Steve Pollock

Since 1963.

Tag: Books

Small flame on black background

Atomic Poetry

On 1-Jun-1945, six weeks after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, new U.S. President Harry Truman convened a meeting to update the status on and debate the use of the soon-to-be-born atomic bomb. But first, at the Pentagon, a group consisting of James Byrnes (soon to be Secretary of State), generals George C. Marshall and Leslie Groves, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, among others, convened to make a decision on how to advise the new president on the bomb.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson was also present … and well prepared:

“Stimson was now focused exclusively on the atomic bomb. He had become transfixed by its potential historical impact. He had prepared handwritten notes for these meetings, which curiously read like modernist poetry. The verse was a window into the secretary of war’s state of mind.”

His notes:

Its size and character
We don’t think it mere new weapon
Revolutionary Discovery of Relation of man to universe
Great History Landmark like
Gravitation
Copernican Theory
But, Bids fair infinitely greater, in respect to its
Effect
—on the ordinary affairs of man’s life.
May destroy or perfect International
Civilization
May[be] Frankenstein or means for World Peace

—Secretary of War Henry Stimson | 1-Jun-45
As quoted by A. J. Baime, The Accidental President. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

The Accidental President is fascinating reading, while the jury is still out on Stimson’s poetic questions.

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

History as Prophecy

I have been attempting to read «Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich: A New History» since it came out in 2000. Instead, I’ve read «William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich» twice. Nothing wrong with anything I’ve read of Burleigh’s work; quite the contrary. In fact, it has to do with how big the book is; the first edition is 950-plus pages and weighs a ton and I’ve had hand/wrist problems since, well, 2000. And I have Rise and Fall on Kindle.

But I always thought that Burleigh’s opening paragraph (and all Third Reich histories in general) were always backwards looking; in other words, they were histories. Sure they warned about what could happen if we weren’t careful, but that was all theoretical and probably wouldn’t happen and we put a stop to it in the first place and it couldn’t happen again.

Turns out, how wrong I was. His opening ‘graph was instead prophetic. And how.

“This book is about what happened when sections of the German elites and masses of ordinary people chose to abdicate their individual critical faculties in favour of a politics based on faith, hope, hatred and sentimental collective self-regard for their own race and nation.”
—Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History

The paragraph’s last sentence was actually not as accurate, however:

“It is therefore a very twentieth-century story.”
Ibid

Yeah, that part? Not so much. But sections of American elites and masses of ordinary people have indeed, just 16 years after the book’s publication, chosen to “abdicate their individual critical faculties” and their “faith, hope, hatred and sentimental collective self-regard for their own race and nation” do in fact rule the day.

The only thing Burleigh couldn’t do is tell us how this particular American very twenty-first (and seventeenth/eightteenth/nineteeth/twentieth) century story will turn out.

We have, after all, already committed genocide against milions of people based on race, segregated millions of people based on race, destroyed democracy in favor of wealth (for a very few) and world domination, and are conducting limitless war without end throughout the world. What else is there? What else can we do from here on out than we haven’t already done before? Isn’t nuclear holocaust the Last American Frontier?

I’ll just stick my nose back in Burleigh’s magnum; the events in it have already happened and the good guys won and put an end to the suspense.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén