REBLOG: Light for our darkest hour…

Reblogged from my BookLikes friend Grimlock ♥ Vision

It’s a wonderfully expressed sentiment; the most heartfelt, honest and uplifting one I’ve come across in the hours since the official election results were published.  So, thanks very much, Grim, for letting me share it here (in addition to reblogging on BookLikes).  If anything is going keep America great, it’s a spirit like yours!




I’m too numb to really comment on the election results right now.

We’ll move forward as individuals and as a country, because there’s nothing else we can do.   My personal faith and spirituality believes in calling out what’s wrong when I see it, and acting when I can.  I did.  I voted. I encouraged others to vote.

I’ll continue to call out Trump when he’s a racist, sexist asshole.   With small hands.   Tiny hands.  (I’m curious to see what the tipping point is; when do I get the pictures with the hands circled going ‘SEE, NOT SO SMALL!!!!1!!!’)

I didn’t think we’d survive Bush Jr and we did.   I didn’t think I’d survive a lot of things, and I did.

We’ll take one step at a time, when we’re ready.   I’m trying to see a bright side, but it’s dismally dark right now.   I keep chanting that there’ll be peace at the end, which isn’t a comment about the end of Trump’s reign.   In the end, at my end, I’ve finally come to believe that there’ll be peace, which may sound morbid, but as a mantra has helped me keep calm.

Even as the numbness wears off, even as depression leads to my faith in humanity being slowly peeled away, I’m starting to settle into a deep, dark resignation: I will deal with this because I have to.

But just to let so much of America know, I’m disappointed.   You’ve allowed racism and sexism and misogyny to win.   You’ve done so because you believe the swagger of a narcissistic man, and you’ve done so because you believe he cares about you at all.  I believe that man is incapable about caring about anyone but himself: iI believe if he cares at all for his children, it’s because he sees them as extensions of himself. I believe if he cares for his wife, it’s because she’s a trophy.

But Trump is only the tip of the iceberg.   Even if he were to go underground, never to be seen from again, his supporters believe in his brand of racism and sexism.   That scares me more than anything else.  What a long road humanity has ahead of it, I can see that more clearly than ever now.

I hope that those who believe in dignity and kindness share that belief, because all we can do is use our own inner light to help spark that light in others.   I was afraid last night that this news would come to pass and it would snuff out my inner light: my hope, my belief in others, my love and my happiness.   But it shines brighter now, because it has to shine on.  It has to be able to make a difference.

It has to be able to spark in someone else, too.   So to everyone who sees how ugly this is, I ask that you take time today to tend to yourselves.   Preserve that light, that goodness, that happiness and love.   Find someone who you believe in and cling to them.   Find something you believe in and focus on that.  Tend to yourselves, make your light shine brighter, and try to spark happiness and peace within others.   We all need that comfort right now, and others will need our light soon enough.   Tend to it, spark it, make it grow brighter, make it fierce, make it blinding.  Do it because no one else can, not without your effort and consent.

Love one each other.  Love the world.  Love when it’s the hardest, because it’s not the hate outside that defines you.  It’s everything inside, and so love because there’s so much hate out there already.

Don’t do it for me.   Do it for yourself.  Just love.   Just shine.

And I’m sorry: I’m getting preachy and weepy, and kinda all woo.  But I need this to hold onto for myself right now and it feels better putting it down in words.  I hope it helps anyone else who needs this.

If you need to talk, I’ll be working this morning, but you can reach me here, PM me or e-mail me.   I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

I love you all.   I’ll be reading comics today to tend to myself.  After work and maybe cleaning up some leaves in the backyard.   Because life still goes on and love still goes on and I still go on, and I need this right now.


Original post:





So, they carried the day.

Neanderthals for Trump: How our primitive brains are ruining American politics –, April 19, 2016

Donald Trump’s appeal isn’t just ideological but biological. “Political Animals” author Rick Shenkman explains.

From the interview:

“… it was during that period [= the Stone Age] that we mainly evolved. And we evolved to address the problems of hunter-gatherers who lived during that period.


[Trump] knows what you’re feeling, and that’s what an awful lot of politics is. When a politician talks anger and they talk fear, they are mainlining, just like a heroin addict, going straight for the most sensitive parts of the brain because fear and anger are those emotions that we really relate to. And when a politician engages and indulges people’s fears and their angers, they seem really authentic. That’s why Donald Trump seems so authentic to so many millions of people because these emotions are so strong and powerful.

Q: Why are anger and fear so paramount in the stone-age brain?

A: For people who were very sensitive to anger and fear, apparently, our evolution proves it, that was a habit of thinking that contributed to their survival, to their fitness.

Q: They’ll take more precautions than somebody who doesn’t hear the alarm go off, right?

A: Exactly. There is something called the false alarm bias. What happens is our brains are like good detectors in your home that are looking for gas or for something else, some sign of fire—

Q: Carbon monoxide.

A: Exactly.

Q: Burglars.

A: Exactly, burglars. They’re on a hair-trigger alert. They just detect a little bit and all of a sudden they start blaring. Well, our brain comes with a similar mechanism and that is to help protect us from danger. So the people who are going to be more likely to survive a dangerous attack were those who would be able to be sensitive to when a dangerous attack was coming.

When Donald Trump is attacking Mexican immigrants or Muslims just trying to come visit the United States, he is activating this deep-seated cognitive bias that we have, which is the false alarm bias. We want to make sure that we respond to a fire alarm. And if it’s a false alarm, that’s okay, because the fire alarm goes off, everybody gets excited, they go out on the sidewalk and then they come back in five minutes later. So, meh, it’s okay. But if you miss a fire alarm, oh my gosh, you’re really, really in trouble. We’ve got this bias that basically says we’re going to react to the fire alarm, even if we’re going to err on the side of better be safe than sorry.

And when Donald Trump and these other politicians activate that bias, what happens is it swamps critical thinking. We have higher order cognitive functions and we are able to evaluate the world as it is and not give in and surrender to these automatic responses. But when a politician activates that response, it’s very, very, difficult in the moment to think clearly. And that’s what these politicians are doing.

[…] [T]here’s something that the social scientists refer to as perceptual salience, and basically what that means is that we respond to the signals in the environment that we’re familiar with. So anytime we hear some evidence of something in our own experience, or we’re seeing it on the news constantly, that becomes part of our social reality. And we live in that soup of all these mixed signals out there. And what Donald Trump is doing when he’s saying the political parties are corrupt, as soon as he says it, it’s politically salient because we’ve all heard evidence of the corruption of the two major parties and how they managed to get themselves elected; or to elect their people; and how rich people contribute money to the campaigns; and the corruption, and all that. That’s salient because we hear all about it. So all a politician has to do is touch that button and one of his supporters will say, “Oh, yes.” So it rings true.

Q: It’s also true, isn’t it, that we don’t like cognitive dissonance—that when we get these storms in our head, we get stressful and perturbed, and we want to run from them? So cognitive dissonance is something that we want to get rid of as soon as we experience it and, if we feel it, we turn away.

A: Sure and this helps explain why millions of people still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya. It’s incredible to any thinking person that anybody could believe that, but these people aren’t thinking, they are reacting.

[…] [I]n their small circle, they’re hearing from people suspicions about Barack Obama […] And they hear that and that plays into a narrative, a metanarrative, a metacognition that resonates with them. […] So they create this metanarrative in their head and everything that is consistent with that metanarrative, they wind up believing. And everything that is inconsistent with it—that would give them cognitive dissonance if they were to try to hold that thought in mind in addition to the other thoughts—they get rid of. They get rid of it. […]

[E]ight years ago I wrote a book called Just How Stupid Are We? as you mentioned. I was appalled by the statistics coming out during the Bush years that so many millions of people thought that we were invading Iraq out of revenge because Saddam Hussein had something important to do with 9/11. Now there was no truth to that, but if we can’t get the most basic facts right about the most important event of our time, 9/11, that says our democracy is in trouble.”

Source: Neanderthals for Trump: How our primitive brains are ruining American politics –


So: Welcome to the world of “post-fact politics,” where it doesn’t matter whether anything actually is true, as long as it feels true and responds to our innermost caveman triggers and alarms, the chief ones of these being fear and anger.

1984, anyone? (Since Humpty-Dumpty’s “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less” would barely seem to scratch the surface here?)

And yes, as much as 20 percent of the Neanderthal genome does live on in modern humans, accounting for – on average – between 1% and 4% of the modern human genome, due to some more-than-casual cross breeding of Neanderthals and homo sapiens after homo sapiens had begun to migrate to Europe some 60,000 – 45,000 years ago.  Phyiscal features that the Neanderthals have passed on to us include red hair, a receding, elongated forehead, the brow ridge above our eye sockets, and a prominently protruding nose.  And according to a 2016 DNA analysis conducted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School, the genetic material of the incoming U.S. President just might be made up of a whopping 39% of Neanderthal heritage.  (His supporters dispute those findings.  Well, there are also a few people who dispute evolutionary theory.  Not coincidentally, those two groups overlap.)  Not that you’d notice what this guy is really made of in any other way than by his physical appeareance, obviously …

Neanderthal vs Donald Trump! close enough! - Album on Imgur:   Neue Studie: Ein bisschen moderner Mensch steckt auch im Neandertaler -
Image sources: and N24 News.
The image to the right shows an exhibit at the Neanderthal Museum near Düsseldorf, Germany.

Donald Trump’s Greatest Self-Contradictions – POLITICO Magazine


The many, many, MANY sides of the likely Republican nominee, in his own words.

Source: Donald Trump’s Greatest Self-Contradictions – POLITICO Magazine


“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass (1872).


(I’d sworn I’d stay out of the U.S. electoral campaign, but this is just too good not to share.  And it doesn’t even include his most recent meltdowns …)


Of Monsters, Murder and Divine Mercy

“Sister, I won’t ask for forgiveness; my sins are all I have,” sings Bruce Springsteen in this movie’s title song while the end credits roll over the screen – giving voice once more to Matthew Poncelet and the men portrayed in Sister Helen Prejean‘s nonfiction account on which this movie is based; that angry “white trash,” those men who are “God’s mistake,” as one victim’s father says, inconsolable over the loss of his daughter; those men locked up in high security prisons for unspeakable crimes which many of them claim they didn”t commit. And Matt Poncelet (Sean Penn) is just such a guy; locked in bravado and denial, he proclaims his innocence and would rather take a lie detector test on the day of his execution “so my momma knows I didn’t do this” than own up to his responsibility.

With Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), we first learn about the crime which landed Poncelet on death row – the rape-murder of a couple on lovers’ lane – from the account she receives when she starts writing to him and eventually agrees to visit him in prison. It is, as she will soon learn, a story that anti-death penalty advocates are all too familiar with; a story of unequal access to lawyers and of two defendants, each blaming all guilt for their crime exclusively on the other, regardless what truly happened. And as long as she is assured that even if Poncelet would have a new trial he wouldn’t go free (as an accomplice, under Louisiana state law he would receive a lifetime prison sentence), Sister Helen is willing to help him find a lawyer and, when the date for his execution is set, try to obtain a reprieve.

But it does not end there, as she soon finds out; and one of this movie’s greatest strengths is the way in which it portrays all sides of the moral issues involved in the death penalty. There are the victims’ families, a stunning 70% of which break up after the murder of a child, and who are forever stuck with the unloving last words spoken to their loved ones and the memory of all the little homely details reminding them of their loss. There are the prison guards and nurses, trying to see executions as “part of their job” – with varying success. There are the politicians, barking slogans on TV; promising to “get tough on sentencing, get tough on lenient parole boards, get tough on judges who pass light sentences.” There are the convicts’ families, marginalized as a result of their brothers’ and sons’ acts, particularly if they refuse to condemn them publicly. (“Now I’m famous,” Poncelet’s mother comments bitterly on the dubious celebrity status she has attained as a result of a TV show about Matt. “A regular Ma Barker!”) And there is the death penalty itself, shown in all its chilling, graphic, clinical detail, here in its allegedly most humane form: lethal injections, which tranquilize the muscles while the poison reaches the convict’s lungs and heart – “his face goes to sleep while his inside organs are going through Armageddon,” Poncelet’s attorney says at his pardon board hearing. “It was important to us to show all sides of the issue,” explains director Tim Robbins on the DVD’s commentary track, “not to be satisfied with soundbites, and to present the reality … Ultimately, the question is not who deserves to die, but who has the right to kill.”

At the heart of the story are two radically different individuals: Sister Helen, who has grown up in an affluent, loving family; and Matthew Poncelet, the convicted killer. And their portrayal is this movie’s other great strength: without either of them, this film would not have been half as compelling. Both Sarandon and Penn deliver Academy Award-worthy performances. (Sarandon did win her long overdue Oscar, Penn lost to Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas – this would have been an occasion where I would have favored a split award.) Gradually, very gradually we see them get to know each other; and as they do, the visual layers separating them in the prison visiting room are peeled away. Yet, even after he has learned to accept Sister Helen as a human being (not without attempting to come on to her as if she were not a nun – director Tim Robbins’s way of dispelling the notion that they might fall in love, as is so often the case in the more clichéd versions of this type of story), Poncelet insists that his participation was limited to holding one of the victims down, but that it was his accomplice who raped and killed them both. And even days before his execution, he is still looking for “loopholes” in the bible, as Sister Helen admonishes him, seeing redemption as a free ticket into heaven instead of a means of owning up to his responsibility. (“I like that,” he comments when she quotes Jesus’s “the truth shall make you free.” “So I pass that lie detector test, I’m home free.”) Only in his final hour, he slowly, gradually gives up the protective layers of his bravado and lays bare his raw nerve and innermost anguish. And while he speaks, finally, in a complete flashback, we, the viewers, see what really happened that dark and lonely night in the woods, and what all the previous partial flashbacks have not revealed.

“It is easy to kill a monster, but hard to kill a human being,” Poncelet’s attorney explains on one occasion; and Tim Robbins echoes that sentiment on the commentary track. Yet, this movie is not about romanticizing a brutal killer, any more than it is about demonizing his victims. It is, first and foremost, an attempt to bring a complete perspective to one of contemporary America’s most pressing problems, and to find a way past sorrow and hate and move towards the future. And even if you’re still for the death penalty after having watched it – don’t claim ignorance as to what is involved.



Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: PolyGram (1995)
  • Director: Tim Robbins
  • Executive Producers: Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner
  • Producers: Tim Robbins / John Kilik / Rudd Simmons
  • Screenplay: Tim Robbins
  • Based on a nonfiction account by: Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J.
  • Music: David Robbins
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
  • Susan Sarandon: Sister Helen Prejean
  • Sean Penn: Matthew Poncelet
  • Robert Prosky: Hilton Barber
  • Margo Martindale: Sister Colleen
  • Raymond J. Barry: Earl Delacroix
  • Peter Sarsgaard: Walter Delacroix
  • R. Lee Ermey: Clyde Percy
  • Celia Weston: Mary Beth Percy
  • Missy Yager: Hope Percy
  • Jenny Krochmal: Emily Percy
  • Roberta Maxwell: Lucille Poncelet
  • Jack Black: Craig Poncelet
  • Jon Abrahams: Sonny Poncelet
  • Arthur Bridgers: Troy Poncelet
  • Lois Smith: Helen’s Mother
  • Steve Carlisle: Helen’s Brother
  • Helen Hester: Helen’s Sister
  • Michael Cullen: Carl Vitello
  • Scott Wilson: Chaplain Farley
  • Barton Heyman: Captain Beliveau
  • Steve Boles: Sergeant Neal Trapp
  • Nesbitt Blaisdell: Warden Hartman
  • Ray Aranha: Luis Montoya
  • Larry Pine: Guy Gilardi
  • Kevin Cooney: Governor Benedict
  • Gil Robbins: Bishop Norwich
  • Adele Robbins: Nurse
  • Mary Robbins: Aide to Governor Benedict
  • Miles Robbins: Boy in Church
  • Jack Henry Robbins: Opossum Kid
  • Helen Prejean: Woman at Vigil (uncredited)


Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1996)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: Susan Sarandon
Screen Actors Guild of America Awards (1996)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Susan Sarandon
National Society of Film Critics Awards (1996)
  • 2nd Place, Best Actor: Sean Penn
American Political Film Society Awards (1996)
  • Exposé Award
Humanitas Prize (USA) (1996)
  • Feature Film Category: Tim Robbins
Independent Spirit Awards (1996)
  • Best Male Lead: Sean Penn
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards ( 1997)
  • Favorite Actress, Drama: Susan Sarandon
Online Film & Television Association (1997)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame: Motion Picture
Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film Awards (1996)
  • Best Movie
  • Best Actor: Sean Penn
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon
Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Competition): Tim Robbins
  • Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas: Tim Robbins
  • Reader Jury of the “Berliner Morgenpost” Daily Newspaper: Tim Robbins
  • Silver Berlin Bear (Best Actor): Sean Penn
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1996)
  • Migliore Attrice Straniera (Best Foreign Actress) – “Dead Man Walking”




Unit – Corps – God – Country

How much critical thought can the military allow its rank and file? Certainly most orders must be followed unquestioningly; otherwise ultimately the entire Armed Services would collapse. But where do you draw the line? Does it matter how well soldiers know not only their military but also their civic duties? Does it matter whether trials against members of the military are handled by way of court-martials, or before a country’s ordinary (civil) courts?

I first saw A Few Good Men as an in-flight movie, and after the first couple of scenes I thought that for once they’d really picked the right kind of flick: A bit clichéd (yet another idle, unengaged lawyer being dragged into vigorously pursuing a case against his will), but good actors, a good director and a promising storyline.

Then the movie cut from the introductory scenes in Washington, D.C. to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Jack Nicholson (Colonel Nathan Jessup) inquired: “Who the fuck is PFC William T. Santiago?”

And suddenly I was all eyes and ears.

Director Rob Reiner and Nicholson’s costars describe on the movie’s DVD how from the first time Nicholson spoke this (his very first) line in rehearsal he had everybody’s attention; and the overall bar for a good performance immediately rose to new heights. Based on my own reaction, I believe them sight unseen. Or actually, not really “unseen,” as the result of Nicholson’s influence is there for everybody to watch: Never mind that he doesn’t actually have all that much screen time, his intensity as an actor and the personality of his character, Colonel Jessup, dominate this movie more than anything else; far beyond the now-famous final showdown with Tom Cruise’s Lieutenant Kaffee. Nobody could have brought more power to the role of Jessup than Nicholson, no other actor made him a more complex figure, and nobody delivered his final speech so as to force you to think about the issues he (and this film) addresses; and that despite all the movie’s clichés: The reluctant lawyer turning out a courtroom genius (as lead counsel in a murder trial, barely a year out of law school and without any prior trial experience, no less), the son fighting to rid himself of a deceased superstar-father’s overbearing shadow, and the “redneck” background of the victim’s superior officer Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland, who nevertheless milks the role for all it’s worth).

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who adapted his own play, reportedly based the story’s premise – the attempted cover-up of a death resulting from an illegal pseudo-disciplinary action – on a real-life case that his sister, a lawyer, had come across in the JAG Corps. (Although even if I take his assertion at face value that assigning the matter to a junior lawyer without trial experience was part of the cover-up, I still don’t believe the real case continued the way it does here. But be that as it may.) Worse, the victim is a marine serving at “Gitmo,” the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, where any kind of tension assumes an entirely different dimension than in virtually any other location. In come Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and co-counsels Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), assigned to defend the two marines held responsible for Santiago’s death; Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall), who claim to have acted on Kendrick’s orders to subject Santiago to a “code red,” an act of humiliating peer-punishment, after Santiago had gone outside the chain of command to rat on a fellow marine (none other than Dawson), attempting to obtain a transfer out of “Gitmo.” But while Kendrick sternly denies having given any such order and prosecuting attorney Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon) is ready to have the defendants’ entire company swear that Kendrick actually ordered them to leave Santiago alone, Kaffee and Co. believe their clients’ story – which ultimately leads them to Jessup himself, as it is unthinkable that the event should have occurred without his knowledge or even at his specific orders.

By the time of this movie’s production, Tom Cruise had made the part of the shallow youngster suddenly propelled into manhood one of his trademark characters (see, e.g., The Color of Money, Top Gun and Rain Man); nevertheless, he manages to (mostly) elevate Kaffee’s part above cardboard level. Demi Moore gives one of her strongest-ever performances as Commander Galloway, who would love to be lead counsel herself in accordance with the entitlements of her rank, but overcomes her disappointment to push Kaffee to a top-notch performance instead. Kevin Pollack’s, Kevin Bacon’s and J.T. Walsh (Jessup’s deputy Lt.Col. Markinson)’s performances are straight-laced enough to easily be overlooked, but they’re fine throughout and absolutely crucial foils for Kaffee, Galloway and Jessup; and so, vis-à-vis Dawson, is James Marshall’s shy, scared Downey, who is clearly in way over his head. The movie’s greatest surprise, however, is Wolfgang Bodison, who, although otherwise involved with the production, had never acted before being drafted by Rob Reiner solely on the basis of his physical appearance, which matched Dawson’s better than any established actor’s; and who gives a stunning performance as the young Lance Corporal who will rather be convicted of murder than take an unhonorable plea bargain, yet comes to understand the full complexity of his actions upon hearing the jury’s verdict.

“Unit – corps – God – country” is the code of honor according to which, Dawson tells Kaffee, the marines at “Gitmo” live their lives; and Colonel Jessup declares that under his command orders are followed “or people die,” and words like “honor,” “code” and “loyalty” to him are the backbone of a life spent defending freedom. Proud words for sure: But for the “code red,” but for the trespass over that invisible line between a legal and an immoral, illegal order they might well be justified. That line, however, exists, and is drawn even in a non-public court-martial. I’d like to believe that insofar at least, this movie gets it completely right.



Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures (1992)
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Executive Producers: William S. Gilmore & Rachel Pfeffer
  • Producers: Rob Reiner / Andrew Scheinman / David Brown
  • Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
  • Based on a play by: Aaron Sorkin
  • Music: Marc Shaiman
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Robert Richardson
  • Jack Nicholson: Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC
  • Tom Cruise: Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, USN JAG Corps
  • Demi Moore: Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN JAG Corps
  • Kevin Bacon: Captain Jack Ross, USMC, Judge Advocate Division
  • Kiefer Sutherland: Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick, USMC
  • Kevin Pollak: Lieutenant Sam Weinberg, USN JAG Corps
  • Wolfgang Bodison: Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson, USMC
  • James Marshall: PFC Louden Downey, USMC
  • J.T. Walsh: Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Andrew Markinson, USMC
  • J.A. Preston: Judge (Colonel) Randolph, USMC
  • Noah Wyle: Corporal Jeffrey Owen Barnes, USMC
  • Cuba Gooding Jr.: Corporal Carl Hammaker, USMC
  • Matt Craven: Lieutenant Dave Spradling, USN JAG Corps
  • John M. Jackson: Captain West, USN, JAG Corps
  • Christopher Guest: Dr. (Commander) Stone, USN MC
  • Michael DeLorenzo: PFC William T. Santiago, USMC


Major Awards and Honors

American Film Institute (AFI)
  • 10 Top 10 (10 greatest US films in 10 classic genres) – Courtroom Dramas: No. 5
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 29th: “You can’t handle the truth!” (Colonel Nathan R. Jessup)
National Board of Review Awards (1992)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
ASCAP Awards (1994)
  • Top Box Office Films: Marc Shaiman
MTV Movie Awards (1993)
  • Best Movie




Elizabeth from Princess to Icon: “One Mistress and no Master.”

Among Great Britain’s monarchs, two queens stand out in particular: Elizabeth I. and Queen Victoria. Both came to power at extremely young ages, and at times of political instability which would have set the odds of survival against any new ruler, but particularly so, against a woman. Both beat those odds in ways few people would have foreseen: They not only persevered but ruled for a nearly unparalleled long time, and during their reign achieved to both strengthen England’s economy and international stance and give new direction to its society. We have long come to identify their reign as “the Victorian Age” and “the Elizabethan Age,” respectively. Yet, while “Victorian England” is an expression often used synonymously with moral conservativism, Elizabeth I. fostered not only the development of science but also the theater and arts; providing fertile ground for the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe and many others. (Influenced by her husband, Queen Victoria supported the exploration of new scientific developments, but the dominant force of her formative years as a ruler was conservative prime minister Lord Melbourne, who once advised her not to read Dickens because his books were “full of unpleasant subjects.”) And while Queen Victoria derived strength from her long, stable marriage to German-born Prince Albert, Elizabeth I. resisted the pressure to marry at all and became known as “the Virgin Queen.”

Looking back at Elizabeth’s reign, we see less a woman than an icon; the symbol of what her rule has come to stand for. Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 movie explores, as the director explains in the DVD’s “Making of” feature, the making of that icon; the formative processes, influences and personalities surrounding the young princess’s ascent to the throne and her first years in power – and of course, at the center of it all, Elizabeth herself, magnificently portrayed by Cate Blanchett (who should have won the Academy Award for her performance). The princess, as this movie sees her, certainly knew her insecurities about her role in life and in English politics, her people’s expectations, and the intrigues of her own court. But she was also, as Kapur has her affirm to her protector and spymaster Walsingham, “[her] father’s daughter” – the proud, headstrong daughter of Henry VIII., who quickly learned from her mistakes and assumed true leadership early on. Having inherited a country deeply torn in religious conflict, and having barely survived the machinations of the court of her Catholic half sister and predecessor, “Bloody” Mary I., to find her, the “heretic,” guilty of treason and execute her, one of Elizabeth’s first acts in power was to have parliament pass the Act of Uniformity, reestablishing the Church of England formed by her father. And while she respected her Secretary of State Sir William Cecil, she eventually came to realize that his advice was overly guided by the hope that she marry and produce an heir to secure her kingdom, and she reluctantly retired him into his status as Lord Burghley.

Indeed, there was not one single man who dominated Elizabeth’s life but several, and Kapur was able to secure an extraordinary cast to surround then-newcomer Blanchett. Richard Attenborough plays Sir William Cecil with a humility and quiet dignity that few besides him could have brought to the screen. Christopher Eccleston bristles as the powerful, ambitious Catholic Duke of Norfolk, that key player from the inner circle of Mary’s court who retained his position after her death and became the one member of Elizabeth’s council most dangerous to her reign. Joseph Fiennes reprises his role as a burning-eyed, handsome lover from the almost simultaneously released Shakespeare in Love (which, while a splendid movie in its own rights, eclipsed much of the limelight that Elizabeth would so richly have deserved), playing the man most closely romantically linked to Elizabeth, “Sweet” Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whose love for her – at least, as this movie would have it – is ultimately his own undoing. “You’re still my Elizabeth,” the erstwhile princess’s lover insists at a ball some time after her coronation. “I am no man’s Elizabeth,” the queen retorts, and affirms for all the court to hear: “I will have one mistress here, and no master!”

Most impressive of all the queen’s men is Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal as her protector, secret advisor and supreme spymaster Francis Walsingham, the creator of what much later became Britain’s MI-5, whose role Rush approached, inspired by the description Kapur had given him, much like the Hindu god Krishna, as “a very wise man who can kill people … while smiling,” as he explains in the DVD’s “Making of” featurette – an ability which his young, unfaithful companion in exile learns to know as much as powerful Marie de Guise (Fanny Ardant), aunt to Elizabeth’s would-be suitor Henri d’Anjou and mother of her later rival Mary of Scots; who had refused Henry VIII.’s suit remarking “I may be big in person, but my neck is small,” only to find herself terminally surrendering to Walsingham’s unmatched cunning.

Key to any great historical movie is the authenticity of its production design, and Elizabeth overflows with the rich and luxurious colors of the queen’s renaissance court and its balls, gowns and pageants. But there are also the vast, high stone halls of the palace and the royal cathedral, symbolizing the perpetuity of the monarchy reestablished by Elizabeth I. At last, when contemplating a statute of the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth wonders whether, to perpetuate her reign, she must be “made of stone;” and it is again Walsingham who answers: “Aye, Madam, to reign supreme, [because] all men … must be able to touch the divine here on earth” and as yet, “they have found nothing to replace [Mary].” And so, this movie tells us, the icon we all know was created – and like a nun married to God, a dehumanized Elizabeth reenters her council and holds out her hand to her old Secretary of State: “Observe, Lord Burghley: I am married to England!”


Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: PolyGram (1998)
  • Director: Shekhar Kapur
  • Producers: Alison Owen  / Eric Fellner / Tim Bevan
  • Screenplay: Michael Hirst
  • Music: David Hirschfelder
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Remi Adefarasin
  • Makeup Designer: Jenny Shircore
  • Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth I
  • Geoffrey Rush: Sir Francis Walsingham
  • Richard Attenborough: Sir William Cecil
  • Joseph Fiennes: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
  • Christopher Eccleston: Duke of Norfolk
  • Fanny Ardant: Mary of Guise
  • Vincent Cassel: Duc d’Anjou
  • Kathy Burke: Queen Mary Tudor
  • Edward Hardwicke: Earl of Arundel
  • John Gielgud: Pope Pius V
  • Eric Cantona: Monsieur de Foix
  • Emily Mortimer: Kat Ashley
  • Rod Culbertson: Master Ridley
  • Terence Rigby: Bishop Gardiner
  • Amanda Ryan: Lettice Howard
  • Kelly Macdonald: Isabel Knollys
  • George Antoni: King Philip II of Spain (as George Yiasoumi)
  • James Frain: Alvaro de la Quadra
  • Jamie Foreman: Earl of Sussex
  • Daniel Craig: John Ballard


Major Awards

Academy Awards (1999)
  • Best Makeup: Jenny Shircore
Golden Globe Awards
(Hollywood Foreign Press Association) (1999)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama: Cate Blanchett
National Board of Review Awards (1998)
  • Best Director: Shekhar Kapur
Chicago Film Critics Association (1998)
  • Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards (1998)
  • Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1999)
  • Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film: Alison Owen, Eric Fellner und Tim Bevan
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Cate Blanchett
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Geoffrey Rush
  • Best Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin
  • Best Make-Up/Hair: Jenny Shircore
  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music: David Hirschfelder
British Film Institute (1999)
  • Top 100 British Films – No. 71
London Film Critics Circle Awards (1998)
  • Actress of the Year: Cate Blanchett
EMpire Awards (1999)
  • Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Venice Film Festival (1998)
  • Max Factor Award: Jenny Shircore




Ruminating On: Scared White People and #blacklivesmatter [REBLOG]

Reblogged with the author’s express permission from: Edward Lorn – on BookLikes: Lornographic Material

There are people, white and black and otherwise, who will read this blog post and automatically dismiss it. Some might even say it’s not my place. I cannot do anything about them. All I can do is tell my story, and maybe someone will understand. Nowhere in here do I mean to shirk my privilege or put myself outside the broad stroke of “white people”. When I say “white people”, I am including myself in that statement. I don’t dig labels. Never have. But the rest of the world does. So, yes, I am White People. But I have a little more, just a tad more, experience dealing with systemic racism, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Because the biggest problems with white people are fear and disbelief. “There is no problem,” they say. “It’s blown out of proportion by the media, by race-baiters.” Nope. You’re wrong.  I’ve seen systemic racism firsthand. And, while there is a problem with today’s media, scared white men shooting black men is a problem that needs to be addressed.

 I moved to Troy, Alabama, in 1996. I started working for the Burger King on Highway 231. That’s where I met the man whom I would, almost twenty years later, name my son after. My buddy’s name is Christopher McCord. He’s a black man. That didn’t matter to me then. It doesn’t matter to me now. But, in this story, his race does matter.

 Though we came from much different backgrounds—he from Birmingham, Alabama, and I from southern California—we shared a love for music. All kinds of music, man. Metal, classic rock, R&B, hip hop, even a country song or two. We’d roll through Troy in his Dodge Daytona, a car by the name of Rudy, blasting everything from Bone Thugs & Harmony to Matchbox 20. And I mean blasting. Chris had a killer sound system. Not one of those bullshit rattleboxes. He dressed Rudy to the nines. Only the best. We spent a lot of time inside that car and on my back porch. Chris was there for me during some rough times, and he remains the only friend I have who remembers the waste of life that was my father. Chris soon became my brother in every sense of the term other than blood. I would do anything for the guy.

 One night in 1997—this was late, probably almost midnight, if not after—Chris pulled into the old Walmart parking lot on 231. He killed Rudy’s Engine and we sat listening to a Bone Thugs album. Chris was laughing at me trying to skip over singing the N-word and still keep up with the rapid-fire lyrics. We were having a good time. We were not hurting anyone. There were no posted signs. Nothing to tell us the parking lot was off limits, because it wasn’t. There were two semi trucks parked off on the other side of the lot with their running lights going. Truckers trying to catch some sleep.

 I’m not sure how long we were there, but soon enough the cop cars showed up. I know you know it’s coming, so we’ll jump right into it. Three cop cars, four cops, all for a Dodge Daytona sitting in the middle of an open, all-but-empty parking lot. We were, of course, either having sex or doing drugs. I’m sure these officers thought that anyway. Hell, maybe we were having sex AND doing drugs! I jest, but my point is, I know why they stopped. It’s how they reacted to Chris and then me that changed the way I saw things.

 Chris got out, revealed himself to be black, and the cops lost their shit.

 “Put your hands up! Don’t move!”

 First, which is it? Which one was he supposed to follow? “Put your hands up!” or “Don’t move!”? Given those commands, which one would you do?

 Next thing I heard was one of the cops tell Chris, “Lemme see your ID.”

The cops, all four white, didn’t know the race of the other person in the car. Namely, me. The cruisers were parked behind us and Rudy’s back window was tinted. And, as I’ve said, it was dark. They could obviously see me moving around inside, but there was no way they could’ve seen I was white. Thinking we were in some serious trouble, I got out of the car to try and help explain why we were here and what we were doing.

 I popped the door open and I might as well have drawn a gun. Shouts and barks for me to stay in the car or stay where I was exploded all around me. But I was already pulling myself out. Besides, these were cops. They weren’t going to shoot me for no reason. That doesn’t happen. Right?

 Well, they didn’t shoot. But I’ll never forget the change in those officers’ demeanors when they saw who, or more importantly what, I was.

 Three of the four officers visibly deflated when they saw me. They couldn’t see my hands, only my face over the top of the car. They relaxed completely. Even took on jovial joking tones. The questions were then directed at me, the passenger.

 “Why’re you guys out here?”

 I told them and they relaxed even more.

 Not one of them asked me for my ID. I’m four years younger than Chris. I was 17 at the time this happened. But not one of them asked me for my ID. But I’ve always looked young. At my best, I could’ve passed for fifteen. Now, you can say that they didn’t ask for my ID because I wasn’t behind the wheel, but that doesn’t change what I saw.

 I saw three men who were scared to death of Chris and were not the least intimidated by me. I saw three men on the verge of violence solely because of the personal appearance and not the actions of the person they were faced with. Chris didn’t make any sudden moves. He didn’t pose any threat. He sure didn’t argue with them. But they were still terrified of him. Of him. Not me.

 Before that night, you might have made me believe that the recent rise in black men being shot and killed by police was something trumped up by media outlets. But the truth is, my fellow white people, is that the media didn’t used to focus on this. It’s always happened: scared white men, who’re scared for no other reason than they’ve been taught that black men are vicious animals, putting down what they perceive to be vicious animals. And when it did hit the news, white people would say, “They must’ve done something to deserve it.” Even now, just a few days ago, a black man with a conceal and carry permit was shot to death after following instructions. Those instructions being, “Show me your permit.” Philando Castile, a man who was just following orders, was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her daughter while reaching for the permit the officer asked for. Why? Because of a scared white man.

 I firmly believe that the only reason that Chris went home unscathed that night was because I was there. Hell, two days later, when I went back to work, all of Chris’s friends came up to me and thanked me for being there. All I did was be white at the right time, and here I was, a hero. That’s crazy. If I hadn’t been there, I would not have believed it. Had you seen the way those officers’ faces changed when they saw that Chris the Scary Black Man had Edward the Safe White Person with them, you might understand instead of fearing and disbelieving. But seeing is believing. You just have to open your eyes.

 All I can ask is that you do not dismiss this. White people do not talk about our roles in systemic racism enough. The way we act and react when faced with these tragedies speaks volumes. Silence is a reaction, and it’s not the right one. I don’t know how to fix this, but I’ll continue to educate myself.

 Take care of each other,



Original post:

Salman Rushdie: Joseph Anton – A Memoir

Joseph Anton: A Memoir - Salman RushdieDear Mr. Rushdie,

Belated Happy Birthday. I don’t know how much satisfaction there is to you, these days, in having reached an age which the Ayatollah Khomeini and his acolytes never wanted you to reach, but anyway, since I happen to have been reading your memoir of the fatwā years while you were celebrating your 69th, wishing you well on the occasion of your birthday just seemed in order.

 Now having said that, could you please enlighten me as to just what the flying f*ck is up with that third person narrative voice of Joseph Anton? The book is subtitled “a memoir,” for crying out loud, and that’s precisely what it is – the memoir of one Salman Rushdie, author, of the years when he had to deal with a death order issued against him, for having written a book allegedly offensive to Islam, issued by the supreme religious leader of Iran (notice my not putting that in caps, as a title is wont to be) and loudly propagated throughout the entire Islamic world. It is not, in other words, the would-be memoir of one Joseph Anton, like the characters of the much-maligned Satanic Verses a figment of their author’s imagination; an alias composed from the names of two of your own favorite novelists (Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov) and slipped on like an ill-fitting glove that you couldn’t get rid of again soon enough, or would have, if Special Branch and the Home Office had let you. It is not the memoir of “Rushdie,” the maligned author, separated in public opinion – who for obvious reasons were widely ignorant of the mere existence of Mr. Anton – from the Salman you were privately struggling to remain. It is the memoir of precisely that last person: You, Salman – Salman Rushdie –, proud bearer of a last name that your father had intentionally styled on that of the 12th century sage Ibn Rushd (Averroës) for his enlightened views on religion, and on the world in general. And that being the case, the third person narrative voice of your memoir startled the hell out of me right from the very beginning and remained the one jarringly discordant note until the very end.

 Oh, I get it:

“When a book leaves its author’s desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator’s have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, read them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.”


Very astute: Once a book has been published it no longer belongs to its author alone, but to all of us readers, too. (I actually wish there were more authors, particularly these days, who share that feeling.) But that’s not really the point here, is it? Because the story doesn’t change. And the story isn’t that of Mr. Anton, publisher of vaguely international extraction (as his landlords in London would be told by his representatives), nor of “Rushdie,” the first-nameless author of “that terrible book,” but – pardon me for harping on it – it’s your own story. And to be told that story in the third instead of the first person just didn’t feel right, however much you may be distancing yourself in your own mind from the “Joseph Anton” as who you had to accept being addressed even by the protection officers with whom you interacted daily, so as to make it easier for them to think of you as Joe and not accidentally slip in a “Salman” when speaking of you. It seems to me that writing this book actually played a large part in your personal reconciliation with those years. Even more so would it have made sense, then, to be written in the first person: which I suspect (and conjecture from at least one instance of a perceivable slip-up in the transition from “I” to “he”) it actually has been, initially. Then why, in the name of everything that is precious (I won’t use the word “holy” around you), the switch back to a third person narrative perspective that is so clearly in discord with the narration itself?

 It’s a heartfelt book, full of the wit, sense of humor, passion and irony, and the trenchant analysis that I’ve come to love in everyone of your works, fiction and nonfiction alike. I won’t even try to imagine what daily life during those years must have been like for you, because I’m pretty sure whatever I can conjure up will still be woefully short of the real thing. (For some reason, probably because of the framework setting of The Moor’s Last Sigh, I’d always vaguely imagined your hiding place to be somewhere in Spain. Should have figured it had to be somewhere where the British authorities actually had the power to protect you, which obviously meant somewhere right in Britain.) It was also tremendously enlightening to read about the important role that some of the leading lights of the British and international literary scene have played in, variously, shielding you and supporting your cause for well over 10 years; even if I do admit to considerable envy of your ability to name-drop the likes of Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Bruce Chatwin, Günter Grass, Václav Havel, Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser, Martin Amis, J.M. Coetzee, Robyn Davidson, Carlos Fuentes, Ian McEwan, John Irving and plenty of others, not merely repeatedly but sometimes even in the same sentence or paragraph. My envy is even greater, though, for the fact that you actually have read, and are able to discuss in the most everyday, matter-of-fact tone, more than half of the literary masterpieces that are still languishing on my TBR shelf, which I know I should have read ages ago, too, and am promising myself to do just that on a regular basis – without however actually making much progress in the matter.

 So yes, I certainly am glad I have read Joseph Anton: It answered a lot of questions I would have had of you if I ever had the privilege of meeting you in person, it shed light on plenty of things that wouldn’t even have occurred to me but for your discussing them, and it reinforced my belief that, albeit on the grounds of circumstances that I personally wouldn’t wish on my very own worst enemy, yours is one of the most important voices to be heard these days, on the issues of religious fundamentalism, racism, and freedom of speech, as well as the state of the world at large.

I still would have wished for your memoir to be written in the first person, however. That third-person distancing, to me, made the experience just that tiny fraction of a degree less than it could, and absolutely should have been.


Favorite Quotes:

 “Nobody ever wanted to go to war, but if a war came your way, it might as well be the right war, about the most important things in the world, and you might as well, if you were going to fight it, be called “Rushdie,” and stand where your father had placed you, in the tradition of the grand Aristotelian, Averroës, Abul Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd.”

“This was what book reviewing did.  If you loved a book, the author thought your praise no more than his rightful due, and if you didn’t like it, you made enemies.  He decided to stop doing it.  It was a mug’s game.”

“This was the literature he knew, had always known.  Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be.  Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before.  Yet this was an age in which men and women were being pushed toward ever-narrower definitions of themselves, encouraged to call themselves just one thing, Serb or Croat or Israeli or Palestinian or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Baha’i or Jew, and the narrower their identities became the greater was the likelihood of conflict between them.  Literature’s view of human nature encouraged understanding, sympathy, and identification with people not like oneself, but the world was pushing everyone in the opposite direction, towards narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war.  There were plenty of people who didn’t want the universe opened, who would, in fact, prefer it to be shut down quite a bit, and so when artists went to the frontier and pushed they often found powerful forces pushing back.  And yet they did what they had to do, even at the price of their own ease, and, sometimes of their lives.”

“When a book leaves it’s author’s desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator’s have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.”

Original post:









“Continent Isolated”

Albeit apocryphal, this was the first English idiomatic expression I ever learned: The alleged 1930s newspaper headline “Heavy fog over the Channel: Continent Isolated.” – Not the British Isles, but Mainland Europe cut off. The person from whom I heard this was, of all people, my 5th grade English teacher, who professed to be an Anglophile and was trying very hard to convey to us that the Brits were a loveable people, a bit looney, certainly very idiosyncratic – one of their idosyncracies being their insistence on “splendid isolation,” on seeing Britain as the center of the world (or in fact, the only place that really mattered at all), and on keeping out those second-rate, unwanted aliens, European and otherwise (or at least, strenuously control their influx into Britain) – idiosyncratic, but loveable just because they were different than the rest of us and just because of their many oh-so loveable idiosyncracies. (And anyway, wasn’t national pride and the insistence on national sovereignty a good thing really?)

Now contrast that, if you will, with the America (first and foremost, the Western U.S.), the Land of Adventure that at this point, I had already grown up learning about from my family; the land of free-spirited boy heroes like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (who could easily hold a candle to my other, equally free-spirited literary childhood heroine, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking), the land of vast horizons and breathtaking geography, brought to life in the works of some of the first writers I ever read, or more precisely, gobbled up (American as well as German adventure writer Karl May), home to Native tribes that were fascinatingly different from Europeans one and all, and whose cultural symbols and arts and crafts products I had so often admired in my relatives’ home: elaborate silver and turquoise jewelry unlike anything I’d ever seen anywhere else, strange-looking Kachina dolls, intricately-woven Navajo rugs, and warm, earthy, beautifully decorated Indian pottery – all of which, from a very early age, had immersed me up to my eyebrows in the mind-expanding notion of diversity and taught me to be curious about other countries, nations, and ethnicities, not to mention creating a huge interest in travel and in learning foreign languages.

Contrast isolationism, in other words (coupled with, to top it off, shitty weather and awful food) with all of the above? No contest: America won. The reason why I wanted to learn English (and, courtesy in part of the aforementioned family connections, was able to make it into something akin to an adopted second mother tongue by the time I first actually set foot on American soil as a teenager) was because I wanted to get to know America; first and foremost, the Western U.S. England, and Great Britain as a whole, could get stuffed. – Oh, I learned about slavery, the American Civil War, and the American Indian genocide from early on, too. But nobody ever tried to sugarcoat any of these things around me, so my feeling was, OK, this is the baggage that America (or more precisely, the U.S.) has to confront and learn from, in a similar way as Germany will forever have to deal with the legacy of the Nazi atrocities. Whereas Britain, in my perception, was a nation of people taking themselves and the insistence on their own little ways far too seriously, who were consequently blind to whatever might actually not be so great about their history and their society, and who had, in fact, not yet even arrived in (what was then) the second half of the 20th century – not really, anyway. (It also didn’t particularly help that my mom, while painting the year she had spent in Paris after completing high school in glowing colors, seemed to have been decidedly less happy with the Cambridge family with whom she had stayed for a year before going to Paris; even though she loved Cambridge as a city and had met someone there who would remain one of her most valued friends all through the rest of their lives. (As coincidence – or not? – would have it, however, he is American, not British.))

The first dent in my less-than-flattering perception of Britain and the British was made, predictably, by literature. Again, it was an English teacher (this time, a true-blue Anglophile) who brought about that new layer of peception; first through the works of William Shakespeare, whose genius as a writer instantly won me over, and later by introducing me to the works of Jane Austen, with whose thoughts, as with those of Shakespeare, I felt an instant connection transcending the boundaries of time and society, while at the same time inordinately admiring her writing and literary genius. Add to that the works of the Brontës and of Charles Dickens that I had found on my mother’s bookshelves, the writings of the great Golden Age crime novelists (Conan Doyle, Sayers, Christie) which, by this time, I had discovered on my own, and the century-long soap opera of the Tudor reign, to which again my mother had introduced me (and which I still find endlessly fascinating), and a more layered image of Britain began to form in my mind. Yet, that was the Britain of the past; the Britain to which, I still felt, even in the second half of the 20th century, many British were still looking back (and with ever more loving eyes, the more it receded into the wings of history), instead of looking towards the future, or at least being firmly rooted in the present.

Still: From those somewhat improbable beginnings, a profound interest in Great Britain and eventually, love, began to grow; egged on in equal parts by multiple pilgrimages to the locations connected with the great works of British literature (past and present), as well as an immersion in British history (stemming, in turn, in part from my interest in history as such, in part from a desire to better understand the eras in which some of my by-then favorite historical novels were set, such as the medieval (= first) English Civil War, the War of the Roses, and Victorian England, and also stemming in part, from my interest in American history, out of the realization that there’s no proper understanding of colonial America without putting it into the context of its British origins) … and most importantly, the friends I made along the way. (Obviously, gaining a more complex understanding of America, France, and other parts of the world, also helped.)

All of which, somewhat circuitously, brings us to the outcome of this week’s Brexit vote.

To say that I am angry and disappointed would be an understatement:

The creation of the European Union (first in the shape of the European Economic Community, then the European Community and, in line with the Schengen accord and the Maastricht Treaty, a European Union which not only did away with trade barriers but more importantly, with barriers between its people(s)), was a project years in the making even before the initial EEC treaty (the 1957 Treaty of Rome) was signed. The project’s far-seeing architects lobbied hard for Britain’s inclusion, even if that became possible only after French President Charles de Gaulle, who had vetoed earlier attempts to permit Britain to join, had died: The last of my book reviews that I copied over from BookLikes to my new WordPress blog, Lioness at Large, just a few days ago, was my review of Willy Brandt’s memoirs: In these, ever the visionary, Brandt recounts in detail the efforts to not only bring the European Community off the ground in the first place (which was achieved, under the leadership of French diplomat Jean Monnet, before Brandt moved from Berlin to the national political stage: the Treaty of Rome was signed for West Germany by the country’s equally iconic first post-WWII chancellor, Konrad Adenauer), but also the efforts to secure Great Britain’s membership. Monnet, Adenauer, Brandt and their fellow architects always intended the European Community to be more than merely a pan-European trade partnership: Survivors of the devastation wrought by World War II and astute students of European history, they understood that there is no greater danger to peace than nationalism – not only when painted in the Nazi regime’s egregiously racist, xenophobic, and expansionist colors, but whenever nations or their leaders decide to put their own interests first, and either view any encroachment of those interests as a potentially hostile act that needs to be rebutted, or decide that territorial gain, even at the cost of war, is in the interest of building or fortifying their own nations. Even before WWII, this point had been driven home again and again over the course of the past centuries, in the wars fought by Europe’s absolutist monarchs just as much as by the nation states forming from the late 18th century onwards: the Seven Years’ War and the brutal division of its spoils (namely, every inch of Polish territory) between Prussia, Austria, and Russia; the Napoleonic Wars; the 1870-71 Prussian-Franco War establishing the [second] German Empire; and World War I, which the British used to call “the Great War” … until, well, there was World War II.

Left: 1957 Italian poster celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Rome as a major instrument of progress and peace.
Right: Willy Brandt arriving at the Hague Summit which paved the way for British EEC membership (December 1, 1969)

To the creators of the European Community, the only safeguard against another exercise in European (or even worldwide) self-mutilation by war was reconciliation and collaboration: Not merely on a bilateral level (though obviously a reconciliation between Germany and its neighbor states, first and foremost its historic arch-enemy France, was key), but by bringing as many European countries as possible – most importantly, however, the West European heartland (France, the BeNeLux countries, and Germany), as well as Britain and Germany’s former WWII ally Italy, together in one large community: a community of common values just as importantly as a community enabling free commerce and the free movement of its citizens. For near on 60 years, the European Community / now: European Union has been precisely that, and only a few years ago, the Nobel Prize Committee recognized precisely this peacemaking (and peacekeeping) role of the European Union by awarding it its highest honor, the Nobel Peace Prize.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the European Union (Oslo, December 10, 2012)

And for 43 years, Britain has been a member of that Union; not just any member, but one of the most important ones. Yes, Euroscepticism has always been more prevalent in Britain than in any other European country, but the British people ratified European Community membership in a skillfully-conducted referendum in 1975, and every Prime Minister since then, even Margaret Thatcher (she of the “we want our own money back” attitude) has been wise enough to leave the membership question as such alone and rather negotiate for special rights, positions, and excemptions within the context and framework of the European Community, instead of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

PM Edward Heath signing Britain’s treaty with the EEC for ascession to the Common Market, Brussels, January 1, 1973

For this course to now have been abandoned – and to have been abandoned merely for the short-term aim of gaining electoral votes, and at a time when nationalism and xenophobia are rearing their ugly heads again all over Europe, from countries that were only free to join the EU as a result of the fall of the Iron Wall in the first place (such as Poland and Hungary) right into the former EC heartland, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (and on a related note, let’s not forget Austria, either) – is a course of action both incredibly callous and incredibly stupid and short-sighted. Not only will it isolate the United Kingdom vis-à-vis the rest of Europe, it may well bring about the end of the United Kingdom itself as we know it: Already the independence movements in Scotland and Northern Ireland are rapidly gaining ground, and if Scotland and Northern Ireland do break off (which at this point doesn’t look wholly unlikely), Mr. Cameron and the Tories of 2016 will have brought about, by a single stroke of the pen (in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising and exactly 270 years after the Battle of Culloden, to boot) what in the 400 years since the ascension of the Stuarts to the English throne no Scottish secession leader and no Scottish independence referendum has achieved, and what a century of IRA terrorism has failed to deliver to Ireland: A sovereign Scotland and a single, reunited, sovereign Irish state. To add insult to injury, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be breaking off from England to regain precisely what a majority of English voters have rejected: EU membership.

  lemming voters:

It seems that buyers’ remorse is already setting in in Britain (or should I say, England?). The immediate financial consequences of the vote are even more drastic than predicted: on the first day alone, the fallout of the Brexit reportedly wiped $2 trillion of values off the world markets, the British Pound hit a 31-year low, and pretty much every major international stock market went to hell, while investors instantly began to look towards other footholds in Europe (depending on market sector and industry, Ireland, France, Germany, and Switzerland would seem to come to mind first and foremost). Already, there are calls for a re-vote in Britain and a wail of “we were lied to” is going through the ranks of those who voted “leave.” And the number of Google searches about the consequences of the Brexit spiked in the hours after the vote, to the point that Google Trends now has created a special web page channeling the most important searches connected with the issue. (A shockingly large amount of searches were also conducted for the question “What is the EU?”)

Brexit impact Google searches
Google statistics: Post-Brexit vote Google searches for the consequences of the ‘Leave’ vote

But obviously there are lessons to be learned here by all of us, and not merely by our political leaders but by us voters as well. From a German (and dare I say it, European) point of view, the past two days’ response of the higher political echelons was interesting and seems to be pointing in the right direction, in that it was a mixture of stiffened backbones vis-à-vis Britain (“if you want to get out, don’t dally and don’t expect any clemency”) and a reaffirmation that Europe is about more than trade and being a bureaucratic monster, expressed in a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the six EEC founder states.

However, at length, a show of strength against Britain in the hope that this, along with the severely negative economic impact of the Brexit vote, will scare off other Eurosceptics isn’t going to be enough: You can’t build (or maintain) something positive and lasting on a basis of fear alone. Nor, however, are abstract reaffirmations of the goals and values at the heart of the creation of the European Community going to suffice. Xenophobia may have been a factor, even major factor in the Brexit vote, but it is by far not limited to Britain. More importantly, Euroscepticism is not limited to Britain, either, and in Continental Europe at least, that is first and foremost a result of wide-spread political disenfranchisement: People no longer even trust their own national political establishment, and even less so do they see anything worthwhile and trustworthy in the European Union.

German newspaper cartoon, May 2016:
He: “Soon there will be only opponents to the EU left in the EU.”
She: “Then why do we want to leave?”

So, the real task here on the part of the European political establishment would seem to regain the trust of their own voters, both Europe-wide and domestically, and to convey to them (or rather, us, since I’m one of those voters) that (1) the European Union is still every bit as important and worthwhile as it was at the time of the EEC’s 1957 creation; (2) the European Union is more than a bureaucratic monster whose principal activity consists in establishing uniform standards on how straight or bent a banana imported into the EU must be; (3) decision making in the EU isn’t a secret process occurring chiefly behind closed doors; (4) the EU not only allows for, but furthers diversity, not only in its population(s) and within its member states, but also in its political processes – even if that means giving up the cherished principle of uniform decisions in favor of a majority vote and a “Europe of diverse speeds,” where not every step decided on in Brussels must be implemented (or implemented equally soon and fully) by all of its members – and (5) most importantly, the EU governments and institutions actually care about the issues moving their people, from immigration to the economy and beyond.

The European Union has grown larger, and in less time, in the 26 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain than in its entire history until then, but its institutions and decision making processes have neither kept pace with the speed of that growth, nor with the issues that have arisen since the end of the Cold War: economic globalization, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and the ugly stepchildren of all of the above, mass displacement and migration, religious fundamentalism as a rallying cry against the spread of Western influence, and terrorism as a means of politics and of warfare alike.

A natural champion of globalization as a result of its very own economic raison d’être, the EU and its representatives – and the governments particularly of those EU member states that benefit most from international trade (Germany and France included) – have failed to see that too large parts of their populations were left behind by the speed of globalization and a rapidly changing world, left to grapple on their own with changes they are no longer able to understand, or frustrated by disastrous decisions (such as the invasion of Iraq) that, much like the Brexit vote campaign promise, are motivated more by short-term political calculation than by the sort of long-term political vision that brought us the European Union in the first place. Much as I personally would actually want to see the EU moving even closer together, particularly in terms of foreign policy (simply because a continent speaking with one single voice is bound to carry that much more weight internationally than a cacophony of individual voices), I can see that right now might not be the moment to push for this idea. First and foremost, trust in the European institutions must be re-established.

However, it’s not all down to the political establishment. Reform, in a democracy, begins with each and everyone of us voters. “Democracy” means “government of the people.” We all make decisions about our own lives every single day, and most of us try to make as informed decisions as possible. In light of this, I quite frankly find it both astounding and unpardonable for anyone to simply change tack when it comes to political decision making, and either not vote (or bother about politics) at all, or blindly trust the slogans thrown at us, only to cry “foul” when something happens that we could have prevented had we bothered to get or facts straight from the start. And lest there be any misunderstandings, I am not merely referring to those Brexit voters who are experiencing buyer’s remorse now: What scares me just as much is the percentage of those people who are letting their own disenfranchisement get the better of them to such a point that they are willing to vote for far right wing parties such as AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) in Germany, the Front National in France, FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) in Austria, and parties of similar color in other European countries (including those currently already in power in Poland and Hungary) – falling for the populist slogans of these pied pipers without ever bothering to read what’s in their programs, and what sort of politics the representatives of these parties aim to implement once they are put into power. In other words, don’t you dare tell me “oh no, I’m not a racist, I’m just sick and tired of all the other parties and I don’t feel represented by them any longer, so all I want to do is give them a bit of a kick in the butt, or payback for ignoring me and my needs.” The last time people thought (and acted) that way in Germany, it took their preferred candidate all of 12 years to plunge not merely Europe, but in fact the entire world, into the most catastrophic destruction and bloodshed of the history of mankind to date, not to mention mass-exterminating six million Jews and countless other “undesirables” along the way – and he, too, had spelled it all out in advance. However grave (or not) the consequences of a given vote, there is NO excuse for this sort of “why bother” and “it’s not my fault” attitude on the part of us voters: there never was, and in the information age, there is less so than ever.

Yes, our politicians have to be accountable, and they need to listen to us. And yes, political decision makers (even if they are not visionaries on the scale of a Jean Monnet or a Willy Brandt) ought to be able to think strategically and long-term, beyond the next election and the immediate gain (or securing) of power. And, yes, at the moment the European political landscape looks woefully short of that sort of politician. But in a democracy the buck doesn’t stop with the political establishment – voters’ responsibility is the very essence of democracy. Indeed, the American Founding Fathers and the leaders of the French Revolution fought hard to get rid of precisely those forms of government where the buck does stop with a non-elected leader, and much blood, sweat and tears have been expended all over Europe to secure democratic governments in all of its countries. The least that we, as today’s voters, can do is take an interest and prove ourselves worthy of that legacy.

It seems it was primarily the older generation that voted “leave” in this week’s Brexit vote: what a shame to think that Britain’s future may be held hostage, after all, by those looking backwards instead of towards the future. Doubtlessly, too, Britain’s (or as the case may be, England’s) path will be a rocky one from here on out. So, however, I believe, will be Europe’s as a whole. Ultimately, we all lost in the Brexit vote; economically and otherwise – to quote another recent British campaign slogan, I do believe we would have done decidedly better together, and I hope the day will come sooner rather than later when the fallout from last week’s vote will have been cleared away and a new joint path is possible.

And now I’m going to watch the Euro soccer championship for a bit and cheer on the German team against that of Slovakia …

The Dover Cliffs: no fog in sight.
(Photo mine.)



Willy Brandt: Erinnerungen (My Life in Politics)



Visionär und Architekt /
A Visionary and an Architect

Note to the English Speakers out there: I’ve read the book in German, and not least because of its author and its topic it seemed logical to me for once to write a review in both German and English, and to put the German version first. You’ll find the English version of this review if you scroll to the bottom of the German text and the two photos. Also, all quotes rendered in English are my own translations – they may not be identical with the translations of the same quotes in the English edition of Brandt’s memoirs, which is entitled My Life in Politics. (Lastly, apologies for the length of this review: This is, however, the sort of book that merits some in-depth consideration if you’re going to tackle it at all.)


Als fast auf den Tag genau vor 40 Jahren Beamte des deutschen Verfassungsschutzes an der Tür einer Wohnung im gehobenen Bonner Stadtteil Bad Godesberg klingelten und sich, nachdem ihnen der Wohnungsinhaber geöffnet hatte, in ihrer dienstlichen Eigenschaft auswiesen, entgegnete ihnen der vor ihnen Stehende: “Ich bin Bürger der DDR und ihr Offizier. Respektieren Sie das!” Der Mann hieß Günter Guillaume und war einer der politischen Referenten des damaligen Kanzlers Willy Brandt; mit seinen Namen verbindet sich bis heute der vor- und unzeitige Rücktritt eines der führenden deutschen Politiker der zweiten Hälfte des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts.

1913 unehelich unter dem Namen Herbert Frahm in bescheidenste Lübecker Verhältnisse geboren, wuchs Brandt von klein auf in die Arbeiterbewegung hinein, in der sein die Vaterstelle vertretender Großvater aktiv war. Das Abitur gerade hinter sich und nicht einmal zwanzig Jahre alt, floh der engagierte Links-Sozialist anlässlich der nationalsozialistischen Machtergreifung nach Norwegen, wo er bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges eine zweite Heimat fand (und, von den Nazis ausgebürgert, auch die norwegische Staatsangehörigkeit annahm), als Journalist arbeitete, und von wo aus er auch in zahlreiche Widerstandsbewegungen eingebunden war; in sozialdemokratische ebenso wie Heinrich Manns “Deutsche Volksfront” gegen Hitler. Auch zu den Widerständlern des 20. Juli 1944 hatte er Kontakt. Das im norwegischen Exil zunächst zu Tarnzwecken angenommene Alias Willy Brandt wurde später zu seinem legalen Namen.

Nach dem Krieg zunächst als Journalist und schließlich norwegischer Presseattaché nach Deutschland zurückgekehrt, ließ Brandt sich – wohl nicht ungern – von sozialdemokratischen Freunden überzeugen, in Deutschland zu bleiben und sich nunmehr wieder dort politisch zu engagieren und am Wiederaufbau des Landes zu beteiligen: Hiervon handeln denn auch schwerpunktmäßig seine Erinnerungen, denen im Englischen (deskriptiver und zugleich bedeutungsschwangerer) nich von ungefähr der Titel My Life in Politics gegeben worden ist. Brandt erzählt die Geschichte seines politischen Lebens geradeheraus, ohne Umwege, oftmals auch ohne sich selbst zu schonen; dabei aber immer engagiert (und engagierend) – selbst sein langjähriger politischer Widersacher Rainer Barzel, CDU-Oppositionsführer während der Brandt-Regierungsjahre, sollte später über dieses Buch sagen, Brandt selbst habe “das bisher beste Porträt Willy Brandts” geschrieben.

Das Manuskript zu seinem im Jahr 1989 erstmals erschienene Buch hatte Brandt im Sommer jenes Jahres vollendet – offensichtlich noch vor Hochschwallen der Bürgerbewegung, die im Spätsommer und Herbst innerhalb weniger Monate das politische System der DDR zum Wanken und schließlich zum Einsturz brachte; eine Würdigung dieser Ereignisse musste einem Nachwort aus dem Monat November vorbehalten bleiben. Dass Brandt sein ansonsten mehr oder weniger chronologisch aufgebautes Buch gleichwohl mit dem Kapitel über seine Jahre in Berlin beginnt (zuerst an der Seite des charismatischen Regierenden Bürgermeisters Ernst Reuter, vier Jahre nach Reuters Tod schließlich als dessen Nachfolger im Amt), mag man angesichts des Veröffentlichkeitsdatums als mehr oder weniger prophetisch betrachten; jedenfalls aber zeugt es von der fundamentalen Bedeutung, die die Berliner Erfahrung für Brandts politisches Denken hatte, ebenso wie das Ringen der 50er Jahre um die künftige politische Ausrichtung Nachkriegsdeutschlands (sehr stark vereinfacht ausgedrückt, Zweistaatenlösung und Wiederbewaffnung mit politischer und militärischer Einbindung in NATO einerseits und Warschauer Pakt andererseits, oder Vereinigung der vier deutschen Besatzungszonen in einen militärisch neutralen Staat). Die Errichtung der Berliner Mauer am 13. August 1961 fiel in Brandts Amtszeit als Regierender Bürgermeister; schon die “Luftbrücke” des Jahres 1949 nach Abriegelung der Berliner West-Bezirke auf Geheiß Chruschtschows sowie den gescheiterten Volksaufstand in der zwischenzeitlich ausgerufenen DDR vom 17. Juni 1953 hatte er als Berliner Politiker miterlebt. Vom ersten Kapitel seiner Erinnerungen an lässt Brandt keinen Zweifel daran aufkommen, dass die in diesen Jahren gewonnenen Einsichten die später von ihm als Außenminister (ab 1966) und Bundeskanzler (ab 1969) verfolgte Politik der Annäherung gegenüber der DDR und dem Warschauer Pakt entscheidend mitbestimmten.

Brandt hatte zu denjenigen gehört, die in einer allzufrüh als “alternativlos” proklamierten Teilung Deutschlands mit rasch nachfolgender Block-Einbindung der beiden Staatengebilde eine vertane Chance sahen; mit der Errichtung der Berliner Mauer bezahlten die Stadt, und Deutschland insgesamt, aus seiner Sicht den Preis für die im ersten Nachkriegsjahrzehnt nicht ernstlich verfolgten alternativen Wege. Der Historiker fragt nicht, “was wäre gewesen wenn?” sagte mir während meiner Studienzeit einmal ein Professor, sondern nur “warum ist es so gekommen, wie es tatsächlich gekommen ist?” – und in der Tat scheint es, zumindest an dieser Stelle, müßig, zu fragen, ob der von Brandt bevorzugte Weg eine Erfolgschance gehabt hätte, und wie die weitere Entwicklung in diesem Falle gewesen wäre. Unverkennbar ist jedenfalls, dass Brandt nicht erst 1966, 1969 oder gar 1970/71 die Leitlinien dessen entwickelte, was als seine “Ostpolitik” in die Geschichte eingegangen ist und ihm 1971 den Friedensnobelpreis einbrachte.

Dabei nimmt der Moment, welcher wie kein anderer bildlich mit der Nobelpreisverleihung und dem politischen Erbe Brandts verbunden ist – der Kniefall am Monument der Warschauer Ghetto-Opfer – wohltuend, ja sogar erstaunlich wenig Raum ein: Eingebettet in eine (bereits für sich faszinierende) detaillierte Schilderung der Verhandlungsgeschichte der vier Verträge, welche die wesentlichen Früchte der unter dem Motto “Wandel durch Annäherung” stehenden Brandt’schen Ostpolitik darstellten – Moskauer Vertrag und Warschauer Vertrag 1970, Grundlagenvertrag mit der DDR 1972 und Prager Vertrag 1973, flankiert durch das Viermächteabkommen zwischen den USA, Großbritannien, Frankreich und der Sovietunion von 1971 – finden sich zu diesem so zentralen Moment nur wenige Absätze, zu deren Ende sich Brandt selbst vollkommen aus der Erzählerrolle herausnimmt und das Wort stattdessen einem journalistischen Zeitzeugen überlässt:

“Es war eine ungewöhnliche Last, die ich auf meinem Weg nach Warschau mitnahm. Nirgends hatte das Volk, hatten die Menschen so gelitten wie in Polen. Die maschinelle Vernichtung der polnischen Judenheit stellte eine Steigerung der Mordlust dar, die niemand für möglich gehalten hatte. […]

Ich hatte nichts geplant, aber Schloß Wilanow, wo ich untergebracht war, in dem Gefühl verlassen, die Besonderheit des Gedenkens am Ghetto-Monument zum Ausdruck bringen zu müssen. Am Abgrund der deutschen Geschichte und unter der Last der Millionen Ermordeten tat ich, was Menschen tun, wenn die Sprache versagt.

Ich weiß es auch nach zwanzig Jahren nicht besser als jener Berichterstatter, der festhielt: ‘Dann kniet er, der das nicht nötig hat, für alle, die es nötig haben, aber nicht knien – weil sie es nicht wagen oder nicht können oder nicht wagen können.'”

(Anmerkung: Das von Brandt verwendete Zitat entstammt dem durchaus auch in seiner Gesamtheit als Zeitzeugnis lesenswerten Artikel Ein Stück Heimkehr (Hermann Schreiber/ Der Spiegel 14.12.1970, Heft 51/1970.)

So bahnbrechend und richtig die Brandt’sche Ostpolitik sich rückblickend erwiesen hat, so umstritten war sie damals im eigenen Land: Brandt musste zu ihrer Durchsetzung nicht nur im April 1972 im Bundestag ein von der Opposition angestrengtes konstruktives Misstrauensvotum überstehen (was, wenn auch denkbar knapp, gelang), sondern auch vorgezogene Neuwahlen im Herbst 1972, welche seiner Regierungskoalition einen noch deutlicheren Wahlsieg einbrachten als die Wahlen 1969. Obwohl ich damals erst in der Grundschule war, gehört die auf den simplen Slogan “Willy wählen” zugespitzte Wahlkampagne der SPD zu meinen ersten prägenden politischen Erinnerungen; auch in meiner Schule (keine 10 km von Konrad Adenauers Rhöndorf entfernt!) trug, wer auf sich hielt, einen “Willy wählen”-Button am Revers, sehr zum Amüsement übrigens unserer Eltern, die ganz und gar nicht unbedingt alle der SPD nahestanden.

Hatte Brandt mit den Ost-Verträgen seinen Zenit als Gestalter der deutschen Politik erreicht? Er selbst bezeichnet dies als “billige Lesart”, auch wenn er nicht abstreitet, dass sich seine Regierung in dem Moment, als die Guillaume-Affäre über ihn hereinbrach, in zahllosen ermüdenden innenpolitischen Grabenkämpfen verstrickt hatte. Bitter muss jedoch stimmen – und sicher nicht nur Brandt selbst, der die Abrechnnung mit den seinerzeit unmittelbar Beteiligten in den Erinnerungen auf wenige, verhältnismäßig obskure Andeutungen beschränkt, deren Bedeutung sich erst durch die Lektüre seiner dem Buch als Annex beigefügten, wahrscheinlich aus dem Sommer/ Herbst 1974 stammenden “Notizen zum Fall G” erschließt – bitter muss stimmen, dass sich in den gegen Günter Guillaume und seine Frau angestrengten Ermittlungen nie der Verdacht erhärten ließ, dass sie überhaupt nennenswerte Geheimnisse an ihre Herren und Meister in der DDR weitergegeben hatten. Tatsächlich war Guillaumes eingangs zitiertes spontanes Geständnis gegenüber den Verfassungsschutzbeamten, als diese am Morgen des 24. April 1974 in seiner Wohnungstür vor ihm standen, der “härteste” Nachweis, auf den die Verurteilung gestützt wurde, und dass er und seine Frau auf der Grundlage solcher Ermittlungsergebnisse überhaupt wegen geheimdienstlicher Agententätigkeit zu mehrjährigen Gefängnisstrafen verurteilt wurden, war eher eine Frage bundesrepublikanischer Selbstachtung: Gemessen an den dünnen seinerzeitigen Ermittlungsergebnissen hätte – jedenfalls wenn man den Enthüllungen von Edward Snowden glauben kann – jeder jüngst an der allem Anschein nach wesentlich tiefer greifenden Handy-Ausspähung von Frau Merkel beteiligte NSA-Agent, wenn das deutsche Strafrecht dies zuließe (was nicht der Fall ist), eine mehrfach lebenslängliche Freiheitsstrafe verdient. Brandt selbst jedenfalls unterschätzte die Angelegenheit zunächst vollkommen; er begründete seinen schließlich doch erklärten Rücktritt zwar damit, dass er für die im Zusammenhang mit Guillaume stehenden “Fahrlässigkeiten” (wie es in seinem Rücktrittsschreiben hieß) die Verantwortung übernehme; tatsächlich gab er aber wohl eher dem Drängen von Parteifreunden nach, die ihm, zutreffend oder nicht, den Eindruck vermittelt hatten, er sei durch die Affäre und durch das, was Guillaume angeblich über sein Privatleben erfahren habe, erpressbar geworden.

Dass Brandts Rücktritt als Kanzler nicht gleichzeitig seinen vollkommenen Rückzug aus der Politik bedeutete, erwies sich nicht zuletzt international gesehen als Glücksfall; auch in der Funktion als SPD-Parteichef, die er bereits seit 1964 innehatte und noch bis 1987 weiter behielt, sowie als Europa-Abgeordneter (1979-82) und Vorsitzender diverser internationaler Kommissionen, insbesondere der Unabhängigen Kommission für internationale Entwicklungsfragen (“Nord-Süd-Kommission”, 1977-80) wirkte er weiter, sowohl vor als auch hinter den Kulissen. Besonders am Herzen lagen ihm dabei die europäische Einigung (auch diesbezüglich gehörte er zu den Visionären: Erste konkrete Ansätze zur Umwandlung der damaligen EWG in die Wirtschafts- und Währungsunion, welche erst mit dem Vertrag von Maastricht 1993 Gestalt annahm, hatte er bereits über 20 Jahre zuvor in Verhandlungen mit den anderen europäischen Regierungschefs entwickelt) sowie der Umweltschutz und die Verständigung zwischen der nördlichen und der südlichen Erdhalbkugel, getragen von der Erkenntnis, dass das Überleben der Menschheit nur zu sichern ist, wenn wir mit den Ressourcen der Erde verantwortungsbewusst umgehen und auf eine möglichst gleichmäßige Wohlstandsverteilung bedacht sind – ohne allerdings den Verlockungen eines von Staats wegen verordneten Sozialismus oder gar Kommunismus zu verfallen: Brandt war schon frühzeitig zu der Überzeugung gelangt, dass nur die Marktwirtschaft, wenn auch, soweit möglich, in der Ausprägung einer sozialen Marktwirtschaft nach dem von ihm mitgestalteten deutschem Vorbild, die Instrumentarien zur Verfügung stellt, welche weltweit zur Verbreitung von Wohlstand beitragen.

Im Laufe seines annähernd lebenslangen Politiker-Daseins, insbesondere aber in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, gab es so gut wie keinen wesentlichen Staatsmann im In- und Ausland, den er nicht persönlich kennenlernte; die Portraits amerikanischer und französischer Präsidenten (insbesondere Kennedy, Carter, Nixon und Reagan in den USA sowie De Gaulle und Pompidou in Frankreich), britischer Premierminister (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath), sovietischer Partei- und Staatschefs (Chruschtschow, Breschnew, Kossygin, Gorbatschow), ihrer Außenminister (Kissinger, Couve de Murville, Gromyko), DDR-Politiker wie Walter Ulbricht und Erich Honecker, sowie zahlreicher anderer Persönlichkeiten der Weltpolitik sind zweifelsohne eines der Highlights dieses Buchs, angefangen bei innerdeutschen polititschen Gegnern und Weggefährten (Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Barzel, Strauß, Schumacher, Reuter, Schiller, Heinemann, Wehner, Schmidt, Bahr, Scheel, Genscher: das komplette “Who is Who” der westdeutschen Politik bis zur Jahrtausendwende) bis hin zu Partei- und Staatschefs wie Deng Xiaoping, Fidel Castro, Felipe González, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir und Bruno Kreisky. Brandts Urteil über sie alle ist differenziert, ehrlich und oftmals auch überraschend; dass ihn mit Kennedy viel verband, kann man noch erwarten, weniger dagegen, dass er (und auch sein Amtsnachfolger Helmut Schmidt) offenbar über Partei- bzw. Lagergrenzen hinweg mit Republikanern wie Nixon, Kissinger und Reagan europa- und weltpolitisch mehr Gemeinsamkeiten entdeckten als mit dem Demokraten Jimmy Carter. Eine besondere Würdigung wird zum Ende des Buches dem 1986 ermordeten Schweden Olof Palme zuteil, mit dem Brandt seit den 50er Jahren eng befreundet war, und mit dem ihn auch politisch besonders Vieles verband.

Für mich war die Lektüre von Brandts Memoiren einerseits faszinierender Einblick in die Gedankenwelt eines der führenden deutschen Politiker der jüngeren Vergangenheit schlechthin, andererseits aber auch eine Reise in meine eigene Kindheit und Jugend; mehr und mehr wird mir klar, wie sehr gerade die Jahre, in denen Willy Brandt und sein Nachfolger Helmut Schmidt an der Spitze der deutschen Regierung standen – und in denen die deutsche Wirklichkeit (noch bis 1989) durch Mauer und Teilung bestimmt wurde – auch mein eigenes politisches Denken und Erleben geprägt haben. Willy Brandt hat die deutsche Wiedervereinigung gerade so eben noch miterlebt; er mag ihr Kommen erahnt haben, als er gegen Ende seines Manuskripts im Sommer 1989 formulierte:

“Warum, mit welchem Recht und aufgrund welcher Erfahrung ausschließen, daß eines Tages in Leipzig und Dresden, in Magdeburg und Schwerin – und in Ostberlin – nicht Hunderte, sondern Hunderttausende auf den Beinen sind und ihre staatsbürgerlichen Rechte einfordern? Einschließlich des Rechts, von einem Teil Deutschlands in den anderen überzusiedeln?”


“Und Berlin? Und die Mauer? Die Stadt wird leben, und die Mauer wird fallen. Aber eine isolierte Berlin-Lösung, eine, die nicht mit weiterreichenden Veränderungen in Europa und zwischen den Teilen Deutschlands einhergeht, ist immer illusionär gewesen und im Laufe der Jahre nicht wahrscheinlich geworden.”

Auch Brandt verfügte indessen nicht über hellseherische Fähigkeiten: Die Ost-Erweiterung, welche die Europäische Union in den Jahren seit 1990 erfahren hat, hielt er noch 1989 für undenkbar; nicht zuletzt deshalb, weil sie dem Sicherheitsbedürfnis Russlands, so wie es sich ungeachtet aller Abrüstungsverträge auch unter Gorbatschow weiter manifestierte, diametral entgegenzustehen schien. Tatsächlich haben Gorbatschow und Yeltsin die ehemaligen Verbündeten der Sovietunion ziehen und (was Brandt sicher als noch utopischer angesehen hätte) sogar Mitglieder der NATO werden lassen; selbst ehemalige Sovietrepubliken (Estland, Lettland und Litauen) sind heute Mitglieder des westlichen Verteidigungsbündnisses. Aber bereits vor den beunruhigenden Ereignissen, die seit einiger Zeit die Ukraine bis aufs Mark erschüttern, hat der russische Bär in “Anrainerstaaten” wie Georgien unter Einsatz von Kriegsgerät und Menschenleben die Muskeln spielen lassen, und Vladimir Putin ist kein zweiter Michail Gorbatschow. Willy Brandt stand der Aussicht auf eine tiefgreifende Demokratisierung Russlands bis zum Ende seines Lebens skeptisch gegenüber, und die jüngere Geschichte scheint ihm jedenfalls insoweit Recht zu geben. Er jedenfalls gehörte nicht zu denjenigen, die die Bereitschaft Moskaus zum Einsatz der eigenen Waffenarsenale jemals unterschätzt haben: Die von ihm maßgeblich mitgeprägte Entspannungspolitik war deshalb erfolgreich, weil sie diesseits und jenseits des Eisernen Vorhangs gleichermaßen die Einsicht beförderte, dass beim Zündeln an atomaren Pulverfässern notwendigerweise alle Beteiligten gleichermaßen zerstörerisch auf der Verliererstraße landen müssen, und weil sie gleichzeitig eine realistische Zukunftsperspektive aufzeigte, die ein friedliches Nebeneinander tatsächlich möglich erscheinen ließ. Wie auch immer man die gegenwärtige Politikerkaste im Vergleich zu den Generationen ihrer Vorgänger einschätzt; es wäre zu wünschen, dass auch sie jedenfalls zum Blick über den tagespolitischen Tellerrand in der Lage sind, der letztlich immer nur zur Reaktion, nicht zum gezielten vorausschauenden Handeln verhilft. Und im Hinblick auf die größte Bedrohung des Weltfriedens und des Überlebens der Menschheit ist die Einschätzung, mit der Brandt seine Erinnerungen 1989 beschloss, noch so aktuell wie eh’ und je:

“Seit Jahr und Tag ist notorisch, daß unsere Erde das vorausberechenbare Wachstum der Bevölkerung, die Erschöpfung der natürlichen Ressourcen und die Auszehrung der Umwelt nicht lange erträgt. Wir leben seit geraumer Zeit auf Kosten kommender Generationen. […] Die Gefahr, daß die Menschheit sich selbst zerstört, ist auch dann nicht gebannt, wenn der Atomkrieg ausbleibt.”

Brandt und Guillaume
Links: Der Kniefall von Warschau; rechts: Brandt mit Günter Guillaume (im Hintergrund)
Left: Brandt kneeling at the Warsaw Ghetto Monument; right: Brandt and Günter Guillaume (in the background).




When, almost exactly 40 years ago to this day, a team of agents of the German secret service rang the door bell of an apartment in Bonn’s well-off neighborhood of Bad Godesberg and identified themselves to the tenant in their official capacity, the man facing them at the apartment door responded: “I am a citizen and an officer of the German Democratic Republic. I want you to respect that!” He was one of then-chancellor Willy Brandt’s assistants; his name, Günter Guillaume, has come to be associated, ever since, with the untimely resignation from office of one of Germany’s leading politicians in the second half of the twentieth century.

Born in 1913 Lübeck, out of wedlock, into extremely modest circumstances, and originally named Herbert Frahm, Brandt was raised from his earliest years in the tradition of the labour movement in which his grandfather, who came to take his father’s place, was an active participant. He had barely graduated from high school and was not yet twenty years old at the time of the national socialist seizure of power, but, already a vigorous left-leaning activist, was compelled to flee to Norway, where he found a second home until the end of WWII (as well as citizenship, after having seen his German citizenship revoked by the Nazis); where he worked as a journalist, and from where he was involved with numerous resistance movements, Social Democrat efforts as well as Heinrich Mann’s “Deutsche Volksfront” (“German Popular Front”) against Hitler. He also entertained contacts with the group that planned the failed July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate the German dictator. His alias Willy Brandt, initially assumed for covert purposes during the years of his Norwegian exile, eventually became his legal name.

Returning to Germany after the war as a journalist and, later, as Norwegian press attaché, Brandt was persuaded by friends – not however unwillingly, it would appear – to remain in the country, become involved in its politics and help Germany get back on its feet after the war: and it is this part of his life which is at the core of his memoirs, whose English translation is consequently entitled, more descriptively and weightier than the German title Erinnerungen (“memories”), My Life in Politics. Brandt tells the story of his political life straightforwardly, without any ado, often also without much mercy towards himself; always, however, in a manner illustrating his unbroken commitment, and therefore always equally compelling. Even his long-lasting Christian Democratic opponent Rainer Barzel, parliamentary opposition leader during Brandt’s tenure as German chancellor, would come to assess Brandt’s own memoirs as “the best portrait of Willy Brandt published to date.”

Brandt completed the manuscript of his book, which was first published in 1989, in the summer of that year; apparently somewhat prior to the swelling of the popular protest movement which, in late summer and fall of the same year, would come to cause the East German political system to topple over and collapse: an appraisal of these events is left to an afterword to the book’s main body of text. In light of the book’s publication date, it may seem prophetic for Brandt to have chosen to begin his narration, which is otherwise structured essentially chronologically, with the chapter addressing his years in Berlin (first at the side of the city’s charismatic Mayor Ernst Reuter, four years after Reuter’s 1953 death as his successor in office). In any event, his choice of opening chapter evidences the fundamental impact that his Berlin experience would come to have on Brandt’s political thinking, along with the 1950s’ struggle for post-war Germany’s future political direction (the options then on the table being, in grossly simplified terms, either two separate states, both of which were to be rearmed and integrated politically and militarily into NATO on the one hand and the Warsaw Pact on the other hand, or the unification of the four German occupied zones in one neutral state without any military allegiance whatsoever). The August 13, 1961 erection of the Berlin Wall occurred during Brandt’s tenure as Mayor of Berlin; so, too, as a politician active in Berlin he had already witnessed the 1949 Berlin Airlift occasioned by the Khrushchev-initiated blocking of supply routes to and from West Berlin, and the unsuccessful June 17, 1953 popular uprising in the territory which had, by that time, been proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Germany. From his memoirs’ very first chapter, Brandt leaves no doubt that the insights that he had gained during those years in Berlin were instrumental in determining the policy of rapprochement which he would come to pursue vis-à-vis East Germany and the Warsaw Pact States later on, as West Germany’s foreign minister (from 1966) and as its chancellor (from 1969).

Brandt had been one of those who had mourned the quick declaration of Germany’s split in two parts as allegedly “without alternative”, followed by a speedy integration of its two halves into opposing military alliances, as a lost chance for a different path: the Berlin Wall, from his perspective, was the price that the city and indeed all of Germany had to pay for the first postwar decade’s decision not to explore any alternate routes. A historian, one of my own professors once told me in university, does not ask “what would have happened if” but only “why did things actually happen the way they did?” – and indeed it arguably would seem beside the point, at least for present purposes, to wonder whether the path preferred by Brandt would have stood any chance of being successful, and if so, how things would have progressed from there. It is undeniable, in any event, that Brandt did not come to formulate only in 1966, 1969 or even 1970-71, but indeed much earlier, the basic tenets of what later made history as his “Ostpolitik” (“Eastern politics” or “Eastern policy”) and earned him the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet, for all that, the one moment – the one image – which encapsulates, like no other, Brandt’s political legacy and his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize; namely, his kneeling down spontaneously at the monument to the victims of the Warsaw ghetto, is given gratifyingly moderate space: Embedded in a detailed (and in and of itself, fascinating) description of the negotiations concerning the four treaties that make up the major harvest reaped from Brandt’s politcal dealings with the Soviet Union and its allies under the motto “Change by Rapprochement” – the 1970 treaties of Moscow and Warsaw, the 1972 treaty with East Germany and the 1973 treaty of Prague, all of these accompanied by the 1971 “Four Powers’ Agreement on Berlin” between the U.S., Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union – ony a few short paragraphs are dedicated to this pivotal moment, and at the end of the passage in question, Brandt even relinquishes the role of the narrator entirely and passes it on to a journalist who witnessed the events:

“I took an extraordinary burden to Warsaw. Nowhere else had a people suffered as much as in Poland. The robotic mass annihilation of the Polish Jews had brought human blood lust to a climax which nobody had considered possible. […]

Although I had made no plans, I left my accommodations at Wilanow Castle feeling that I was called upon to mark in some way the special moment of commemoration at the Ghetto Monument. At the abyss of German history and burdened by millions of murdered humans, I acted in the way of those whom language fails.

Even twenty years later, I wouldn’t know better than the journalist who recorded the moment by saying, ‘Then he, who would not need to do this, kneels down in lieu of all those who should, but who do not kneel down – because they do not dare, cannot kneel, or cannot dare to kneel.'”

(Note: The quotation used by Brandt is from the article Ein Stück Heimkehr [A Partial Homecoming] (Hermann Schreiber/ Der Spiegel No. 51/1970, Dec. 14, 1970), which, at least to those who read German, also makes for interesting reading in its entirety as a piece of reporting on this crucial moment in German and European history.)

Groundbreaking and common sense as Brandt’s policies seem to us in hindsight, they were nevertheless highly disputed in the West Germany of those years: In order to realize them at all, Brandt did not only have to withstand an April 1972 parliamentary vote of no confidence (which he survived just barely), but also had to call for early elections in the fall of 1972, which his coalition government ended up winning even more convincingly than those of 1969. Though I was only in elementary school at the time, the Social Democratic Party’s electoral campaign, summed up in the simple motto “Willy wählen” (“Vote for Willy”) is one of my earliest formative political memories; even in my school (just barely over 6 miles from Konrad Adenauer’s home!), whoever was or wanted to be part of the “in crowd”, proudly wore a “Willy wählen” button on their lapel; much to the amusement of our parents, incidentally, by far not all of whom voted Social Democrat themselves.

Did the treaties concluded with East Germany, Russia, and their Polish and Czechoslovakian allies mark the high point in Brandt’s career as an architect of German politics? He himself castigates this notion as a “cheapskate interpretation,” even though he is far from denying that by the time the Guillaume scandal broke, his government was entrenched in numerous exhausting internal battles. What, however, must necessarily leave a somewhat bitter aftertaste – and certainly not only in the mouth of Brandt himself, who in his memoirs confines the settling of scores to comparatively few and obscure comments, whose full meaning only becomes transparent after one has also read Brandt’s “Notes on the Matter of G” (dating probably from the summer or fall of 1974), included in the book’s annex – what must leave a somewhat bitter aftertaste is the fact that the investigation of Günter Guillaume’s and his wife’s activities never yielded any evidence to the effect that they had actually ever reported any substantial state secrets to their East German masters. In fact, Guillaume’s spontaneous admission to the secret service agents facing him at his apartment door on the morning of April 24, 1974 (quoted at the beginning of this review) constituted the “hardest” piece of evidence on which his criminal conviction came to rest at all, and the fact that the Guillaumes were sentenced to several years of prison for spying at the time principally was a matter of West German self-respect: If Edward Snowden is to be believed, and measured by the scant evidence on which the Guillaumes were convicted, each and every NSA agent involved in the recent, by all appearances much more incisive wire-tapping operation concerning Mrs. Merkel’s official cell phone would have to be looking at several lifetimes’ worth of prison sentences, if German criminal law would allow for this (which it doesn’t). Brandt himself, in any event, initially completely underestimated the matter. When he finally did resign, although in his letter of resignation he said he was doing so in order to take responsibility for the “negligence” associated with the Guillaume matter, actually he may well simply have given in to the pressure brought onto him by members of his own party, who, correctly or incorrectly, conveyed to him that the scandal as such, as well as certain alleged facts that Guillaume had (again allegedly) learned about his private affairs had made him an easy target for blackmail.

Not least from an international perspective, it would come to turn out as a stroke of luck that Brandt’s resignation from the office of chancellor did not, at the same time, also signal his complete retirement from politics. He continued to work to great effect, both on and off stage, in his capacity as head of the German Social Democratic Party (which he had become in 1964 and remained until 1987), and also as a Member of the European Parliament (1979-82) and chairman of several international committees, chiefly among those, the Independent Commission for International Development (aka “North South Commission”, 1977-80). His primary focus in those efforts was, on the one hand, a unified Europe (where again, his policies had proved visionary insofar as in his negotiations with other European heads of state he had, as early as in 1971, taken first steps to transform the European Economic Community of the 1970s into the Economic and Monetary Union that would only come to take shape 20 years later in the 1993 Treaty of Maastricht), as well as the protection of the environment and the dialogue and reconciliation between the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres, recognizing that the survival of humanity requires a responsible use of the earth’s natural resources and as equal a distribution of wealth as possible – without, however, falling into the trap of state-mandated socialism or communism: Brandt had come to the conclusion early on that only a market economy, albeit preferably one tempered by social security, such as he had helped forge in Germany, provides the requisite tools to spread worldwide prosperity.

In the course of his almost lifelong career as a politician, particularly however in the second half of the 20th century, there was virtually no important state leader whom he did not meet; the portraits of American and French Presidents (especially Kennedy, Carter, Nixon and Reagan in the U.S.; De Gaulle und Pompidou in France), British Prime Ministers (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath), Soviet leaders (Khrushchev, Breshnev, Kossygin, Gorbachev), their respective Foreign Ministers (Kissinger, Couve de Murville, Gromyko), East German politicians such as Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker, as well as numerous other politicians worldwide are, without doubt, one of this book’s highlights; from German domestic friends and foes (Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Barzel, Strauß, Schumacher, Reuter, Schiller, Heinemann, Wehner, Schmidt, Bahr, Scheel, Genscher: the entire “Who is Who” of West German politics until the beginning of the new millennium) to foreign leaders such as Deng Xiaoping, Fidel Castro, Felipe González, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir and Bruno Kreisky. Brandt’s appraisal of all of them is as discriminating as it is honest and, frequently, also surprising; as such, while the strong ties connecting him with President Kennedy are hardly astonishing, a tidbit decidedly less naturally to be expected must surely consist in the fact that he (and also his successor Helmut Schmidt) found more common ground in terms of European and international politics with Republicans such as Nixon, Kissinger and Reagan than with the Democrat Jimmy Carter. Towards the end of the book, a particular appreciation is given to Swedish leader Olof Palme, who was murdered in 1986, and with whom Brandt had shared both a close personal friendship and particularly close political ties since the 1950s.

To me, reading Brandt’s memoirs did not only offer fascinating insights into the thought processes of one of the leading German politicians of the recent past, but also a trip down memory lane back to my own childhood and youth: I have come to realize more and more how much the years of Willy Brandt’s and his successor Helmut Schmidt’s chancellorships in particular – and of a German day-to-day reality controlled, until 1989, by the Berlin Wall, and the separation of the nation into two parts – have impacted my own political thought and experience. Willy Brandt barely lived long enough to witness the German reunification; he may, however, well already have divined it, when towards the end of his narration he wrote, in the summer of 1989:

“Why, from what right and based on what experience exclude the possibility that one day in Leipzig and Dresden, in Magdeburg and Schwerin – and in East Berlin – not merely hundreds but hundreds of thousands will take to the streets and demand their rights as citizens? Including the right to move from one part of Germany to the other?”


“And Berlin? And the Wall? The city will remain alive, and the Wall is going to come down. But an isolated solution for Berlin, one that does not go hand in hand with the broader changes in Europe and between the two parts of Germany, has always been illusionary and has not become any more probable over the course of the years.”

Yet, Brandt was not clairvoyant: The European Union’s Eastern expansion that we have seen in the years since 1990 still seemed unthinkable to him as late as 1989; not least because it seemed diametrically opposed to Russia’s security interests, such as they continued to manifest themselves even under Gorbachev, and despite all disarmement treaties.  As a matter of fact, Gorbachev and Yeltsin did end up letting the Soviet Union’s former allies go, and (something that Brandt would probably have considered even more utopian) even permitted them to become members of NATO; even some former Soviet republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) today are members of the Western military alliance. However, even before the disquieting events that for some time now have been shaking Ukraine to its core, the Russian bear had already employed its military machinery (at the cost of human lives) to flex its muscles in neighboring states such as Georgia, and Vladimir Putin is certainly not another Mikhail Gorbachev. Willy Brandt held a lifelong skepticism for the notion of a profound democratization of Russia, and the more recent past would seem to prove him right. He, in any event, never was among those who underestimated Moscow’s readiness to actually employ its own weaponry: the path towards a military disarmement and détente that he helped forge was successful because it was built, on the one hand, on the realization, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, that playing with fire next to nuclear powder kegs will land all parties to the conflict on an equally disastrous path towards ruin, and on the other hand on a feasible perspective of a peaceful coexistence. Whichever one’s assessment of today’s politicians in comparison to the generation of their predecessors, the world would undoubtedly be better off if they likewise would prove capable of at least the measure of vision necessary to enable them to act with foresight, instead of merely reacting to events. And with regard to what constitues the greatest threat to world peace, and to the survival of humanity as such, Brandt’s concluding remarks to his memoirs are as timely as ever:

“It has been an obvious fact for the longest time that our earth will not be able to sustain for long the foreseeable growth of its population, the exhaustion of its natural resources, and the emaciation of its natural environment. We have been living for quite a while at the expense of our future generations. […] The absence of a nuclear war does not, by itself, diminish the danger of humanity’s self-destruction.”