Christopher Weyant’s cartoon in The New Yorker (HT: SP).
Archive for the 'Heroes' Category
We keep books because they are personal souvenirs of the past – physical reminders of the feelings we had while reading them. The same goes for concert programs and tickets for sporting events, which many people keep. As more of our life goes online, we risk losing such souvenirs. Only the online record itself may provide a long-term reminder of something, or someone.
On the other hand, the web makes it vastly easier to bring to wide attention something or someone who should be remembered. It was Susan Sontag who noticed that in the early days of photography, photographers had recorded memorable events, such as weddings and Presidential inaugurations. As photography ceased to be something only done by professionals, but became a democratic pastime, the relationship switched: now events were memorable (and remembered) precisely because they had been photographed. The web is effecting the same reversal, I believe.
I can record a person of great influence on my life, who would otherwise be entirely forgotten to history, or people whom I never met, but whose words and actions have affected mine, for example, the activist-poets Vadim Delone, or Robert Southwell. I can record people who think differently to the textual paradigm which so dominates contemporary western culture – the matherati, say, or musical thinkers. I can even use the Web to find and trace the genealogy of some of my own musical thinking, say, and then record for posterity these cross-generational networks of connections. Since so much of written history is by definition written by people au fait with language-based thought, it is particularly important that minority, non-language thinkers are not forgotten. (Many more people know, for instance, of the writers of Japanese haiku poetry in the Edo period than do of the ordinary people who solved temple geometry problems, the Sangaku.)
The souvenirs I mention above are mostly personal, perhaps of little interest to anyone else. The Web also lets us record for posterity events and people of much wider significance. Perhaps the best recent example I know is Normblog’s admirable and riveting series of Holocaust stories, Figures from a Dark Time. Apparently not everyone agrees that this series is worth doing. Let me add my strong opinion that this recording is both necessary and important, and we should all be very grateful for Norm’s efforts. After 9/11, the New York Times published short obituaries of every person killed in the attack. Although it may be too late, we should be aiming for the same in remembering the Holocaust.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a superb and insightful essay on black and white perceptions of Barack Obama as President and as black American in a country that experienced 175 years of white affirmative action. The common phrase describing what black Americans need to be for success in white society is: twice as good and half as black.
I have just read Ben MacIntyre’s superb “Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies” (Bloomsbury, London 2012), which describes the succesful counter-espionage operation conducted by the British against the Nazis in Britain during WW II. Every Nazi foreign agent in Britain was captured and either tried and executed, or turned, being run by the so-called Twenty (“XX”) Committee. This network of double agents, many of whom created fictional sub-agents, became a secret weapon of considerable power, able to mislead and misdirect Nazi war efforts through their messages back to their German controllers (in France, Portugal, Spain and Germany).
The success of these misdirections was known precisely, since Britain was able to read most German encrypted communications, through the work of Bletchley Park (the Enigma project). Indeed, since the various German intelligence controllers often simply passed on the messages they received from their believed-agents in Britain verbatim (ie, without any summarization or editing), these message helped the decoders decipher each German daily cypher code: the decoders had both the original message sent from Britain and its encrypted version communicated between German intelligence offices in (say) Lisbon and Berlin.
This secret weapon was used most famously to deflect Nazi attentions from the true site of the D-Day landings in France. So successful was this, with entire fictional armies created and reported on in South East England and in Scotland (for purported attacks on Calais in France and on Norway), that even after the war’s end, former Nazi military leaders talked about the non-use by allies of these vast forces, still not realizing the fiction.
One interesting question is the extent to which parts of German intelligence were witting or even complicit in this deception. The Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization, under its leader Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (who led it 1935-1944), was notoriously anti-Nazi. Indeed, many of its members were arrested for plotting against Hitler. Certainly, if not witting or complicit, many of its staff were financially corrupt, and happy to take a percentage of payments made to agents they knew or suspected to be fictional.
Another fascinating issue is when it may not be good to know something: One Abwehr officer, Johnny Jebsen, remained with them while secretly talking to the British about defecting. The British could not, of course, know where his true loyalties lay while he remained with the Abwehr. Despite their best efforts to stop him, he told them of all the German secret agents then working in Britain. They tried to stop him because once he told them, he knew that that they knew who the Germans believed their agents to be. Their subsequent reactions to having this knowledge - arrest each agent or leave the agent in place – would thus tell him which agents were really working for the Nazis and which were in fact double agents.
Jebsen was drugged and forcibly returned to Germany by the Abwehr (apparently, to pre-empt him being arrested by the SS and thus creating an excuse for the closure of the Abwehr), and then was tortured, sent to a concentration camp, and probably murdered by the Nazis. It seems he did not reveal anything of what he knew about the British deceptions, and withstood the torture very bravely. MacIntyre rightly admires him as one of the unsung heroes of this story.
Had Jebsen been able to defect to Britain, as others did, the British would have faced the same quandary that later confronted both CIA and KGB with each defecting espionage agent during the Cold War: Is this person a genuine defector or a plant by the other side? I have talked before about some of the issues for what to believe, what to pretend to believe, and what to do in the case of KGB defector (and IMHO likely plant) Yuri Nosenko, here and here.
A memorial salute to Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), who died yesterday. I first read his Letters to Olga in the 1980s, and have found this and his other writings inspiring. Havel’s life, too, reads like one of his own plays, and I long admired his courage, his profound self-awareness, and his integrity-of-purpose.
In one of his memoirs, Havel mentions the trepidation which Mikhail Gorbachev apparently felt prior to their first meeting, a meeting that took place in Moscow in 1990 shortly after Havel’s assumption of the Presidency of Czechoslovakia in December 1989, and immediately following Havel’s first official trip to the USA. Gorbachev, a victim like any other citizen of Soviet misinformation and propaganda, it seems had never met a genuine dissident before and feared what Havel would say or do in the meeting, perhaps even fearing that Havel would attack him physically.
This anecdote came to mind today while reading a surreal account (Chodakiewicz 2011) of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR, which claims the entire process of political transformation 20 years ago there was engineered by the Russian Communist nomenklatura as a grand, multi-national, multi-party, multi-year, multi-political-party conspiracy to remain in power. Among Chodakiewicz’s offensive absurdities is to claim that the leadership of the Polish United Workers Party (the Polish communist party) was second only to that of Bulgaria in its servility to Moscow in the post-war period. One wonders just why, then, did Poland experience no Stalinist show-trials in the early 1950s? Why then was Wladyslaw Gomulka arrested, stripped of his posts and detained for several years in the same period, without being interrogated or tried or punished or executed (as were, say, his equivalent colleagues in Hungary and Czechoslovakia) and then later restored to a leadership position? Was this, too, a charade that was part of the grand conspiracy? How could such evident nonsense be published in a reputable refereed journal?
In an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker (2003), Havel says regarding his first meeting with Gorbachev (in which the two negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet armed forces from Czechoslovakia):
I met Gorbachev about two months after I was elected President. We went to Moscow, for my first visit to the Kremlin, and we met for eight or nine hours. At first, Gorbachev looked at me as if I was some kind of exotic creature – the first living dissident he ever saw, who was coming to him as the head of a state that had been part of his realm. But, gradually, we developed a kind of friendship, which had even begun to develop at the end of that first long visit to the Kremlin.”
Guardian obituary here, and Economist tribute here. The Economist claims that Charter 77 was the “first open manifestation of dissent inside the Soviet empire”. That claim rather ignores the various uprisings going back at least to 1953 (in the DDR), in Hungary in 1956, in Poland on numerous occasions, and even in Moscow – the public protest by the Moscow Seven in August 1968 against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz : Active measures gone awry: Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, 1989-1992. International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 24 (3): 467-493.
David Remnick : Exit Havel. The New Yorker, 17 February 2003.
I have written before about Robert Southwell SJ, poet, martyr and Shakespeare’s cousin, and quoted some of his poems. Southwell (c. 1561 – 1595) was an English Jesuit from an aristocratic family, whose mother had been a governess and friend of Queen Elizabeth I. He left England illegally to study for the priesthood and returned – again illegally – to live and minister in secret to England’s oppressed Catholic population. He was captured, tortured by Elizabeth’s sadistic religious police, subjected to a show trial, and publicly executed.
Southwell was a poet of fine sensitivity, and drew on his Jesuit spiritual training to become the first English poet to develop personation (or subjectivity), a psychologically-real description of the interior self. His cousin Will Shakespeare was to adopt this idea in his poetry and plays, so that (for example) we learn about Hamlet’s internal mental deliberations, not only about his public actions and conversations. The late Anne Sweeney argued that Southwell developed personation in his poetry as a direct result of completing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Lopez of Loyala, a process of meditation and self-reflection which all Jesuits undertake. In her words (p. 80):
The core experience of the Ignatian Exercises was the reading and learning of the hidden self, the exercisant learning to define his reponses according to a Christian morality that would then moderate his behaviour. After a powerfully imagined involvement in, say, Christ’s birth, he was required to withdraw the mind’s eye from the scene before him and redirect it into himself to analyse with care the feelings thereby aroused.”
It would be interesting to know if Ignatius himself drew on literary models from (eg) Basque, Catalan or Spanish in devising the Exercises.
Living underground and on the run, Southwell wrote poetry for a community unable to obtain prayer books or to easily hear preachers; poetry was thus a substitute for sermons and for personal spiritual counselling, and a form of prayer and spiritual meditation. His poetry is also strongly visual.
Because the Jesuit mission to England during Elizabeth’s reign was forced underground it is not surprising that Jesuit priests mostly lived in the homes of rich or noble Catholics, or Catholic sympathizers, sometimes hidden in secret chambers. It is more surprising that there were still English nobles willing to risk everything (their wealth, their titles, their freedom, their homeland, their lives) to hide these priests. One such family was that of Philip Howard, the 20th Earl of Arundel (1557-1595), who was 10 years a prisoner of Elizabeth I, refusing to recant Catholicism, and who died in prison without ever meeting his own son. Howard’s wife, Anne Dacre (1557-1630), was also a staunch Catholic. The earldom of Arundel is the oldest extant earldom in the English peerage, dating from 1138.
The Howard’s London house on the Thames was one of the noble houses which sheltered Robert Southwell for several years. The location of their home, between the present-day Australian High Commission and Temple Tube station, is commemorated in the names of streets and buildings in the area: Arundel Street, Surrey Street, Maltravers Street (all names associated with the Arundel family), Arundel House, Arundel Great Court Building, the former Swissotel Howard Hotel, and the former Norfolk Hotel (now the Norfolk Building in King’s College London) in Surrey Street. Maltravers Street is currently the location for a nightly mobile soup kitchen. Of course, in Elizabethan times the Thames was wider here, the Embankment only being built in the 19th century. One can still find steps in some of the side streets leading to the Thames descending at the edge where the previous riverbank used to be, for instance on Milford Lane.
Southwell also, it seems, spent time in the London house of his cousin Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573 – 1624), who was also Shakespeare’s patron and cousin. Southampton’s house then was a short walk away, in modern-day Chancery Lane, on the east side of Lincoln’s Inn fields. Southampton was part of the rebellion of Robert Deveraux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1565-1601) against Elizabeth in February 1601. The London house of Essex was also along the Thames, downstream and adjacent to that of the Howard family. The streetnames there also recall this history: Essex Street, Devereaux Court.
Supporters of Essex, chiefly brothers of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632), paid for a performance of Shakespeare’s play, Richard II, the evening before the rebellion. Percy was married to Dorothy Devereaux (1564-1619), sister of Robert, and was regarded as a Catholic sympathizer. Percy also employed Thomas Harriott (1560-1621), a member of the matherati.
And, weirdly, Essex and Norfolk are adjacent streets in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, too (close by and parallel to Orchard Street).
The British Library has a plan of Arundel House, the London home of the Earls of Arundel, as it was in 1792, here. The church shown in the upper right corner is St. Clement Danes, now the home church of the Royal Air Force.
Christopher Devlin : The Life of Robert Southwell: Poet and Martyr. New York, NY, USA: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy.
Robert Southwell : Collected Poems. Edited by Peter Davidson and Anne Sweeney. Manchester, UK: Fyfield Books.
Anne R. Sweeney : Robert Southwell: Snow in Arcadia: Redrawing the English Lyric Landscape 1586-1595. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
I have remarked before that whoever wrote William Shakespeare’s plays and poetry was deeply familiar with the poetry and prose of Robert Southwell SJ, and had access to Southwell’s works in manuscript form. We know this because most of Southwell’s output was only published after his execution in 1595, and Shakespeare’s poetry shows Southwell’s influence well before this date.
Shakespeare and Southwell were cousins, and both were also cousins to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron and the likely dedicatee of the Sonnets. John Klause, in his fine book tracing the influence of Southwell’s writing on Shakespeare’s own words, includes a family tree showing the family connections between these three Elizabethans. I reproduce some of the tree below, copied from page 40 of Klause’s book. Southwell’s mother, Bridget Copley, was a governess to the young Princess Elizabeth, so the connections to the royal family were close.
In addition, Southwell and Shakespeare were also connected through the Vaux and Throckmorton families (Devlin has another family tree, page 264). And the family connection between Southwell and Wriothesley was in fact closer than Klause’s tree indicates. Southwell’s eldest brother Richard married Alice Cornwallis, a niece of Henry Wriothesley senior, second Earl of Southampton and the third Earl’s father, and Southwell’s eldest sister Elizabeth married a nephew of the same second earl, a son of Margaret Wriothesley and Michael Lister. Thus, Robert Southwell was twice a second cousin by marriage to Henry Wriothesley junior, third Earl (Devlin tree, p. 15).
Christopher Devlin : The Life of Robert Southwell: Poet and Martyr. New York, NY, USA: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy.
John Klause : Shakespeare, the Earl, and the Jesuit. Teaneck, NJ, USA: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Fermor attended Kit Marlowe’s old school, King’s School Canterbury, together with Alan Watts, who apparently wrote his first book about Zen Buddhism while still at school. Fermor famously was expelled from this school.
Non-Australians are often unaware how fearful Australians were of being invaded by Japanese Imperial Forces during World War II. Australians had good reason to be fearful, since Japanese aircraft ran nearly 100 bombing raids on northern Australian towns and settlements, Japanese submarines planted mines in Sydney Harbour, submarines launched bombardments on both Sydney and Newcastle, and harassed East Coast merchant shipping. As a result, preparing for an invasion, Australian home forces were deployed, among other activities, in building tank traps – concrete pyramids intended to impede the advance of any invading tanks – on the main roads as far south as northern New South Wales (some 1500 miles down the east coast). A key election issue in the 1943 Federal Election was whether the Opposition parties, when previously in Government at the start of the war, had approved a plan to abandon the entire north of Australia above Brisbane to the invaders.
Several members of my family fought to defend Australia and the region from Japanese imperialism and fascism, and some died in that defence. Growing up with relatives, family friends, and acquaintances who’d been prisoners of war of the Japanese military perhaps gives one an acute sense of the myriad war crimes committed by those forces during that war, and of the many longer-term physical and psychological consequences of those crimes. Unlike former POWs of the Wehrmacht, most former POWs of the Japanese military refused to speak of their prison-camp experiences, so horrific and unspeakable were they, and many survivors found themselves unable to cope with everyday life when the war ended.
In the week of Remembrance Day, I wanted to honour those members of my family who fell fighting in that war, or afterwards from its traumas:
Reflecting on the previous post and why the Slansky show-trial accused (and those similarly accused elsewhere in Eastern Europe at the time) were mostly executed, I remembered a chilling statement by Igal Halfin in his superb book about life under Soviet dictatorship:
In the Bolshevik tradition, death linked the individual in a final embrace with the brotherhood of the elect. Death could be a sublime, highly positive experience of self-sacrifice, or a negative experience, in which one’s expulsion from the society of men was rendered eternal. The unidirectional structure of the official autobiography takes us nearer the meaning of death in Communism. If in order to realize one’s true self one had to become a Party member, failure to do so meant cutting the story short. A life lost to the Party was a life aborted, an unfinished life, and it could be narrated as such. But nothing short of conversion to Communism fully satisfied the demands of the genre. This seemingly innocuous feature of Communist poetics inspired a morbid conclusion: the individual who was absolutely unable to see the light of Communism – human dross at best, a menace to universal salvation at worst – had to disappear; whereas at first Communist misfits were given a second and a third chance to reform, properly to complete their life’s journey and become good Communists, from 1936 onward they were shot.” (p. 274)
Igal Halfin : Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.