whatever you do, don't mention the war
August 12, 2006 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature, a peace activist who opposed reunification for fear Germany might once again war against its neighbors, ghost-writer of Willy Brandt's speeches, author of the great fabulist history of World War II and postwar Germany, The Tin Drum, and of My Century, a novel of one hundred chapters, one for each year of the last century, a man considered part of the artistic movement known in German as "Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung" or "coming to terms with the past", Günter Grass belatedly admits the history he expunged from his personal narrative: his service as a member of the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg of the Waffen-SS. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Grass explained his service would stain him forever, but that only after the war did he feel ashamed of having been in the Waffen-SS:
for me, because I am sure of my recollection, the Waffen SS was nothing frightful, but rather an elite unit that they sent where things were hot, and which, as people said about it, had the heaviest losses.
posted by orthogonality (46 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why should anyone expect someone drafted at 20 as cannon-fodder to be ashamed of it, and wait 60 years to let the story come out? I fear that I myself will be judged harshly by history for being too glib and comfortable with the current state of things. Everybody loves a winner!
posted by eegphalanges at 6:10 AM on August 12, 2006


Crabwalk by Gunter Grass is on my top 10 list of good books (it's much more readable than his earlier stuff IMHO).

I give GG credit for telling the truth. It makes his writing even more compelling.

GG was just another young man caught up in his country's war machine. I don't get the impression that he participated in any atrocities. It sees to me that he has done his best to atone for his "part" (such as it is) in Germany's history.

This is much ado about nothing IMHO -- other than it's conscience salving purpose.
posted by bim at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2006


Understandably, by that time the Waffen SS were conscripting in the same way as the other German armed forces.

That being said, why did he wait so long?
posted by jsavimbi at 6:16 AM on August 12, 2006


The story of a 17 year old joining the Waffen SS to escape his parents sounds very similar to the story of Montyn which Paul Verhoeven at one time tried to make a film about.
I'll be interested in Grass' book about his time in the Waffen SS.
posted by jouke at 6:17 AM on August 12, 2006


a 17 year old joining the Waffen SS to escape his parents

He didn't join the SS to escape his parents. He joined *the army* to escape from his parents and was later pulled into the SS, and then apparently tried to get out, including by infecting himself with jaundice (check the 2nd-to-last link). But it sure is weird that he, of all people, owned up to being a Nazi soldier but kept the SS part to himself for decades. It's hard to see the lack of honesty as anything other than a big disappointment.

Coincidentally, he has a book coming out in September in which he tells of his wartime experiences.

*sits on hands*
posted by mediareport at 6:50 AM on August 12, 2006


eegphalanges, he did volunteer.

But don't you worry 'bout a thing.
posted by beno at 6:58 AM on August 12, 2006


There's a distinct difference between the Waffen-SS and the Allegmeine SS.
posted by pax digita at 7:05 AM on August 12, 2006


How sad and sadly telling that one of Germany's great consciences is only now revealing this.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2006


Leaving aside the issue of war crimes, if I were a German of conscription age in 1930s/1940s Germany I'd have joined the Waffen SS or Fallschirmjager rather than the Heer. The German paras and Waffen SS got the best kit and the best troops. If you're going to go into battle it's always a good idea to have the men who want to fight next to you. The difference in kill ratios between Marines and the Army in Vietnam (and pretty much every other war come to think of it) are another good indication of this.

The fact that German war crimes* are constantly referenced and publicised whilst those of Allied troops are virtually ignored is something that concentrates shame on one group when stories from our parents and grandparents show an entirely different side to things.

*by war crimes I want to make sure nobody misunderstands and thinks of events like the holocaust, I refer instead to the numerous instances of prisoners being killed, civilians being killed, surrender terms being ignored etc. These events certainly took place, but Allied troops took part in just as many. To the winner goes the right to decide what the history books say however. This by no means makes what took place right, but it is always important to consider that neither side wore white hats.
posted by longbaugh at 7:19 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


It was an armor division, right? Is there anything notable about it being SS? What, did they drive tanks to the doors of suspected enemies of the state at 3:00 a.m. and haul them off? How is this different from him serving in an artillery unit or being a foot soldier? Forgive my ignorance of the significance of this.
posted by craniac at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2006


I would be more interested to hear, if he faced actual combat and what the missions were. At his age I am pretty sure he wasn't a commander of anything important.

Just joining the Waffen SS is no war crime in itself IMHO. If he were an missions 'collecting' jews or something similar - that would be a war crime.

There were Waffen SS units who were just fighting normal military missions, while others did really nasty stuff.

Anyone remember the Kurt Waldheim affair?
posted by homodigitalis at 8:15 AM on August 12, 2006


I wouldn't necessarily confine the meaning of Vergangenheitsbewältigung to an "artistic movement." It is, rather, a much broader term describing a kind of national project that Germans have been involved in for sixty-odd years in any number of ways--museums, memorials, high school curricula, public discourse etc.
posted by muckster at 8:29 AM on August 12, 2006


craniac, et al. -- perhaps what's confusing is that general history tends to conflate Nazis with the German Army -- when really there were a great number of German soldiers and officers who were not members of the Nazi Party (indeed, if anything, the relationship between professional officers and Hitler's handpicked Nazi lieutenants was a frequently tense and contentious one). So, your average German Army officer would say yes to defending the Fatherland, and yes to invading France and Russia to avenge the humiliation of World War I, but no to gassing jews or murdering gypsies.

The Waffen SS were different because they were, at least ostensibly, a division of avowed Nazis loyal to Hitler over-and-above the traditional military chain of command. While it's true that many SS divisions were more honorable than others, being a Nazi meant that you at least condoned and agreed with, if not partook in, the Party's philosophies on Aryanism and white supremacy.

An equivalent American experience would to admit that one was part of the Klan. It doesn't matter if one was pressured into it by family or friends or circumstance, or if one did not participate in any lynchings or church burnings. If you're a public figure who admitted to wearing the white hood, you will still bear an unshakeable stigma spawned from a nation's stained history.
posted by bl1nk at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


For his own sake, he was smart to wait until this late in life. You never know what someone might do to him, even now, but he has minimized the number of years he could lose. This way, he controls how it comes out, then dies (he's about 80) with his conscience as clear as he can make it now.
posted by pracowity at 8:53 AM on August 12, 2006


bl1nk - I'd have to disagree with this statement -

"...being a Nazi meant that you at least condoned and agreed with, if not partook in, the Party's philosophies on Aryanism and white supremacy..."

There was little to no chance of promotion in either civilian or military life without paying at least lip service to the Nazi party. Not everyone who was a member was the equivalent of Heinrich Himmler. Not every man in the Waffen SS was one of the Totenkopf troops. Many people would wear the symbols and sing the songs without believing a word of it (which sadly makes me think of Walmart).

Again, I'm really not trying to excuse the German people for what took place but you cannot say something like that without at considering the social ramifications of not being a part of the ruling clique. If you wanted to get by you had to talk the talk.

craniac - I'd recommend the wiki for some information about the difference between the Heer and the Waffen SS - it's informative and reasonably impartial. The Waffen SS were separate part from the Wehrmacht but had their own armoured units, panzergrenadiers and artillery. Later on in the war, many foreign troops served with the Waffen SS in special units, mostly Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians fighting against Communist Russia. An interesting group was the volunteer British Free Corps; again, the wiki has an excellent and interesting article on the history of this unit.
posted by longbaugh at 9:02 AM on August 12, 2006


Called up in Dresden, how interesting. I wonder if the young conscript GG was passing through the town the same time that the young Kurt Vonnegut was interned there as a POW?
posted by Meatbomb at 9:18 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


longbaugh:

"There was little to no chance of promotion in either civilian or military life without paying at least lip service to the Nazi party..."


I think discussions center around when someone joined the party. Earlier = genuinely enthusiastic about the program; later = trying to keep one's job.
posted by Tuffy at 9:51 AM on August 12, 2006


Strange confession. It feels fishy, as if he made it now to sell his upcoming book and generate publicity. On the other hand it reflects how ashamed Germans are to really talk about their past openly, even someone like him, who has talked so much about the past.
posted by nickyskye at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2006


So when we judge a person do we judge them for who they where, or who they have become? Reading through the stuff and listening to the story last night on the radio on balance I would say that he most likely was not part of the German population that espoused racial cleansing. He did have a desire to fight for Germany, which makes him no better or worse than many many many people at the time.
But, irregardless of that, even if he was a Nazi full stop, his actions since that time would have shown a change of character. To me, at least, the people I admire the most are the die hard unrepentant types who realize their mistakes and make obvious clear choices to mitigate their harm. A person is not static, one can only hope the change is change for the positive.
posted by edgeways at 10:34 AM on August 12, 2006


Again, I'm really not trying to excuse the German people for what took place but you cannot say something like that without at considering the social ramifications of not being a part of the ruling clique. If you wanted to get by you had to talk the talk.
true, but the same could also be said for a white person living in the post-Reconstruction South who was pressured to join the Klan purely for business connections. The individual may have been motivated purely by self-interest; but membership in the party will still prompt the presumption that you agree with the party's agenda.

I'm not saying that Gunter Grass := Ubermenschen Nazi; just explaining why he would feel so hesitant about revealing that fact.

And, in some cases, joining out of expediency could make the experience more shameful, since you can't rely on the delusion of ideology to shield yourself from the nagging of your conscience. Compromising one's morals for survival may be unfortunate, yet justifiable but it doesn't necessarily dim one's sense of regret, nor make the choice an easy one to bear; let alone discuss in public.
posted by bl1nk at 10:40 AM on August 12, 2006


Grass was 17 in the winter of '44-'45, the nadir of the Third Reich, when the Russians had blasted through Poland on their way inexorably to Germany. Various Waffen-SS formations had provided the fanatical Nazi resistance to the Soviet forces and had been chewed up in the process. Grass was part of the last ditch drafts to refill these SS units--in his case, a tank division--in the face of the Soviet advance. It is reasonable to assume he had heard what the Communists were expected to do (and what they did, in fact, do) once they got to Deutschland, and I expect he was ready to do his part to save the Fatherland--even as a Danziger. That he was a Danziger may even have encouraged his selection by the SS recruiters, who would have seen him as one who would fight to avenge his home's "going Polish" again.

I hope Grass does write in detail about what he did as a "Schutzmann." I expect he spent more time learning to change tank treads in winter than he did promoting the Master Race. It is a mark of the ineradicable shame which history has attached to membership in the SS that he has only now become able to admit where he served as a cog--however minor--in the Nazi war machine of Himmler and Hitler.
posted by rdone at 10:48 AM on August 12, 2006


On June 10, 1944, the 2nd SS Panzer Division ("Das Reich") was on its way to Normandy to fight against the invasion. They stopped at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane and killed everyone living there, 642 men, women, and children.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:17 AM on August 12, 2006


It's entirely conceivable that a good man served in the SS and did not participate in atrocities. It is less conceivable that a man who is considered a "conscience of Germany" did not know that hiding his past for the majority of his public life was the wrong thing to do and that disclosing his past in conjunction with acting as a "conscience of Germany" would have been the right thing to do.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:20 AM on August 12, 2006


It's hard to see the lack of honesty as anything other than a big disappointment.

Exactly. And he damn well should be ashamed of it.

longbaugh, I guess you get points for having the courage to stand up for the misunderstood veterans of the Waffen SS. That said, it's a strange cause to adopt, if you ask me.
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on August 12, 2006


Knowing several Germans personally of my own generation, I think its a good thing that Grass is doing, in order to remind the current generation of aloof Germans of their past. On the whole, they will quietly admit that they don't think the past matters to them, but Grass is reminding them of their fathers' and grandfathers' shame.

If that's the price paid for trying to prevent future atrocities, so be it, and good on Grass for being one of the few public figures to come clean while he is still alive to make amends.

I can think of a few other internationally prominent Germans who haven't learned much from their experiences as young adults under Nazi rule; I won't bring them up here as to prevent derailing the thread.

It's a sincere and imporant gesture on Grass' part and sets an example that a few others should be following.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:59 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


If you wanted to get by you had to talk the talk.

It's worth pointing out that it wasn't always just about yourself, either. My grandparents both, like the current Pope, joined the Hitler Jugend (specifically the Deutches Jungvolk at least in the case of my grandfather) in 1936 when it became mandated by law. A major factor in their obedience wasn't what would happen to them (although no ten-year-old is going to fully understand the moral ramifications of such) but rather what would happen to their family if they didn't.

In general my family got off extremely light, though. Out of 12 direct relatives I'm aware of, only a great-uncle ended up having to be a soldier.
posted by Ryvar at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2006


s/imporant/important
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2006


There's a distinct difference between the offenses and the Allegmeine SS.

Not so much as you'd think, but yes, the Waffen-SS was a distinct branch of the SS. Note, however, if you volunteered for the Waffen-SS you were considered guilty of joining a criminal organization. If you were drafted, you were excepted from that charge -- the only way a member of any branch of the SS could escape prosecution after the war (at least, legally.)

Some of the Waffen-SS units did, by and large, fight honorably and well, committing no more atrocities than any other large unit on any side. When you're dealing with division scale weapons, you're likely to have done something you shouldn't have.

But a few units stand right along their SS brethren in evil. 12 SS Panzer "Hitlerjugend" was legendary in it's bastardness, but they were by no means the worst, and mostly confined itself to evil against other soldiers -- the infamous "shoot all prisoner orders" in Normandy, leading to such charming events as Malmedy, that sort of thing.

3 SS "Totemkopf", unlike the other early "Germanic" Waffen-SS formations, was formed from cadres from the SS-Totenkopfverbände, who's primary mission was to guard the concentration camps, and, of course, to assist in the slaughter of those within. Totemkopf's first commander was Theodor Eicke, a complete bastard who made his name in Nazism on the Night of Long Knives. Other members of 3SS had "fought" with the various Einzatsgruppen that followed the initial Wehrmact forces to gather up and murder various people who the Nazis didn't like. Totemkopf was evil to the core, and their record reflects it.

But 3SS doesn't win the bastard award. That goes to two brigades that eventually became full divisions -- SS-Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger, later 33 Waffen SS Grenadier, and the Kaminski brigade, later 29 Waffen SS Grenadier.

Kamiski's brigade was so bad that it was an embarrassment to the SS, and he was called back to headquarters in Lutz, and shot out of hand by other members of the SS. Apparently, Kamiski's mistake was that he wasn't discriminating enough, and didn't care who his men killed and raped. The SS wouldn't tolerate an SS unit raping Germans.

The other three initial Waffen-SS combat divisions, 1-SS "Liberstande Adolf Hitler", 2-SS "Das Riech" and 5-SS "Wiking" (4-SS was a military police unti) fought well, fought hard and fought, for the most part, honorably. 9-SS and 10-SS, formed later, also fell into this category.

But remember this -- members of the Waffen-SS, esp. the early units, were selected by policital criteria. It was the policy of the Waffen-SS throughout the war to have injured Waffen-SS soliders and officers work at the concentration camps (typically, the labor, not the extermination camps, but remember the labor camps were "extermination by labor" -- you'd live for weeks to months, rather than hours, when you got there.) So, even in the "honorable" Waffen-SS units, the officers and men knew *exactly* what they were fighting for, and that's the reason that in Nuremburg, the Waffen-SS was condemned along with the rest of the SS.

Those units fought long, hard, well, and often honorably -- to support Hilter's dream of conquest and slaughter, and they knew this. They may have fought well, but they are by no means innocent, and the Waffen-SS deserves as much condemnation as their SS brethern. They may not have, by and large, been the executioners of the Holocaust, but they fought hard to make sure that those who were had time to do the job.
posted by eriko at 12:46 PM on August 12, 2006 [3 favorites]


languagehat - I'll stand up for pretty much anybody and not just because I'm a bit difficult. I've heard stories of U.S. Marines in the Pacific boiling the flesh off Japanese skulls as keepsakes and much much worse besides. What the Russians did on their way to Berlin (and what they did to the Polish Jews) was horrendous and is very rarely discussed. We sometimes forget that we can all be animals during wartime, Russians, English, German, American, Japanese etc. I just think that nobody should be automatically written off as a war criminal without direct evidence of their taking part. By the same token I am stunned that someone like Otto Skorzeny managed to get away without being parked against a wall and shot in several rather vital places.
posted by longbaugh at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2006


For those who speak the language, reactions in the German press:

Die Zeit
Sueddeutsche Zeitung
FAZ
Focus
Der Spiegel

and the interview with the confession.
posted by muckster at 2:27 PM on August 12, 2006


Sorry--this is the interview with the FAZ.
posted by muckster at 2:38 PM on August 12, 2006


He's just a fuckin' Nazi shithead.
posted by nlindstrom at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2006


He's just a fuckin' Nazi shithead.

Actually, you're a fucking idiot. I bet you've never read any of his books. In fact, I doubt that you've ever read a book at all, moron.
posted by bim at 4:13 PM on August 12, 2006


He's just a fuckin' Nazi shithead.

vs.

Actually, you're a fucking idiot. I bet you've never read any of his books.

It could be the case that Grass is something between the world's best writer and the world's worst person.

When I read a book, I rarely know much about the writer, and when I do learn something about the writer -- "Oh, he's really a she with two kids and a dog. She lives in Iowa." -- it never magically changes the text. Not even one word on the page ever turns into another word.
posted by pracowity at 6:03 PM on August 12, 2006


EB: How sad and sadly telling that one of Germany's great consciences is only now revealing this.

Why?

Really: Why?

Does anybody above the age of 17 really expect a "great conscience" to be motivated by pure and noble spirits, to sleep on unstained sheets, to have feet of purest marble?

Might we not expect someone who writes with passion on a subject to have at least some passing familiarity with it?

Lack of naivete does not equate to cynicism. But the slavish preservation of naivete into adulthood under the guise of principle is a near certain road to cynicism.

He's still exactly the same person he was before he admitted this. It's only people's views of him that can change. If his work was sound before, it remains sound.
posted by lodurr at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Other Waffen SS units committed atrocities, but as far as I know the unit Grass was in didn't. Here's some background on the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg, which was part of the II.SS-Panzerkorps. The division fought on the Eastern Front in early 1944, got transferred to Normandy after D-Day, got beat up at the Falaise pocket, and was sent to Arnhem, Holland, to rest and refit. Their coincidentally being stationed there was part of the reason that Operation Market Garden failed. Later they were a reserve unit during the Battle of the Bulge and went on the defensive on the Western Front and then in Hungary. There's a reenactment group based on one of the division's reconnaissance units.

The Waffen SS also included several divisions of foreign fighters from all over Europe (including the Wiking Division that eriko mentioned) and a unit from India.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:25 PM on August 12, 2006


10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg

10SS-Panzer does have a pretty clean combat record -- and a pretty mean one as well. They saved what was left of the German Army in the Normandy area with their counterattack out of the Falaise Pocket -- cause by Hilter's insane insistance that there be no retreat -- an order which resulted in the effective destruction of, amongst other units, the 1-SS and 12-SS Panzer divisions.

They still have that problem of rest duty in concentration camps, but 9SS and 10SS were probably the least SS, in terms of evil, of the entire SS. They didn't have the political indoctorination that the early SS units had, and weren't cadred from the early brigades like the later ones were.

The sole Waffen-SS division that one could almost tag as Honorable was Wiking. There's some rumors that 5SS was involved in the Lvov atrocties, but at the time, 5SS was teamed with 2SS and 3SS in IV SS Panzerkorps, and whenever the Totemkopf, and atrocities were involved, it's a fair bet that the 3SS was the division doing the deed. Totemkopf, by the way, means "Death's head", and the ensigna was the skull and crossbones.

5SS was, however, the division that one Joseph Menegle served in, before being wounded and rotated to the concentration camps. However, every bit of evidence shows that his service under the Waffen-SS was quite honorable, and he won the Iron Cross 1/C and 2/C before being declared unfit for combat, upon which, he transfered -- by his own request -- to the SS-TV and became the Angel of Death at Auschwitz.

Then again, Hitler himself only wore one combat decoration -- the Iron Cross first class he earned during WWI. Honorable behavior is good, but is no proof that one isn't evil.
posted by eriko at 8:56 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've heard stories of U.S. Marines in the Pacific boiling the flesh off Japanese skulls as keepsakes and much much worse besides. What the Russians did on their way to Berlin (and what they did to the Polish Jews) was horrendous and is very rarely discussed.

Yes, yes, and I frequently bring such things up myself. Those facts lead me to condemn the people who committed those crimes (although frankly I can't get too exercised about what people do to dead bodies), but not (so far, and I don't see the situation changing) to defend the Waffen SS because, hey, other people did bad things too.
posted by languagehat at 5:50 AM on August 13, 2006


He's still exactly the same person he was before he admitted this.

Yeah, a person who's made a career out of encouraging Germans to publicly examine their difficult pasts. How could it *not* be a very odd disappointment that such a person waited decades to publicly examine perhaps the most difficult part of his own?
posted by mediareport at 8:24 AM on August 13, 2006


How could it *not* be a very odd disappointment that such a person waited decades to publicly examine perhaps the most difficult part of his own?

I suppose this is one of those things that highlights differences in personality type, or somethign. Because I would have said "How could it be a very odd disappointment that such a person waited decades to publicly examine perhaps the most difficult part of his own?"

Because in fact, to me, this would help to make more sense of Grass's behavior over the years. It fits.

Show me a person who's never sinned -- by their own definitions -- and I'll show you someone who's either riskily naive or a sociopath.
posted by lodurr at 6:30 PM on August 13, 2006


It's not a question of never sinning; it's a question of such a smart writer being such a very public hypocrite for decades. Shocking.
posted by mediareport at 7:20 AM on August 14, 2006


This term "hypocrite" -- it's one of the less useful terms in the English language.

Every time we want to hamstring somebody, all we have to do is find out where and how they're a hypocrite.

News flash: Everybody's a hypocrite. I say again: If you're not, at some level, then you don't understand jack shit about moral choices. And if you think you're not, you're almost certainly wrong.
posted by lodurr at 7:47 AM on August 14, 2006


Hypocrisy is the gulf between what you say and what you do. It's a perfectly useful term because many people confuse the rhetorical posture of morality with the actual practice of morality. Or, in your terms, everyone confuses this to some degree. However, some are more confused than others.

And specifically about your last two sentences: a person who never communicated to another person their thoughts about morality, even indirectly, would be unable to be a hypocrite but would, in contrast, be fully capable of understanding quite a bit about moral choice. So, no, you're wrong. But, yes, you're right that anyone who claims never to be hypocritical is almost certainly wrong.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:56 PM on August 14, 2006


a person who never communicated to another person their thoughts about morality, even indirectly, would be unable to be a hypocrite but would, in contrast, be fully capable of understanding quite a bit about moral choice.

Fortunately for our sanity, such creatures do not exist.
posted by lodurr at 5:15 PM on August 14, 2006


For most of human history, most deaf people have been unable to communicate with anyone. That doesn't mean that they were amoral people.

I know I'm playing a bit of a game of "gotcha", but then I think that comment of yours was, too.

Really, I feel almost 100% the opposite as you about hypocrisy. As I'm sure you're aware, a recent heated MeTa debate I was involved with argued about what the word means. But let's just accept both: one way it is used is to describe the discrepancy between what one says and what one does (or thinks). The other way is is used is to describe the discrepancy between how one imagines one is consistent and the degree to which one truly is consistent.

And I believe that what both definitions point to is a very important human vice. Indeed, I think it is the fundamental human vice. I have the sense that fundamental to human cognition, to our making sense of things, is to look for various guiding principles by which we work our way through particulars. The most fundamental are "good" and "bad" and you can see how as we grow we revise and refine that idea.

From a Freudian standpoint, this is the developing superego. My argument is, in these Freudian terms, that there's an eternal conflict between our id and our superego and our ego is the part of us where the error of hypocrisy arises. The greater the degree of hypocrisy, the greater the degree to which the mediation of the conflict between the id and the superego is a sham, the degree to which it's built upon self-deception. The less the hypocrisy, the more the adult ego satisfies the id by meeting the id's needs within the context required by the superego. In both cases the id is being satisfied, but in the former case it's being satisfied by some degree of short-circuiting the superego. That's not a healthy mind.

And the ill-health manifests itself in the enabling of a great many behaviors that the healthy mind would otherwise avoid. While the morality of the superego is deeply shaped by cultural values, it's also the case that at its root it is that early childhood jump from understanding the smiliarity between being hurt and inflicting hurt on others. Thus, one principle result of the short-circuiting of the superego, either by design or accident, is to erase to some degree or another that early comprehension and thus greatly increase the allowability of inflicting hurt on others.

And that's why I think it's so important. I believe the majority of human evil arises from this vice.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:52 PM on August 14, 2006


The problem with Grass seems not to be his hypocrisy. It seems to be his silence. The hypocrisy is in the readers, who expected someting, and are disappointed -- and thus have become angry -- that Grass was not as pure as they expected him to be. To suppose that his actions and beliefs as a 17 year old conscript in the final days of a horrible conflict expose hypocrisy in the heart of an 80 year old man (or a 20 year old man) is to make a really basic error in time-binding, to say the least. To put it in Korzybskian terms. Grass at 17 is not Grass at 20; therefore, if what he does at 20 conflicts with what he does at 17, it's not hypocrisy.

Again, the error is silence, not hypocrisy. Unless the hypocrisy is in being silent where you think you ought not to be. And if that's what the hypocrisy is, let's be clear about it, and not confuse the issue (as a lot of peopel in this thread and a lot of Germans seem to have done) by making it about culpability in war crimes.

... 100% opposite ...

No, probably not. I tend to glaze over these days whenver there's a Freudian explanation*, but as I gloss yours, you're basically saying that hypocrisy is the word we use to describe a conflict between what we want and what we ought to want -- between our desires and our enlightened self interest -- between Id and Ego. You and I define the terms differently, it's true: I would say 'hypocrisy' as you present it describes the expression of a conflict between Id and Superego, between what we want and what we think we ought to want.

But no matter. In any case, my feeling is similar to yours. It's just not as intense. Hypocrisy Is Bad, sure; but it's also at the root of a lot of human motivation. You can call it "repression" if you wish, but the suppression of internal conflicts is utterly necessary to human function. I'm not talking about the resolution of internal conflicts. That's nice when you can get it. To set that up as an ideal is to ask the impossible, and thus to set yourself up for failure. In most cases of internal conflict, suppression is the best you're going to get.

We'll probably differ on that, too, so it's important that I establish that the nature of human being, AFAIAC, is internal conflict. Suppression is resolution, in the framework of the human mind -- it's the means by which the conflict is resolved. Most of these conflicts are just about utterly untouchable by our consciousness, so there's little we could do about it if we were to try, and I'm not sure we ought to try.

My beef is not with the concept of hypocrisy, but with the knee-jerk condemnation of a person on the basis of hypocrisy. If as we both seem to feel hypocrisy is a fundamental human vice, then what's the point of condemning someone for it? Where a hypocrisy leads to actions that we don't like, sure, then condemn the actions. In this case, the hyposcrisy almost certainly led to actions that people, on the main, liked. I submit that's true in many cases. And that's an interesting conundrum, to be sure, but I didn't see very may people addressing it in this thread.

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* I don't have a beef with Freud as such, but the system seems to me to have less explanatory power as I gain more personal experience. It's not about the sex; it's about the simplicity and the clean boundary conditions. I have always Transactionalist models to have a much better explanatory capability, probably in no smal part because they'er messier. But at some level they're all just very imperfect models of a nearly chaotic system. Think about a Freudian or Transactionalist or Jungian model in evolutionary terms for a minute: How would a system that closely approximates to those models come to be? The greater likelihood seems to me to be that there are many interacting systems that we approximate poorly by personifying them, as it were. Still, I suppose a poor approximation can be better than none. (Though it can also often be worse.)
posted by lodurr at 4:10 AM on August 15, 2006


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