Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Gently sliding away from “consequence”

THERE’S NOT MUCH REASON to say much here about Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address, but I was struck by two features: its relentless optimism, calculated to tarnish any disagreement as mere pessimism (a lesson learned from Mr. Reagan); and its insistence on a continued global engagement as America’s right, privilege, duty, hope.

Lebensraum, an earlier world leader might call it. It seems odd that in a speech so welcoming of “bipartisanship” domestically there was so little said about any kind of global negotiation or co-operation.

My friend John Whiting [] regularly sends me information about depressing but accurate assessments of the present condition, and Mr. Bush put me in mind, last night, of a recent one, which I’ll simply print here, as John sent it to me:

“What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap between the government and the people. And it became always wider.....the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think....for people who did not want to think anyway gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about.....and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ’crises’ and so the machinations of the ’national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.....

“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ’regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ’little measures’.....must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.....Each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.

“You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, don’t want to ’go out of your way to make trouble.’ But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes.

“That’s the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

“You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father.....could never have imagined.”

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), p 166ff

1 comment:

Dean said...

Read a longer excerpt from They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer on the University of Chicago Press website: