A famous German writer raises some troubling questions.
But just what is it that Günther Grass, the most famous living German novelist, thinks “must be said”? The closest he comes to clearly saying what must be said (what he says must be said) appears to occur here, toward the end of a poem he published a week ago and which already has stirred up a storm of controversy:
I’ve had enough of Western hypocrisy [Grass writes]
and I wish that many will want
… a permanent, freely-accorded control of Israel’s nuclear power
as well as Iran’s nuclear installations…
Even for German verse, you have to admit it is heavy handed; thus the original:
…weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens
Uberdrussig bin; zuden ist zu hoffen,
Es mogen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien […]
dass eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle
des israelischen atomaren Potentials
und der iranischen Atomanlagen
durch eine internationale Instanz
von den Regiereungen beider Lander augelassen wird.
All right, Goethe it is not, nor Remarque, nor indeed is it any good against any measure of comparison. For some reason, Mr. Grass, who one would think would know better, feels compelled to put into prosaic “verse,” better suited for political platforms or resolutions written by committees, a demand that both Israel and Iran submit their nuclear weapons and installations to international inspection and control (eine internationale Instanz).
On its face, nothing controversial. It is sort of silly, and sort of embarrassing for a man of Grass’s moral stature to descend into such stupid polemics, but on the surface, let us think like liberals for a moment, like Grass, and consider: Why not call for international controls, or at least inspections? As a concept? As an abstract idea relative to the pursuit of a world at peace?
Indeed why not? We, the United States, proposed this sort of thing in the early years of the nuclear age. We offered to bury the nuclear hatchets and all, proposed an international atomic control commission (ja, eine Instanz). Who would not have? We knew what we had unleashed, and we wished we could do something to control it.
Observe that, at the time, it was because we understood the morality of using the bomb to end the war with Japan — we understood what an awful choice we had made, the destruction of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them civilians, against the destruction of even more hundreds of thousands of people, at least a hundred thousand American fighting men and far more Japanese, including civilians, than were doomed by the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That would have been the price of an amphibious invasion of Japan. This is what happens in wartime. You do not choose between the good and the bad. You choose between the bad and the worse.
Men hardened, but not corrupted morally, by such choices, could suggest, in all sincerity, that the best next thing to do was invent an international nuclear regime that would pre-empt such awful choices in future conflicts. At the suggestion of that great original, Bernard Baruch, the Truman administration offered an international nuclear-energy control regime in the late 1940s, but the international communist movement led by Stalinist Russia rejected it. They said we were trying to prevent them from having the bomb, which we already had. They smelled an imperialist plot. But their olfactory organs deceived them; more exactly, their ideological organs deceived their olfactory organs: they could not conceive of a regime — in their minds the bourgeois-liberal, formally democratic U.S. — offering such a deal because it was so outside their concept of what you do with power and the instruments of power.
This is the origin of the long and dreary history of arms control negotiations, wherein we kept trying to understand why the totalitarian communistic enemy refused to see things as we did and proceeded to negotiate with ourselves into a position of weakness. Fortunately, it ended well because there were persons in positions of responsibility, including notably Ronald Reagan and Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who kept their nerve and saw the essential immorality to which the arms-control “process,” culminating in the aptly named doctrine of mutual assured destruction, had brought us. It was immoral, as the political philosopher Albert Wohlstetter pointed out very simply, because it said, “We’ll let you kill our people but then we’ll kill your people.”
But the story did not end there, just as it had not begun with the nuclear age. The problem of arms negotiations, whether the arms in question are battleships or sling shots, concerns primarily regimes, not arms. This is something a certain mindset peculiar to liberal-democratic regimes finds difficult to grasp, because it refuses obstinately to view regimes as motivated by the pursuit of power. It insists that all regimes fundamentally want to share power, not grasp it and monopolize it. This leads to the fallacy, and some would argue corruption, of “moral equivalence.”
The sure sign of the moral-equivalent man is his sanctimonious tone. Here is an example:
If my country sells one more submarine to Israel
one capable of delivering nuclear warheads
on [targets] where there is no evidence of atomic weapons
… I say what must be said
Again, if the leaden verses interest you, a few lines may be perused:
Jetz aber, weil aus meinem Land
das von ureigenen Verbrechen,
die ohne Vergleich sind,
Mal um Mal engeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird
wiederum und rein geschaftsmassig, wenn auch,
mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert
ein weiterest U-Boot nach Israel
geliefert warden soll, dessent Speziallitat
darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengkopfe
dorthin lenken zu konnen, wo die Existenz
einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist,
doch als Befurchtung von Beweiskraft sein will,
sage ich, was gesagt warden muss.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?