Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Solving the Problems

In the course of writing my last post, I was reminded of an interview with Philip Roth that appeared in the Guardian four years ago, in which Roth said the following:
My interest is in solving the problems presented by writing a book. That's what stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow, obsessing about nothing. Some people do crossword puzzles to satisfy their need to keep the mind engaged. For me, the absolutely demanding mental test is the desire to get the work right. The crude cliché is that the writer is solving the problem of his life in his books. Not at all. What he's doing is taking something that interests him in life and then solving the problem of the book - which is, How do you write about this? The engagement is with the problem that the book raises, not with the problems you borrow from living. Those aren't solved, they are forgotten in the gigantic problem of finding a way of writing about them.

Successful Solutions

As has been reported various places, Rosalind Belben has won the James Tait Memorial Prize for her novel Our Horses in Egypt. I've only recently heard of Belben, in the form of effusive praise from, first, Gabriel Josipovici and Mark Thwaite, both at Ready Steady Book in the last year (for example, both cited Our Horses in Egypt in RSB's end-of-year symposium), and now Steve Mitchelmore. Steve suggests that recognition for Belben is long overdue, noting that praise appears to have been slow in coming Belben's way because she has been labeled "an experimental writer". He refers to a review by Laura Brandon of two earlier Belben novels (Dreaming of Dead People and Is Beauty Good, two books that have immediately joined Our Horses in Egypt at the head of my to-find list), in which Brandon calls Belben "an explorer". I haven't read Belben yet, but I agree with Steve in principle, that "exploratory writer" is a much more useful, and less deliberately alienating, term than is "experimental writer". To my mind, the word "experimental" carries a whiff of the sterile and is typically only used to separate certain books from readers, to indicate their position outside the natural order of things. "Exploratory", by comparison, is warmer, more inviting.

Steve's post brought to mind the final piece in The Mirror of Criticism (1983), in which Josipovici writes about this very issue. He notes that reviews of his novels Migrations and The Air We Breathe were mixed, but that positive or negative, he was seen as an "experimental writer", much to his surprise. In these novels, Josipovici was, the reviewers had it, "deliberately [trying] to make things difficult for the reader", and perhaps had, in one reviewer's phrase, "a lingering but still severe case of the Robbe-Grillet syndrome." He summarizes the assumptions shared by the reviewers of these two novels thus:
. . .there are writers and there are experimental writers; the 'experimental' is a sub-branch of fiction, rather like teenage romances or science fiction perhaps, but differing from them in being specifically highbrow, and, like other highbrow activities, such as abstract painting and classical music, it is totally unconnected with the real world; however, we should tolerate this for the health of art (and to show how tolerant we are).
It seems to me that the situation is much the same now, only such reviewers are more hostile toward what they see as "experimental" and less inclined to think it should be "tolerated". In this view, fiction is commodity and it is entertainment. As such, it should be generally accessible. There rarely seems to be any sense that fiction might be writing that finds its form, in which the writer finds the form necessary to say what needs to be said, as fiction. No: writers are storytellers peddling entertainment, nothing more, depositing amusing or diverting "story content" into pre-existing fictional containers. Any other sort of writing is deemed presumptuous or pretentious, or perhaps unduly infected by bad influences. As capitalism is the air we breathe, so that it seems to us natural, allowing us to imagine "no alternative", fiction naturally belongs in the form of the 19th century novel, with perhaps various Modernists' techniques thrown into the mix to spice things up (innovative techniques being all that the Modernists, in this view, were about).

Josipovici again:
The interesting question is why a reviewer should speak quite naturally of 'a lingering but still severe case of the Robbe-Grillet syndrome' but never, in the case of most novels being produced today, of 'a severe case of the Charlotte Brontë or the George Eliot syndrome'? Why is there this presumption that the novel as written by these two writers is somehow natural, while that written by Robbe-Grillet [. . .] is fabricated-with-intent-to-be-clever, or even with-intent-to-deceive-and-confuse?
Noting that these particular two novels of his had seemed, to him, far from distancing and coldly "experimental", the most personal of his novels up to that time. For him, writing these novels, as with his others, was about finding the right way to write, about solving certain problems, unique to each novel. Here is where he locates the difference:
. . . the distinction is not between 'experimental' and 'non-experimental' art, but between successful and unsuccessful solutions to problems. I suppose there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as an unsuccessful solution. If the artist is aware of something that needs a solution, he will find it. Looking at the history of art one sees that for most of the time artists aren't even aware that there is a problem. And the difference is really between the writer who, whether by instinct or by thought, 'gets it right', and the one who imagines he is writing what he feels, what he wants, but who is really only reproducing someone else's way of feeling. All talk of plagiarism pales before this much deeper and more prevalent kind of unacknowledged borrowing, which is the mode of working of nine artists out of ten.
One might add that, when the artist is aware of the problem, writing is necessarily exploratory.

Incidentally, to bring it back round to Belben just a little bit before closing, at the end of this essay, Josipovici compares books to friends. We can't justify them, and we don't ask "what do they mean?" But we return to them again and again, and to each for different reasons. In this light, he takes note of three then-recent novels that he regards as masterpieces: Bernard Malamud's Dubin's Lives, Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual (which was then as yet untranslated into English), and Belben's Dreaming of Dead People, mentioned above (which, though "well received" upon release, "somehow has failed to establish itself as the major work it undoubtedly is"). Malamud's novel sits on my shelf, awaiting my attention, Perec's has long been on my list (though I keep deferring acquiring it until I've read other books first), and now Belben's is there too. With these three novels in mind reminding him that writers do indeed find their way, Josipovici closes with these words:
My advice to anyone who asks about 'experimental' writing today would be: forget about labels and go out and buy these three books. Reviewers may be influential, but in the end it's the writers who count. And the good writers will go on producing the books they have to regardless of the reviewers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Welcoming Mirah

I am in love: This past Saturday morning, August 9, 2008, at 9:28 AM, Aimée gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Mirah. Aimée was amazing and strong, and both she and Mirah are in excellent health. We are spending our time getting to know this new little person and beginning to figure her out, so let's just say that things will be a little slow here for a while.

In the meantime, take a look at a couple of pictures (that's yours truly in the second one):

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The very notion of wholeness

Of Kafka's story fragment "The Watchman", mentioned in the last post, Gabriel Josipovici also writes: "It is only a fragment in the way an aphorism is a fragment, that is, as a questioning of the very notion of wholeness." What does he mean?

In a short discussion over at Jacob Russell's blog, I echoed something I wrote in an earlier post. I said: "My sense of Modernism, before reading Josipovici, was that it was simply this moment in time in which new techniques expanded (or advanced) the modes available to writers. Since reading Josipovici, most references I see to Modernism appear to be based on the same conception." Jacob replied that "[n]ew techniques were more than a reaction to old techniques: they were reactions to modes of perception, to ways of conceptualizing the world" and that it seems that Josipovici is less "concerned with techniques in themselves, [than] with the broader agenda they were meant to serve". I've been a little uneasy diving into discussions about literary Modernism, primarily because my reading in the critical literature has been so shallow, outside of Josipovici. And yet, his work has struck such a chord with me, that I feel compelled to step into the fray, with him as my primary guide.

To return to this question of wholeness, I want to talk a little about Josipovici's take on James Joyce. Joyce, it seems to me, is for many people the quintessential Modernist. This is how I had viewed him in the past, and it was because of this view that I saw the Modernists as a whole as a particularly difficult group of writers. I was thus surprised and intrigued when I noticed, well over a year ago by now, a comment from Steve Mitchelmore (I don't remember whether it appeared at This Space or in comments elsewhere) to the effect that Ulysses was less the greatest 20th century novel (its customary panel-selected position) than the last great 19th century novel. If I looked at the idea long enough, I could almost feel as if I understood what he meant, though I'd yet to read Ulysses (and, in fact, have still not read it). Steve made a similar comment at least one other time, specifically referencing Josipovici. When I'd read Josipovici's On Trust, I had a better idea what might be meant by this idea, but he doesn't spend any time on Joyce in that book.

Recently, I asked Steve if there was an essay in which Josipovici writes specifically about Joyce. He referred me to an older collection, The Mirror of Criticism: Selected Reviews 1977-1982. I promptly found the book for cheap online. The piece in question is titled, ironically enough, "The Last Great Book". In retrospect, it's a good thing that I wasn't hoping for a lengthy essay or interested in the book only for this piece. The review is only a few pages long and doesn't say a whole lot more than what Steve had already said (happily, the rest of reviews in the book are well worth reading). But there are some choice lines worth attending to. One of the books under discussion is Hugh Kenner's fine study, Joyce's Voices--which Josipovici calls "criticism of a very high order":
Nevertheless, a doubt remains. Not about Kenner, but about Joyce. No objective style, Kenner rightly insists, can be said to exist; no truth can be discovered by aligning so many words to so many things; every attempt to simulate such a Truth will, as in the case of Hemingway, itself quickly become a 'style'. 'The True Sentence, in Joyce's opinion, had best settle for being true to the voice that utters it.' Yet what Kenner fails to see is that in the end Joyce does, against his own deepest insights, cling to one unquestioned Truth, that of the complete work. If there is no True Sentence, then why is there a True Work? This, it seems to me, is a major weakness of Joyce, his refusal to recognise the vulnerability of the Muse, his insistence, against the evidence, that to make a book is itself a valuable activity.

Compared with Proust and Beckett, Kafka and Eliot and Virginia Woolf, Joyce presents a strangely rigid attitude; he refuses ever to let go, to trust the work to take him where it will. Every 'letting go' has to be carefully fitted into its place in the overall design, even though there is no longer, by his own admission, any authority for the pattern the design itself assumes.

[. . .] there is ultimately something cosy and safe about Ulysses: underlying it is the belief that the mere accumulation of detail and complexity is an unquestioned good. Far from being 'the decisive English-language book of the [twentieth] century,' as Kenner suggests, it is perhaps the last great book of the nineteenth.
Whereas we seem most often to be concerned with new techniques established by the Modernists writers, especially if we buy into progress, into advancement of the arts, here the techniques themselves are of less concern. I realize that this is one of the reasons why Ulysses has seemed so forbidding. Perhaps I get on better with the more exploratory, less domineering fiction of Proust, Beckett, Kafka, and now Woolf.

If we return to Kafka's fragment, we see ourselves, we overrun it, return to it. "It opens a space and lives in it, a space which we too can enter and in which we too can live. . ." So writes Josipovici, again in his introduction to the Collected Stories (itself collected, as "Kafka's Children", in The Singer on the Shore), in language recalling his remarkable essays about the Bible, including The Book of God itself. In the 19th century novel, the novelist takes over from God, controlling his or her created world, without doubting the justification for this move.

In the short piece on Joyce, Josipovici is reviewing what are, in effect, "reader's guides" to Joyce's writing. Such guides abound, of course, and point to another factor keeping Ulysses at arm's length for me. As Josipovici puts it, Joyce's "works cry out for explication, footnoting and the exercise of those crossword puzzle skills at which the academic mind excels." This, he suggests, is indicative of a weakness in Joyce's art. With Joyce acting as God, academics serve as the priests and Talmudists explaining and interpreting his every word. With this in mind, the first sentence of Josipovici's review is hilariously apt: "If Joyce had not existed the professors would have had to invent him."

The watchman said nothing

In the comments to my recent post about Kafka's story "First Sorrow", there was a brief discussion about what it is about Kafka's stories that makes them on the one hand so interesting and alive, and on the other so slippery, even easily forgotten. Lloyd Mintern wrote the following:
Perhaps the reason Kafka's stories are so susceptible to being forgotten, that they slip away in whole, is that they are so familiar. They seem on the one hand like little artistic gems, but at the bottom they are utterly plain and life-like. For instance this trapeze artist story I think is entirely based on that last sentence; it works from the ending, and he arranges it thus, in order to get to that one observation, the question. I would conjecture that Kafka wrote it after staring at a furrow line in someone's face (or his own). Applying the question of how a worry line in a face comes to be stamped there, asking for its history so to speak, needs just a context to explore; the exotic (and comical) trapeze artist will do in this case. The length is expandable, like all parables, internally; and the content is so true to life one can . . . live with it, and thus forget it for a time, until, coming back, one is shocked that someone else got it so closely.
Many of Kafka's stories are like mini-parables. I'm suddenly reminded of something Ezra Pound wrote in connection with Confucius, in his Guide to Kulchur (which I previously mentioned here, and which I haven't read more than five pages from since that post):
Said Szetsun, or rather so says his translator: "The sayings of the great sages are ordinary." This I take to mean that there is nothing superfluous or excessive in them. When one knows enough one can find wisdom in the Four Classics. When one does not know enough one's eye passes over the page without seeing it.
Many of Kafka's stories now, for me, emerge as much more than they were when I first approached them.

In the introduction to the edition he edited of Kafka's Collected Stories, Gabriel Josipovici quotes the entirety of the super-short story fragment "The Watchman":
I ran past the first watchman. Then I was horrified, ran back again and said to the watchman: 'I ran through here while you were looking the other way.' The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing. 'I suppose I really oughtn't to have done it,' I said. The watchman still said nothing. 'Does your silence indicate permission to pass?'
This is the kind of piece that, if encountered in the pages of a collection, on its own, in the midst of other similarly short pieces, there's a good chance I'd have read it and moved on, without it having made any impact. Though perhaps I'd have been puzzled and returned to it. Why is this piece here? Josipovici writes: ". . .this is a piece of writing which demands to be read at least twice; indeed, as so often in Kafka, the narrative mimics the way we are forced to read it." This is precisely so. I read it, fly by it in fact, but I'm stopped short. What was that? I must return to it.

I think, to combine Lloyd's observation with Gabriel Josipovici's, we have a writer who writes in a style that is so plain, so familiar, that it seems to invite us to ignore it, while also insisting on being re-read. (I know that when I was reading Kafka in the midst of the exuberant, noisier writers I was reading, all that Amis and Self and Rushdie, and even the great Nabokov, he somehow seemed not to fit, and I had trouble with his stories. Though the claustrophobia of the novels was somehow easier to retain.) For example, though it's hard to forget Gregor Samsa's condition in "The Metamorphosis", many of the details of that story slip right past, in the plainness of the style. Looking for one thing, I instead get another.

Notes on Human Smoke

What is the meaning of World War II? What does it mean to you? Is it proof that evil exists? That some enemies are simply intractable? That intervention is sometimes necessary? Was it a war of liberation? Does it stand in as an example, or perhaps the example, of the "just" or "good" war? If so, does it matter how the war was fought? Do the political aims of the Allies matter? Should we be in any way concerned with the ways in which these political aims determined the nature of the war, or its length? Does the unquestionably horrible nature of the Nazi regime render all such questions moot? Some of them? Was total war the only way to defeat Hitler's war machine? Did the Allies have any way of knowing either way? What was the role of big business in the build-up, on all sides? How much of a monster was Churchill anyway? What did FDR know in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor? What US actions led to the attack? Does the nature of the Japanese regime justify all subsequent actions taken against Japan?

These are just some of the questions that come to mind when I think about World War II. I'm pondering them today in connection with Nicholson Baker's book Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. I'm presenting them, not to answer them, or even address most of them, but because I think they are particularly salient to this book, which I think has been aggressively, if not intentionally, misunderstood by much of the major review press. Certainly the questions, as posed, are somewhat loaded. I have a point of view. Baker has one, though it seems clear to me that his point of view is not quite the one assumed by some of these reviewers. For example, I don't think it's at all obvious that Human Smoke argues the pacifist case against the war, even if it could be said that Baker himself is a pacifist and that he is sympathetic to the argument.

It's often said that war is politics by other means. This is a truism, but only true, really, in the sense of politics as the place of disagreement between and among ruling elites. But what are the main features of war? This is not a trick question. The answer is death, terror, destruction. Destruction, primarily, of ordinary people and their communities, ordinary people who have no say in any of the decisions leading to war. (I am thinking of war undertaken by states, against other states, or against the people of other states, which is usually the case. Revolution or insurrection from below are different, though obviously not without death, terror, or destruction.)

In this context, then, what is Human Smoke? As you've no doubt heard by now, it is an assemblage of hundreds of short items, dating from 1914 till December 1941 (with one outlier, from 1892), some as short as a line or two, some as long as two pages, describing, moment by moment it seems, the inexorable movement towards total war. Some samples, chosen not quite at random:
Franklin Roosevelt, now a lawyer in New York City, noticed that Jews made up one-third of the freshman class at Harvard. He talked the problem over with Henry Morgenthau, SR., and he went to the Harvard Board of Overseers, of which he was a member. "It was decided," Roosevelt later explained, "that over a period of years the number of Jews should be reduced one or two per cent a year until it was down to 15%." It was about 1922. (p. 9)

Goebbels stood at a swastika-bedecked rostrum on the Unter den Linden, a wide, tree-lined street in Berlin running past the University and the State Opera House. He said: "The age of extreme Jewish intellectualism has now ended." He threw a book into a fire.

"It was like burning something alive," Lilian Mowrer said. "Then students followed with whole armfuls of books, while schoolboys screamed into the microphone their condemnation of this and that author, and as each name was mentioned the crowd booed and hissed." Lion Feuchtwanger's books, which had already been banned from stores, went into the flames, as did books by Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Brecht, Lenin, Marx, Engels, Zionviev, Heine, Emil Ludwig,, Helen Keller, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London. Bertha von Suttner's pacifist novel Lay Down Your Arms was condemned as "un-German" and burned. All Quiet on the Western Front got the most booing. Stefan Zweig's books were nailed to a pillory as well as burned. Pacifism masked a "seeping poison," one speaker said. It was May 10, 1933.

Goebbels said: "Brightened by these flames our vow shall be: the Reich and the Nation and our Führer: Adolf Hitler, Heil! Heil!" (pp. 37-38)

Major James Doolittle, the American flying ace, was in China demonstrating airplanes for Curtiss-Wright. It was summer 1933. Doolittle did stunts for the mayor of Shanghai and a crowd of seventy-five thousand in his Curtiss Hawk, and afterward the Nanking government ordered thirty-six Hawks, the company's biggest order that year. "We sold 24 Hawks to the Turkish Government last fall," said T. P. Wright, Curtiss-Wright's president, "and several are in service in South America." (p. 41)

H.C. Engelbrecht, author of Merchants of Death, a bestseller about arms dealers, spoke at a conference of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. "Armament is an industry that knows no politics, friends, right or wrong--but only customers," Engelbrecht said. "If you can pay, you can buy."

The French arms company Schneider had recently sold four hundred tanks to Hitler's Germany, Engelbrecht observed; the company disguised the sale by shipping the tanks via the Netherlands. The Germans had also ordered sixty airplanes from Vickers, the British maker of bombers.

"In every war," said Engelbrecht, "the armament maker who sells internationally is arming a potential enemy of his own country--and that, practically, if not legally, is treason."

It was April 14, 1934. (pp. 48-49)

There were more than 120,000 visa applications awaiting action the American consulate in Vienna. It was March 1939. (p.116)

Lockheed stopped selling airplanes to Japan, at the request of Secretary State Cordell Hull. Lockheed employees remained in Japan, however, assembling and testing the airplanes that were arriving in fulfillment of previous orders. It was May 1939. (p.124)

Churchill flew to Paris to talk with the French generals. It was May 31, 1940. Narvik was the first matter they took up--it had been retaken and held, at some cost, by the Allies. It must now be abandoned immediately, said Churchill. They also discussed what to do about Italy, if Italy were foolish enough to enter the war. "I proposed that we should strike by air-bombing at the northwestern industrial triangle enclosed by the three cities of Milan, Turin, and Genoa," Churchill said. "Many Italians were opposed to war, and all should be made to realise its severity."

Bombing was, to Churchill, a form of pedagogy--a way of enlightening city dwellers as to the hellishness of remote battlefields by killing them. The French were not keen on it, however; they wanted to avoid reprisals. . . (p. 191)
(As I was flipping through the book, looking for passages to include here, I felt some pressure to give sufficiently diverse examples, to show the range of material covered in the book, the different voices heard from, and the various types of sources drawn from, and to do so in a manner that could convey the weight of each to the whole--and yet, to attempt to do so with any degree of accuracy is to write the book again.)

Before I read Human Smoke, I was under the impression that it indeed presents and defends the pacifist case against American involvement in WWII. Various reviewers seem to have responded to it as if this were the case; for example, there was Adam Kirsch's extremely stupid review in The New York Sun, Louis Menand's perfunctory review in The New Yorker, and William Grimes' simple-minded review in The New York Times (I've only just seen the Times review; link via Nigel Beale). To be fair to these reviewers, Baker’s final words in his Afterword seem to support this reading:
I dedicate this book to the memory of Clarence Pickett and other American and British pacifists. They've never really gotten their due. They tried to save Jewish refugees, free Europe, reconcile the United States and Japan, and stop the war from happening. They failed, but they were right.
Kirsch asserts that the book is "dangerous"; Menand is a little more sympathetic to some of the themes he sees Baker as raising, but is at pains to point out the imperfect nature of the Allied states, and the fact of Appeasement and other attempts to bargain with Hitler; Grimes seems concerned primarily with Baker's tone, and what he perceives as a lack of a sense of proportion. All three see Human Smoke as manipulative and Baker himself as naïve and simplistic. They and others seem worried that readers won't understand the issues involved in the years leading to the war, in the unlikely event that this is the only book they ever read about the war.

Helpfully, Sam Anderson has just the right response to this kind of argument, in his review in New York Magazine (link via Mark Thwaite at Ready Steady Book):
To dismiss Baker's project as a failed work based on the traditional criteria of history writing, however, is to misunderstand its actual purpose and power—and also to underestimate the good sense of the average reader. No one is likely to mistake Human Smoke for a comprehensive scholarly history of the war. It's an auto-didact's record of his own obsessive, subjective research. It devotes generous airtime to characters who tend to get excluded from popular history (secretaries, pacifist students, journalists), excavates great lost quotes ("What is the difference between throwing 500 babies into a fire and throwing fire from aeroplanes on 500 babies? There is none"), and powerfully questions canonical events based on carefully identified sources. As in all of Baker's work, the strength of Human Smoke comes from the defamiliarizing charge it brings to a familiar subject. Its unorthodox form allows it to capture, with brutal efficiency, the daily texture of the war--the suffering, the confusion on the ground, the strike among Viennese mail carriers from the stress of delivering too many death letters. Baker doesn’t hide his omissions or his anecdotes' lack of context--in fact, each vignette is surrounded by generous white space, so the lacunae are a constant visible presence in the book. It's the kind of project that encourages, rather than closes off, further reading. Its texture is deeply convincing, and a much stronger message of peace than mere argument could ever muster.
I think this is exactly right. World War II comes to us packaged as a certain kind of narrative, and by showing us elements that we see far too little of, Human Smoke makes that narrative look just a little different. And given the ways in which that standard narrative has been used to justify all manner of hero-worship and demonization, along with post-WWII policies and atrocities, it's worth considering how that narrative has been shaped and how a different approach to the available material might tell us something else we need to know.

About the pacifists, Baker writes: "They failed, but they were right". What does he mean? What does Baker think the pacifists were right about? Does he simply mean that the pacifists were right to oppose the war? Or were they right about war? They seem to be the only ones who are able to understand that war is destruction (except for those like Churchill, who rather seems to think that destruction is just grand). What does Baker mean by "the end of civilization" in his subtitle? He doesn't answer either question, but I think some possibilities present themselves. For example, was it necessary to resort to "total war" against civilians in order to defeat the Nazis? There is nothing in the book to suggest that the Nazi leaders were anything other than despicable. But there is a lot in the book suggesting that the Allied leaders were less concerned with the human toll of the war than with political maneuvering and glory. Human Smoke, more than anything, with its diversity of detail, drives home the truth that war is never fought for or on behalf of general populations. They are fought for elite political reasons. People have to be persuaded to fight, trained to hate. This is as true of ordinary 1930s Germans--who we'd often prefer to view as having been, as a population, atavistically anti-Semitic--as it is of anyone else. Human Smoke reminds us that our putative leaders do not have our interests at heart.

I've said that I don't think Human Smoke is or is intended to be a coherent argument against the war, that Nicholson Baker does not make the pacifist case, however sympathetic to it he may actually be. And yet, to borrow Sam Anderson's wording, I do believe the book is a powerful "message of peace". What is the difference? The difference is in what can we learn from history, and why we are reading it. Are we reading history merely to know what happened? Because it's an interesting, possibly moving set of stories? What is the point of that? Where does it stop? Instead, can we learn anything about ourselves, and our politics, by looking at, in this case, what was being said and done in the years prior to the worst war in human history? I think we can, though we often seem determined not to do so. By attending to the words, over the period of decades, of serious, committed pacifists; by noticing the indifference of political leaders to the possibilities or realities of human suffering--whether in the form of Jewish refugees, or the victims of bombing campaigns; by finally understanding the implications of the amoral dictates of capitalism ("If you can pay, you can buy"), perhaps then we can see how we are manipulated into each new military adventure. And we can ask ourselves what purposes, and whose interests, are served by the maintenance of the myth of "the good war".