Ed Driscoll

Günter Grass and the Dark Night of Fascism

“Günter Grass Dies, Press Mourns Ex-SS Member,” Ben Shapiro writes at Big Journalism:

On Monday, German novelist, Nobel Prize winner, and former Waffen-SS Nazi, Günter Grass died in Lubeck, Germany, at the age of 87. The press mourned his passing.

The New York Times tried to make excuses for the fact that Grass hid his involvement with the Waffen-SS for some six decades before finally revealing that fact:

Mr. Grass was hardly the only member of his generation who obscured the facts of his wartime life. But because he was a pre-eminent public intellectual who had pushed Germans to confront the ugly aspects of their history, his confession that he had falsified his own biography shocked readers and led some to view his life’s work in a different light.

Actually, his confession only shocked those who considered him a moral authority in the first place—and they still didn’t find his confession shocking enough to stop seeing him as a moral authority. In 2012, Grass published a poem called “What Must Be Said,” which reads like a screed against the Jews who wanted to strike the Iranian nuclear program:

It’s a disgusting poem, in which Grass backhandedly argues for Iran to finish the job he and his cohorts started. As Shapiro notes:

Grass won the Nobel Prize in 1999, with the Prize Committee explaining that he had fully fulfilled “the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them.”

He waited another seven years to explain that he had been a full-fledged Nazi. After lecturing people for decades about how Nazism could only have been prevented by the death of capitalism and nationalism, it turns out that the great human rights activist had fought alongside the most brutal elements of the Nazi regime. But the Times writes:

Mr. Grass’s defenders argued that his social and political influence had forced Germany to face its Nazi past and atone for it. He might not have been able to play that role, they said, if he had been forthright about his background.

Shapiro sums up the opportunistic arc of Grass’s life:

When Nazism was popular, Grass was with it. When it lost, he transmuted that loss into a career lecturing people about the threats of Nazism, while fighting on behalf of anti-Western powers. Finally, he entered the realm of moral relativism, where he likened the Nazis to the Jews. Grass was no moral hero. He was merely a convenient object of worship for the post-Nazi left.

Grass plays a small role in Tom Wolfe’s 1976 essay, “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide To America,” reprinted in his 1982 anthology The Purple Decades, available on the Kindle and an essential introduction to both Wolfe’s early nonfiction, and life in America in the crazed ’60s and ’70s, which today often reads stranger than fiction. Wolfe uses a statement from Grass as a springboard for the saying he helped enter into widespread distribution: “The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.” The two men shared the stage at a ruckus 1965 panel at Princeton University, dominated both on the panel and in the audience by paranoid lefties convinced that fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the new fascistic boogieman*, including Allen Ginsberg and Merry Prankster Paul Krassner, about whom Wolfe notes:

The next thing I knew, the discussion was onto the subject of fascism in America. Everybody was talking about police repression and the anxiety and paranoia as good folks waited for the knock on the door and the descent of the knout on the nape of the neck. I couldn’t make any sense out of it. I had just made a tour of the country to write a series called “The New Life Out There” for New York magazine. This was the mid-1960’s. The post-World War II boom had by now pumped money into every level of the population on a scale unparalleled in any nation in history. Not only that, the folks were running wilder and freer than any people in history. For that matter, Krassner himself, in one of the strokes of exuberance for which he was well known, was soon to publish a slight hoax: an account of how Lyndon Johnson was so overjoyed about becoming President that he had buggered a wound in the neck of John F. Kennedy on Air Force One as Kennedy’s body was being flown back from Dallas. Krassner presented this as a suppressed chapter from William Manchester’s book Death of a President. Johnson, of course, was still President when it came out. Yet the merciless gestapo dragnet missed Krassner, who cleverly hid out onstage at Princeton on Saturday nights.

Suddenly I heard myself blurting out over my microphone: “My God, what are you talking about? We’re in the middle of a … Happiness Explosion!”

That merely sounded idiotic. The kid up in the balcony did the crying baby. The kid down below did the raccoon … Krakatoa, East of Java … I disappeared in a tidal wave of rude sounds … Back to the goon squads, search-and-seize and roust-a-daddy …

Support came from a quarter I hadn’t counted on. It was Grass, speaking in English.

“For the past hour I have my eyes fixed on the doors here,” he said. “You talk about fascism and police repression. In Germany when I was a student, they come through those doors long ago. Here they must be very slow.”

Grass was enjoying himself for the first time all evening. He was not simply saying, “You really don’t have so much to worry about.” He was indulging his sense of the absurd. He was saying: “You American intellectuals—you want so desperately to feel besieged and persecuted!”

He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.

That quote from Grass takes on new meaning when you ponder that as a former SS man, literally or figuratively, he was one of those kicking down the doors long ago.

* Johnson’s strangely exotic accent and manners were likely all that was needed to throw these early pioneers of tolerance and multiculturalism into fits of cognitive dissonance.