Daryll versus David Duke

On Typos, Mistakes and Egregious Errors

by

Howard Adelman

Today there will be no biblical commentary, at least not one in any depth, the first time I have missed writing one in a long time. That is because I need to apologize for an egregious error in yesterday’s blog which three readers brought to my attention. I wrote Daryl Duke instead of David Duke. The version posted on WordPress has now been corrected..

David Duke is an anti-Semitic white nationalist, Holocaust denier, former imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and one of the foremost conspiracy theorists in the United States. The late Daryl Duke was a personal friend of one of my readers and a well known Canadian film and TV director. I knew of him first as the producer of “This Hour Has Seven Days.” Others may know him as the director of The Thorn Birds. Next week, my youngest son is coming out with his first major music video for a group on its way to world-wide fame; Darryl Duke was a pioneer making prototype music videos for Bob Dylan.

The error is egregious because I cannot claim ignorance as Donald Trump was prone to do when asked why he did not denounce the support he was receiving in his campaign from David Duke by replying so insincerely, “Who is David Duke. I don’t even know the man,” when the issue was not whether he knew him but whether he knew of him and knew about the widely-reported endorsement David Duke had given him. When David Duke’s views were brought unequivocally to Donald’s attention, for a considerable time he continued to fail to reject the endorsement and denounce the views of David Duke.

When he finally did so, it was clearly reluctantly in the tone, “So I denounce his support. There! Are you happy?” For example, back in 1991 when Donald Trump was asked by Larry King on CNN whether the fact that 55% of whites in Louisiana voted for Duke bothered him, Donald Trump replied: “I hate seeing what it represents, but I guess it just shows there’s a lot of hostility in this country. There’s a tremendous amount of hostility in the United States.” King, perhaps aghast at the answer, queried, “Anger?” Trump responded, “It’s anger. I mean, that’s an anger vote. People are angry about what’s happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they’re really in deep trouble. When you talk about the East Coast, it’s not the East Coast. It’s the East Coast, the middle coast, the West Coast…”

Trump did not deny that he knew who David Duke was at the time. However, he pivoted in the same way he has thousands of times in his campaign for the Republican leadership, for the presidency and as President of the United States. Sure, that behaviour is deplorable. But look what’s behind David Duke’s remarks – the loss of jobs and anger and resentment by whites and especially the white working class. The pivot is away from David Duke and his racism to explaining and excusing that racism.

In 2000, when Donald Trump was asked whether he would accept the nomination of the Reform Party, he said he would reject the nomination because David Duke had joined the party. Duke was a bigot and a racist and he would not want to be in the same party with David Duke. But in 2015 when asked by John Heilemann from Bloomberg whether he would repudiate David Duke’s endorsement, Trump replied, “Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I don’t know anything about him. Somebody told me yesterday, whoever he is, he did endorse me. Actually, I don’t think it was an endorsement. He said I was absolutely the best of all of the candidates.”

One has to be appalled at Donald Trump’s blatant lie – “I don’t know anything about him.” And then he turned the query totally around to himself. “I do not know him but he did say I was the best candidate.” In follow up interviews when journalists repeatedly asked about David Duke’s endorsement, Trump would repeat the same claim of ignorance when ignorance was no longer possible as a defence. “I don’t know anything about David Duke. Okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.” The man who claimed he knew more than all the American generals, knew more than the untrustworthy intelligence services of the United States, claimed ignorance about a matter which can be proven he knew about.

Sometimes Donald Trump pleads ignorance when a plea of ignorance is indefensible. “I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.” “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”

Unlike Donald, who persistently refuses to acknowledge and perhaps acknowledge errors and inconsistencies in what he says, I acknowledge my error in writing Daryl instead of David Duke. It was an appalling, even abominable error, both because Daryl Duke stood for values absolutely opposed to those of David Duke, but also because, in the current context, it is all the more incumbent to be both accurate and to not only acknowledge errors, but also to try to understand why the error was made. Was I being just sloppy? Not really an excuse. Was I being rushed and getting behind so that I was not sending my drafts to Alex Zisman to proofread before the blog is sent out. I think this is the case and I will revert to that practice, though not with this blog because of the urgency of making the correction.

But acts of contrition and efforts at correction are insufficient. It is still important to discover whether the error was, for example, a Freudian slip revealing a hidden animosity. Last night, actually early this morning, since I went to an excellent poetry reading last evening and did not get home until it was quite late, I could not sleep – rare for me. I could not extinguish the error from my mind. So I watched an old 2007 movie, Rendition, directed by Gavin Hood with an outstanding cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard. Omar Metwally played Anwar El-Ibrahimi, the Chicago engineer born in Egypt who came to America with his family at the age of 14 and became an assimilated American. As an adult professional with a wife and son and second child on the way, he was arrested upon his return from Egypt and sent back by the CIA to be tortured in Egypt because of suspicion that he had been involved with an Arab terrorist organization. The plot was based on what happened to Khalid El-Masri, a German/Lebanese citizen abducted in error by the Macedonian police rather than the CIA, but who was received by the CIA and flown to Afghanistan rather than Egypt to be imprisoned in a black site where he was interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, and subjected to inhumane and degrading torture of various varieties, including waterboarding. They were all on display in the movie.

The film is built around a number of moral tensions, primarily the tension between the CIA agent in charge of the case and overseeing the process of torture without being permitted to participate. He gradually becomes convinced of Ibrahim’s innocence and the uselessness of “torture.” But he is also sensitive to the pleas about both his professional responsibilities as well as the possibility that the torture might produce information that could save countless lives in a future terrorist act.

Truth and moral conduct are intimately linked. Is Ibrahim innocent or is he dissembling? If Ibrahim is part of a terrorist network selling chemical information that helps make explosives more powerful, then is the use of torture justified? Or is its use both morally and legally reprehensible. Now my error did not come anywhere proximate to that one, but it was an error. I not only confess it and correct the text, but also try to root out its source if there was one. And I will set procedures in motion to make such errors less likely in the future.

The Torah portion for today – Ki Tisa is about atonement for sins. Exodus 30:10 reads: “And Aaron shall make atonement upon the horns of it once in the year; with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement once in the year shall he make atonement for it throughout your generations; it is most holy unto the LORD.” This is immediately followed by the obligation to make a census of every individual among the Israelites, “then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. What is the relationship between the sin, atoning for that sin, a census of every individual and the prevention of a plague?

I do not believe this text is complicated. Every individual shall be treated as an individual with a soul. A sin against an individual is a sin against God for the Lord is visible in the face of every individual. Torture of that soul is torture of God. And when one deliberately hurts another to extract a truth, it is never worth it even if accurate information is extracted. The reason is not only the question of whether the information is unreliable and whether it was given up just to escape the torture whether true or not, but because the effort to extract the truth by coercion leads to a plague of dishonesty and a plague of hatred and a plague of terrorism.

Donald Trump is a serial liar. The President tweeted two weeks ago that he had just learned that Barack Obama as President had secretly wiretapped Trump Tower where he lived and where he had his campaign headquarters. “Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” This is but one of many tweets that made similar accusations. But since then, he and his apologists have tried to insist that he did not mean Barack Obama personally, but the Obama administration, that he did not mean wiretapping specifically but surveillance in general, and then yesterday both Spicer and he cited news sources to justify his claim when not one of the reliable ones did.

“Not that I respect The New York Times. I call it the failing New York Times. But they did write on January 20 using the word wiretap.” The story had nothing to do with Obama ordering wiretaps on Trump Tower. The heads of the Intelligence Committees in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, Republican and Democrat, said there was no evidence to back up such a claim. Former heads of intelligence at the time and the current head of the FBI currently said there is no such evidence.

But Donald Trump and his apologists says that no evidence does not mean absolutely no evidence or that evidence might not be uncovered in the future. Further, Trump diverts with a tease – information will emerge in the next two weeks. When he offered the same tease about his accusations that Obama was born in Kenya, he never followed through with either any evidence or even any effort to gather such evidence.

If we lie deliberately, if we commit a falsehood even in error (I am not discussing “white lies”), it is important to correct them and in someway express atonement. The lie or error may be small, but the consequences are serious. For lies set off a plague of lying, of dissembling, of cover-ups, of distractions, of further fabrications, all of which corrupt the social space in which every one of us lives. My error may have been relatively very minor compared to Trump’s outlandish lies one after the other, but any lie or error of this kind must be corrected. Apologies must be issued. Correction in habits must be introduced. And some type of atonement must be offered.

There is a real connection between lying and the plague of antisemitism, for antisemitism is founded on a foundation of outright lies.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Turkey Foreign Policy

Turkey: Foreign Policy

by

Howard Adelman

It is always remarkable when a domestic policy issue becomes a matter of foreign policy. Yesterday morning, I discussed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasing repression of the media and, in particular, the arrest of Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of Turkey’s largest circulation newspaper, Zaman, and Hidayet Karaca, director of the news channel, STV. When combined with the corruption scandals, the purge of the Gulenists, the total sidestepping off the military on an issue that directly affects its self-image as the embodiment of the Turkish people and its ability to perform, the increasingly dire economic, health and educational reports on the government’s performance, and Erdoğan’s determined efforts to convert the Turkish parliamentary polity into a highly centralized presidential system, but one without checks and balances, then the signs of weakness of the Erdoğan government are everywhere on which foreign governments can pounce. However, rarely do governments use press freedom and rights to free speech as the instruments to undermine an ally of which it is increasingly critical.

This is particularly interesting because Turkey has a long enough history of vibrant press freedom that has revealed the media repression to be very porous. Erdoğan‘s Kurd political satrap, his former economic minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, has a bad habit, just as Erdoğan has, of putting his foot in his mouth and probably ill-gotten gains in his pocket. In the spring, he self-righteously defended his son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, who had just been arrested and charged with involvement in the 2003 corruption scandal. What was the defense? A blatantly anti-Semitic response! “I would understand if a Jew, an atheist, a Zoroastrian would do all these things to us. Shame on them if these things are done by those who claim to be Muslim. How can a Muslim do this?”

After the Gulenist purge from the police and the judiciary by Erdoğan, a Turkish court very recently dropped the corruption charges against 53 people, including Çağlayan’s son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, and the sons of two other cabinet ministers. But all has not be sanguine. Just over a week ago, Hurriyet, a mass-circulation paper normally in Erdogan’s back pocket, played up the corruption scandal on its front page by following up on the parliamentary query by Corruption Commission Chairman, Hakki Koylu, an AKP loyalist, of the suspicious transfer of 2.5 million Turkish lira ($1.06 million) to Çağlayan’s personal bank account.

Erdogan may still appear invulnerable as the elected choice of the people, except that he won the presidential elections, in spite of alleged vote rigging, by a very slim margin. As the spiritual core of the AKP and the leader that carried his cohort to both political power and personal wealth, he is now incapable of separating himself from those colleagues. Countries that have grown weary of Erdogan’s unreliability are now taking advantage of that weakness and, in particular, his efforts to suppress the media, to undermine him further – in spite of commentators, like Semih Idiz, who still see the efforts at consolidation of power while sweeping the corruption scandal under the rug to be unstoppable. However, the combination of the suppression of the media through the arrests of journalists and heavy fines levied against media outlets by the government and the news of the widespread corruption, may, as Nobel prize-winning writer, Orhan Pamuk commented, but with my cliché, offer the two straws that broke the camel’s back.

Given America’s strategic interest in ensuring that Turkey remains a capable and secure partner, particularly in the fight against Islamic State, it now seems that those strategic interests can be married to the issue of a free press. Jen Psaki, Secretary of State John Kerry’s spokesperson on foreign affairs, while admitting that John Kerry has not personally taken up the issue, and while insisting that Turkey remains a democracy and an important ally and NATO power, clearly suggested that the American embassy in Ankara has raised the issue of press freedom in Turkey. She replied to press queries about the media repression in Turkey by saying that, “the United States supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest. We look to Turkey to uphold these fundamental freedoms. We remain concerned about due process, broadly speaking, and effective access to justice in Turkey…we are concerned by the detention of journalists and media representatives following police raids on the offices of media which have been critical of the government. Media freedom, due process, and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. Freedom of the media includes the freedom to criticize the government. Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason. As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s core values and democratic foundations.”

Criticism for the US of Turkey has become more blatant. The EU has been even more critical than the US. The EU has openly stated that the raids were incompatible with media freedoms and, further, suggested they could affect Turkey’s longstanding bid to join the bloc. Erdoğan has responded by dismissing such threats, but most ordinary Turks take them seriously.

However, whatever the debates over media suppression, the current central issue in foreign policy for Turkey is – not Israel and Gaza or even Cyprus – but the rise and spread of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On the one hand, Turkey has harboured Islamic State militants and permitted Islamicists to cross the border into Syria to fight the Bashar al-Assad regime. The main opposition military supply line runs from Turkey to the northern city of Aleppo, which is why the recent Syrian army recapture of Aleppo was so important. At the same time, true to his faith in the teachings of his hero, the Turkish anti-Semitic philosopher, Nurettin Topcu (1909-1975) (see his essays “Money and the Jew”, mankind’s two enemies, and “Human Beings and Jews” where Jews are depicted as the bloody and sinful ordeal for humanity), Erdoğan himself envisions Turkey as the future Islamic caliphate. So he is tempted as well as pressured to join the US-led coalition against Islamic State. However, he has not.

 

In the meanwhile, AKP media mouthpieces deride that US pressure as a conspiracy to trap Turkey into fighting battles for the West. Erdoğan denounced Interpol when, at the request of Egypt, it issued an arrest warrant for Youssef al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is an Egyptian-Qatari national as well as an intellectual eminence grise of the Muslim Brotherhood and president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, who is suspected of having found a safe haven in Turkey. Is Erdoğan protecting Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has supported suicide bombings in Israel and endorsed the killing of Jewish fetuses? For Qaradawi, Muslims can only speak to Jews through the sword and the rifle.

On 21 November, Dursun Ali Sahin, an Erdoğan appointed governor of Edirne in Eastern Thrace, a city that once had 13,000 Jews and now has only 2 as a result of systematic ethnic cleansing over the years, decided to convert the Jewish synagogue there into a museum, but one in which there would be no displays. After an outcry, Ali Sahin apologized and said he had been misinterpreted. However, it is widely believed that Erdoğan’s anti-Israeli rhetoric is a distraction for his deeper anti-Semitic convictions. So much for Hamas’ cousin, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, occupying the peaceful road to Islamic unity.

Turkey and Egypt have become each other’s worst enemies. They have cut off diplomatic relations with one another and Egyptian men between the ages of 18 and 40 are banned by their government from traveling to Turkey without the written approval of Egyptian State Security. This has also exacerbated the tension between Turkey and the West, a tension enhanced to the breaking point when the US State Department issues its annual reports on the mistreatment and torture of political prisoners in Turkey at the same time as both countries obfuscate the Turkish-American illegal rendition, detention and torture of Islamist terror suspects. Turkey (the only NATO member to do so) vociferously denounced American actions in the wake of the recent Senate report on the illegal activities and torture by calling on those who violated laws and democratic norms to be held to account. Ankara tried to have it both ways, staking out its greater moral purity while disguising its own sins and never acknowledging that Turkey participated in the rendition of terrorists as cited in the Senate Report. Nor has Erdoğan admitted that he made the Incirlik air base available to the Americans for transfer of those prisoners while continuing to stress his deep-seated anti-western outlook. It is no wonder that relations between Erdoğan and his European and American allies have become so strained.

If Turkish-American relations are strained, to say the least, Turkey’s over fifty-year-old pursuit of membership in the EU, if it has not almost been completely abandoned, is in the doldrums and, thus, the EU threats ring more hollow as Erdoğan continues to pose that he is still interested, though little has been done to whittle down the 14 outstanding conditions for accession from the original 35. But his actions belie his words as Turkey demonstrates an increasing unwillingness to comply with the EU’s entry restrictions.

Cyprus remains a sore point, not only between Greece and Turkey, but between the EU and Turkey. The EU has never stopped objecting to Turkey’s occupation of the northern half of the island. As Greek Cyprus pursues a joint hydrocarbon exploration with Israel and Egypt as partners, Turkey can only fume and foam and threaten to disrupt the exploration by deploying the Turkish navy. Erdoğan’s loose tongue does not help. A week before the EU ministers and top brass visited Ankara for talks, he fired a fuselage: European Christian states do not like Muslims but they love the “oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labour force of the Islamic world”. He went even further: Europeans were accused of enjoying watching Muslim children die.

So why do Western leaders troop religiously to Ankara, not only European leaders (recently High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, Frederica Mogherini, and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain), but US Vice-President Joe Biden in November and the Pope in December. The unequivocal answer – realpolitik. The West will do whatever it can to keep the Islamists from allying with the far more radical Islamicists. The EU and the USA are also wary of the growing friendship and links between fellow wannabe strongmen who are remarkably similar in a number of respects – Putin and Erdoğan – as they come closer to one another in sharing their increasing international isolation. This explains the delicate tightrope walk by both the USA and the EU as they reinforce the message that Turkey is an important ally and, at the same time, raise the decibel level of the criticism of the Erdoğan government.

Erdoğan’s decision to allow Turkey to be used for pipelines as a transit route for natural gas between the Middle East and the West both has undermined the Russian-Tukey relationship while, at the same time, it has brought Putin to Ankara to woo Erdoğan with his charms, though unlikely to be completely successful given Russia’s support for Turkey’s enemy, Assad’s Syria. Putin, however, came armed. On his visit at the beginning of December, Putin announced that the US$22 billion South Stream project running through Bulgaria from Russia would be scrapped. However, that proposal turned into an unloaded gun when, in the face of Western sanctions against Russia, Bulgaria declined to host the pipeline.

Putin had to become more fawning than ever on his December 1st visit to Turkey and proposed a huge 63 billion cubic metre capacity pipeline from Russia through Turkey in addition to the 16 billion cubic capacity pipeline already under construction to supply both Turkey and Europe with Russian natural gas. This would provide the kleptocrats in Turkey with a large amount of loose change. These projects are over and above the 18 billion cubic metre Tanap project from Azerbaijan through Turkey to Europe that Iran is building. Turkmenistan will also be able to access that pipeline for oil transmission. As a bonus for Turkish cooperation, Russia promised to reduce the costs of gas to Turkey by 6% on 1 January 2015.

In spite of realpolitik, it is amazing that Turkey has not been evicted from NATO for ignoring the boycott of Russia over the issue of Ukraine.

Here is where money trumps ideology. Israel too may also be permitted to build a pipeline from its enormous gas fields on the Mediterranean coast to Turkey. Although economic cooperation between Israel and Turkey may be forging ahead, political relations continue to worsen. Israel has accused Turkey of training Hamas operatives while Turkey insists it is only hosting Hamas Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and its leader, Saleh al-Aruri who was deported from the West Bank by Israel in 2012 after his 18-year prison sentence had been served. Even the Palestinian Authority accuses Aruri, with support from Ankara, of planning multiple attacks against Israeli targets.

The contradiction between economic interests and ideological convictions, between the realities of the marke place and Erdoğan’s populist domestic policies, such as the distribution of free coal to the needy that also serves as a cover for stealing money from the public (estimated at 10 billion Turkish lira by the end of 2013 when rake-offs from the coal deals, transportation and distribution are all taken into account) as Turkey closes dangerous and inefficient coal mines forcing the government to buy coal on the spot market, both of low quality and high cost, to meet its “obligations” as that coal must be distributed for electoral benefit in the run-up to the June elections. In addition to a press freedom crisis and a corruption crisis, Turkey is coming closer and closer to a financial crisis. In the process, the EU and the USA are putting their joint weight on the opposite side of the teeter-totter than Erdoğan.

Turkey’s obsession with orchestrating regime change in Syria has been a failure, yet Ankara does little about the rising threat of lslamic State even as Turkish cars are stolen to be used as car bombs, as in the 29 November suicide attack in Kobani at the Mursitpinar crossing into Turkey. Turkish territory is used as preparation areas for attacks by IS on Syria. IS fighters can be found in Turkish villages near the Mursitpinar border crossing with Syria. Those fighters attack the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces from the rear as the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, now that it has secured a revenue-sharing agreement with Baghdad, grows closer to the Kurds in Turkey than to the government in Ankara

Is Ankara hosting IS as pressure on the anti-Assad coalition, that includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, to create a buffer and no-fly zone on the Syrian side of the Turkish border? Why is Erdoğan so stubbornly resistant to including Assad representatives in the Geneva talks sponsored by both Russia and the US? Erdoğan has chastised the US for its “impertinence, recklessness and endless demands” offered from “12,000 kilometers away”. In some ways the criticism is wholly justified for Turkey hosts over a million Syrian refugees (Ankara says it is 1.6 million) while countries like Canada cannot even muster the ability to admit a meagre 1,300 to which it is already pledged.

Nevertheless, Turkey increasingly appears as the odd man out in the Middle East with enemies in Cairo, Damascus, and the Arabian peninsula, cool relations with Baghdad, not to speak of its direct rivalry with Tehran. Netanyahu has to be gloating with these radical shifts since the 2010 Mavi Marmara episode even as Erdoğan continues to host Hamas and enhance its presence in the West Bank.

Stephen Cohen Putin Apologist

Is Stephen Cohen a Putin Apologist?

by

Howard Adelman

 

My target today is not Vladimir Putin himself but those who act as voices for his position even though they are critical of both Putin and what he has done in Russia. My main target is the renowned American scholar on Russia, Stephen Cohen, but there are more modest and less bombastic Canadian versions such as Mark MacKinnon, senior international correspondent for The Globe and Mail who has been a bureau chief in Beijing, Moscow and the Middle East. MacKinnon has won the National Newspaper Award four times and is author of a 2007 study, The New Cold War Revolutions, Rigged Elections and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union. In Saturday’s Globe (8 March) he published a two-page spread entitled, “How the West Lost Putin” arguing that the bad blood between the West and Putin has been developing over the last fifteen years and has largely been the responsibility of the West which, over the years, never appreciated or offered any proper acknowledgement of Putin’s efforts to cooperate with the West.

Early on, Putin was torn between his KGB training and background and some attraction towards western democratic values expressed best in the early years when he was an aide to Anatoliy Sobchak, the reformist governor of St. Petersburg. He had expressed sympathy with George Bush after 9/11, shared intelligence and offered airspace for America’s war in Afghanistan, and even allowed the U.S. to create a no-fly zone over Libya. According to MacKinnon, he got bubkas (my expression, not his) in return and was gradually pushed into regarding the West as the enemy of Russia determined to hem Russia in, an interpretation that reinforced his view that the implosion of the USSR in 1991 was the greatest disaster to befall Russia.

However, my main concern is Stephen Cohen; I mention MacKinnon to indicate that Cohen is not alone in the position he adopts. In launching this criticism, I recognize that I am an amateur in contrast to the expertise of both Cohen and MacKinnon.

Several nights ago I watched and listened to Stephen Cohen on CNN and heard him describe two Ukraines: an eastern and southern Russian-oriented Ukraine and a western European-oriented Ukraine. He then went on to blame Obama specifically. He did not hold Putin responsible for the current crisis because, back in November, Obama, with the EU in tow, had “forced” the Viktor Yanukovych government to choose between Europe and Russia, playing an either/or game and not a both/and game. At the same time, Cohen criticised Obama and his predecessor for not paying sufficient attention to Russian sensitivities in the efforts to move NATO closer and closer to Russia’s borders and failing to understand that Russia had deep interests in the Ukraine and could not possibly tolerate a neighbour oriented against Russia. 

According to Cohen, “every informed observer knows—from Ukraine’s history, geography, languages, religions, culture, recent politics and opinion surveys—that the country is deeply divided as to whether it should join Europe or remain close politically and economically to Russia. [So far, no problem!] There is not one Ukraine or one ‘Ukrainian people’ but at least two, generally situated in its Western and Eastern regions.” Cohen repeats this claim over and over; it has become his mantra.  “Ukraine is splitting apart down the middle,” he repeats, “because Ukraine is not one country, contrary to what the American media, which speaks about the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Historically, ethnically, religiously, culturally, politically, economically, it’s two countries. One half wants to stay close to Russia; the other wants to go West.” 

After Cohen made his pitch on CNN, I heard a very articulate refutation of Stephen Cohen’s first point from a young protest leader in Kyiv, Katryna Krak, about whom I was unable to find out anything further, but she is, for Cohen, a priori, not a very informed observer for she refutes Cohen’s refrain about his “two Ukraines.” She conceded that Ukrainians were truly divided over policy in that some wanted a more pro-Russian policy and others wanted a more pro-European policy.  To her, Ukrainians were generally united in a) still being Ukrainian and b) wanting a democratic and honest government accountable and abiding by the rule of law. Indeed, the yearning for a democratic regime was a uniting force.  To describe Ukraine as consisting of two Ukraines was insulting to Ukrainians and blind to genuine fears they had of using this political difference to divide Ukraine politically. After all, the US is divided into red states and blue states, but this would be no justification for suggesting there are two different Americas and two different peoples inhabiting America, but only suggesting that there are different parts of America which tend to be differentially oriented politically. But they are all Americans.

In a recent article in The Nation, to which Stephen Cohen is a contributing editor and his wife an owner, entitled “Distorting Russia: How the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine,” http://www.thenation.com/article/178344/distorting-russia#, he accused the American media of malpractice, “failing to provide essential facts and context” and refusing to print opposing opinions. (Not my experience – see MacKinnon above as an example.) He accused the American media of being as ideological as they were during the Cold War. The misrepresentation began with ignoring the looting of essential state assets in the early nineties in favour of a narrative that depicted Russia as undergoing a difficult transition from communism to democracy.  In doing so, the media supported the “armed destruction of a popularly elected Parliament and imposition of a ‘presidential’ Constitution, which dealt a crippling blow to democratization.”

Further, Cohen also repeated a claim he had made that the revolt in Kyiv was being controlled and orchestrated by fascist elements in Ukraine, a position Wolf Blitzer repeated only to be scolded vehemently by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Wolf Blitzer repeated a claim by Russia’s United Nations Ambassadoir Vitaly Churkin that Nazi sympathizers have taken power in Western Ukraine. Amanpour admonished Blitzer for repeating that charge. “You’ve got to be really careful putting that across as a fact,” Amanpour said. “Are you saying that the entire pro-European Ukrainians are anti-Semites? That’s what the Russians are saying and that’s what Professor Cohen is saying.” 

Is the whole revolt really controlled by anti-semitic fascists? Did the American media really support an “armed destruction of a popularly elected Parliament”, a position that MacKinnon also seems to endorse? Did the American media support the imposition of presidential constitution that undermined the process of democratization which abetted Putin’s choke-hold on the Russian polity? That is not what I recall, but I remain open to being convinced if the evidence is persuasive, particularly since I do not trust my memory at all. Unfortunately, Stephen Cohen levelled these sweeping accusations with little evidence. The media was also accused of supporting the war in Chechnya that gave rise to terrorism in Russia’s North Caucasus thus enabling Putin to rig his own re-election in 1996. According to Cohen, most media reports in America still “give the impression that Yeltsin was an ideal Russian leader”.

I had no idea the American media had such a powerful effect on domestic Russian politics! Since Cohen supplied no evidence, though he accused journalists of shameful unprofessional practices, inflammatory writing, and even malpractice for failing to provide essential facts and context (an accusation that Cohen in his writings allegedly went back to American anti-Red coverage at the time of the Russian revolution as documented by Walter Lippman and Charles Merz), I decided to do a quick and fairly arbitrary check. I would simply google key words and see what came up on the presumption that if Cohen was correct, most newspaper articles that came up would support his views.

I first typed in “1993 American media coverage of Russian economic privatization”. The first item that popped up was chapter one of Stephen Cohen’s own 2000 book, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post Communist Russia that appeared in the New York Times apparently that year when Cohen levelled those charges in a book-length form, except in that chapter he went back to the Clinton years when he had to stand up single-handedly against the “Washington Consensus” and its crusade to convert Russia to a replica of American values in a condescending policy of American tutelage. I then recalled that it was true that America did adopt a policy of trying to teach the republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, including Russia itself, American democratic practices and the rule of law, the stability of political institutions and the values of free speech and democracy. I also noted how well they took in Hungary when I was there to help that country reform its refugee laws as well as in other former satellites such as Poland and the Baltic states.

However, as Cohen told the tale in 1990, that policy in Russia “crashed on the rock of reality”, Cohen’s reality that Russia was a very proud and great nation that resented such American chutzpah and, in turn, became more anti-American than it had been in the previous forty years that he had studied Russia. In turn, American investors, including his bête noir, George Soros, lost $80-100 billion in the 1998 crash, Soros’ Quantum Fund alone losing $2 billion. Why did this happen? Because, “according to a 1996 survey” Moscow correspondents reported on Moscow “through the prism of their own expectations and beliefs” resulting in a Manichaean and one-dimensional account as propounded by American officials in a tale told of the conflict between the liberal democratic economic and political reformers and “On the side of darkness was the always antireform horde of Communist, nationalist, and other political dragons ensconced in its malevolent parliamentary cave”. Yeltsin was the hero, “including Yeltsin’s designated successor, Vladimir Putin, a career KGB officer”.    

In telling of this massive one-sided tale, the support for his position, interesting enough, comes almost exclusively from the media itself, such as a 1999 study by two journalists that Chubais, one of the heroes of the so-called Washington consensus, had been “little more than a conduit for a corrupt regime”. Further, the Clinton administration and its media claque encouraged “Yeltsin’s unconstitutional shutdown of Russia’s Parliament and then cheering his armed assault on the elected body.” My own memory is that there had been a great deal of criticism of Yeltsin at the time and especially of the economic shock therapy in the transition from communism, criticism that, in particular, depicted the “unpaid wages and pensions, malnutrition, and decaying provinces”, but this may have been because I read the Canadian press or because my memory had been corrupted. Once again, it was an investigative reporter who, contrary to the Washington consensus revealed that, “The whole political struggle in Russia between 1992 and 1998 was between different groups trying to take control of state assets. It was not about democracy or market reforms.” It seems hard to prove a media consensus when it’s the media that offers the evidence of the criticism of that alleged consensus.

Robert Kaplan whose op-eds on the current crisis have appeared frequently, reviewed Stephen Cohen’s 2000 book. In that review, he began by focusing not on the errors of government officials, businessmen, academics and journalists, but on the difficulty in changing a country of 140 million people spread over seven time zones with seventy years of comprehensive totalitarianism following centuries of absolutism that “left an institutional and moral void”. This history, geography and demography when combined with the suddenness of the collapse made the problem of transformation “impossible to overcome”. However, then Kaplan departs from Cohen. “Cohen attacks people — including Richard Pipes and Zbigniew Brzezinski — who understood in the 1980’s, as he did not, that Soviet Communism could not be salvaged. He fails to emphasize that the Russians never implemented much of the advice of the very experts he attacks for losing Russia. And his own advice — that we should not have bombed Serbia or expanded NATO and that we should adopt instead the ‘collective approaches’ of the United Nations, all for the sake of courting Russia — amounts to capitulation, not engagement.”

But then Kaplan commends Cohen for recognizing that the shock therapy would never work. “According to Cohen, a people’s historical experience supersedes economic theory. Thus, as he explains, what worked for Poland — a small, ethnically homogeneous country exposed to the Enlightenment, with a rudimentary market infrastructure even before the collapse of the Berlin Wall — would not necessarily work for Russia. Cohen provides a stimulating counter-chronology to challenge the official Washington view of post-cold-war Russia as a string of qualified successes and disasters avoided, in which good democrats, led by former President Boris Yeltsin, have battled bad neo-communists, particularly Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister and foreign minister.”

Culture and history supersede economics. I, personally, could not agree more. On the other hand, culture and history do not quash economics and make change impossible. Within every culture can be found the elements of its own transformation. Cohen and Kaplan both point out that these were already present if they had not been blind-sided by the Chicago economic school, had trusted more in Mikhail Gorbachev’s belief in the rule of law and Primakov’s belief in the importance of institutional practices. Both of these Russian leaders opposed Yeltsin’s arnarchistic, bombastic propensities. As Kaplan concludes, “Cohen himself sounds somewhat like a missionary by ascribing so much importance to his own society’s impact on such a distant, vast and intractable country.”

In the next Google entry, Andrei Sheifer (a professor of economics at Harvard) and Daniel Treisman (Political Science, UCLA) in their study, “A Normal Country: Russia After Communism (Journal of Economic Perspectives 19:1, Winter, 151-174) write that Cohen’s viewpoint was the consensus, that the transformation in Russia from 1990 to 1999 had been a disastrous failure, particularly for the Russian people. The consensus depicts Russia not as a middle-income country but “as a collapsed and criminal state” a view supported by both left and right. President George Bush was a leading voice against this consensus when, in late 2003, he “praised President Putin’s efforts to make Russia into a ‘country in which democracy and freedom and the rule of law thrive’.”

Except, without the jingoism of George Bush, the two authors offer lots of evidence to conclude that, “We find a large gap between the common perception and the facts. After reviewing the evidence, the widespread image of Russia as a uniquely menacing disaster zone comes to seem like the reflection in a distorting mirror—the features are recognizable, but stretched and twisted out of all proportion. In fact, although Russia’s transition has been painful in many ways, and its economic and political systems remain far from perfect, the country has made remarkable economic and social progress. Russia’s remaining defects are typical of countries at its level of economic development. Both in 1990 and 2003, Russia was a middle-income country, with GDP per capita around $8,000 at purchasing power parity according to the UN International Comparison Project, a level comparable to that of Argentina in 1991 and Mexico in 1999. Countries in this income range have democracies that are rough around the edges, if they are democratic at all. Their governments suffer from corruption, and their press is almost never entirely free. Most also have high-income inequality, concentrated corporate ownership and turbulent macroeconomic performance. In all these regards, Russia is quite normal.” 

It appears that while the narrative was emerging as much more varied and nuanced, Cohen was still struck in the trope he had set down in 2000. Most commentators I read, whatever their many disagreements, do NOT ignore Russia having legitimate political and national interests as Cohen contends they do. They do object, however, to the means Putin resorts to express those interests or to any presumption that Russia’s interests a priori trump Ukraine’s national interests, especially to remain an independent and unified country oriented politically and economically west.

Finding logical consistency in Cohen’s argument is a challenge.  Cohen castigates Putin on the one hand but sympathizes with him on the other hand. When it comes to American thought processes, any complexity and nuance drops away.  Instead, he treats the media with a homogeneous, and wholly unsympathetic, portrait of a blind and one-sided industry while he repeatedly cites that same media to support his own views.  “Anyone relying on mainstream American media will not find there any of their origins or influences in Yeltsin’s Russia or in provocative US policies since the 1990s—only in the ‘autocrat’ Putin who, however authoritarian, in reality lacks such power. Nor is he credited with stabilizing a disintegrating nuclear-armed country, assisting US security pursuits from Afghanistan and Syria to Iran or even with granting amnesty, in December, to more than 1,000 jailed prisoners, including mothers of young children.” Sorry? Where else but in the media did I first find Cohen’s views expressed?  While I myself reflected many in giving credit to Putin re both Iran and the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, Cohen goes far too far in giving credit to Putin for granting amnesty to the thousand jailed prisoners, many like the members of Russia’s Pussy Riot, two of whom are mothers, whose arrest and imprisonment he orchestrated and whom he allowed to be beaten up after their release by his thugs.  Shame on you for this alone Stephen Cohen!

Why can’t we acknowledge that Putin has performed some commendable international diplomacy yet still regard Putin as a “thug”? Why do we have to be as simpleminded as the industry he finds so reprehensible, the very industry that gives him so much air time?  

This is not the first time that Western observers have gotten twisted up over a Russian thug.  Even Putin’s critics do not deny that he enjoys widespread support of 60-65% in Russia. But Stalin was also once a great hero of both the West and of Russians. Nor do such critics, again including amateurs such as myself, believe that democrats will necessarily succeed Putin. We are not unaware that even more formidable ultra-nationalists are in the wings and they would be a lot worse for the Russian people and for the West than Putin. But does this require apologizing for Putin, accepting his faults as an inconvenience?

The fact is that Cohen also operates within a Manichaean framework, only for him the greatest evil doers always seem to be American. Jeffrey Sachs is one of his targets. Sachs went to advise the Russians on reforms in 1991 and thus was part of America’s zealous missionary crusade in Russia. But here is Sachs’s defence in 2012. “I advised on how Russia could emulate the successful transformations underway in Eastern Europe.  My work in Russia lasted from December 1991 to December 1993 (and I publicly announced my resignation January 1994). I stress these points because there is a long-standing narrative that says that I was out to help impose the “Washington Consensus,” a Milton-Friedman-style free-market economy.  This is patently false.  Yet it is repeated.  It should stop being repeated. There is another narrative that says that I was ruthlessly in favor of a market economy and uninterested in the rule of law, institutions, or social justice.  This is even more patently wrongheaded.  I have always regarded economic reform, institution building, and social justice to go hand in hand.  I have always fought corruption, and resigned from Russia in 1993 because I found corruption to be growing and out of control.  I have always paid attention to the plight of the poor, and looked for progressive measures to support macroeconomic objectives (e.g. the end of hyperinflation) in ways that give sustenance and support for the poor.  For 27 years, since the start of my work in Bolivia, I have been a consistent champion of debt relief for over-indebted low-and-middle-income countries, precisely to help these countries find the economic and fiscal space to support the poor and the investments needed to end poverty.”

Sachs was successful in Bolivia and in Poland but largely failed in Russia. To Cohen, the failure was because Sachs belonged to a Washington monolithic consensus.

Cohen mis-reports facts. I personally did some detailed investigations of the depth and breadth of anti-semitism and Cohen’s charge about “the proliferation of anti-Semitic slogans by a significant number of anti-Yanukovych protesters.” I concluded that there were certainly some, but they were a very minor part of the protest movement. I offered a sample of evidence in a previous blog.

Stephen Cohen may be a retired professor of Russian studies from New York University, but he is also a dogmatist, deliberately hypocritical, and a quasi-apologist for the same positions as Putin. He is as caught up in as Manichaean a framework as those he dismisses.  But in his view, the really evil-doers are the Americans. His expertise does not trump my amateurism; it is flawed by contradictory assertions, unsupported claims, indifference to nuance, and sweeping oversimplifications.

 

Appendix on the Nuland-Pyatt Tape

As another example of America-bashing and Putin apologetics, Cohen cites the taped 11 December 2013 conversation between Victoria Nuland, the State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, and the US Ambassador in Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, that proved that “high-level officials were plotting to ‘midwife’ a new, anti-Russian Ukrainian government by ousting or neutralizing its democratically elected president – that is, a coup.” (Mark MacKinnon also alluded to this evidence supporting Putin’s position.) The conversation was posted on YouTube. http://rt.com/news/nuland-phone-chat-ukraine-927/

President Viktor Yanukovich had offered to make opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk [leader of the fatherland opposition parliamentary faction] the new prime minister and award the position of deputy prime minister to Vitaly Klitschko [leader of the opposition United Democratic Alliance Reform (UDAR) party and a former heavyweight boxer – see Anderson Cooper’s interview with him on CNN 360 Live from Kiev, 6 March]. In that taped conversation, Nuland said: “I don’t think that Klitschko should go into the government. I don’t think it is necessary. I don’t think it is a good idea.” Pyatt replied: “In terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework.” “In terms of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together.

It is clear that Nuland and Pyatt were NOT strategizing about how to make this come about. They were asserting their preferences and the reasons for them. This is what state department and foreign affairs officers do all over the world. There is no suggestion of how they could influence such an outcome let alone of any discussion of a coup, that is, an appropriation of power or a takeover. It is the opposite of a coup in two respects. It is advice on who should stay out of power to keep the democratic forces united. Second, it is advice  and an indication of what Americans would support and not pressure, let alone coercive pressure, to bring about such an outcome. Observers, or rather listeners, seem to be exercised, not only about the use of “Fuck you” in referring to the use of the UN versus the EU, but the allegation that such talk and presumably advice is interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

When America expressed its preference for Pearson versus Diefenbaker, when Netanyahu signalled his preference for Romney rather than Obama – and these were not just officials – that did NOT constitute interference, let alone a coup, though in almost all cases, it is usually imprudent and poor diplomacy if such opinions are made public. But certainly they are the norm. The conversation nowhere implies that the United States “has been secretly plotting with the opposition”. That does not mean they were not, but the evidence does not support such an interpretation.

As Nuland sees it, Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk should be in charge of the new government and Klitschko would not get along with him. “It’s just not going to work,” was her opinion. This cannot be construed as the US acting as the midwife of the new government unless it could be shown that the US was offering financial incentives to different Ukrainian politicians to support the American’s beliefs. In any case, the Ukarainians clearly did not accept the American advice.

 

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 2: Loyalty and Disloyalty

Assimilation: Culture & Economics; Family Politics and Cover-ups

by

Howard Adelman

 

My father came to Canada from Poland when he was six years old just after the end of WWI. One of his earliest memories was being in a parade in Warsaw when the Kaiser came and he waved a German flag. He always had a strong positive view of Kaiser Wilhelm, reflecting even the Ostjuden view of Germany as the leader of European enlightenment culture. In Jeremy`s first paragraph of chapter 1 of his biography of Albert Hirschman, he writes that Carl Hirschmann (Albert`s father) “was a patriot; he loved Beethoven, Goethe, and the values of the German Enlightenment, as well as the German nation. In the wake of the naval Battle of Skagerrak (known as Jutland in English, May 31 – June 1, 1916) he gushed to his wife, `What do you think of our victory at sea? How wonderful it would to have been there!`”

The problem is that the battle was not quite a victory. In the largest naval battle of the war and the only confrontation between battleships, both sides lost. When we were taught that battle in high school British history, I recall that as schoolboys we discussed whether the British admiralty were competing with the British generals of the ground forces for a medal for the worst performance, though we generally agreed that it would be hard to beat the British army officers in their horrific leadership.

Both the British and Germans wanted to lure the enemy`s fleet into a trap to destroy their capacity by sinking or damaging enough of the other`s warships, in the British case, to remove the threat to their mercantile navy and, in the German case, to break the British blockade and allow the German mercantile fleet to operate freely and open the supply lines to Germany. Using intercepts, the British learned of the German plans, sailed from Scapa Flow in Scotland when they learned the German fleet had left port and caught the submarines unprepared. However, the British were nevertheless caught by German Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper`s superfast five modern battlecruisers and drew them into a battle with the German High seas fleet. Before the British could get back to their own main fleet, they lost two battlecruisers in the battle between Hipper`s five fast ships and the British navy`s six battlecruisers and four battleships. In that sense, the navy battle was a victory for the Germans.

On the other hand, the Germans had been lured into an open battle of the fleets with 250 ships engaged altogether. Eleven German ships were lost but at great cost to the British who lost an additional twelve ships. Further, the Germans managed to escape their encirclement and return to port when the British failed to press their advantage. The British also lost far more sailors. Nevertheless, the British succeeded in deterring any future naval engagements by the Germans and the German fleet remained blockaded in port, but the process also tied down the British fleet and limited its protection of the Atlantic sea lanes.

As is usual in wartime, both sides claimed victory. The difference is that in Germany, the public believed the German military propaganda. In Britain, expectations had been high of another Trafalgar, but the British were not only disappointed that their great fleet had been unable to destroy the German one in open battle, but also at the greater losses on their side. They also learned of the design flaws in their own ships and even questioned the naval commanders` conduct of the battle as we as high school students had. In contrast, Carl Hirshmann, the German loyalist who secretly came from Ostjuden stock but named his son Otto after Otto von Bismarck, the Great Prussian chancellor and founder of modern Germany, accepted that the battle as a German victory and faithfully served the wounded and sick and even eventually the starving as the British blockade lead to cold, darkness, starvation and death in Germany. Carl Hirschmann in his self-deceit was unprepared for the overthrow of the German monarchy.

Jeremy summarizes the key events of the latter all too succinctly. After the flu pandemic which killed 5,000 in Berlin alone, “the Spartacist uprising a month later ended in savagery. Rosa Luxemburg`s body was dumped in the Landwehr Canal, Karl Liebknecht was shot in the back in the Tiergarten Park, and right wing thugs patrolled the city to stop the Soviet influence from crossing into German lands. From this mayhem was born the Weimar Republic, the political and cultural setting of Otto Albert`s upbringing.” What Jeremy does not write in his caution in not drawing forth generalizations unless clearly indicated by the evidence is that these key events not only reinforced the self-deceit and mindblindness of Carl Hirschmann on the political as well as personal level, but adumbrated the path of compromise and betrayal that would be the end as well as beginning of the Weimar Republic.

Although the thugs of the proto-Nazi Freikorps carried out the murders, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Chancellor Friedrich Ebert in particular, most probably ordered them. The SPD, now in government in league with the conservative party, was, like the Chinese government today, wedded to the rhetoric of Marxism but driven by the revisionist nationalist theories of Edward Bernstein which made loyalty to the German state a priority rather than international solidarity. The SPD backed the Kaiser`s war, turned on those leftists who had split away from the SPD and, in my conviction, specifically ordered the assassination that took place on 15 January 1919 of Luxemburg (who, incidentally, initially opposed Liebknecht`s call for an insurrection) and Liebknecht, the leaders of the breakaway faction of the socialists in Germany. The process legitimized thuggery as a political tool at the same time as it sewed deep schisms of distrust among leftists in Germany. Luxemburg`s call for “spontaneity” in revolution to which Albert Hirshman was initially attracted was left undeveloped and without her charismatic leadership. Perhaps this allowed AH to abandon Marxism long before his ideological sister was able to free herself.

Jeremy writes: “He (AH) carried throughout his life many of the precepts and values he had inherited as a boy and picked up as a young man in a vibrantly cosmopolitan, civil, bourgeois – republican – upbringing, steeped in the view that things could be made better, that out of the ashes of the old, new worlds could be made. But throughout his life, he knew equally well just how precarious this world could be.” (pp. 18-19) I would argue that he learned more than simply precariousness. Long before his participation in the Spanish Civil War, before he was even politically aware, his upbringing had been steeped not only in the values of civility, meliorism and republicanism, but in the absence of solidarity, loyalty and unity on the left. He had also learned that the resort to street violence was as integral a part of German culture as Goethe and Wagner. 

But German contemporary culture of Dada artists, Bauhaus architect, Berlin expressionists, and avant-garde filmmakers was perhaps the greatest influence on AH. Jeremy writes: “Berliners turned to culture…Perhaps best known was the flourishing of a distinct Berlin movement in theatre, film, and criticism, especially with the collaboration of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, whose Three Penny Opera presented industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin. Berlin`s first talking movie, The Blue Angel, made Marlene Dietrich famous around the world.” For Jeremy, the image of Dietrich of her memorable walk down a broad staircase in tuxedo and a top hat stands out as does the family lore told by Eva, AH`s young sister, of AH`s father, Carl Hirshmann, spotting Marlene Dietrich at a resort and then jumping up when an opportunity presented itself, draping Dietrich`s fur coat over her shoulder and whispering in her ear, `Meine beste Freudin,` the name of her hit recording from the film. In fact, the song was called, “Wenn die beste Freudin” and it did not come from the film, My Blue Angel, but from the duet she had sung in 1928 with Margo Lion from the musical revue, Es Liegt in der Luft. Since the song was not included in the 1964 albums of Berlin songs by Marlene Dietrich, it is not well known. However, the song can still be heard on YouTube and I personally heard many of them as my German teacher in high school played recording after recording. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOvHdAcdHA.) The song became an anthem for the risqué lesbian movement at the time, but it is unclear whether Carl Hirschmann was being ironic when citing the song as he flirted with Marlene Dietrich.

More significantly, although the book is very long, I think it would have been helpful to briefly unpack those two splendid examples of avant-garde German culture to reveal the tensions between the passions and interests that so dominated Berlin cultural discourse at the time and remained ever present as a theme in AH`s thinking and was, of course, the name of one of his most important books. I wrote a theatre review for the Threepenny Opera (as we wrote out the title) in the early sixties and do not recall thinking of the musical as presenting industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin even though the plot was taken from John Gay`s The Beggar`s Opera, but rather as an interpersonal struggle set against a tale of ostensible class warfare between a peachy father and his daughter. The father is ironically named Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum who is a Fagin character running a troupe of beggars. He is governed solely by self-interest but, unlike Fagin, disguises his main occupation through respectability, civility and religious cant. His daughter, Polly, is a naïve creature driven by passion and desire who falls in love with a charming new thief, Macheath, hired by her father. Macheath has coated his pursuit of both self-interest and desire with an attractive quality of charm and goodwill that serves as a cover for the ruthless murderer beneath. The musical with its wonderful ironic music plays on the tension between two forms of ardent self-interest in juxtaposition to desire and various forms of cover ups for that tension so it would have been helpful to learn whether AH saw the musical when he was fourteen or, at least, how he regarded it, especially its deus ex machina ending when Macheath ends up with a pardon for all his crimes and a pension from Queen Victoria.

The Blue Angel, Germany`s first talkie in 1930, is such a contrast to Hollywood`s 1927 The Jazz Singer which told the story of the tension between tradition and modernity between a Jewish cantor`s son and his father loosely based on the life of its star, Al Jolson, my favourite singer as a kid. The Blue Angel based on Heirich Mann`s novel, Professor Unrat (garbage), is the story of a bourgeois, prudish and stuffy teacher in a gymnasium much like the one AH attended who goes to a cabaret to catch his boys watching the torch singer, Loa-Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich, and falls deliriously in love. It is a movie about passion overwhelming reason and common sense leading to the destruction of bourgeois values of civility as the professor is reduced to the humiliation of playing a clown in cabaret as Marlene Dietrich cavorts with her latest lover. The surprise is how well this trite and simplistic plot works so powerfully and how much more powerful the film must have been in Germany where the theme of the tension between unbridled passion and rationality has such a deep resonance. 

I know Jeremy`s book is very long, but I would have appreciated a bit more expansion on the possible effects of such German iconic cultural products on AH himself. I also missed some more unpacking of the tension within Albert between tradition and modernity set against the tension between self-interest and emotional attachments. We are told the parallel story of his very wealthy cousins who take self-interest to the extremes of hedonism and the implied rejection by Albert of those values. We are told of the family`s conversion to Protestantism along with another half million German Jews, but it was Lutheranism and not just Protestantism established by the ardently anti-Semitic Martin Luther to which they converted.  The family observed Christmas and although Albert was converted, he never took up his vows as a Christian. The family really worshipped at the altar of German respectability.

We are told of Carl Hirschmann`s rejection both as an applicant to become head of neurosurgery at a gentile hospital and his rejection as head of surgery at the Jewish hospital and the conviction by himself and his family that his conversion was the reason for the rejection. Other than a loss in status for Carl, especially in the eyes of Albert`s socially aspiring mother, we are not told of how the inner turmoil played out in the life of his father, or, more importantly, within AH other than the statement that Albert wore a “carapace of invulnerability” that even his daughter, Katia, who returned to Judaism, could not seem to penetrate. I wanted Jeremy to make a greater effort to penetrate that carapace that stood in such contrast to the themes of voice, of exit and of loyalty, for the lifelong drama seemed to have the smell of a son trapped, even if in a less auspicious way than his own father. I suspect that his daughter sensed that rather than simply accepting the inherited line that, other than in a sense of humour and a sense of compassion, his Jewish heritage was worn very lightly to be discarded at will with no consequences.

Further probing of Katia on this question would have been helpful in gaining a greater insight into AH. Though I am getting ahead of the story, in chapter 3, Jeremy quotes AH. “`The question of a `return` to Judaism never came up for me (ne s`est jamais posée por moi),` he explained many years later to his grandson Grégoire on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. `First of all, it was never instilled in my upbringing…and above all I would have sensed that an embrace of Judaism as a reaction, as something history imposed upon me which I then had to live (persecution), and for me the question was how not to submit to this miserable history created by Historic Laws (because there are none).`”

What a dramatic revelation written in a note to his grandson in 1989! But in chapter 1 and 3, Jeremy leaves the superficial and indeed silly explanations that simply dress up his carapace unexamined. Look at what he wrote. The history of the Jews is simply a “miserable” history and not a story of both mistreatment and glorious achievement. The issue is not whether the question of return to Judaism was relevant for him, but why return was viewed as a reaction and not a choice. Why was this option regarded as an imposition rather than an option? And what in any rational universe does the history of Judaism have to do with the issue of Historic Laws? Judaism is, if anything, in its deepest roots opposed to the conception of fate whether in the form of Historic Laws or any other expression. This is simply a statement of ignorance and prejudice unbecoming to a man of probing intellect so it raises questions about why stupidity prevailed in this area when AH was so brilliant and wise in so many other areas of his life.