I am made to recall the novels of the late Hans Hellmut Kirst, best known in this country for Night of the Generals, made into a movie starring Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole. Kirst writes as a former soldier in the Wehrmacht himself in WWII, as well as a Nazi Party member. Kirst’s Gunner Asch novels are on the surface ordinary pulp war novels, bitterly humorous in the tradition of Good Soldier Schweik, about German soldiers on the Eastern Front, heroes and villains alike, and the civilians back home. Most striking is the utter normalcy, even banality, of their lives, their joys and sorrows, their cowardice and heroism. Yes, heroism, under one of the most murderous regimes in human history.
We can feel for them, love them, hate them, and even laugh with and at them. And yet Kirst never lets the reader escape from the cold hand of the killing machine, which grinds on and on, unfazed by his characters as some of them rail against the Nazis and carry out their little sabotages.
Why am I today reminded of Kirst? Heroism and villainy, these are the attributes of individuals in all their humanity. Today, we are asked — practically ordered — in the name of humanity, to think only of the grief of a few individuals, to immerse ourselves in that so cynically manipulated grief, and to forget the killing machine that surrounds us all so thoroughly that we think we are still living in some kind of normalcy.
I read the news today, oh boy …
“Mayor de Blasio Calls for Suspension of Protests” sez the New York Times.
“De Blasio urges halt to protests until after burials” chirps the Washington Post.
“De Blasio makes call to ‘put aside political debates, put aside protests’ ” adds New York’s Daily News.
How do we know that we are not already living under fascism, you might ask, with the 30,000-strong NYPD operating in open defiance of the city’s elected government? The New York Post thunders, “De Blasio’s arrogance puts cops in cross hairs.” PBA head Pat Lynch snarls, “There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the street, under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. It cannot be tolerated.’ That blood on the hands, starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor. When these funerals are over, those responsible will be called on the carpet and HELD ACCOUNTABLE.”
We know that we are not yet living under fascism because the actual calls for us to shut down our protests are coming from the liberals, like De Blasio, not from open fascists like Lynch. Even liberal MoveOn, whose latest claim to fame is touting a presidential run by Elizabeth Warren, has a petition out targeting De Blasio whose:
“words and actions on the subject matter of late have to be HELD ACCOUNTABLE. He is unfit to lead this city. He is unfit to have a relationship with his police department for his remaining tenure and he should be taken out of office IMMEDIATELY, with proper protocol to be followed to name a replacement before a special election.”
Over 60,000 signatures and counting.
Sometimes as I think of the United States, I imagine myself seeing it through the eyes of a Palestinian youth, of a German, of a Mexican, or a Russian. No, of course I can’t know their experiences. But we can all at least try to imagine, can’t we?
When I imagine, I shudder. In the last few days, I shudder more. Yes, it was sad for the murdered individuals who may have been heroes (liberal Mike Lupica, “Dies a cop dies the city”) or villains, but that was the least of it. I shudder as the battle lines are being drawn more sharply than before, and the liberals are caving in before the intimidation by the PBA, the mayor, the media, and the whole government apparatus. It is a battle I fear we are not equipped for, yet cannot avoid.
Now there’s the infamous PBA memo posted on the PBA’s Facebook page:
“At least two units are to respond to EVERY call, no matter the condition or severity, no matter what type of job is pending, or what the option of the patrol supervisor happens to be. IN ADDITION: Absolutely NO enforcement action in the form of arrests and or summonses is to be taken unless absolutely necessary and an individual MUST be placed under arrest. These are precautions that were taken in the 1970’s when Police Officers were ambushed and executed on a regular basis. The mayors hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words actions and policies and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”
Officials deny that it was an official statement, but they don’t deny that it was posted.
Wartime. What does “held ACCOUNTABLE” mean under wartime. The stage is set for the NYPD to see a member of the Black Guerrilla Family in every alley, at every traffic stop, every hallway. Can protesters now be bludgeoned into the ground for the act of protesting the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown? The liberals are telling us to join in mourning the deaths of individuals, to forget that we are facing an armed renegade force of 30,000 on the streets of New York. We are to forget that while the forces of repression are an organized force, we are not seen as individuals with our heroes and villains, but locked into the continuum from wimpy politicians to critical pundits to concerned individuals to organized protestors to shadowy organized terrorist murderers, all our hands dripping with the blood of — here’s where Kirst might himself laugh — innocent INDIVIDUALS not part of an occupying army.
We are not just individuals
That’s right, we are assigned collective guilt, while the police are generally heroes to be evaluated as individuals on a case-by-case basis if at all. Forget for the moment the well-known “blue wall of silence” whenever a cop is accused of a crime, the guns they routinely carry to plant on the bodies of those they have shot down, the tremendous solidarity they show at the least criticism. Ironically, while the media tries to tag us with collective guilt, our most effective response is to actively embrace that same collectivity, not scurry towards the false security of our individuality.
Oddly enough, I can try to see through the police’s eyes. The danger of the job, the thanklessness, the hours, the stunning suicide rate, the abuse they take. Just as Kirst allows us to see through the individual eyes of the Wehrmacht. But we can never lose sight of the, now, WARTIME machine they serve, the purpose of which is to control the 99% (that’s us). Think now for a moment about the 1%. Imagine, if you will. Are the moguls on Wall Street and the titans of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the whole sick crew in Washington truly mourning the fallen officers? Or are they now cackling with glee at this opportunity to let slip the “dogs of wartime”?
— submitted by Jeff Roby
Secretary, St. Pete local of the Green Party of Florida