World War II

George Orwell Reviews Hitler’s Mein Kampf


“Suppose that Hitler’s programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state if 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afhanistan or somewhere thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? It is easy to say that at one stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favorable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches….The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photograph–and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of the Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate, the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.”

– George Orwell, excerpt from his review of Mein Kampf, 1940

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While Mein Kampf is a dramatic representation of Hitler’s personal history, Orwell’s review has less to do with the merit of the text and more to do with Hitler’s faulty perspectives and the disfunctionality of the National Socialist ideal. Written sometime around the declaration of war by Britain, this article is mostly reflective in nature, making for a haunting read in light of the horrors of the War and the revelations of the Halocaust.

Orwell’s insight into Hitler’s appeal to a nation in Germany’s situation is perhaps one of the most clarifying responses to a question that would echo throughout the world in the decades following the War. We all shake our head and wonder simply, “How is this possible?” Orwell’s pre-war insight is the closest thing to an answer I’ve seen, and in reality it implies a thousand factors.

Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” came out around the same time that Orwell wrote this piece, and it too gives insight for modern generations to realize the troubling situations that many men foresaw. Chaplin himself said that if he had known the full extent of the lengths to which Hitler was going, he never would have made the iconic anti-Nazi film. I wonder what further insights Orwell would have added to his review a decade after its publication.

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Further Reading

Wendell Berry On The Cold War

What C.S. Lewis Knew Before WWII

We Are All War Memorials

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We Are All War Memorials


Aftermath

“Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.”

– by Siegfried Sassoon

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Like so many other Americans since Vietnam, modern Jingoism has made me weary of nationalism in general. This sentiment is not one of anti-patriotism or even anti-war sentiment, but one that makes vigilant effort to consider the costs of war so grave as to be entered into it at the exclusion of all alternatives.

This spring I was devastated to learn that an old high school friend of mine was killed in action. We hadn’t been close in years, but the man was a compassionate light that brought infectious joy into any room he entered. I spent weeks under a dark cloud after I heard the news, trying to understand all that happened. We never do. We, our very lives, are memorials to wars.

We should keep that in mind on Memorial Day and every day.

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“Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.”

I hear some people pursuing the reflection on the tragic “point” of Memorial Day almost to the exclusion of all celebration. I think grief is a very appropriate emotion today, but I think we should create a tone of celebration. We celebrate the lives lived and the gift given by the fallen, the success of their efforts, and the monumental lives and families build on the foundations they have provided.

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“Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?'”

Sassoon asked this after WWI, and shortly his question was answered. We should be turning our grief to sober-mindedness and our celebration to continued action, asking the same question and turning it to wisdom in alleviating further war.

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Further Reading

World War Develops Great Art

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

Wendell Berry On Children And The Cold War

Viktor Frankl on How Love Survived the Nazi Death Camps


The Bully Pulpit

Auschwitz

“As we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the…

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55 Classics Review #3 – “Brothers And Friends: An Intimate Portrait Of C.S. Lewis” by Major Warren Hamilton Lewis


Upon reflection it seems a very gracious decision for The Classics Club to allow me to include my 55 list among the ranks. This book in particular is, beyond any stretch of the imagination, definitely not a classic. There is simply no way to spin it as such. It is the diary of a mostly obscure man who was the brother of a famous author. It is really a very great read, but it is more a specialty reading for certain enthusiasts.

Warren Lewis and his brother “Jack” (C.S. Lewis lifelong nickname) were inseparably close. They purchased a house together when they were in their 30’s and spent the rest of their lives under the same roof. While Jack was undoubtedly a devoted brother, it seems that Warren was far more attached to Jack as the only person he really felt he had maintained a deep connection with throughout his life.

The book is broken into 3 oddly-timed, untitled sections, but I would break it into 4 chapters based on the various lifestyles and tones portrayed in seasons.

Early Adulthood – Warren stayed in the army after WWI as a career soldier. He did not enjoy army life but felt it would be an easy way to retire as an early pensioner, which he did before his 38th birthday. The first section of the book covers his tours of duty in China, weekend visits to the home called the Kilns which he was already jointly purchasing with Jack and the old Mrs. Moore (Minto, as they called her, was the mother of Jack’s dead WWI brother-in-arms, Paddy Moore) in Oxford, and general army life.
Pre-WWII Retirement – From the end of 1932 to the start of World War II probably marked the highlight of W.H. Lewis’ lifetime. He had retired young, moved into the Kilns with Jack, was able to start taking annual “walking tours” with his brother, and was not yet plagued by alcoholic tendencies. He found delightful ways to keep himself busy both at home in Oxford and in frequent and long holidays. He owned a river boat, which he lived on for seasons at a time. At this time all his earlier plans had come together.
Post WWII – Lewis was called back to duty during the Second World War. He did not see combat but was promoted to the rank of Major. He stopped writing in his journal for the majority of the war and there are a number of subtle differences in the way he writes afterward. He frequently makes discouraged remarks about food rationing, destruction, and rebuilding efforts. He begins to really loath the housing situation at the Kilns. While he expresses constant dissatisfaction about his and Jack’s home life with Minto, the group of friends known as the Inklings really flourishes in this era. In these days he begins to have a very serious and sometimes de-habilitating alcohol problem.
Post Minto – The brothers lived with Mrs. Moore for nearly 40 years and while everyone else seemed to universally acknowledge that she was a singularly unfair sapping and discomforting force in Jack’s life, he seems never to have complained or swayed in his devotion. They endured domestic horrors that taught Warren to stay away for months at a time. By the time she passed the brothers were getting to be old men themselves and the post-Minto years are marked by C.S. Lewis’ short and painful marriage to Joy Gresham Lewis and by general decay. This section is defined by the sicknesses and deaths of many friends and eventually Jack himself, whom Warren feared outliving his entire life. He lives beyond his younger brother by nearly a decade, and his loneliness without him is highlighted by his entries about technological modernizations, spiritual shortcomings, and thoughts on his own weakening and coming death.

I would really highly recommend this book to a few certain groups of people.

The title itself is misleading because huge portions of the entries have nothing to do with Jack Lewis. It is much more of an honest insight into the mind of his brother regarding all aspects of his own life. That being said, it is still one of the best texts I have read for intimate thoughts on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings in general. Any scholar can write a thousand pages on a man’s life and a group’s dynamics, but to have one from among them providing a small collection of situational anicdotes and circumstantial ponderings on the men themselves is far more revealing as to their personalities. Anyone who enjoys their works will probably find this a worthy endeavor.

I would also recommend this book to fiction lovers, war history buffs and Anglophiles. The book is full throughout of W.H. Lewis’ thoughts and mini-reviews of the books he was reading (constantly and voraciously) and descriptions of wonderful places he has been visiting in China, both U.S. coasts, Scotland, England, Ireland, and his own back garden. The man loved books (reading and re-reading everything from Homer and Wordsworth to Dorothy Sayers), walking, and the seaside, and his descriptions of landscapes in both wonderful and rough weather can be quite poetic. As I mentioned before, his general attitudes and thoughts here and there give the reader a very interesting and unique insight into the life of a middle class, British man whose adulthood was forged by WWI and rocked to its core by WWII. These things obviously are peripheral, but they are some of the most consistent material throughout.

Overall, this book does provide a thoroughly unexplored side of C.S. Lewis’ life, but, to a greater extent, it displays the admirably honest reflections of a man growing, sometimes poorly, in a world in total upheaval. It ends in gradual and extensive loneliness and decay, perhaps not easy reading for the faint-of-heart.

I have summarized a couple of the most fascinating entries here:

What the Lewis’ bros. knew about Hitler’s Nazi Germany and when they knew it.

What is most likely the first review of The Lord Of The Rings ever written.

Author Quotes: W.H. Lewis and What The Germans Knew


One of the biggest gut-wrenching questions asked by the world in the aftermath of World War II was simply,

“How much did the German people know?”

Perhaps the most natural question one asks when confronted with human atrocity on such a scale is simply “How?” How can the people of German claim to have no knowledge of genocide in their backyards, committed by their relatives and neighbors?

It’s telling then, to say the least, to read this entry from the diary of Major Warren H. Lewis, brother of C.S. Lewis, and to recognize the date of the entry and the thoroughly eery foreboding it carries in hindsight. It also begs the heavy question, if an English visitor was able to get this clear a picture this early in history, how could the residents claim to not know anything after things got so much worse?

Saturday 17th November, 1934

“J’s friend and former pupil Pirie Gordon came to tea this afternoon: he is just back from Germany, and talked interestingly about his experiences there. He told us–on authority of the Times correspondent–that in a concentration camp near Munich (?) 40 persons have dies by torture since the camp opened, and 150 of ‘natural’ causes. He notices a distinct falling off in the Nazi enthusiasm, as contrasted with his previous visit in the summer, but admits that in the summer he mixed chiefly with students, and this time with the middle aged. The Term still continues, and people are constantly being arrested and vanishing. He doubts if Hitler is fully aware of the cruelties which are being practiced in his name. A Herr Himmler is head of the Ogpu or whatever it is called, and is the most sinister figure in Germany. There appear to be rumors that Hitler is mentally deranged: it is common knowledge that Goering was in a private lunatic asylum at the time of the Nazi coup–his insanity being caused by excessive drug taking.”

“What is your favorite ‘classic’ literary period and why?”


Over at The Classic’s Club they like to publish a “Monthly Meme”, a monthly blogging prompt question for the member to participate in. This months question is

“What is your favorite ‘classic’ literary period and why?”

I’ll provide my answer and ask you guys to feel free to do the same!

If you’ve been reading this blog then you know that I like to play fast and loose with terms like “classic”. Maurice Sendak is classic, Orson Scott Card is classic, Neil Gaiman is classic. In the same way I’m gonna bend the rules in defining my idea of a “literary period” as well. I ask for immense grace on the part of the reader.

I’m not really a fan of any one particular genre or period in which great work has been done; my tastes span just about every style from every time period. However, if I had to choose one time period as being great for the arts, I would choose 1914 to 1945. That is to say, the time frame from the beginning of The Great War to the end of World War II.

It is a hard truth to swallow, but war encourages good art. War encouraged better politics, better philosophy, better religion, and better culture. Are these worth the price? They probably never could be, but for some reason we need war to sharpen our ideas into feasible, real-world scenarios. I use the word “need” here not as an absolute belief but based on cyclical, historic evidence.

War takes the extreme ideals of young men and forces upon them (and everyone else) the costs and consequences of those ideas. Throughout history cultures have come to radical political and philosophical conclusions and have seen them tested in action through various political upheavals. A world-wide war has the unique sobering effect of drastically changing and solidifying the most earnest opinions at the very heart of every man. The World Wars and the time between them were an era of intense and costly trial and error, a time when every man and women, whether identified now as aggressor, defender, or victim, was drastically solidified in a frame of mind that would haunt or direct the remainder of his or her earthly experience. Grandiose philosophical and political ideals would eventually be pulverized into crippling fear, stunning bravery, blinding hatred, and inspiring forgiveness and understanding. All of the destruction wreaked resulted very clearly in artistic revolutions of all kinds.

Concerning World War I, I think literarally of D.H. Lawrence, W. Somerset Maugham, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, and T.S. Eliot among dozens of others. These are not necessarily known for war literature, but war imposed itself upon and transformed all in their craft. I consider C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, destined to be friends as both fought through some of the most bloody and unsurvivable experiences of The Great War. Both lost most of their dearest friends, and even their more whimsical works are depicted with the sobriety of a man who has wrestled with war first-hand.

I consider the upheaved, unsettled time between the wars and the seemingly unavoidable onset of the Second World War. Another generation of men and women are rocked to their very cores, including Lee, Capote, Salinger, Vonnegut, Wouk, Mailer, and Lois Lowry among an entire generation in transition. Most rebelled against society at large, unable to cope with the unforeseen impacts that continue to ripple through culture today.

I especially think of the story of Ernest Hemmingway, already a revered author and now a war correspondent, meeting for drinks with a then-undiscovered J.D. Salinger, in a little house near the frontline in the midst of WWII. Young Salinger had carried a rough draft of the first six chapters of what would become The Catcher In The Rye stuffed in his jacket since before he landed on the beaches on D-Day and he had somehow found time to write and submit short stories to magazines from on the frontline. He had already built up a bit of a reputation with Hemmingway, and they spent a hearty evening together, drinking wine through the cold winter night and discussing the quality of Salinger’s work and literature in general. Before dawn they separated once more, and from what we know had very little interaction thereafter. Eventually, the elder would turn into a severe alcoholic before committing suicide, while the younger would seek solace in mystic religion and half a century of extreme reclusion.

While it can feel trite to explore the literary implications of the most destructive periods in world history, our art has more to say than anything else when we look to see how the minds of men are molded by these terrors. The lives of these artists, perhaps more so than their art at times, display the coping of humanity with unspeakable confusion. Some we find doubly moored to the foundations they already claimed, other finding some source of respite in the aftermath. So many others we find spiraling without answer, creating in the constant wake of the thousand-yard stare.