§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: July 2013

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A. D. 381 by Charles Freeman

When I was reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which I admit I haven't finished), I was struck by the fact that before Christianity, the Romans were completely tolerant of different religions. Every area (city) had its own religion and no one tried to "convert" anyone. And no one claimed that their god ( but there were usually gods—plural) was the one and only and that you'd go to hell if you didn't believe. Freeman shows how Christian leaders in the early centuries fought over doctrinal issues and more or less invented heresy to the extent that the Emperor Theodosius in 381AD made church doctrine into state law for which those who disagreed could be punished, paving the way for religious wars, heresy trials, the Inquisition, etc. The doctrinal issues themselves often seem like how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin issues, issues that were passed on through the centuries, led to the dark ages (where scholarly inquiry and freedom of expression were gone)' and weren't even questioned much by Protestant revolutions.

I think I want to read Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Nuremberg Trial by Ann Tusa and John Tusa

Published in the 80ies, with access to huge archives which included films of the proceedings, this may be the best general interest book on the subject. Not sure. I've only read one other and this was much better. The Tusas are British, he a Czech immigrant who became a BBC news reporter. At first I was a bit put off with the Britishisms (like the "curate's egg") but also because they criticized the American prosecutors and lauded the British...but after awhile I decided they were right. The book is long and detailed and attempts to understand the people involved, the 22 defendants (including Martin Bormann who was never found and presumed dead)  the prosecutors from the US, Britain, France and USSR, the defense attorneys, the witnesses, the judges from the four powers, as well as many others--the jailers, the doctors and psychiatrists, the military officers and men, etc., altogether an enormous cast of characters. And don't forget the press. Inevitably I was having to look up who even major players were and many just faded into other defendants, or other prosecutors, or other judges. 

The US organized the effort and paid for all the facilities, including building a courtroom in the former Nazi Palace of Justice, at a time when building materials were hard to even find in a severely bombed out city. The physical and procedural details were as interesting as the people. Early on there were "Ashcan" and "Dustbin" the two prisons for potential defendants  one of which was in Luxembourg in a former luxury hotel which lead to  news stories about ex-Nazis living in the lap of luxury until the head of the prison organized a visit for the press.  IBM provided the first version of the simultaneous translation system now so critical to the UN and other organizations. A document center wrestled with the HUGE amount of documentary evidence, authenticating documents and getting them copied (photostats I think, there not being other copy technologies available) and distributed, in the correct language (English, French, German, Russian) to often huge numbers of participants.

Because the Germans documented everything and because the Allies captured records on a huge scale, the documents were the main evidence in the trial, witnesses accounting for relatively little impact. There were many legal and philosophical issues to deal with: law procedures that were similar in the US and Britain, but different on the continent. The US wanted to convict the whole gang on "conspiracy to conduct aggressive war" but conspiracy was not a usual charge in the other countries. Each country had pet issues they wanted to prosecute specifically, as did the occupied countries who were not directly represented. Russia wanted to prosecute the Nazis for the Katyn Forest massacre, even as most in the West were pretty sure the Russians had done it themselves.

There were personality clashes. Some lawyers and judges were more interested in developing international laws and precedents—in other words, theory, while others were better at practical matters, say, cross examining the witnesses. The Americans were preoccupied with theory while the British were better prosecutors—in general.  The trial lasted from November 1945 to the end of September 1946. The hangings took place in October (can't remember date; the book could have used a reference timetable). They all lived in nearby makeshift accommodations. They socialized together and lived in a world separate from the bombed out city. Even in long recesses, few could go home. The Americans did not usually travel home though occasionally wives came over. Travel was difficult on the continent so mostly only the Brits got much time at home.

One issue, though, predominated. While Göring sneered that whatever conclusions came out, it would be just "victor's justice", in fact, most agree now that it was a legitimate trial (no show trial). Three (Schacht, von Papen, and Fritsche) were acquitted altogether while five got prison sentences from 10 years to life. The rest were hanged—they even hanged Göring's body after he'd swallowed a cyanide capsule that even today no one is sure where he got. Many Germans were angry that they were not all hanged!

Altogether a very interesting book about a very interesting legal experiment. I highly recommend it.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I didn't read Oscar Wao but I really liked this one. I listened to it read by the author who's voice was pleasing,  Much better than the average author reading his or her own work . It's the story of a father and two sons who are inveterate womanizers. It didn't anger me particularly because the narrator at least seems to really love women, even though he just did't get how to sustain a relationship. And that's basically what the book is a out, how he learns, or begins to learn that lesson. Yunior,the main character, came from Santa Domingo at a pretty young age, speaking  no English, in the winter. The father had no clue how to help his family assimilate, and advised  the mother to just stay inside with the kids, even once in a snowstorm when he called to say he was stuck in the storm (clearly with another woman) and left them home alone with their fears. What's charming (probably the wrong word; maybe "arresting" is better) is the nonstop vernacular with more than a little Spanish coloring the English. Fast talking. I'm tempted to get Oscar Wao from audible because it's not narrated by the author, but by two people with Anglo names.... I'm not quite sure how much Diaz' reading performance influences my high opinion of this one. Great performance. Good book.