[Reader-list] Human Smoke review II

radhikarajen at vsnl.net radhikarajen at vsnl.net
Fri Apr 25 16:04:12 IST 2008

Hi, Behen Sonia,
    the review posted by you, authored byJohn Lukacs has a ring of sublime truth in the words. War of any kind is disaster for mankind, with death and injuries ruling the roost.

   Here the words of Dr. Sarvepally Radhakrishnan, in his book, is reverberating in the minds,with gist of the words, as  man has learned to fly like a bird, live in water like fish, but yet to learn to live as a human."

  The human nature with good and bad co-existing, when taken over by bad, reduces the humans into brutes seeking to dominate the others in the society.! Even in democratic rule of law, it is often seen the brute side of humans duly elected with brutal strength of muscle and money power, thus the elected choosing to be brutal and dominating the society and its citizens. !

  The clash of good vs. bad can be a moral and ethical non-violent war of the kind of sathyagriha ( where the sathyagrihis only suffer the agony and pain ) or many times the war can become  a kind of hidden war, target being humans of different faiths as now we see where the bomb blasts take place, (but unfortunately in these hidden warriors acts of terror)  bomb does not distinguish the humans on the faith of the humans while delivering death and injuries. !  

----- Original Message -----
From: "S. Jabbar" <sonia.jabbar at gmail.com>
Date: Friday, April 25, 2008 1:44 pm
Subject: [Reader-list] Human Smoke review II
To: sarai list <reader-list at sarai.net>

> Don¹t believe everything you read.
> This is what I tell myself everyday and yet... A friend directed 
> me to this
> review that has quite solidly trashed the first one I posted!
> John Lukacs on Nicholson Baker¹s ŒHuman Smoke¹
> http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/20080418_john_lukacs_on_nicholson_
> bakers_human_smoke/
> Posted on Apr 18, 2008
> By John Lukacs
> This book is bad. To review a bad book is more difficult‹more 
> precisely:more wearisome‹than to review a good book. A bad book is 
> bad for many more
> reasons‹more precisely: in many more instances and ways‹than how 
> and why
> another book is good. There is a deeper reason for this 
> difficulty. This is
> that in our perception of every human act the why? is already 
> implicit in
> the how? Our dislike of any expression by a human being, including 
> a book,
> instantly rises out of the why. Why did this person do, or write, 
> or say
> this? Yet this normal reaction must be controlled, or tempered, by 
> SamuelJohnson¹s plain and wise and classic admonition: ³Intentions 
> must be
> gathered from acts.²
> So, in this case of Nicholson Baker¹s ³Human Smoke,² I must try my 
> best to
> separate my discussion of the how from the why. That is: the written
> evidence from an imputation of its author¹s motives.
> ³Human Smoke² pretends to be a history of the origins of the 
> Second World
> War. To begin with, its time frame and, consequently, its 
> proportions are
> senseless. Its first item, on its first page, relates something 
> from August
> 1892. There follow three pages, Baker-lite items, about the First 
> World War;
> then 27 pages until Hitler¹s assumption of power; then another 99 
> pages,1933 to September 1939, about the origins of the Second 
> World War‹which is
> Baker¹s main subject. So he declared in the subtitle of his book: ³The
> Beginning of World War II, the End of Civilization.² Yet after 
> ³the End of
> Civilization² come 336 pages about the history of the war, ending 
> with the
> curious date of Dec. 31, 1941, more than three weeks after Pearl 
> Harbor. How
> (and why) was Dec. 31, 1941, the End of Civilization?
> And now to the main how question. What do all of these pages 
> contain? Most
> of them are clippings from newspapers. I quote Baker from his 
> afterword:³The New York Times is probably the single richest 
> resource for the history
> and prehistory of the war years. ...² George Orwell once wrote 
> that nothing
> is very accurately printed in a newspaper: a reasonable maxim by a 
> deeplyhonest Englishman. What would Orwell think of Nicholson 
> Baker? Baker¹s
> villains are Hitler, and Churchill, and Roosevelt. Orwell admired 
> Churchill.Really, there is no arguable equivalence here.
> Some of Baker¹s newspaper clippings are interspersed with 
> clippings from
> published books. They are sequential in time, but many of them 
> make little
> sense. Some of them, and Baker¹s presentations of many of them, 
> are full of
> inaccuracies and errors. To list them would fill something like a
> 10,000-word review. Yes, it is more difficult to review a bad book 
> than a
> good one. Besides‹or not so besides‹many of these items are badly 
> written.In many instances Baker presents them with his comments, 
> and then ends them
> with a repeated thumping of a muffled gong: ³It was June 17, 
> 1940²; or ³It
> was January 2, 1941.² Sometimes his very dates are wrong. Worse 
> than that:
> Perhaps one way to review this book is to write a parody of 
> Baker¹s method
> and style. Here is one‹very random‹sample:
> On Page 334, Nicholson Baker writes: ³The United States sent its first
> Lend-Lease boatload of food to England. Lord Woolton, minister of 
> food, was
> waiting for it on the dock. ŒCheese!¹ he said. He ate some 
> Wisconsin cheddar
> from an opened crate. ŒAnd very good cheese, too,¹ he added.
> ³There were four million eggs on the boat, as well, and nine 
> thousand tons
> of flour. It was May 31, 1941.²
> John Lukacs writes:
> ³Nicholson Baker¹s book was published by Simon & Schuster. The New 
> YorkTimes printed a long interview with this celebrated writer, 
> written by
> Charles McGrath, who visited him in his home. Nicholson Baker ate 
> a grilled
> cheese sandwich. It was February 29, 2008.²
> On Page 35 there is a snippet of an American¹s interview with
> Ernst Hanfstaengl, then Hitler¹s social secretary, on April 1, 1933:
> ³Hanfstaengel[his name is misspelled] sipped his wine. He was an 
> ardentbooster for Aryanism, but he was a dark-haired man, not 
> particularlyNordic-looking‹except that, as he had been heard to 
> say, his underarm hair
> was blond.² Whence ³The Beginnings of World War II, and the End of
> Civilization²?
> I have just finished writing a small book about one of Churchill¹s 
> speeches(on May 13, 1940, his ³Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat² 
> speech) and about its
> then reception. There are six and a half lines about that speech 
> in Baker¹s
> book, with three major mistakes about its reception.
> In his afterword, on Page 474: ³The title [of this book] comes from
> Franz Halder, one of Hitler¹s restive but compliant generals. 
> General Halder
> told an interrogator that when he was imprisoned in Auschwitz late 
> in the
> war, he saw flakes of smoke blow into his cell. Human smoke, he 
> called it.²
> Halder was never in Auschwitz, imprisoned or not.
> But, now, about the why. Why did Baker write this badly jumbled, 
> half-baked
> book? Now I must say something in his favor. He is a pacifist. But 
> pacifist,too, is an often inaccurate word. He writes, and thinks, 
> that the Second
> World War was not A Good War, that it was a disaster, that indeed 
> it was the
> End of Civilization.
> I have often quoted the old Irish biddy whom her neighbors had 
> asked if the
> gossip about the young widow at the end of the street was true. 
> And she
> said: ³It is not true; but it is true enough.² I have also said that
> historians ought to face the opposite problem: that this or that 
> may be
> true; but also not true enough.
> That war is awful is true. It is also true that Churchill and 
> Rooseveltwanted‹more: they chose‹war to destroy Hitler. Especially 
> Churchill thought
> that Hitler¹s winning the war‹more precisely: his ruling all of 
> Europe‹wouldmean something like the end of Western civilization. 
> He was not very wrong.
> It is true that Hitler did not want to conquer the British Empire. 
> It is
> true that he did not want‹he couldn¹t‹to invade the United States 
> and the
> Western Hemisphere. What he wanted (and he said this often) was 
> for Britain
> and the United States to accept his domination of Europe, 
> including his
> conquest of most of Central and Eastern Europe. But what did that 
> mean?After conquering Poland, he would have gone into Soviet 
> Russia, defeated it,
> establishing German, and National Socialist, rule over most of 
> Eurasia. And
> what would have happened then? Not only to the strategic interests 
> but to
> the British and American peoples¹ state of mind?
> It is true that in 1940 Churchill chose to fight Hitler¹s Germany 
> with every
> possible means at his disposal (and those few and ineffective 
> bombing raids
> were the only means at his disposal then). It is also true that 
> Rooseveltwanted to get into the war against Hitler‹if necessary, 
> through the back
> door of inducing Japan to attack America. But, beneath and beyond 
> all of
> this: Hitler had to be resisted. Resistance, truly, is a 
> conservative word.
> It also means: if necessary, fighting.
> A fair amount of Baker¹s snippets deal with the Germans¹ 
> humiliation and
> persecution and eventual murdering of Jews. I do not for a moment 
> think‹thisbelongs to the why question‹that Baker did this to cover 
> himself. His
> concern with what happened to the Jews of Europe seems authentic 
> and honest.
> Now: It is true that Jews hoped for Churchill and Roosevelt to go 
> to war
> against Hitler. But in 1939 and 1940, Churchill and Roosevelt 
> decided to
> fight Hitler not because of the Jews. It is true that until about
> August-September 1941, the policy of the Germans was to force the 
> Jews to
> emigrate: It was expulsion, not yet mass extermination. But 
> thereafter this
> was no longer possible. It is also true that this final decision 
> to proceed
> to extermination occurred only after‹and, in some ways, perhaps 
> even because
> of‹the full coming of the war between the United States and 
> Germany. But
> Baker never asks the questions: How much have Jews contributed to the
> British and American decision to war against Germany? And: Had 
> Churchill and
> Roosevelt not gone to war, what would have happened to the 
> millions of
> European and Russian Jews? The Jews did not cause the war; and the 
> war did
> not go on because of the Jews. True, millions of Jews perished 
> because of
> the war; but it was a war Hitler started, wishing that he would 
> not have to
> fight Britain and the United States.
> He did and he lost. And Western civilization survived‹even with a 
> portion of
> Europe falling under Soviet domination for a while. Millions died 
> in the
> war; other millions survived. What now matters, in the long run, 
> is what we
> know of that war. We live forward; but we can only think backward,
> Kierkegaard once said. Knowledge, all knowledge, depends on 
> memory; and
> history is the memory of mankind. All kinds of comfortable, and
> uncomfortable, truths‹and half-truths‹are latent within history, 
> potentialarguments for all kind of purposes; but they are seldom 
> enough. What
> happened and what could have happened are not separable in our 
> memories, in
> our minds. And why and how are not separable either.
> John Lukacs is the author of more than 20 books on topics in European
> history, including ³Five Days in London: May 1940,² ³The Hitler of 
> History,²and ³The Last European War.² Currently professor of 
> history emeritus at
> Chestnut Hill College, he has also taught at Columbia University, the
> University of Pennsylvania and the University of Budapest. His new 
> book,³Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning‹Churchill¹s 
> First Speech as
> Prime Minister,² will be published by Basic Books in May. 
> _________________________________________
> reader-list: an open discussion list on media and the city.
> Critiques & Collaborations
> To subscribe: send an email to reader-list-request at sarai.net with 
> subscribe in the subject header.
> To unsubscribe: https://mail.sarai.net/mailman/listinfo/reader-
> list 
> List archive: <https://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/>

More information about the reader-list mailing list