Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nadine Gordimer defends Guenter Grass

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer defends her fellow prize winner (first letter to the editors), but misses the point. She chooses to dwell on the fact that he had little choice in serving in the Nazi era military--a fact no one disputes. Many commentators are upset with his silence and subsequent dissmembling on the fact that he served and kept quiet for some 60 years, while simultaneously wagging his finger in Germany's face over any number of ethical questions.

Ms. Gordimer--one of the world's foremost psychological novelists--chooses to attack non-issues in her quest to defend one of the "most courageous individuals of our time" (her characterization).
It is ugly to have to contemplate the salivating glee with which the media in the world is reveling in an evident determination to splatter the image of one of the most courageous individuals of our time. Günter Grass's life-long public actions and statements, against all avatars of fascism, dictatorship, racism and the imaginative exposure of these through his genius as a novelist, have kept our eyes open to the deep sources of danger within our human fallibility. His penetration of distorted values and his ability to confront us with this, in the flesh of his characters, is unmatched.

His self-righteous, pious detractors are apparently ignorant of the facts of army conscription of adolescents under dictatorship. In 1944, Hitler was losing the war and desperate to sacrifice any number of youths to shore up their bodies against the descent. It appears that Grass was transferred, recruited from his post in the naval forces: whether or not he was willing is beside the point.

Do those sitting comfortably behind their computers not understand that individuals who live in countries where there is the "honourable alternative" of declaring oneself as a "conscientious objector" have a choice when refusing to serve in an army - disgraced, they will be condemned to serve a prison sentence. In Nazi Germany at war, the alternative would have been a bullet in the head.

Günter Grass survived, yes, to be the invaluable witness of his country's traumatized survival. If he has not also been a victim, could he have presented with such authority and fearlessness what, to repeat as one must, has to be remembered in order for it not to be allowed to happen again. His experience of one of the many kinds of Nazi victimization has always been encoded, there, in his writings.
None of the well written criticisms of Grass claimed that he was, at 17, anything but a victim of Nazism. Ms Gordimer is attempting to obscure the issue. Namely, why Grass kept his silence, while being a "self-righteous, pious" scold who constantly called for Germans and Germany to confront their shared past. It is his manifest hypocrisy that so offends, not his wartime service.
In South Africa, to face the facts of the terrible truths of apartheid, we had a truth and reconciliation commission. The principle was the individual's confession of what he had done within political purpose in the context of the horrors of racial conflict. Sixty years have passed without any source bringing to public knowledge any reprobation against Günter Grass for whatever was his connection with the SS. He could so easily have let the matter rest. But he has chosen to call himself before his own truth and reconciliation commission. All honor to him.
His recollection has come too late, and is too vague. He lost his chance for honor. All opprobrium to him, and deservedly so.