Lessons for Today From Fritz Stern

Book Review: A New Book on Germany Has Much to teach Today's Decision-makers

Fritz Stern: "Five Germanys I have Known" — 2006, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux [ISBN 0-374-15540-2]

December 13, 2006 — Philadelphia (apj.us) — As I savored the five-hundred-plus pages of Professor Fritz Stern's new book, "Five Germanys I Have Known," I couldn't help but notice the coincidences of history — specifically, how some of the activity taking place in Germany and Europe (from the turn of the 20th Century through the Weimar Republic to the rise of Hitler) resemble events in the United States today.

This is not to say that Prof. Stern claims in any way that the current Administration in Washington is in any way like official Nazi Germany. In fact, Mr. Stern makes some effort to check his obvious distaste for George W. Bush, mentioning the President only in context of the author having been dropped from the White House Christmas Card List — thankfully!

For me — certainly not a historian, but one who has kept his eye on European and American politics for thirty years — Stern succeeds in describing (and in doing so, detailing) the reasons that Germany found itself in the position it did after World War II, and the reason Germans could have committed the atrocities they did from 1933 on. Stern makes no excuse for this, and helped me understand the period more clearly. Stern also made me realize that there is much more to observe about this era between the Weimar Republican and National Socialism than simply the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler. It is the how and why which he examines in interesting detail — although never really holding the German population solely responsible as it might have been. Stern plants a seed to make one think, but does not draw the conclusions for readers. That is up to us. However, I sometimes hoped his reflections on causation were more pointed or even pontifical to help me along.

Stern himself was a child in Hitler's Germany and managed to escape the Nazis by only the skin of his young teeth, thanks in part to his parents' position in German society and in part to fate. The Sterns were once Jewish, but converted earlier, as did many Jews during this period. However, the Sterns were trapped — like other Germans with Jewish backgrounds — when Hitler made "race," not religion, the issue. This brought to my mind an important question: many Jews now refer to themselves as a race, which to me is preposterous inasmuch as Jews hold many (almost all) nationalities themselves. Did Jews think of themselves as a race prior to 1930? I don't know.

In many ways, Stern, now eighty years old, seems to be seeking answers for himself as much as explaining the rise, fall, resurrection, and reunification of Germany.

For me, however, the finest moment in the book appears in several pages toward the end in which Stern begins to discuss the political, administrative, and legislative impact of not only Neoconservatism but — and more especially — right wing religious fundamentalism on America. I believe Stern has concluded the latter issue is pivotal both in the United States and in Islamic fundamentalist nations, although he does not discuss the latter in detail.

In many ways, "Five Germanys" is a warning: watch religious fundamentalism closely, but not arrogantly. It can be the basis for future terror.

Understandably, Stern chooses to focus on the preposterous Midge Decter — an infertile Neocon octogenarian of whom most Americans have never heard, and a near-moronic college dropout who could have been a great liberal Zionist but instead chose to waltz with the anti-Semites to get what she and her husband, whack-job John Podhoretz, wanted for Jews after World War II.

Decter has been off the radar in terms of national or even local far-right-yokel familiarity for more than twenty years. Her biggest claim to fame at this time is that her daughter is married to Iran-Contra brute Elliot Abrams — a fitting son-in-law. Before the nuptials, she was a supposed inner-circle Reaganite, but Nancy Reagan loathed her, a fact that is not well-known. Decter recently penned a "novel" which she calls a biography of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (whom she calls Rum-stud) and talks incessantly about his having been a wrestler in earlier days.

Look for the hilarious comments made on this topic by Bruce Jackson in Counterpunch.

Here's a sample: "For years I've thought Midge Decter was, like her lunatic husband Norman Podhoretz, a far-right ideologue on all matters social, political and sexual who'd conned everyone into thinking she was smart enough to have her ideas, no matter how loopy, taken seriously. Like Podhoretz, she is a silly person."

I digress.

Professor Stern sees quite clearly was a terrible failure it was for American moderates not to see the carefully launched "buildup of the Neoconservative position, and to be too self confident about our own intellectual and political position." Stern mentions Midge Decter as inviting him, in 1980, to join "The Committee for a Free World." The Committee planned to attack liberal thought, dictatorship, and totalitarian ideas spreading in democracies. Decter showed her idiocy by making the invitation to Stern in the first place — but Stern does not write this, only that he declined "explaining [that] the examples of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland and Hungary make me hesitate to accept a statement that the Western democracies face ‘a growing threat to their continued viability.'"

Stern, as always, proves himself the diplomat.

An aside: who else was a co-founder of this far right Committee? Why, Donald Rumsfeld, of course! Who subsidized the Committee? Our old, insane, alcohol-soaked friend Richard Mellon Scaife, the same billionaire nutball who buys up thousands of Ann Coulter's and Laura Ingraham's so-called "best sellers" and distributes them free of charge to like-non-minded people.

Stern focuses the "likable" Neocon Irving Kristol, who has claimed that Neoconservatives were once liberals "mugged by reality." Stern puts it wonderfully: "Wasn't mugged a code world for crimes imagined as being committed by black prowlers in the cities? (I had long suspected that the Neocons' break with liberals contained a racial element, and this was confirmed by their attack on affirmative action.) But if 'reality' had 'mugged' them, it had also greatly enriched them. Their march to wealth and power over the next few decades deserves a Balzac as chronicler; he could use the amiable Richard Perle as a key figure, combining greed with hard-edged moralistic 'realism.'"

Yes, their march to wealth and power.

Think about that.

And read "Five Germanys I Have Known." It's a winner. #

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