his American citizenship even if that tactic proved useless for getting French citizenship when he joined the French army. The latter failed because France failed. This was highly unlikely to happen in the case of America.
Isn’t the self-interest motive sufficient as an explanation? Why add on the anti-Hamlet thesis? Is that not overdetermination? I think by this point it is. Hirschman had proven over and over again that reflection did not have to produce immobility. That is just who he was. He believed in acting when the situation demanded it, when he could act and when he could do so in a useful way. He had enormous expertise in languages, economics and detailed knowledge that would be of enormous use to the allied cause. The delays in enlistment were clearly not attributable to him but to a fire, to a reclassification of married recruits and for inexplicable “occupational reasons”. When he was still frustrated after he contacted the OSS and the Board of Economic Warfare directly, he enrolled in the infantry. So much for putting thought together with action as a private, especially when he kept being denied leave in basic training because he could not tie his boots properly!
Cass Susstein in his NYRB’s review of Jeremy’s book, “An Original Thinker in Our Time” (23 May 2013) endorses Jeremy’s Hamlet thesis.
As Jeremy Adelman shows in his astonishing and moving biography, Hirschman sought, in his early twenties and long before becoming a writer, to “prove Hamlet wrong.” In Shakespeare’s account, Hamlet is immobilized and defeated by doubt. Hirschman was a great believer in doubt—he never doubted it—and he certainly doubted his own convictions. At a conference designed to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his first book, who else would take the opportunity to show that one of his own central arguments was wrong? Who else would publish an essay in The American Economic Review exploring the “overproduction of opinionated opinion,” questioning the value of having strong opinions, and emphasizing the importance of doubting one’s opinions and even one’s tastes? Hirschman thought that strong opinions, as such, “might be dangerous to the health of our democracy,” because they are an obstacle to mutual understanding and constructive problem-solving. Writing in 1989, he was not speaking of the current political culture, but he might as well have been. In seeking to prove Hamlet wrong, Hirschman was suggesting that doubt could be a source not of paralysis and death but of creativity and self-renewal. One of his last books, published when he was about eighty, is called A Propensity to Self-Subversion. In the title essay, Hirschman celebrates skepticism about his own theories and ideas, and he captures not only the insight but also the pleasure, even the joy, that can come from learning that one had it wrong.
I think the Hamlet thesis is overstretched here by Jeremy. In fact, in this situation I think that AH acted very Hamlet-like. What do the rest of you think?
From Jeremy’s own detailed account the overwhelming anxieties seemed to be about AH’s citizenship. Luckily, the army spotted his lack of fitness for combat and his excellent skills that got him reassigned to the Army’s Specialized Training Program. Ironically, when he was not being proactive, he was shoved in the direction that could better use his skills. He was then appropriately assigned to the OSS. Would he be assigned to help plan actions behind enemy line given his language skills and enormous range of contacts with dissidents? Would he be assigned to the Research and Analysis Branch along with other ex-European intellectuals? While Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Katia, Albert was assigned to being in limbo, much to his great frustration, and detailed to translation services in Algeria. Why did he not catch on then that something was amiss so that he could confront the situation and deal with it directly? Instead, Hamlet-like, he pondered and stalled, filled his time with chess and repressed his frustrations, complained and requested meaningful work, but to no avail. He managed to make contact with a couple of economists, Albert Camus and primarily Italian ex-pats who were working on a post-bellum federated Europe united by trade and commerce.
Then the devastating news came that Eugenio had been shot and killed just before the Americans liberated Rome. This was the deepest loss of his life, deeper than the death of his own father. His shell grew thicker. He seemed to have developed a form of depression that immobilized him further, though interesting Italian contacts – Carlo Levi, the Rosselli brothers – and the stimulation of Italy with all its rich culture served as an important antidote. It didn’t help that he was living the life of Joseph K and reading Franz Kafka’s The Castle at the time and later, reading Kierkegaard, or that he shared his grief over Rugenio’s death with Saba, the bookseller and poet from Trieste, who was even more depressed.
Then he received a reprieve. He was called to the Italian front to translate for Italians who had crossed over to the allied side who could provide intelligence about the situation of the retreating Germans. He obviously knew something was wrong concerning the limited use of him by the U.S. armed forces. As he wrote to Sarah, “The obstacle presented in Africa has perhaps not been entirely lifted, but it has at least been turned.” As Jeremy himself wrote, “By this point, Hirschman already had a sense that some invisible impediment stood in the way of his being entrusted with the more serious intelligence work he craved.” But, AH was fooling himself when he expressed the belief that the situation had turned. This is where “hope” becomes the enemy to facing the truth. This is where hope, rather than despair, can turn one into a different kind of Hamlet.
My personal surprise was to learn that it was only in Italy that he was really influenced by Hayek and not at LSE when he was a student there. The account of Cancogni’s short story eulogy to the black market had to lift his spirit. It must have reminded him of his work with the refugees in Marseilles. The birth of Katia, however, broke through his gloom and he shifted his focus back to the future. He was ready to give up on America and contemplated settling back in Italy to focus on participating in creating the new Europe.
The chapter ends with AH’s very disquieting reunion with his mother after thirteen very long and eventful years of separation, with a very different type of reunion with Ursula and her daughters in Rome, but not before Jeremy provided an account of Albert’s service as a translator for General Anton Dostler, the German General who had followed Hitler’s dictate to shoot enemy soldiers caught committing sabotage behind the lines. Dostler had committed an unequivocal war crime. Two officers and thirteen enlisted men had been captured in a mission that went awry. All fifteen were shot. Jeremy sent me a youtube from the trial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMQCpUlqCiE&feature=youtu.be. Like the Eichmann trial in 1961 where Hannah Arendt served as a very different kind of interpreter, this was also “a showcase trial”. AH had to be a literal translator; Hannah Arendt’s reports on the trial became sensations in themselves given her interpretation of Eichmann in terms of her concept of the “banality of evil” when he committed his genocidal crimes and her accusations against Jews for failing to offer resistance and against the Jewish Councils for cooperating in the genocidal mechanistic process.
General Dostler had been captured through the normal surrender of German soldiers and officers. Adolf Eichmann had been living in Argentina under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement and in May 1960 was captured by Israeli Security agents and spirited back to Israel without any effort at legal extradition. Dostler’s five day trial was about war crimes, crimes that were already well established in international law; the Eichmann months long ordeal was about a crime of genocide that only was defined as a particular crime after WWII, though the crime still fell under international humanitarian law. Both trials began with challenges to the right of the party in question – the USA on behalf of the allies and Israel that did not even exist at the time the crime was committed – to hold a trial, the later on behalf of the Jewish people rather than just a state.
The proper authority for Dostler’s trial under international law was not the U.S. Military Commission in Rome but a proper military court martial. In both trials, a major defence rested on the plaintiff pleading that he was required to follow orders, in this case, from the highest authority in the land, Hitler himself. However, in the Dostler case, the prosecutors had evidence that junior German military officers resisted carrying out such orders. In both trials, the 15 victims of Dostler and the millions gassed in Auschwitz, the victims never enjoyed the privileges of a trial, translators and defence attorneys. The defense argued the American soldiers could be confused with partisans given that they were Italian-Americans fluent in Italian, but the prosecution exhumed the uniforms and offered witnesses to confirm that there could be no mistake that the captives were identified as American soldiers. Both trials were exposed to the full glare of international media and were at least as much about educating the postwar public about the criminality of the Nazi regime as about a legal trial of a particular individual for the crimes each committed. Both trials were about the historical record for posterity even more than about actions in the past.
One very important difference is that AH lacked any individual voice as an interpreter whereas the voice of Hannah Arendt and her explication of Eichmann’s actions as “banal” and her condemnations of the Jüdenrats and of Jewish behaviour more generally threatened to become the central subject matter rather than the genocide itself. Hirschman, in fact, spoke more than any other formal official at the trial and, in his asides with Dostler, almost appeared as his collaborator based on visual perceptions. Hannah Arendt, though just a spectator and reporter at the trial, used her own words to interpret the “meaning” of the trial and not just the words used. Her language and employment of “les mots justes” became an integral legacy of Eichmann’s trial for her judgment of the trial itself threatened to sidetrack the subject of the trial itself. Albert Hirschman “trembled through James’ order that General Dostler was to be shot to death by musketry.” (p. 247) Hannah Arendt, in contrast, fulminated and barely concealed her contempt for the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, and his deliberate effort to make the trial an historical event in itself and not just a criminal trial of a particular individual.
“A U.S. firing squad executed Dostler in the Aversa Stockade in the morning of December 1. He was the first German general charged, tried, sentenced, and executed by the Allies for a war crime.” (p. 147) Adolf Eichmann was found guilty by a civilian court, sentenced to death by hanging on 1 June 1962, the first and only use of the death penalty by Israel. Dostler’s body was interned in the war cemetery of Pomezia, Italy. Adolf Eichmann’s body was cremated and his ashes spread at sea outside of Israeli territorial waters lest the soil of Israel itself be forever contaminated.
The two trials succeeded in their intended effect, not only in bringing two criminals to justice, but, in the case of Dostler, educating the world that the German army had been co-opted in its criminal actions by the Nazi regime. In the Eichmann trial, the atrocities against the Jews now became part of public consciousness. Testimony by ghetto fighters such as Zivia Lubetkin – in contrast to Hannah Arendt’s emphasis – brought out the stories of Jewish efforts at resistance. (Hannah Arendt missed many days of the trial and may not have heard that testimony.) Most importantly, and so different from the Dostler trial, the Eichmann trial brought a degree of closure for many of the survivors of the genocide and began the process of freeing up the squelched and self repressed voices of Holocaust victims. The Eichmann trial brought together a psychological exit with the freeing of the voices, something Hannah Arendt showed herself to be entirely insensitive to at the time.
In reflection after many years, particularly after my work and publications on the Rwanda genocide, I am surprised that I was so taken by Hannah Arendt’s thesis at the time. My enchantment with Hannah Arendt had much more to do with my subjective exit from Judaism and rejection of Zionism at the time than any detached analysis of the trial in comparison to Hannah Arendt’s account of it. Just think of her claims. Hannah Arendt questioned whether Eichmann incorporated the “intention” to exterminate the Jewish people in carrying out his actions and, therefore, raised the question of whether he could be held “criminally” responsible. In her contention that Eichmann acted as a bureaucratic automaton, she questioned whether he gave any real thought or reflection about what he did. Of course, her sense of “reflection” and “self-consciousness” fell so far outside legal discourse as to be ludicrous had it not had such a powerful effect in branding Eichmann’s actions as banal. If his actions were banal, then so were Dostler’s and probably 99% of the Nazis who committed atrocities. In the name of her own egocentric and misguided notion of thinking and reflection she would probably have found Eichmann not guilty of the crime of genocide though certainly guilty of another crime. Further, in her analysis of a totalitarian state, no one in fact could really have intentions, including Dostler, though I wonder what she would have said about the soldiers who resisted the orders to kill the captured U.S. soldiers, especially Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten who refused to sign the execution order and was subsequently dishonourably discharged from the Wehrmacht for insubordination. For Arendt, actions without thought were banal but agreeing to obey an immoral order does not take place without thought in the normal meaning of the word as one reflects on one’s career, one’s ambitions and one’s ethical universe.
The actions were without thought only in the most esoteric sense of thought. Further, contrary to AH’s notion of the integration of thought and action through praxis, Arendt still remained enamoured with Heidegger’s notion that reflection and acute self-consciousness to form one’s self-identity was, or, at least, should be, the objective of all action as part of an individual’s self-interpretation of him or herself. The notion of who he or she is or ought to become was, for Heidegger, and his disciple in this case, Hannah Arendt, a notion that gives “meaning” to why you are living and what it means to be alive. “Practical” did not have such an abstract, utopian and egocentric narcissistic meaning for Hirschman.
Secondly, for Hannah Arendt the point of a trial should not have been the emphasis on the uniqueness of the Holocaust, but on its universal process of dehumanizing the Other. But Dostler dehumanized the U.S. military soldiers. The essential characteristic of a genocide is not simply dehumanizing the Other, but claiming that the Other was an Object and not an agent, but an Object that was a threat to oneself, an Object characterized as a threat in such a way that the Other was portrayed as non-human and beastly. Further, the non-human qualities were so significant and so dangerous that anyone who allegedly carried those seeds had to be exterminated. The fact that genocide becomes routinized and acceptable, and that it was implemented without moral revulsion or political indignation as described in Judith Butler’s defence of the notion of the banality of evil characterization, may characterize genocide, but also serves as an apt description of Mafia murders, the killing of Mexicans by drug cartels and the elimination of suspected informers or “snitches” by penitentiary inmates.
Further, Arendt believed in universal jurisdiction and opposed national courts for dealing with such crimes, and would, presumably, have opposed using the U.S. Military Commission in Rome. However, the International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda has managed by the end of 2012 to complete only 38 cases, in which 10 ended in acquittals and, literally, at the cost of billions of dollars. Justice was indeed served, but only for the very few and not without its own record of corrupt practices. In contrast, the national courts in Rwanda managed the trials of over a hundred thousand and created the unique Gacaca court system that wove together justice and reconciliation. In Arusha, the international trial of the central mastermind of the Rwanda genocide, Jean Paul Bagosara, served only justice. Further, it started in 2007 and was only completed in 2012 largely ignored by the international media thereby missing the role of public education that Arendt deplored but that were so integral to both the Dostler and the Eichmann trials.
I will not go on to comment on the injustice of the charges of complicity against the organized Jewish community that Hannah Arendt made that were so lacking in empathy and understanding, or the false charges of lack of resistance, all notions that I personally embraced when reading Hannah Arendt in the early sixties. Suffice it to say, Albert Hirschman stands as a humane and thoughtful counterpoint to Hannah Arendt whom Albert helped to rescue when he was in Marseilles.