9/11/11: Goering’s Defense


(Eighth in a series)

Hermann Goering - Nuremberg2
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In the matter of “squandered sympathies,” let history not lose the record that as early as November 2, 2001, fewer than two months after 9/11, Jean Baudrillard notoriously produced in Le Monde, under the title “The Spirit of Terrorism,” a logically homeless piece of postmodern theory-talk that evinced the equally postmodern irony of mistaking language for reality no less than might have any long-ago and innocent philologist. (The essay was later expanded and issued in book form, by, of course, Verso.) As Baudrillard explored, with clear conceptual relish, the nature of the “jubilation” some felt at the 9/11 attack, he added at one brief point the, by then, obligatory moral condemnation of it – and one can almost hear, in its requisite declamation, Richard Nixon, who lived in his own tortured, verbally constructed universe, talking about how it would be no problem to get the million dollars for the hush money and then adding unnaturally, “It would be wrong.” So Baudrillard seemed more comfortably true to his purpose when he stated that it is the U.S. that “through its unbearable power, engendered all that violence brewing around the world, and therefore this terrorist imagination which – unknowingly – inhabits us all.” In this way we are told that the forces of theocratic tyranny are somehow become a deviant Jean Genet staring at us from the balcony and declaring, “I am you.” Wrote Baudrillard,

That we have dreamed of this event, that everybody without exception has dreamt of it, because everybody must dream of the destruction of any power hegemonic to that degree, – this is unacceptable for Western moral conscience, but it is still a fact, and one which is justly measured by the pathetic violence of all those discourses which attempt to erase it.

This is unusually passionate theorizing restating a rather fundamental truism – about the natural resentment of the less powerful toward the more – but it is a restatement that seeks to construct a moral safety zone around any actions that might follow from that resentment, based on, one might ironically put it, the hegemonic nature of the resentment: any feeling that inherent in the relation to power is like a structural feature of reality – one can condemn it as a sop to the petty moral concerns of petty people in the petit world, but all the likes of Baudrillard can really do is analyze it. Well, not quite, because – there’s that passion – “we have dreamed of this event.” And in the world of that structural dream, it is “those discourses which attempt to erase it” (like this one, presumably) that are measured by their “pathetic violence,” not the wanton murder of thousands. This is followed by the rapturously rendered twin suicide of the towers.

On the way from Baudrillard to Slavo Zizek, that is, from Western to Eastern Europe, Julia and I stopped in Nuremberg. Germany was not a focus of our trip, though I did look forward to driving through it. The only notable and easy destination along our route from Paris to Prague was the city that played both an early, celebratory and a culminating role in the Nazi saga. I was intrigued by the history, in any event, but I could not help but be drawn personally. It seems to me unlikely that a historically conscious Jew can pay a first visit to Germany without experiencing a kind of reverse and uncanny homecoming, as if to the sight of a calamity one missed by chance or to the habitation of the bogeyman who once occupied one’s dreams, now rendered harmless. Inevitably, this will be less so for those of future generations, not born as I was in that epic aftermath. My own father, who was oddly fortunate enough to be effectively abandoned by his parents in infancy, felt compelled at age ten, when his grandfather died during the first great Ukrainian famine, to seek to follow his mother and father to the United States. He and his older sister were rowed at night across the Zbruch River from Ukraine into Poland and began their multi-year journey. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1927, and so missed what was to follow in Europe. All but one of my father’s uncles and aunts, and their families, disappeared in the maelstrom of history that sucked at the southern Ukraine during the Second World War.

So I sat in the famous courtroom and tried to feel the force of all that history, which is as generally insensible to us in our daily lives as the felt duration of time. Remarkably, the courtroom is still a functioning seat of justice, so tours are offered only on weekends. The “tour” is really just a half hour lecture, followed by a fifteen minute video and Q&A, all in the courtroom itself, and all in German, which I do not speak, so I had nothing to do but look and think. The room is about forty-five by ninety feet, and very much as it appeared sixty-six years ago. The dock in which the twenty-one prisoners sat remains. For the showing of the video, the television stood just in front of where the witness stand had been during the trials. When Hermann Goering appeared on the stand – speak of “hyper-reality” – it was as if I could see him sitting before me in the courtroom just as he had sat then. I am subject, perhaps, to odd and inexplicable experiences of fulfillment, but to be in the room where once and finally Goering and Hess and Speer and Von Ribbentrop and so many of the others available received, one way or another, their too meager and non-compensatory justice was to move from a connection merely hypothetical between them and me to one supernaturally real. Fifty-five years later, in some strange nexus of time and space, they and I had shared the same space, the bogeymen made to face me, and the disturbance of my existence in their absence.

“Everybody knows this is not a trial,” Goering said before the court. “This is just an arrangement where the victors will take revenge on the defeated.”

Such was Goering’s argument. As true as was the fact that Germany was, to the great good fortune of the world’s peoples, the defeated, and the allies the victors – and by that fortune of might in the position to judge and not be judged – Goering acknowledged no other basis upon which to differentiate among them. Reason and morality, however diminished by human imperfection and muddied by reality, could form no basis by which to distinguish between the seekers of the humane and just and the enactors of barbarous inhumanity. This was Herman Goering’s analysis of human and political affairs on this earth, and those who have argued so smugly in the ten years since 9/11 that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist are either foully or ignorantly his inheritors.


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