Last Stop: Wonderland

Other Notes

In the movie “Next Stop Wonderland”, Erin decides to go off to Brazil with Andre, who has purchased a ticket for her and is waiting at the airport. But when she meets Alan on the subway, she spontaneously decides to go off with him instead, to Wonderland, where they stroll through the park.

She has stood up Andre. I believe this storyline. It makes sense. It is consistent with her character.

But audiences identify with attractive characters and need to lie to themselves that they would never behave so dishonorably and they made their displeasure known at the test screens. So the film-makers went back to work and shot a new scene.

They did not shoot a scene of Erin phoning Andre and explaining and apologizing.

They did not film Erin joining Andre on the plane.

They did not have Andre call Erin and cancel.

No no no– none of that was necessary. All that was needed was to show Andre hitting on another woman on the plane.

So if these people had been in charge of “The Third Man”, I can only imagine what indignities they would have foisted upon us.

The Insomniac

Philip K. Dick first came up with the idea for his novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ in 1962, when researching ‘The Man in the High Castle’ which deals with the Nazis conquering the planet in the 1940s. Dick had been granted access to archived World War II Gestapo documents in the University of California at Berkley, and had come across diaries written by S.S. men stationed in Poland, which he found almost unreadable in their casual cruelty and lack of human empathy. One sentence in particular troubled him: “We are kept awake at night by the cries of starving children.” Dick was so horrified by this sentence that he reasoned there was obviously something wrong with the man who wrote it. This led him to hypothesize that Nazism in general was a defective group mind, a mind so emotionally flawed that the word human could not be applied to them; their lack of empathy was so pronounced that Dick reasoned they couldn’t be referred to as human beings, even though their outward appearance seemed to indicate that they were human. The novel sprang from this. [From the IMDB “trivia” on “Blade Runner”.]

Remember– Arendt believed Eichmann when he claimed he did not personally intend to send tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths. He was, infamously, just following orders.

As were these SS men in Poland. Disturbed from their beauty rest by the cries of starving children.

Arendt would, I believe, declare that these men were not “evil” in the sense we usually think of it. They were just following orders. They were parts of a system that produced an evil result.

And again, I think she is right in the sense that these men are average. They are human. They behave the way most people behave. The difference is, Arendt doesn’t think that this character should be thought of as “evil”. It’s a deficiency in character. They haven’t self-actualized. They don’t experience empathy.

They obviously can’t see things from the perspective of the starving children.

Von Trotta Diminishes Hannah Arendt: the Banality of Banality

Margarethe Von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” is an odd, diffuse film. I never quite got what it thought it was bringing us: Hannah Arendt as martyr? Hannah Arendt as the that beautiful, desirable, intelligent philosopher? Hannah Arendt the victim? Hannah Arendt cheered on by her students as she slaps those insolent leftists silly with her ruthless dissection of the morals of the bourgeoisie?

Hannah Arendt travels to Jerusalem on behalf of New Yorker Magazine to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann. For the life of me, I don’t understand why the movie goes on at length about how much the New Yorker wanted her to finish her articles (and her book), except, perhaps, because someone wanted us to know more about William Shawn and Mary McCarthy.

There is a practical dimension to Arendt’s theory: the evil of the Holocaust derives from a system of colluding parts, of inauthentic people unable to see the world through any perspective but their own, and desiring power and control. So, to prevent evil in the future, we need to make sure we don’t recreate that kind of system. And, jeez, yeah, it does sound a lot more lame now than it did in the movie. Because it’s hard to apply this kind of analysis to, say, Syria, or the Japanese in Shanghai, or Kosovo, or Srebrenica. It just seems… lame.

At the same time, she is right. The solution to suicide bombers is not to find some way to communicate to the potential suicide bomber that what he is thinking of doing is wrong. The solution is to attack the system that produces young men willing to kill themselves for this cause.

According to Arendt– I can’t speak for her, so, to be fair, she might think otherwise– Calley too may have just been part of an inauthentic system the actions of which produced evil– the slaughter of 500 civilians in My Lai, Viet Nam in 1968. But the comments of Ron Ridenhour, among others, are very telling. When he told friends and family at home what had happened in My Lai they all, to a person, warned him to shut up about it. Not one of these people cared enough about justice to advise him to inform the authorities. Not one. Not one. Not one.

Were they all part of a machine? Were they all, individually, not responsible in part for the murders of 500 people? Yes, they were normal people. Yes, normal is permeated with something I would call “evil”. And yes, they were monsters, every one of them. And if you say that to an average person today, they will get angry at you because they know, deep down in their hearts, that they would have done the same thing. And that is about as harsh a thing as you can say about humanity but it’s true and Arendt really is on the wrong side of this question.

As good a summary as I have seen on Arendt’s views of Eichmann:

Arendt’s book is justly famous because it posed this deeply important question and offered an answer that has, over time, come to be seen as persuasively right. In short, it is the case that modern systems of administratively organized murder and criminality depend upon the collaboration and work of many people who, while they support the general goals of the regime, would not otherwise imagine themselves criminals and murderers. These people act out of conviction, but they seek to justify what they do in clichés and bureaucratic language. They take pride not only in their dutifulness, but also in their initiative and support for carrying out the goals of the regime. Ordinary in many ways and far from being cold-blooded killers, they nevertheless willingly and even enthusiastically participate in an administrative machinery of death. They are able to do so, Arendt suggested, because they close themselves off from others and come to think in an echo chamber where they hear and credit no opinions that challenge their own. This shallow thoughtlessness—Arendt elsewhere calls dumbness—is what she names the banality that allows modern regimes of evil to cause such horrifically and decidedly non-banal evil.

There’s a lot that’s right in her analysis. Where I fundamentally disagree with her is her implication that Eichmann is not really evil because he is merely part of a system (as Eichmann himself claimed). On the contrary, I believe that each member of an evil system really is evil. I believe that the majority of Americans who voted for Richard Nixon, and Johnson, and Reagan, and Bush, are culpable for the deaths of the victims of American military aggression during those years.

What Arendt points to is the fact that we have developed complex and sophisticated ways of pretending to be morally good– one of the most prominent of which is the enthusiastic condemnation of others who do what we secretly want to do: kill our enemies.

Fedor Von Bock

The ideal soldier fulfills his duty to the utmost, obeys without even thinking, thinks only when ordered to do so, and has as his only desire to die the honorable death of a soldier killed in action”. Field Marshall Fedor von Bock

Field Marshall Fedor von Bock was not a Nazi. He was, so they say, an “honorable” German, straight Bundeswehr, army, and loyal monarchist. In fact, it is said he despised Hitler, and made no secret of it. Hitler tolerated his outspokenness because he was good at his job: destroying Poland and France, annihilating their armies, so the Schutzstaffel (SS) could enter unimpeded and murder Jews. But he was not a Nazi. Understand?

But he also despised those who wanted to overthrow Hitler. He thought they were unpatriotic. So this outspokenness he is famous for did not extend to standing in the way of mass murder and genocide. He was, after all, just one of the honorable generals of the Bundeswehr.

Fedor von Bock was sent to a military academy at the age of eight, where he was “steeped” in traditional Prussian militaristic values, loyalty to the state, self-discipline, and cleanliness. He could speak passable English, and Russian, and was fluent in French, which came in handy when the nation demanded of his loyalty that he go kill a number of French men. He loved to speak to soldiers. He told them nothing was more glorious than to die in the service of me, a giant dick, who will receive medals and riches if you manage to kill some other impressionable young men whose own generals told them the same thing.

We’ll build a monument on the pile of bodies.

Had he survived the war, I suspect he would not have been tried at Nuremburg. Me might even have eventually served in the reconstructed German government after the war. Loyal. Patriotic. Generous to a fault: lucky you, young man, get to die, like an insect, a dumb animal, an insignificant flea, for the glories of the Reich!

How did Germany lose the war against Russia? With von Bock racing to Moscow in the fall of 1942, Hitler kept issuing orders for Bock to stop and join an encirclement movement, or take some other city along the way that Bock felt should be bypassed in favor of reaching Moscow before the winter– and before the Russians had the chance to fortify their defenses. These delays pushed the advance to Moscow back so that they arrived at the outskirts of the capital city in November! So first there was rain and muck and the trucks bogged down. Then came the bitter, bitter cold– the coldest winter in 50 years. Bock bitterly informed his family that the war would be lost because of interference by the high command.

Was he right?

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that he might well have been right: Russia, at the beginning of the war was weak militarily and the Bolsheviks would have been vulnerable had von Bock taken Moscow, and had von Manstein proceeded directly to Stalingrad at the same time. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume the Germans could have sustained their control of such large swaths of territory given the determination and raw numbers of the Russians and the inevitable entry of the U.S. into the war.

It is really interesting to consider how history might have unfolded had Hitler, in this instance, left the war to the generals. Would Communist Russia have been overthrown by the Germans? What kind of government would Russia have had after the war? Would Germany even have lost the war?

Any man who would trust his soul to a man like Bock, or any of the other patriots, deserves to lose it. It is because of people like you that creatures like Assad and Hussein and Pinochet and Putin and Josh Bolton thrive.


Why is it that our society seems to admire, without reservation, those who strive for the best in sports and athletic endeavors, and despise those who strive for the same thing in the arts?

If you love the world cup of music, the championship of films, the record-setting paintings, and poetry that is better than anyone else’s poetry, you are considered a snob and an elitist. And I’m not talking about Oscar or Grammy winners here, which are the equivalent of TV reality show competitions. I am talking about “The White Ribbon”, “The Third Man”, “Blade Runner”, “Solaris”, “The Seventh Seal”, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, Tom Waits….

All right… I see how it breaks down. We know the exact time of the best 100 meters, and the exact score of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.

We don’t know if Leonard Cohen is really just a hack or not.

We do know that we love a lot of films that people like me consider to be utter drivel, like “The Reader”, “The Book Thief”, “Shawshank Redemption”, “Forrest Gump”, “Hugo”, “The Departed”, and so on, and so on.