Monday, August 14, 2006

Gunter Grass's Excellent Adventure

So, a couple of days ago, in the thick of connectivity problems, when my access was rather less than intermittent, I noticed that Gunter Grass was not as he'd presented himself to be.

Rather far from it.

Here's what I quickly tossed (read: snarked) off then, primarily out of surprised disillusionment and disappointment, but was unable to publish on blogger (note that the title of this post is the original, and the text below followed immediately from that):

"In timing, because, you know, "It had to come out finally." According to his timing, that is, seven years after winning a Nobel Prize, and, more important, following decades of living his life without bearing the cost of accountability against ... well, what came after.
Grass was wounded in 1945 and sent to an American prisoner of war camp and later became a prominent peace activist. He said he had volunteered for army service as a way of breaking away from home and family.

"For me it was primarily about getting out of there. Out of that corner, away from my family," he told the paper.

"I wanted to put an end to that and that's why I volunteered for the army.

Now he wants to put an end to something else--you put your own name on it. And the years in between? Ah, yes. Well. You know, that.

Well, he had to pick his own time, conveniently years and years after his prime--and when he's not risking much [or for as long], as it happens, in terms of security, opportunity, and even (how telling) reputation.

Let the laudatory tributes to his "bravery" and "honesty" begin. Or, a deep and deadly silence.

Not much difference between the two, really. Or is there?"

Tonight, I am moved to resurrect that post, partly out of a hope that I'll be able to slip one more post in before the inevitable technological kaput, as a test, but more important because I just now read this Times of London article about Grass' belated admission (confession?). I'm not feeling angered now in the way that I did a couple of days back, but sad? Yeah. More cynical? You bet.
"...It was Grass first and foremost who insisted the Germans “come clean” about their history and that his own generation should not try to pose as “victims” of Hitler’s National Socialist ideology.

Now the great advocate of facing unpalatable truths has lived up to his own standards, but a little late. ...

Grass now says that, although he had told the truth to his wife, those he deceived included his own children and his biographer Michael Jürgs, with whom he spent countless hours apparently going over the minutiae of his life in the latter years of the Third Reich. Jürgs told The Sunday Times yesterday: “I’m deeply disappointed. If he had come clean earlier and said he was in the SS at 17 no one would have cared, but now it puts in doubt from a moral point of view anything he has ever told us.”

You think that's what the general view will be? Color me cynical, in terms of rank-and-file people--or at least those who might have trumpeted Grass as one of their purer-than-thou own. Still, there's this:
But he has not got off lightly. In a separate commentary the FAZ lashed out at him for hypocrisy, recalling in particular his outspoken and now sanctimonious-sounding condemnation of the 1985 visit by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Ronald Reagan to Bitburg cemetery where not only American soldiers but also Waffen SS men were buried. “Wouldn’t the debate have been more honest if we had known that one of those blind followers of the SS had grown up to be, like him, a famous champion of freedom and democracy? “We’re not talking about guilt or crimes here. Grass was still little more than a child,” the FAZ added, noting that at least the great author never pretended to have been part of the anti-Nazi resistance and admitted that he believed in Hitler right up until the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

But Grass has hidden behind his wall of silence in the post-war discussion when he could have made a crucial contribution by admitting the truth. Notably he was silent when another former Waffen SS man, Franz Schönhuber, now leader of the far-right Republikaner party, published his autobiography Ich War Dabei (I Was There), which insisted former members of the elite units were unfairly stigmatised.

The debate was heated because Schönhuber made the point that the Waffen SS were exclusively military units, effectively a branch of the regular army, rather than convinced Nazis. [Emphasis added.]

Callimachus is far, far better qualified than I to get into the nuts and bolts of this, and to evaluate whether or not Grass' subterfuge strengthens or not Schönhuber's point. (Purely from a logical standpoint, I don't see why that would necessarily be so.)

But I don't need Cal's historical expertise to grasp the larger point, as to Grass' honesty in an area that crucially counts and what he could have added to the discussion over the years, or the "smaller," more personal one: his dodging of the "come clean" imperative he has since espoused, and even demanded, and particularly as he insisted that his country's reputation would always be intertwined with the name Auschwitz.
Grass’s insistent, repetitive message to his fellow citizens was that they should never, ever forget. It seems that only now has he himself chosen to remember.

We're all flawed, and we all fall short of our standards. Starkly put, most of us simply fail to live up as we should or could. I'm not immune. Yet I, like most people, live on a little stage. Grass, on the other hand, has lived on a large stage--some might argue a higher plane--and used that vantage point to indict the honesty and intentions of people on stages little and large. Knowing, all the while.

Among other rewards for his pains, he received a Nobel Prize (yet another tarnish on that honor, but I digress), which he accepted relatively recently, still unsufficiently moved to confess (protest?). Now, we get this explanation for his Great Omission:
“My silence all these years was one of the reasons I had to write this book. In the end it simply had to come out.”

Yet another reward he claimed for himself: an end [time] of his own choosing.