An Open Letter to Gunter Grass

Herr Günter Grass:

By now you must be tired of hearing how shameful it is for a former SS man to denounce Israel as a threat to world peace at a time when the government of Iran (among others) publicly threatens to annihilate the Jewish state. It is obscene to suggest, as you did in your diatribe “What Must Be Said,” that Israel might “annihilate the Iranian people.” Now that we have that out of the way, I would to set you straight about your own country’s tragedy. It’s all your fault. Well, perhaps not exactly your fault, but the fault of your way of thinking and of people who thought like you. I am not talking about your enthusiastic service to the Nazis.  I am going to surprise you.

People tend to forget that you hate Germany and the Germans almost as much as you hate Israel and the Jews. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the disgusting German Democratic Republic collapsed, you will recall, you pleaded with your government to give this monster another lease on life — not to reunify Germany, but to keep the GDR intact. As I used to tell my German friends before Wiedervereinigung, if you Germans had been as smart as us Jews, you would have gotten your own national homeland right after the war, like we did. But you hate the Germans so much that you did not want them together in a single state. That doesn’t make us Jews feel any better, but your consistency is duly noted.

You did in fact offer an original solution to the postwar problem of being German in The Tin Drum,  and that is never to grow past the age of three. Your protagonist Oskar Matzerath is a freak whose “mental development is complete at birth,” and who decides to remain two-and-a-half feet tall for the rest of his life. In this absurd condition, Oskar encounters the horrors of the Second World War like an undersized Simplicissimus, leaving death and madness around him. I never finished your book; I think I stopped after Oskar’s mother killed herself by eating the most disgusting fish in the world.

Refusing to grow up is one possible response to the horrors of Nazism for which you enthused as a teenager. I grant that this became a popular solution in the postwar Federal Republic of Germany, where morbid self-obsession replaced a tarnished patriotism, and hedonism replaced family responsibilities. Nonetheless there are many grown-up things about today’s Germany, including its skill at building silent and deadly electro-diesel submarines, of which Israel has three, with three more on order. They can be equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. The German “complicity” of which you complained consists of providing Israel with a second strike capability. Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the real grown-ups among world leaders, and her concern for Israel’s security is a matter of record.

All this is well known. I should like you to think about something that is less well known, Herr Grass, and that is the fact that the First and Second World Wars were entirely unnecessary. That’s right: the fact that they were fought in the first place is entirely the fault of people like you, and specifically of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who could have pre-empted them in 1905. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Günter Grass: a couple of soul-mates.

In March of that year, Germany demanded an open door for trade with the French colony of Morocco and called for Moroccan independence. Morocco was a pretext, of course; Britain and France had just signed the Entente Cordiale, and Germany wanted to force a crisis to preempt its eventual encirclement. Russia, you will recall, was in the midst of the 1905 Revolution following its humiliation by Japan, and Britain was in no position to defend France.

If Kaiser Wilhelm II had had the nerve to declare war on France during the 1905 Morocco Crisis, Count Alfred von Schlieffen’s invasion plan would have crushed the French within weeks. Russia’s Romanov dynasty, humiliated by its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and beset by popular revolt, likely would have fallen under more benign circumstances than prevailed in 1917. England had not decided upon an alliance with the Franco-Russian coalition in 1905. The naval arms race between Germany and England, a major source of tension, was yet to emerge. War in 1905 would have left Wilhelmine Germany the sole hegemon in Europe, with no prospective challenger for some time to come. Germany’s indecision left the initiative in the hands of Russia, elements of whose secret service backed the Serbian terrorists who murdered the Austrian crown prince in 1914, forcing Germany into war under far less favorable circumstances. Hohenzollern Germany, to be sure, was in many ways a disgusting place, but hardly to be compared to the Third Reich.

Think of it, Günter Grass: all that misery and bloodshed and recriminations, not to mention all your dreadful fiction — it all was unnecessary, because Kaiser Wilhelm II was a bully and a braggart rather than a man of action. If only Benyamin Netanyahu had been Kaiser in 1905, none of these terrible things would have happened!

It’s too late for Germany to reverse the mistakes of 1905, to be sure, but that’s no excuse for America or Israel to repeat them.

By the way, how did you like Inglorious Basterds?



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