The Ironical Chronicle

"Every person and every social group is to a greater or lesser extent blind to many of the injustices of its time, because its own culture and education, supporting a particular way of life, represents embedded and distinctive features of this way of life as unavoidable features of human life in general." [Stuart Hampshire, Innocence and Experience, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989]

March 11, 2004

More Thoughts on 'Maureen Dowd Picks Her Man'

Note: Comments from a friend inspired some additional thinking on this subject. Here's the result. If this essay contributes anything, it proves the value of intelligent comment.

What interested me about the Dowd column I ridiculed was how easily and willingly she was seduced by Kerry and how unaware of the psychological dynamics of the process she seemed to be. And this in a political columnist the NY Times publishes as an intellectual cover for its capitalist agenda. She seemed to have "fallen in love" with Kerry. It's this subtext which drove my choice of the title for the essay, Maureen Picks Her Man from His Dating Service Profile.

Her previous columns left me with the impression that she is anything but gullible. And therefore she has to know that politicians are "Masters of Deceit," to use J. Edgar Hoover's phrase out of its intended context. Why the easy surrender?

It struck me that we are dealing with a microcosm of the old question, "How could the Germans, a reasonably cultivated people, judging by their enduring contributions to art and science, have done it?" One of the many extant wrong answers to that question is that Hitler was a mass hypnotist.

Leni Riefenstahl lends some credence to that answer in the description she gives in her memoirs [Memoiren, 1902-1945, Ullstein Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, pp. 152-160 (also available in English)] of the first time she attended one of Hitler's political speeches. It was the end of February, 1932. She saw posters plastered all over Berlin announcing Hitler's appearance in the Sportpalast, a sports arena that was often used for mass gatherings. Although a non-political person and already deeply involved in the German film industry, she makes the spontaneous decision to attend. The large arena is packed with excited, noisy people and she can hardly find a seat. She regrets having come, but because of the overcrowding she can't get out. A brass band plays march music endlessly, covering for Hitler's lateness. Finally, he shows up. The crowd goes wild and yells, "heil, heil, heil," for minutes on end. She's too far away to see Hitler's face.

After the cheering dies down Hitler starts to speak. He begins with the greeting, "Fellow Germans..."

At that instant she has a nearly apocalyptic vision which she says she can never forget. She describes it as follows:

It was as if the surface of the earth expanded before me — like a hemisphere, that suddenly split open in the middle and from which a tremendous stream of water burst forth so powerfully that it touched the sky and shook the earth.

Regarding Hitler's speech, she says that, although there was a lot she didn't understand, she was fascinated by it and she felt the crowd was bewitched.

On May 18, 1932 she writes to Hitler, references her attendance at the Sportpalast speech, and expresses a desire to get to know him personally. She has committed herself to playing the leading role in a Universal Studios film that would be shot on location in Greenland and that would ultimately be released as SOS Eisberg. The ship carrying the film crew and its equipment is to leave from Hamburg in a few days. She never expects to get an answer before her departure.

One day before the scheduled departure of the film crew from Berlin by train to catch the ship, she gets a phone call from Wilhelm Brückner, Hitler's adjutant, saying Hitler, who is currently on a speaking tour in northern Germany, wants to meet her. Irrationally, she says in the memoir, given the timing, she accepts the invitation.

She goes on two walks along the beach with Hitler and attends a large dinner at which he draws respectful attention to her presence.

Of her first impression of Hitler she says,

He was dressed in civilian clothes. He wore a dark blue suit with a white shirt and an unobtrusive tie. He was not wearing a hat. He impressed me as natural and uninhibited, like an entirely normal person, in no way as a future dictator, but rather as an unassuming person.
Having convinced her to stay until the last minute, Hitler has his adjutant arrange for her to be flown to Hamburg to catch the ship.

The seduction by the politician of his willing victim has begun. The propaganda films she ultimately produced for him are infamous and, eventually, destroyed her career.

What this particular media personality, who he knows can be useful to him, needs is adulation and praise and she gets it. Like a rattle snake, the skilled politician has an unerring sense of where to sink his fangs.

For Maureen Dowd, the magic was the affected intellectuality, the wealth and power combined, unexpectedly, with sensitivity, and the veneer of the Eastern Establishment and, like Leni Riefenstahl did three generations worth of world history before her, she fell for it head over heels.

Why am I making a big deal over this? It's that three generations of world history. It is a fundamental and inescapable social responsibility of every person with any pretensions to intellectuality to know history and to have learned from it. My favorite definition of intelligence is that it is the ability to recognize patterns and to make valid generalizations from them. It is my criticism of the practitioners of the American mass media, including, and especially so, the self-avowed intellectual segment of it, that they don't know history and, by my definition, they are stupid, if I may, correctly I think, use that word as meaning not knowing something you can reasonably be expected to know.

Well, then what are they? Given everything I've said, I'd have to conclude that they are, paraphrasing Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's phrase, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," this time much closer to his context, American capitalism's willing propagandists.

March 11, 2004