("Quid coniuratio est?")
Observations on America's 216th Birthday
Dave Emory describing the situation in Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, and his reading selections from They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer, brought to mind a part of the book You Can't Go Home Again. You Can't Go Home Again was authored by Thomas Wolfe (again, not to be confused with a subsequent American author commonly known as Tom Wolfe). The section which follows, while technically "fiction", is based on Wolfe's own experiences during a prolonged visit he made to Nazi Germany in 1936.
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[From Chapter 38, "The Dark Messiah"]
George had not been in Germany since 1928 and the early months of 1929, when he had had to spend weeks of slow convalescence in a Munich hospital after a fight in a beer hall. Before that foolish episode, he had stayed for a while in a little town in the Black Forest, and he remembered that there had been great excitement because an election was being held. The state of politics was chaotic, with a bewildering number of parties, and the Communists polled a surprisingly large vote. People were disturbed and anxious, and there seemed to be a sense of impending calamity in the air.
This time, things were different. Germany had changed.
Ever since 1933, when the change occurred, George had read, first with amazement, shock, and doubt, then with despair and a leaden sinking of the heart, all the newspaper accounts of what was going on in Germany. He found it hard to believe some of the reports. Of course, there were irresponsible extremists in Germany as elsewhere, and in times of crisis no doubt they got out of hand, but he thought he knew Germany and the German people, and on the whole he was inclined to feel that the true state of affairs had been exaggerated and that things simply could not be as bad as they were pictured.
And now, on the train from Paris, where he had stopped off for five weeks, he met some Germans who gave him reassurance. They said there was no longer any confusion or chaos in politics and government, and no longer any fear among the people, because everyone was so happy. This was what George wanted desperately to believe, and he was prepared to be happy too...
From the beginning of their relationship, and straight through to the end, Else refused to discuss with George anything even remotely connected with the Nazi regime. That was a closed subject between them. But others were not so discrete. The first weeks passed, and George began to hear some ugly things. From time to time, at parties, dinners, and the like, when George would speak of his enthusiasm for Germany and the German people, various friends that he had made would, if they had had enough to drink, take him aside afterwards and, after looking around cautiously, lean toward him with an air of great secrecy and whisper:
"But have you heard...? And have you heard...?"
He did not see any of the ugly things they whispered about. He did not see anyone beaten. He did not see anyone imprisoned, or put to death. He did not see any men in concentration camps. He did not see openly anywhere the physical manifestations of a brutal and compulsive force.
True, there were men in brown uniforms everywhere, and men in black uniforms, and men in uniforms of olive green, and everywhere in the streets there was the solid smack of booted feet, the blare of brass, the tootling of fifes, and the poignant sight of young faces shaded under iron helmets, with folded arms and ramrod backs, precisely seated in great army lorries. But all of this had become so mixed in with his joy over his own success, his feeling for Else, and the genial temper of the people making holiday, as he had seen it and known it so many pleasant times before, that even if it did not now seem good, it did not seem sinister or bad.
Then something happened. It didn't happen suddenly. It just happened as a cloud gathers, as fog settles, as rain begins to fall.
A man George had met was planning to give a party for him and asked him if he wanted to ask any of his friends. George mentioned one. His host was silent for a moment; he looked embarrassed; then he said that the person George had named had formerly been the editorial head of a publication that had been suppressed, and that one of the people who had been instrumental in its suppression had been invited to the party, so would George mind -- ?
George named another, an old friend named Franz Heilig whom he had first met in Munich years before, and who now lived in Berlin, and of whom he was very fond. Again the anxious pause, the embarrassment, the halting objections. This person was -- was -- well, George's host said he knew about this person and knew he did not go to parties -- he would not come if he were invited -- so would George mind -- ?
George next spoke the name of Else von Kohler, and the response to this suggestion was of the same kind. How long had he known this woman? Where, and under what circumstances, had he met her? George tried to reassure his host on all these scores. He told the man he need have no fear of any sort about Else. His host was instant, swift, in his apologies: oh, by no means -- he was sure the lady was eminently all right -- only, nowadays -- with a mixed gathering -- he had tried to pick a group of people whom George had met and who all knew one another -- he had thought it would be much more pleasant that way -- strangers at a party were often shy, constrained, and formal -- Frau von Kohler would not know anybody there -- so would George mind -- ?
Not long after this baffling experience a friend came to see him. "In a few days," his friend said, "you will receive a phone call from a certain person. He will try to meet you, to talk to you. Have nothing to do with this man."
George laughed. His friend was a sober-minded German, rather on the dull and heavy side, and his face was so absurdly serious as he spoke that George thought he was trying to play some lumbering joke upon him. He wanted to know who this mysterious personage might be who was so anxious to make his acquaintance.
To George's amazement and incredulity, his friend named a high official in the government.
But why, George asked, should this man want to meet him? And why, if he did, should he be afraid of him?
At first his friend would not answer. Finally, he muttered circumspectly:
"Listen to me. Stay away from the man. I tell you for your own good." He paused, not knowing how to say it; then: "You have heard of Captain Roehm? You know about him? You know what happened to him?" George nodded. "Well," his friend went on in a troubled voice, "there were others who were not shot in the purge. This man I speak of is one of the bad ones. We have a name for him -- it is 'The Prince of Darkness.'"
George did not know what to make of all this. He tried to puzzle it out but could not, so at last he dismissed it from his mind. But within a few days the official whom his friend had named did telephone, and did ask to meet him. George offered some excuse and avoided seeing the man, but the episode was most peculiar and unsettling.
Both of these baffling experiences contained elements of comedy and melodrama, but those were the superficial aspects. George began to realize now the tragedy that lay behind such things. There was nothing political in any of it. The roots of it were much more sinister and deep and evil than politics or even racial prejudice could be. For the first time in his life he had come upon something full of horror that he had never known before -- something that made all the swift violence and passion of America, the gangster compacts, the sudden killings, the harshness and corruption that infested portions of American business and public life, seem innocent beside it. What George began to see was a picture of a great people who had been psychically wounded and were now desperately ill with some dread malady of the soul. Here was an entire nation, he now realized, that was infested with the contagion of an ever-present fear. It was a kind of creeping paralysis which twisted and blighted all human relations. The pressures of a constant and infamous compulsion had silenced this whole people into a sweltering and malignant secrecy until they had become spiritually septic with the distillations of their own self-poisons, for which now there was no medicine or release.
So the weeks, the months, the summer passed, and everywhere about him George saw the evidences of this dissolution, this shipwreck of a great spirit. The poisonous emanations of suppression, persecution, and fear permeated the air like miasmic and pestilential vapors, tainting, sickening, and blighting the lives of everyone he met. It was a plague of the spirit -- invisible, but unmistakable as death. Little by little it sank in on him through all the golden singing of that summer, until at last he felt it, breathed it, lived it, and knew it for the thing it was.
I encourage distribution of "Conspiracy Nation."
"Justice" = "Just us" = "History is written by the assassins."