[Reprinted by Edward Pickersgill in My Town, ]


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 many others.
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 Movement writers.
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 another.
Solidarity -
Hunter [Hunter Bear]


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 Territorial days.]

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 incarnation.]

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]



Dear Hunter,

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.





Have not seen Valkyrie but plan to. All of the reviews which I have  read , including yours gives it a thumbs up. I look forward to seeing it.
Good tie-in with the " ole" Mississippi.
Happy New Year to you and the rest of the clan . 
Mary Ann


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 further.
Best wishes,
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
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