Category Archives: War

‘War increases the love in the world’

Two quotes — of many, many to mull — in Max Hastings’ “Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War” (p. 118-119)…

Observing the sudden unification of previously opposing factions within Germany as war neared, a young German girl:

“wrote with a mawkish sentimentality typical of the moment in Germany, that war increased the store of love in the world, ‘for it taught one to love one’s neighbor more than oneself.'”

Heh.

The Economist, meanwhile, as troops mobilized in August 1914:

“Since last week millions of men have been drawn from the field and the factory to slay one another by order of the warlords of Europe. It is perhaps the greatest tragedy of human history.

In the opinion of many shrewd judges, a social upheaval, a tremendous revolution, is the certain consequence. It may perhaps be the last time that the working class of the Continent will allow themselves to be marched to destruction at the dictates of diplomacy and by the order of their warlords.”

Prescient.

Reichstagsabgeordneter, or fun with long German titles

Cemetary in Prague
Very old cemetary in the Jewish Quarter of Prague

Picture…sent back live
Picture…spangled new age
Letter…on your doorstep
Called up…for your country

Horror…can’t believe your eyes
Mommy…they’re taking me away

~ Killing Joke, “Tomorrow’s World

I’m reading this book, “The Vertigo Years,” about Europe between the turn of the century and WWI, capturing the weird mood and fast-changing age and anxiety before the old aristocracy “led” thousands of poor saps into a lengthy pointless war, the effects of which the world spent the rest of the 20th century poorly cleaning up.

(If you consider that WWII was the 20th century’s most far-reaching event — Cold War, nukes, Holocaust, military-industrial complex, yada yada yada — and then consider WWII wouldn’t have happened without WWI and its absurd conclusion, and then consider WWI happened because a bunch of landed rich dudes who’d ruled Europe for centuries were ill-equipped to adjust to life where capital became ever-so-slightly more diffused to people who actually produced things rather than people who were just born out of the right womb…then you totally get the ironies of the human condition that make me enjoy Killing Joke so much.)

Here is a nice review of the book in The Guardian, including this fair statement:

The vertiginous atmosphere of a tumbling prewar society – at the same time exciting and frightening – is described with atmospheric clarity. The combination of easily worn scholarship, fascinating character studies and fluent story-telling that is often very funny makes this a hugely enjoyable and illuminating book.

Anyway, I post today to quote something completely less significant but really funny, about how Germany’s growing middle class was increasingly less impressed by nobility and more by civil titles [bracket notes are mine]:

While many middle-class people were imperialists and believed in the greatness of their culture and their fatherland, the recognition they were striving for was not the Emperor’s to give [Note: i.e. not nobility titles like duke and baron and all that tripe.] German businessmen were more interested in the title of Kommerzialrat, the civilian, non-noble title of “Commercial Councillor,” an emblem of dependability and honourable conduct, than in knighthood. Medical doctors had an eye on the title Sanit├Ątsrat; lawyers and judges hoped to attain the grade of Justizrat, and so on. […] This hierarcy of civilian titles […] were taken so seriously in Germany that even wives were addresses with their husbands’ titles: Frau Professor, etc.

Moreover, with proverbial German industriousness, these titles could be multiplied, in which case they would be used in full at every official occasion. Thus, a simple medical student could dream of working his way up to a practice, teaching at a university and receiving an honorary degree there, being eventually elected to the Reichstag and then retiring, at which point he would become known (and regularly addressed in writing) as Herr Reichstagsabgeordneter a.D., Sanitatstrat Professor Doktor Doktor (honoris Causa), and even further, as far as his enthusiasm for committees, exams and official posts would carry him.

In a characteristically German way, the burghers had emancipated themselves from the constraints of the old hierarchy by creating a new one.

Awesome. (Well, it’s awesome to me, anyway.)

Peace talks! Oh…peace talks. (Since I’m worrying about things I can’t control…)

When people talk about “values,” I instantly recoil and think of the “family values” schlock from Bush/Quayle ’92. That’s the sort of “Profess public scorn for that which humans do in private or in legally prescribed places (and I probably do it too)” type of, heh, “value judgment” that makes those people so intolerable.

For me, values should be boiled down to this: Assuming common decency, tolerance and respect for one’s fellow man, what is it that one wants out of life? What is it that everyone should have the right to accomplish on this planet? The “a home, a partner, a better life for my children” basic goal, one way or another. That’s the type of “value” we ought be chasing and protecting.

But I know it doesn’t totally work that way even in my own country, much less the world. For starters, many are not motivated by what happens in this lifetime — instead they believe this life is just some sort of staging area or insurance policy for a much more significant “life” or existence beyond human death.

When sorting out earthly disputes, that’s kind of a problem: You are not only dealing with here-and-now stakes — plus their best-guesstimate consequences down the line — you’re also dealing with the stakes of some unseen existence, influenced by some unseen deity, who behaves by unknown rules (oh wait, scripture is really clear on all that…right?), and who is, as Louis C.K. put it, apparently a really insecure (and drunk) asshole. [Note: That hulu clip is awesome.]

Yeah, I think about this whenever they have seemingly futile rounds of Mideast peace talks, as they are having this week.

Continue reading Peace talks! Oh…peace talks. (Since I’m worrying about things I can’t control…)

No proposed action to be taken at this time

I wonder, has war ever broken out simultaneous to an Olympics opening ceremony before this year? Yeah, knowing humans, probably so.

But it’s somehow fitting that it should happen this year, when this international event of intended goodwill is hosted by a regime that is using it to showcase how glorious and not-all-that-abusive-really it is. The state of the commercialized, regime-exhibit Olympics today doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the prospects of our little human community as we allow anonymously guided corporations to become evermore influential non-state actors.

I’m not sure if I’ll tune into the Georgia-Russia war though. On paper, it looks entertaining, but I’m not sure my psyche has room to digest it at this time.

Um, yeaah, I’m gonna need you
to go ahead and work tomorrow…

Meanwhile, in other theaters of conflict, my department has been thrown into another less-than-ideal office move. As usual, the mechanics of this move have been handled in a way that, one might suppose, does not appear in most internal communications textbooks.

The announcement has been met by the lifers with the usual assortment of outrage, heartache, and battered-victim syndrome acceptance. Without going into details, logic indicates that, in the covert planning phase, certain things were not considered while other things were mistakenly assumed. There is a general feeling that The Deciders — people who measure human life in terms of square-footage occupied — do not actually know what the affected worker bees do. It is possible that this feeling was intensified by the fact that such Deciders have not, in fact, seen what said worker bees do.

Creating the sensation that one’s fate is determined by arbitrary, unseen forces is seldom advised in the employer-employee relationship. Historically speaking, such a sensation tends to lead humans to either religion or revolt (whether through active rebellion or lethargic non-compliance) — neither of which is desired, me thinks, by the unseen forces pulling the strings.

But the point of my vignette is this: Out of office conflict comes hilariously passive organizational speak. We subjects collected a list of office arrangement “demands” and offered them up for sacrifice to the unseen forces. The point-by-point response — divinely authored by the unseen gods themselves — included several repetitions of this doozie:

“No proposed action to be taken at this time.”

As in: Item — Parking lot lacks adequate lighting.
Response: No proposed action to be taken at this time.

The first rule of Unseen Forces-speak is the passive voice: It’s important to ascribe no person or identifiable actor as the actual “decider” or maker of decisions. Just as the legal shelter of a corporation protects incompetent or fraudulent C-executives from the liability of their actions (instead it falls on the retirement accounts of the shareholders who unwittingly paid their salaries and golden parachutes), so the passive voice of organizational speak protects anyone from actually being identified with the decisions they’ve made.

e.g., “The department has been moved.” These positions have been eliminated. This benefit has been reduced. Headquarters have been relocated to a city that, shock, shock!, is closer to the CEO’s home. And so forth.

The second, closely related rule is to speak in the sort of infinite wisdom voice of philosophy or scripture: “Roles will evolve as conditions change.” Interruptions in power are to be expected. An agreement has been reached. Her decision to spend more time with family is respected.

The third rule is to add phrases like “at this time,” which create an air of uncertainty and help mitigate the sudden finality of The Decision. Like an ambiguous song lyric, this tactic has the added benefit of letting the interpretation vary according to the paranoia of the receiver:

For the hopeful, “at this time” can mean your request may eventually be met, even if there are no plans to meet it, um, at this time. Similarly, I have no plans to inherit a fortune at this time. For the cynic, “at this time” can subtly suggest that you better be happy with what you get, because as you have seen, eventually it will change yet again for the worse. Likewise, I have no plans to rapidly decline in health at this time.

Meanwhile, the Unseen Forces use “at this time” as a stopgap to help achieve the short-term goal: Get the decision implemented first, then see how they like it, how they adapt, and whether any further arrangements are actually necessary. Once they’ve moved and their status quo has changed, you have the hard part down:  Possession, or location in this case, is 9/10 of the law.

In our case, the move is also labeled “temporary,” a nice way of inspiring hope and pretending hardship won’t last. Nevermind that the temporary term is undefined and floating, and subject to the successful execution of plans by Unseen Forces whose ability to execute a plan is highly questionable. The point is that the relocation is — like life, regimes, and solar systems — temporary.

Finally, for a writer who values communicating actual meaning over communicating, oh I don’t know, horse feces maybe, it’s a truly exquisite touch to remove the actual verb, passive though it may be, from the sentence. Sure there’s “to be” in “No action to be taken at this time.” But by leaving out “is,” it sends that extra special message of intentional distance. It’s a love note, really, that says: “Peasant, we Unseens are so removed from this decision, we don’t even know what tense it’s in.”

Anyway, I’m sure further amusing organization-speak will come out of this process. But this latest gem is so tickling to me, I’m tempted to adopt it as my response next time I receive an assignment:

“Thank you for your request. No proposed action is to be taken at this time.”

Eleven Eleven

The “BIG SALE” ads tell me today is Veterans’ Day (observed), and I feel much as I did last year at this time: What bizarre creatures humans can be.

But this year I’m alerted to a new music video put together by Mike Coles — the guy responsible for a lot of classic Killing Joke art (including the Fred Astaire/trench image from my 2006 Veterans’ Day post), who now runs the Malicious Damage independent label. The video is for one of Malicious Damage’s acts and their song, “Eleven Eleven,” which probably needs no further description.

But it’s a moving piece.

I’m reminded of the Nixonian complaints that TV news footage of the Vietnam War changed warfare and turned citizens against the war, which is one of the most hilarious examples of out-of-touch government I can think of:

You don’t say?! You mean when people see what war is actually like — instead of the G.I. Joe hero propaganda from “official” sources — they think, just maybe, “boy, we ought to have a really ironclad reason to subject people to this” and turn them — if they’re lucky — into veterans?!

One of the quotes in the video is from Wilfred Owen’s haunting “Dulce et Decorum Est,” which ends with:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.