raising the stakes

In “Why I’m a Pacifist: The Dangerous Myth of the Good War”, published in Harper’s May 2011 issue, Nicholson Baker argues that Hitler’s Jewish policy was that of a hostage-taker. Baker concludes that the Allies should have heeded the pacifists such as Abraham Kaufman, Dorothy Day, Jessie Wallace Hughan, Rabbi Abraham Cronbach, Vera Brittain, Arthur Ponsonby, Clarence Pickett, Bertha Bracey, Runham Brown, Grace Beaton, and Victor Gollancz, by negotiating peace with Hitler in order to rescue Jews, instead of demanding unconditional surrender of Germany. According to Baker, this insistence inculpates Winston Churchill and FDR in Nazi genocide of the Jews.

So the Allies should have let The Axis absorb most of Europe in Germany and let Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere pay tribute to Japan, in exchange for Hitler letting the Jews go? I see no clues as to what Nicholson Baker might recognize as bargaining chips for the Allies to control and trade with the Axis. The Untermenschen residing in the occupied territories might want to have their say. Furthermore, the notion of Hitler holding Jews hostage against escalation of a European conflict into a world war is belied by the body count achieved by the Einsatzgruppen prior to America’s declaration of war against Germany. In the event, the lesson Hitler failed to teach to his adversaries, that terrorism on large enough scale can earn immunity from prosecution and be traded for political gains, is recapitulated today in the position taken by that Hamas-Fatah alliance:

ROBERT SIEGEL: You said recently that by signing this accord with Fatah, Hamas, and I quote you now, “became part of the Palestinian legitimacy,” that the movement gained legitimacy. The Israelis and others, some others, point to the 1988 Hamas charter very often and say that you should renounce that.

And I looked at the document, and, you know, at one point it claims that the Jews started the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, both World Wars, that they operate in league with the Freemasons and set up the Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs to do their bidding. Do you think that Western democracies are going to grant legitimacy to people with a document that reads like the paranoid conspiracies of the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party?

Mr. HAMAD: Look, and first of all, I think people should not judge Hamas according to their charter because many changes happened inside Hamas. But many people in United States and the West or in Israel, they say no, no. Hamas is still as it is before 20 years, no. I think Hamas show a lot of flexibility, and it became more pragmatic, more realistic. Hamas could be a good player in making peace in this region, but please don’t use stick against them and punishment against Hamas.

SIEGEL: But people who point to the charter say, well, even if Hamas says it has changed and there’s evidence that it has changed, the charter hasn’t changed. These are still the declared principles of your movement, aren’t they?

Mr. HAMAD: No one talk about removal of Israel. We’re only talking about removal of the occupation, and I think this is according to United Nations resolution, this is legitimate.

For example, my parents were born in Tel Aviv. We have seven millions Palestinian refugee – as refugees living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, every – and Europe and Brazil and everywhere. They have no chance to return to their homeland. Is it their destiny to live as refugees forever? And Israel have a right to bring the Jews from South Africa, from the United States, from Russia, from everywhere to live inside the Palestinian territory, in settlements in the West Bank. I think it’s not logic. It’s not fair.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Hamad, thank you very much for…

Mr. HAMAD: Thank you.

SIEGEL: …spending time with us.

That’s Ghazi Hamad, who is deputy foreign minister of Hamas. He spoke to us from Gaza City. And we’ve also requested interviews, I should add, with a leader of Fatah and also with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is the endgame. Hamas will renounce its “great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine”, avowed three days ago by Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the its government in Gaza, in exchange for Israel recognizing a Hamas-led Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with its capital in Jerusalem.




Hard-liners in Israel and the U.S. will resist this capitulation to two generations of terrorists taking Jews and gentiles hostage, when not blowing them up. But there is a difference between Israel considering a compromise with Hamas and Fatah and the Allies considering a compromise with the Axis. Unlike the Nanking massacre and Babi Yar, Arab terrorism did not proceed under the color of authority endowed with international legitimacy. It must be well understood by both sides in asymmetrical warfare, that terrorist acts lose their advantage of asymmetry upon being perpetrated in the name of a state that itself is liable to be held hostage to a crushing military defeat, the likes of which befell Germany and Japan sixty-six years ago. So let the terrorists raise the stakes by getting their state this time. We’ll always have our recourse to carpet bombing and show trials.

4. terror and virtue

Human life in common is only made possible when a majority comes together which is stronger than any separate individual and which remains united against all separate individuals. The power of this community is then set up as ‘right’ in opposition to the power of the individual, which is condemned as ‘brute force.’ This replacement of the power of the individual by the power of a community constitutes the decisive step of civilization.

— Sigismund Schlomo Freud, 6 May 185623 September 1939,  
Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929[0]  

In 1905, at the height of his renown as the creator of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud published a deceptively slight volume on the clandestine nature of jokes. According to Freud, jokes employ the methods of condensation, displacement, and indirect representation through allusion, absurdity, and substitution of trivialities for matters of profound importance, in the service of man’s repressed instinctual nature, epitomized in the instincts of sex and aggression. These instincts serve as the wellspring of all wit. In civilized society, they seldom wield direct influence over human affairs. Only owing to a momentary suspension of salubrious repressions that constrain them in the service of the super-ego, do sexuality and aggression enter into collective consciousness. Thus jokes enable the brief pleasure in discharging the energy of the anticathexis responsible for maintaining these repressions.
    The nature of this discharge is best illuminated by example:[1]

Itzig ist zur Artillerie eingeteilt worden. Er ist offenbar ein intelligenter Bursche, aber ungeschickt und ohne Interesse für den Dienst. Einer seiner Vorgesetzten, der ihm wohlgesinnt ist, nimmt ihn beiseite und sagt ihm: «Itzig, du taugst nicht bei uns. Ich will dir einen Rat geben: Kauf dir eine Kanone und mach dichselbständig.» Itzig has been declared fit for service in the artillery. He was clearly an intelligent lad, but intractable and without any interest in the service. One of his superior officers, who was friendlily disposed to him, took him on one side and said to him: “Itzig, you’re no use to us. I’ll give you a piece of advice: buy yourself a cannon and make yourself independent!”

Freud goes to some trouble to explain the joke. The advice, says he, is obvious nonsense. Cannons are not to be bought and an individual cannot make himself independent as a military unit — set himself up in business, as it were. But in so far as the advice is not mere nonsense, but a joking nonsense, it merits scrutiny of the means whereby the nonsense is turned into a joke. And here Freud infers that “[t]he officer who gives Artilleryman Itzig this nonsensical advice is only making himself out stupid to show Itzig how stupidly he himself is behaving. He is copying Itzig: ‘I’ll give you some advice that’s as stupid as you are.’ He enters into Itzig stupidity and makes it clear to him by taking it as the basis of a suggestion which would fit in with Itzig wishes: if Itzig possessed a cannon of his own and carried out military duties on his own account, how useful his ambition and intelligence would be to him! In what good order he would keep his cannon and how familiar he would make himself with its mechanism so as to meet the competition of the other possessors of cannons!”
    In this hasty reading, Freud seems disingenuous in decrying Itzig’s stupidity. After all, his underachieving artillerist hero, denied the opportunity to make a snappy comeback, shares his name with the quick-witted protagonist of Freud’s favorite joke: “Itzig, wohin reit’st Du?” “Weiss ich, frag das Pferd.” That other Itzig has no idea where he is riding to. All interested parties should ask the horse. In a hallowed equation, his self-deprecation compensates for his complacency. As an admirer of this tranquil rider, the physician who built his worldview on a painstaking investigation of ostensible coincidences is unlikely to have overlooked this instance of homonymy. The implication of Freud planting his tongue in cheek is borne out by the fact that the butts of each joke derive their shared name from an aphaeresis omitting the first letter of the German word Witzig, witty or jocular.[2] Through the silence of its protagonist, the joke evinces an elusive quality that resists interpretative closure, suggesting great deeds to come from this intelligent but intractable Jewish underachiever. Be it real or feigned, Freud’s confidence in the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force already rang hollow upon publication in 1905. The reluctant artillerist had come into his own. His self-employment inaugurated a new stage in democratic pluralism. No longer will this plebe be meekly carried along by the steed of History. Continue reading 4. terror and virtue

5. beau geste

RADICALISME. D’autant plus dangereux qu’il est latent.
RADICALISM. All the more dangerous when it is latent.

— Gustave Flaubert, Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues[0]


Complementing his treatment of mimesis, Erich Auerbach’s 1944 essay “Figura” lays down a classic account of figurative meaning. According to Auerbach, “figura is something real and historical which announces something else which is also real and historical. The relation between the two events is revealed by an accord or similarity.” Thus figurae connect persons and events as symbolic links in a providentially understood historical sequence. Thus the world recounted in the Bible remains imperfectly revealed. Every pivotal historical moment therein is understandable as a figura perpetually pregnant with meaning, yet always resistant to maieutic, the Socratic midwifery that might deliver full figuration a later historical moment. Within such moments history itself, with all its concrete force, remains forever a figure, cloaked, forever inviting and forever requiring the final disclosure, the final demystification, yearned for by the author of the Book of Revelation. As such, figurae are identifiable only in retrospect, when a type, or promise adumbrated or constituted by an earlier event or person is fulfilled or realized by its anti-type, a later event or person. Accordingly, in order to approach an understanding of the figurative meaning of the bad glazier and his bohemian tormentor, we must achieve two tasks. The first is to provide a retrospective account for these characters as realizing a prior historical promise that inheres in the locus classicus. The second is to define their fulfillment by the ensuing turn of historical events that comprises their locus modernus.[1]
Continue reading 5. beau geste