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Memory

Life in the Weimar Republic, and more prominently in Berlin, seemed to be fast moving toward the future. Avant-garde movements of every kind were almost the norm. Social mores were evolving toward equality (between men and women, between minorities and the German population at large) and new ideas were quick to take root, then change once more.

World War I had been a dramatic caesura with the past. Young people no longer recognized the values and ways of life of their parents. They were reckless and ready to adopt new values and lifestyles.

But this picture, while true, might be misleading. Life in Berlin and a few other big cities was fast and furious, but the rest of the country was far slower to catch up. In large areas of the nation, people were far less receptive of change when they were not outright against it.

Besides, even in the big cities, “memory” was still a strong ideal. The strict Wilhelmine values and ways of life were still appreciated and followed. The modernistic art movements, the new behaviors of the youth, not to mention the shockingly free attitude of the new woman — all of this was destroying everything good and German and was therefore considered unpatriotic. The old values had led Germany to her greatness before the war. Those values would bring her back to prominence. This was certainly one of the great advantages the right had on the left: while the left tried to create a new, unknown future, the right was calling for a return to something people knew all too well.

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The Devil’s Alternative

The Devil's Alternative

Frederick Forsyth wrote the outstanding Cold War thrillers The Day of the Jackal (1971), which was made into one of the best spy movies of all time (our review here); The Odessa File (1972, our review of the film adaption here) featuring an underground organization of former Nazis; and The Fourth Protocol (1984, our review here), about a Soviet plot to kick Britain out of NATO.

He demonstrates his mastery of the genre again in The Devil’s Alternative.

The story begins in Turkey, where an Ukrainian nationalist recovering in hospital is recruited by Andrew Drake, an Anglo-Ukrainian determined to strike a blow against the Soviet empire. Drake’s machination will set in motion events that bring the superpowers to the brink of war.

He is aided by hardliners in the Politburo, who are pushing for war to avoid making concessions in negotiations to buy wheat from the United States. A fungicide has inadvertently poisoned the Soviet wheat crop. Without imports, millions will starve.

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The Liberator

The Liberator

It can sometimes feel we’ve run out of ground to cover in terms of World War II fiction. To the untrained yet experienced eye, the likes of Band of Brothers (2001) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) may appear to have told all there is to tell, at least about the American war in Europe. (Other theaters are sadly underutilized. I’d like to see more about Burma and the Philippines, to name just two.)

Books including Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (2014) and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2015) have somewhat shaken up the genre. But there is still room for innovation.

Enter The Liberator, an animated limited series on Netflix concerning Felix Sparks, a man who led a battalion of men from Oklahoma to Italy, France and Germany. In terms of setting, it’s fairly well-trod ground, but in presentation it is quite new.

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Left

When we think about the Weimar Republic, most likely we think about the time of right-wing power. Certainly, many authoritarian forces were at work in the republic, but this was also the time of a left government, one that shaped the social life of Germany profoundly.

The Weimar Republic was a relatively short experience in the history of Germany. It may even be true that the republic was too weak and unloved to ever be successful. But it was still the first democratic regime of Germany, the first time left ideas got out of the rooms of philosophers to get into the thick of everyday life.

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Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday

Northern Ireland can feel far away from the rest of the United Kingdom. Its political party system is different from Great Britain’s. Its politics are intensely sectarian in a way that seems out of place in modern Europe. The level of violence it sustained in the twentieth century makes it an outlier in post-1945 Western Europe.

We tend to think of the United Kingdom as a peaceful Western democracy committed to the values of justice and peace. Those of us who have studied its history know that the truth is more muddled. That postwar period saw the birth of the National Health Service and other aspects of the welfare state, but it was also the time Britain left Palestine in civil war, employed a brutal system of concentration camps in Kenya and did much the same in Malaya.

But none of that violence was as old as the one that plagued Ireland.

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Kulturbolschewismus

The Weimar Republic is often considered one of the most remarkably energetic periods in the artistic history of humanity, a roaring surge of modernism in all fields of arts, where experimentation was the norm. For a glorious, if all too short, period over the “Golden 1920s” and the first part of the 1930s, while Germany went through one of the most troubling political and economic times in her history, Berlin was one of the most exciting places in Europe where an artist could be. Possibly in the world.

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9

9

9‘s marketing can make this animated film by Shane Acker seem deceptively childish. It revolves, after all, around talking rag dolls. But the movie can get disturbingly dark in a conceptual, atmospheric way that is absolutely unnerving.

The world of 9 is a post-apocalyptic hellscape with barely a sign of life. It is a world brought about by overuse of resources and man’s creations turning against him. This is a land of bombed-out houses and abandoned factories, where wreckage litters the cracked remnants of boulevards. It is a nightmare, one so awful there is no human left to dream at all.

Watch closely and it appears 9 is set in a dieselpunk world, where certain technological advances in the interwar era brought wrack and ruin to the world in a way reminiscent of, but in some ways scarier than, the firebombs and atomic weapons of World War II. At least those left survivors.

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Jews

The Weimar Republic’s relation with Jews was contradictory at best. On the one hand, the republic was a first time of full citizenship for the German Jewish people, who became a driving force in the political and cultural life of Weimar. But on the other, it was during the republic’s time that antisemitism rose to upsetting levels.

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