“You should therefore know that there are two ways to fight: one while abiding by the rules, the other by using force. The first approach is unique to Man; the second is that of beasts. But because in many cases the first method will not suffice, one must be prepared to resort to force. This is why a ruler needs to know how to conduct himself: in the manner of a beast as well as that of man.” — Niccolo Machiavelli
Historical fiction is a special and important genre. It can bring history to life, but more importantly it can allow us to put ourselves in the lives of those of another time, another context. There is a strong tendency in the United States toward historical amnesia. This is perhaps one of the biggest character flaws of the country. Floating in a constant now there is a complex, but highly malleable, context that disappears in the moment. This can drain the richness from our lives, set us on paths both personally and societally destructive, and perhaps most importantly, totally erode the concept of free will replacing it with faux will.
In What Is To Be Done of 1902 Lenin opposed revolutionary spontaneity because it “strips away the disciplined nature of the Marxists idea of revolution, leaving it arbitrary and ineffective.” True to himself, Lenin then returned to opposition to spontaneous revolution after WWI during the German Revolution of 1918-19 when in a spontaneous uprising against the post-WWI system Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacist League failed in an attempt to overturn German capitalism.
I have wondered if the German Field-Marshal Friedrich Paulus after his defeat and capture by Russians at Stalingrad in February 1943 really changed when as a prisoner of war in Soviet Russia he joined the National Committee For A Free Germany and the anti-Fascist Union of German Officers. Were his words sincere when he broadcast anti-fascist messages to Germany over Radio Moskau? Did he betray his entire background, his military career and the homeland he had fought for in order to save his life? Was he a traitor to Germany, to his beloved wife and to himself?
Get out your atlas. You will likely need it when you read farther here about the intriguing but little known story in a lesser known part of Alpine Europe: Italy’s northern territory of Alto Adige, better known as South Tyrol. I used an atlas for geographical details about the borderlands with which this article deals and where I have spent long periods. For it’s the details—often geographical—that will confound you every time. Such details make you aware that military planners of national strategy never spend enough time with their atlases. Over much of my lifetime I have passed through these border territories countless times, from north to south, south to north and yet I still discover new things about them.
“Suppose that some great disaster were to sweep ten million families out to sea and leave ‘em on a desert island to starve and rot. That would be … an act of God, maybe. But suppose a manner of government that humans have set up and directed, drives ten million families into the pit of poverty and starvation? That’s no act of God. That’s our fool selves actin’ like lunatics. What humans have set up they can take down…. Whoever says we’ve got to have a capitalist government when we want a workers’ government, is givin’ the lie to the great founders of these United States….”
(A Stone Came Rolling, Olive Tilford Dargan)
“We are not fighting against men or a kind of politics but against the class which produces those politics and those men.” (from Dirty Hands, a political play by Jean Paul Sartre, first performed in Paris on April 2, 1948.)
As shown in the permissive attitude of Italians toward Fascism last century, also contemporary Italians perceive of a strong and charismatic leader as a shield against disorder and their inherent inclination toward anarchy. Someone to protect them against their own nature. Promises of more police and more security are reassuring to those Italians who see today’s enemy in immigrants and in the European Union with all its rules … including its Euro currency. When a legitimate government to control their inclination toward anarchy goes missing, some form of servility to a powerful individual returns. Strongmen emerge from that conundrum deep in the Italian psyche: anarchy or a strongman at the helm. Italy today seems to be following the same familiar old script.
Some years ago an amusing satirical article in the Buenos Aires leftwing daily, Pagina 12, made me want to cry. In five thousand words the Argentinean journalist José Pablo Feinmann, ridiculed, among other things, the whole concept of the great wall the U.S. Bush government projected along the border with Mexico.
My generation has seen that history does repeat itself. We know world wars I and II and we have seen “regime change” in action from country to country, from Libya to Iraq. Those who think that history does not repeat itself might read some of these lines about what once happened and what is happening today.
The US has tactical weapons in Europe, let us not forget this. Does it mean that the US has occupied Germany or that the US never stopped its occupation after World War II and only transformed the occupation forces into the NATO forces? (V.Putin)
I woke up in the early 1970s. Since such an awakening happened in my life, I believe something similar happens also in the life of others. Though I didn’t realize it I had stood for sometime at a crossroads. I had to take the left. This sounds reductive but in retrospect it feels that my transformation happened more or less like that. Before, I was one person. Afterwards—the interval might have been months long, maybe a couple years—I was another. No need to over-dramatize and claim that the event happened as if it arrived like a thunder bolt. In any case, over a period of time, in the same way revolution happens, I revolted against my own self of the time; against my old life. And I became another. Today, as a result, part of my personal philosophy of life is that people can and do change. Fundamentally.
If you have you ever seen a monkey hanging from a tree by its tail and showing its red ass to onlookers, then you have seen the animal kingdom’s representation of war. According to French playwright Jean Giraudoux, the pacifist and Légion d’onore holder in WWI, war looks just like that monkey’s ass. In 1933, on the eve of WWII, Giraudoux in his famous anti-war play, The Trojan War Will Not Take Place, the imminent author penned his memorable words: “When he shows us his red bottom, all scaly and glazed, encircled by a filthy wig, that’s exactly what war looks like. That’s its real face.” (Included in my novel, The Trojan Spy). Giraudoux’s play was first published in English in 1956 as Tiger At the Gates.
At first, people of the town didn’t notice that every day there were fewer stray dogs creeping sociably under their feet while they took the sun on the benches at el Jardín. The growing absence of the rangy brown dogs – short- haired mongrels, their ribs leaping from their undersides, habitually scratching for nourishment at the food stalls around the square or wandering single file up and down the steep back streets – didn’t register on anyone.
When in 1978 the 31-year old Afghan Communist politician-activist, Mohammad Najibullah, arrived in Tehran, “exiled” to neighboring Iran as Afghanistan’s Ambassador, I had just left Iran where I had worked throughout the year of 1977. Najibullah’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) had come to power in Kabul in April, 1978 in what is known as the Saur Revolution, the name of the month in the Afghan calendar when the Communist Revolution took place. Far from united, the PDPA was divided into two factions: the more revolutionary faction (Khalq-People’s) that first took power in Kabul in that crucial year of 1978 (crucial in both Afghanistan and Iran), preferred to have the charismatic Najibullah of the Parcham faction (Banner) of the PDPA far from the halls of power.