Over My Shoulder #48: from Nicholson Baker, “Human Smoke”

January 19th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est.

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker’s sparely-written, chapterless skein of documentary vignettes retelling the events that led up to World War II.

Cyril Joad, a philosopher who was writing a book called Journey Through the War Mind, had a talk with his pacifist friend D. Joad asked D. whether D. thought Chamberlain should have negotiated with Hitler after Hitler’s peace offer. Yes, of course, said D.: Wars should never be begun, and as soon as they were begun, they should be stopped. D. then listed off many war evils: the physical and moral mutilation, the intolerance, the public lying, the enthronement of the mob. He quoted from the text of Chamberlain’s refusal—that by discussing peace with Hitler, Britain would forfeit her honor and abandon her claim that international disputes should be settled by discussion and not by force. Our claim is, you see, D. told Joad, that international disputes are not to be settled by force, and this claim we propose to make good by settling an international dispute by force. We are fighting to show that you cannot, or at least must not, impose your will upon other people by violence. Which made no sense.

Once a war has started, D. said, the only thing to do is to get it stopped as soon as possible. Consequently I should negotiate with Hitler.

Joad said: Ah, but you couldn’t negotiate with Hitler because you couldn’t trust him—Hitler would break any agreement as soon as it benefited him to do so.

Suppose you were right, D. said—suppose that Hitler violated the peace agreement and England had to go back to war. What had they lost? If the worst comes to the worst, we can always begin the killing again. Even a day of peace was a day of peace. Joad found he had no ready answer to that.


Cyril Joad talked about the war with another acquaintance, Mrs. C., a vigorous Tory. War was natural and unavoidable, said Mrs. C. The Germans weren’t human—they were brute blond perverted morons.

Joad asked C. what she would do with Germany, and a light came into her eyes.

I would make a real Carthaginian peace, she told Joad. Raze their cities to the ground, plough up the land and sow it afterwards with salt; and I would kill off one out of every five German women, so that they stopped breeding so many little Huns.

Mrs. C.’s ideas were shared by others, Joad had noticed; he’d recently read a letter to the editor about Germany in London’s News Chronicle: Quite frankly, said the letter, I would annihilate every living thing, man, woman, and child, beast, bird and insect; in fact, I would not leave a blade of grass growing even; Germany should be laid more desolate than the Sahara desert, if I could have my way.

The longer the war lasted, Joad believed, the more this kind of viciousness would multiply: Already Joad wrote, Mr. Churchill was reviving the appellation Huns.

— Nicholson Baker (2008), Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. ISBN 1-4165-7246-5. 154–155

[Read the original at Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est (2010-01-19)...]

Politics by other means

March 7th, 2008

This is a syndicated post, originally from Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est.

This appeared in the March 2008 issue of Wired:

On the morning of October 27, 1969, a squadron of 18 B-52s — massive bombers with eight turbo engines and 185-foot wingspans — began racing from the western US toward the eastern border of the Soviet Union. The pilots flew for 18 hours without rest, hurtling toward their targets at more than 500 miles per hour. Each plane was loaded with nuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the ones that had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The B-52s, known as Stratofortresses, slowed only once, along the coast of Canada near the polar ice cap. Here, KC-135 planes — essentially 707s filled with jet fuel — carefully approached the bombers. They inched into place for a delicate in-flight connection, transferring thousands of gallons from aircraft to aircraft through a long, thin tube. One unfortunate shift in the wind, or twitch of the controls, and a plane filled with up to 150 tons of fuel could crash into a plane filled with nuclear ordnance.

The aircraft were pointed toward Moscow, but the real goal was to change the war in Vietnam. … Frustrated, Nixon decided to try something new: threaten the Soviet Union with a massive nuclear strike and make its leaders think he was crazy enough to go through with it. His hope was that the Soviets would be so frightened of events spinning out of control that they would strong-arm Hanoi, telling the North Vietnamese to start making concessions at the negotiating table or risk losing Soviet military support.

Codenamed Giant Lance, Nixon’s plan was the culmination of a strategy of premeditated madness he had developed with national security adviser Henry Kissinger. The details of this episode remained secret for 35 years and have never been fully told. Now, thanks to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, it’s clear that Giant Lance was the leading example of what historians came to call the madman theory: Nixon’s notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.

… Kissinger had suggested the nuclear maneuvers to give the president more leverage in negotiations. It was an articulation of the game theory he had studied before coming to power. What were [the Soviets] going to do? Kissinger said dismissively.

Jeremi Suri, Wired 16.03 (March 2008): The Nukes of October

This is how the State and its exquisitely trained court intellectuals protect you: they steal your money; they use your stolen money to hire armed men who will keep you corralled inside an artificial border; on the basis of their arrogated power over everything inside border, they then throw themselves into ridiculous posturing and pissing contests with other States, over whose artificial borders should go where, over geopolitical prestige and influence, and over politicians’ dreams of a historical legacy; and then, in the name of their own pride, they commission their trained theoretical experts to devise a thermonuclear game of chicken to play for leverage in the Great Game. It was, after all, only the lives of a few hundreds of millions of ordinary people that were hanging in the balance; not like it was anything important compared to the personal honor of Richard Milhous Nixon, or a negotiated settlement that wouldn’t embarrass the United States federal government in front of all the other governments.

… On the most obvious level, the mission failed. It may have scared the Soviets, but it did not compel them to end their support for Hanoi, and the North Vietnamese certainly didn’t dash to Paris to beg for peace. … More than 35 years after Giant Lance, I asked Kissinger about it during a long lunch at the Four Seasons Grill in New York. Why, I asked, did they risk nuclear war back in October 1969? He paused over his salad, surprised that I knew so much about this episode, and measured his words carefully. Something had to be done, he explained, to back up threats the US had made and to push the Soviets for help in Vietnam.

No, it didn’t.

[Read the original at Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est (2008-03-07)...]

11:02 A.M.

August 9th, 2006

This is a syndicated post, originally from Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est.

This is a recording of Oppenheimer (1997), by the British composer Jocelyn Pook. The voice that you hear at the beginning is Robert Oppenheimer, in an interview many years after the war, talking about his thoughts at the Trinity test of the atomic bomb, on July 16th, 1945.

[Read the original at Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est (2006-08-09)...]

Infamy

August 6th, 2006

This is a syndicated post, originally from Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est.

Sixty-one years ago today, at 8:15am in the morning, Thomas Ferebee, acting under the direct command of Paul Tibbets, on the orders of the United States government, dropped an atomic bomb over the city center of Hiroshima, Japan. When the bomb was dropped the city had a population of about 255,000 people. About 70,000–80,000 people were instantly killed by the shockwave, fireball, and radiation. By the end of 1945, tens of thousands more had died from their wounds, from radiation sickness, and from cancer related to the radioactivity. It’s estimated that about 140,000 people — more than half the population of the city — died in the nuclear massacre. The overwhelming majority of people killed were civilians: Hiroshima had only a couple of relatively unimportant military bases, and they were located on the edges of town, miles away from ground zero in the central city.

I’d like to suggest that you read GT 2005-08-09: A day that will live in infamy today.

I’d also like to suggest that you visit Dulce Et Decorum Est. You might begin with the first post of the day. Others will follow.

[Read the original at Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est (2006-08-06)...]