Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Little Stauffenbergs.

When I say "we have to act", one of the people I think of is not someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mohandas Gandhi. I think, instead, of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

Stauffenberg was an aristocrat and very invested in the idealized nation-state of Germany. To this end, he pledged his life towards "defending" her in the German military, which eventually became the Nazi-era Wehrmacht. He was always appalled at Nazism, but as Hitler grew more and more insane, and as the Holocaust got more and more horrifying, he realized that not only was Nazi Germany in an unsustainable position, but that it would cause unspeakable damage to Germany and, really, to all of humanity if it were not stopped immediately. At the time he was stationed in Tunisia fighting to hold what was left of the German position in Africa. Just about the time he figured out how bleak the situation was, a British Hurricane showed up and strafed his command vehicle, causing him to lose an eye, a hand, and two fingers on the remaining hand.

He was decorated for his sacrifice, and eventually he landed a position in the OKH, the Army High Command. He worked as part of an elaborate conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and other key senior Nazis. As well, he developed a plan for the Army to take over the government before the SS could do so, thereby preventing the SS from perpetuating Nazism. The takeover plan was called "Valkyrie." This was called the 20 July Plot, and Wikipedia has a decent overview if you follow that there link.

Well, needless to say, it didn't work (mostly because of bad luck), and Stauffenberg and his buddies got lined up against the wall and shot. But that's not what's important about the story. The important part was that Stauffenberg realized that the portrait of Hitler in his office was coming down, sooner or later, and he'd rather be the guy to take it down rather than some American. And, if he took it down his way, maybe Berlin wouldn't have to be practically razed for that to happen.

He also wanted his grandchildren to know that their grandfather tried to do something about it. Even though he failed, every German alive today looks at Stauffenberg in admiration, because he represents an alternative to "going along to get along," and he shows that the German people were not wholly irredeemable. And, to that end, I think the lesson took, and Germans as a whole are now fairly benign people--as benign you can be when you're wrapped up in the overculture, anyway. (Unfortunately, that's not benign enough.)

A probably insane dude named John Zerzan once came up with a little concept called "Little Eichmanns". This is a very combative way of reiterating a point made by Hannah Arendt in the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Her thesis was that most Nazis weren't psychopathic megalomaniacs, but just average guys who simply "went along to get along." Another way to put this is the "banality of evil", another phrase she liked to use.

"Little Eichmann" is a way of applying the concept to our own overculture in a highly combative and probably seriously insensitive way. Ward Churchill found out the hard way that you don't want to just throw this term around willy-nilly, especially when referring to highly sensitive issues like discussing those killed in 9/11. What you're trying to say when you use language like this is that the death and destruction caused by the overculture is supported in some way by nearly every person who lives in the industrialized world--you, me, Zerzan, Churchill, Derrick Jensen, Arendt...everyone. It's just another reflection of the banality of evil, but if you call someone a Little Eichmann, then you really get under their skin. Or something.

Well, anyway, maybe I'm a Little Eichmann. But what I want to be is a Little Stauffenberg. I want to show future generations that some people did care and did worry and did want to do something about it. Unlike Stauffenberg, though, I am not terribly inclined to blow something up. Even discussing the merits of such things these days has the bad result of landing you in a Supermax prison.

At least, I can start down the Stauffenberg path by thinking of ways to change things that don't involve blowing things up. I've made things probably impossibly hard on myself, but, well, prison sucks, and if I'm there, I certainly won't be able to make a difference.

So, for now, I'll just be a "Little Stauffenberg." I invite you to be one, too.

[PS: A reasonably good movie about Stauffenberg is the 2008 film Valkyrie. Its merits were compromised by Tom Cruise playing the part of Stauffenberg--his hilarious Scientologist hijinx really put a bad taste into the mouths of Germans, and so the film's impact was weakened. I thought it was a pretty good treatment of the 20 July Plot, though.]

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