The local weather around here -- Eastern Idaho -- has been, as it
seems to be nationally, wild and rough. Yesterday afternoon saw us in
the midst of rain and snow, along with unusually warm periods followed
by a freezing temps, icy slush. When three members of our family, Josie
[our youngest daughter] and her Cameron and visiting grandson/son Thomas
[he to leave that very evening after an excellent visit] prepared to see
Valkyrie -- focused on the last and the best prepared plot to
assassinate Hitler -- they urged me to join them. When I sought to
politely decline -- it was six years since I was actually in a movie
theatre -- Josie, characteristically, pushed with intensity and her
usual success. So I went and I'm quite glad I did.
It's a good, solid film -- not really, given the focus, enjoyable --
but fascinating. It won't satisfy those who see any Hollywood
production as something to be viewed with inherent suspicion nor those
who relish especially "arty arty" films, often those with psychiatric
subtleties. My film tastes, which as I've previously noted, focus these
days on HBO and IFC for the most part, are pretty catholic, diverse. I
do make my measure of a flick on such matters as a reasonably worthwhile
message [but not necessarily explicit], basic adherence to the primary
historical/cultural currents, and good acting.
Valkyrie does well on all of those counts. It's a straight-forward,
hard-hitting account with -- as was certainly the historical fact --
lots of violence. My personal awareness of the courageous effort in
1944 by some German officers and a few civilians of well-placed social
status -- sickened from a number of perspectives by Hitler's
irrationality and brutality --- has been mostly limited to my interest
in Erwin Rommel and his career and his supportive position in this good
Conspiracy. So I learned more about the careful organization of the
effort, the plans for an immediate post-Hitler coup, and something of
the interesting personalities involved.
Tom Cruise does an excellent job as a key participant in The Plan and
the key action person -- in his case depicting Colonel Claus von
Stauffenberg who, "to the manor born," achieved the status of genuine
war hero but whose troubled conscience remained. Other acting is
likewise well done.
In the end, as many of us are aware, the effort failed and Hitler
extracted lethal revenge -- very pervasively. Within a few months, the
Allied forces had closed on him and he took the route of suicide.
A few critics of Valkyrie have shot at it on the grounds that it
seeks to excuse Germany's hideous conduct. That's twaddle. The horrors
of Nazism are clearly set forth. When the film was being made in
Germany, some Germans objected to it on the grounds that it opens old
wounds. But most thoughtful folks would certainly agree that the more
we all -- whoever we are -- know about these things, the better -- and
the more improved our chances of avoiding those catastrophic
socio-political -- and genocidal -- Horrors. Valkyrie is being widely
shown in this country and one will hope it is in, say, Israel -- among
A couple of personal reflections:
Most Americans have never lived in a totalitarian system -- and can
obviously be thankful they haven't. The closest thing to this on these
shores -- North America [north of Mexico] -- was old Mississippi, a
police state complete with official orthodoxy, police power, eager
vigilante support -- laced through and through with a numbing fear and a
willingness on the part of most white people to "look away" from the
endless atrocities. There were plenty of other parts of the South just
as bad as Mississippi, but not pervasively so in the state-wide sense --
often because their states had a measure therein of outside-based
Northern industry and thus some [relatively] "moderate" influences.
Mississippi was a state-wide racist/segregationist complex.
I've kept up with Changing Mississippi and some other Southern
settings as best I can. In time, I've met some of the old adversaries
with whom I've become friends. See a few examples of this in some of my
website writings, e.g.
A fairly common phenomenon involves white Southerners who, like those
contemporary Germans on Valkyrie, simply don't want to hear of The
Troubles -- the Bad Old Days. This can be very true if they were adults
during that grim epoch. But many younger white Southerners do [and I
suspect many young Germans as well] -- often commenting to me that their
elders refuse to discuss any of it. To them, I've said, "It was a
terrible time, obviously for Blacks -- but also hard, in its own way,
for most whites as well. Don't be too tough on your folks. Look ahead
-- cut your own trail." Then I'll suggest some solid reading sources,
such as Jim Silver's classic, Mississippi: The Closed Society -- along
with some of the more thoughtful and personally grounded works by
There were a lot of outsiders who came into the South -- and
certainly Mississippi -- after the shooting war of the 60s was basically
over and things were fairly safe. While many of these were certainly
more or less OK, there were two carpetbagger species for whom I've
always had quiet contempt.
The first were those, best termed "pie-card artists," who came to
rip-off the never very flush "Reconstruction" poverty programs.
The second species involved generally sectarian presumed leftists who
had sat out the Movement safely in the North, coming into, say,
Mississippi beginning in the early 70s. In an obvious effort to
vicariously experience the Movement they'd missed, they prattled [and
some still do] in shrill and sanctimonious terms. Sometimes they liked
to "expose" a public official who allegedly once belonged to the white
Citizens' Council. Aside from the fact that most of the old Mississippi
establishment once belonged to the "White Councils", many of us felt
and feel that that "exposure" is simply a pure waste of time.
In the end, Real Radicalism focuses on social justice -- now and
forevermore. We can learn much from looking thoughtfully back -- but
let's not be trapped by old spiderwebs.
Personally, I've come to appreciate principled reconciliation -- if
and when social justice has, in the matter at hand, actually been
essentially achieved. Desmond Tutu has set a fine example on that.
Fight hard for justice -- always hard. But, in the last analysis, we
can never -- much as our adversaries may -- forget that we, whatever
our virtues and whatever our sins, ultimately have to live with one
Hunter [Hunter Bear]
ADDITIONAL COMMENT FROM HUNTER BEAR: PERSONAL
CONSCIENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY [JANUARY 4 2009]
I have no German forbears on which to fall back for
direct, personal knowledge. My maternal grandmother spoke German
fluently but that came from her father, a Swiss immigrant [who was
also a radical social justice activist in Kansas, beginning in the
So I'm not a personal authority on German society and culture --
though I am aware that, for various historical and sociological
reasons, among them monarchial principalities in the pre-unification
period and patriarchal family structures, authoritarian strains have
traditionally been more pronounced in Germany than in many other
settings. Traditionally, again, the German military subordinated
itself to -- authoritarian -- civil government.
Long before I ever arrived in Mississippi ['61], I had learned via
observation and experience that fundamentally good people can not
only do bad things -- but, much more commonly, can "look away"
rather than directly at nefarious and often downright sanguinary
actions initiated by their leaders and even their fellows. I've
always recalled the comment made by a colleague of mine, a Jewish
refugee from South Africa, who observed that in a "choice" academic
setting in that country, "the more intelligent the mind, the more
intricate the rationalizations."
With all due respect, I'm not inclined to be too harshly judgmental
in situations where complex individuals [and all of us are complex]
are enmeshed in the complexities of totalitarianism. True, as we
fight for social justice, we do have to classify -- even usurp God's
role in "sorting souls" -- as we carry our campaigns, large and
small, along the Trail. [For all of its many internal challenges,
the United States is a vast and diverse country with almost all
Americans still recognizing that they are born into a tradition of
personal liberty. I have never seen this country -- despite, say,
the last eight years -- as even being close to a totalitarian
The "road to Damascus" [speaking, of course, in the New Testament
sense] is a longer trek for some than for others. I suspect many
German officers in the Nazi regime were increasingly troubled by the
policies of the Third Reich. I understand Rommel, in North Africa,
insisted on good treatment for British prisoners of war and did not
honor Hitler's general stricture to murder Jews. There were numerous
plots to kill Hitler and I have no problem giving credit for
conscience-emergence and great courage on the part of those
German officers, depicted in Valkyrie, who tried desperately to
fulfill a worthy mission.
Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]
Cassia and I are at the Medgar Evers Airport in Jackson
dropping off a friend for his flight home. There's a Medgar
Evers exhibit here, but interestingly there's no mention at all
of the horrific 1970 Jackson State shooting.
We've been enjoying your review of the movie Valkyrie and
plan to see it this afternoon. I especially enjoy the
comparisons you're making between the German and Mississippi
people, which of course ties into our dramatization of Borinski
and his contribution to the Movement.
At present, we're thinking of dramatizing Borinski's
backstory in parallel with an ensemble piece about you and other
activists from Tougaloo. This would also allow us to dramatize
where Borinski deprogrammed a group of young Nazis right after
the war (at Fort Dix -- he discussed this briefly in his manual,
but it obviously had a profound effect upon him). I think the
Fort Dix scenes would give the audience some critical distance
from which thy can understand racism itself was the evil to be
overcome, not racist Mississippians.
Actually, I find myself drawn towards the bigger theme of
academic freedom, like the
dissertation I recently discovered. I think the real drama
that Borinski, you and all the other activists at Tougaloo lived
through wasn't merely your participation in the Movement; it was
that, for a short time, you had the academic freedom to engage
in activism at all. Most colleges nowadays are content to be
breeding ground for the corporations, whereas you guys
understood that education and liberation go hand in hand.
Today being Epiphany and the last day of
Christmas, I do not yet count myself late with Christmas greetings to
you and your family, not mention our very best wishes for 2009.
The financial crisis is reality all over the
place, but as one old-timer friend - an artist, staunch leftie and
all-round contrarian - said to me back in the early '80s when I was
out of work for a while: "Times may be tough, but that only means that
men have to be tough, too." It didn't exactly land me a job, but it
helped in the attitude department. But things are far better now, I'm
happy to report - still swamped with work.
I look forward to seeing "Valkyrie" (I saw a
trailer on the Net) and I read your comments with interest. Some time
last year, we had a German documentary series on television here about
the various assassination attempts on Hitler, including interviews of
relatives of Stauffenberg and others involved in the July 1944 plot. As
we know, members of the German nobility were prominent in that attempt
and in earlier plots against Hitler. Old elites don't necessarily have
to be consigned to the dust-bin of history, at least not in this case.
My half-baked theory is that they just might have
been able to pull off the coup if they had utilized the initial
confusion immediately, and blatantly discredited any reports about
Hitler surviving. Information control or outright disinformation might
have done the trick in the decisive hours, but the plotters didn't have
the means for that (unlike in today's world). The bomb went off around
noon and it wasn't until 6 or 7 p.m. that Hitler was able to make any
phone calls to prove he was alive. There was definitely a window of
opportunity on the afternoon of July 20, even with Hitler alive. I
confess to amateurish second-guessing in this one, but the plot has
fascinated me ever since I was a schoolboy.
More later about the political situation here,
and the Russians playing the energy card with Central Europe, closing
the natural gas pipelines, a truly scary scenario if it develops
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
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