Showing posts with label Gustave Gilbert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gustave Gilbert. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“Only I can save you!”

During my publishing career I reprinted Gustav Gilbert’s Psychology of Dictatorship.  He was my professor in 1962, teaching a course of the same rubric during my brief tenure as a psychology major.  He was all business in the classroom, nary a smile, but no wonder what he witnessed.   Gilbert was the American Military Chief Psychologist at the Nuremberg trials, writing the Nuremberg Diary shortly thereafter and later his more academic Psychology of Dictatorship.

I’m reminded of this by yesterday’s bluster of our president, threatening to shut down the government to “save” us from “criminals pouring into the U.S.” and those who are not criminals, at the very least, carry “deadly diseases.”  “It’s my wall or the highway.” Scares the bejezzes out of his faithful followers. 

At Nuremberg Gilbert interviewed some of the head Nazis, including Herman Goering, who confided the following to Gilbert:  “…people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

How prophetic.
Gilbert, Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop at Nuremberg Trials

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Big Bad Wolf Comes for Little Red Riding Hood

Totalitarianism feeds on propaganda and the control of information.  My former college psychology professor, Gustave Gilbert, the author of The Nuremberg Diary said that Joseph Goebbels, who had been an unsuccessful writer, “devoted his considerable talents for propaganda to the task of winning over Berlin’s leftists to the cause of Hilterian fascism.” (The Psychology of Dictatorship, 1950).  Ultimately Goebbels served as Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.  Per Wikipedia, “Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry quickly gained and exerted controlling supervision over the news media, arts, and information in Germany. He was particularly adept at using the relatively new media of radio and film for propaganda purposes.”

Imagine if he had the Internet at his disposal.

Now we have Moscow born, former Trump special assistant, and presently Sinclair Broadcasting’s senior political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, vying for the position of the “Ministry of Truth & Public Enlightenment.”   Sinclair Broadcasting has been quietly buying up local television stations, mostly in Trump country, to spread its conservative propaganda. By now everyone knows of the coordinated “Newspeak” perpetrated by Sinclair’s stations where local “news” anchors were required to read the same statement: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common in the media. More alarming is that national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking the facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control 'exactly what people think'

Word for word, all Sinclair stations with local news broadcasters many of whom we have followed through their years, thinking of them as, well, just regular people like ourselves.  Old friends.

One such station happens to be in our viewing area, a CBS affiliate.  They too parroted this statement, as if they were speaking to us, although it was really Boris Epshteyn.  These are friendly faces we’ve seen on air before our morning commutes or once we get home. A Palm Beach Post staff writer, Frank Cerabino, wrote a funny but profound parody of what these local news anchors “really said.”

Ironically, on the surface, the statement IS essentially true, and that is where the danger lies, voiced by an organization which indeed has “an agenda.” The unsuspecting public is but a little Red Riding Hood being toyed with by a big bad Wolf, one who knows exactly what it’s doing.  After all, this is the organization which has pushed the “deep state” conspiracy theory. 

One of the favorite techniques in propaganda is to say it over and over again.  Fox News has been doing it for years.  Now your local news broadcaster may be coming for your mind.  "Oh Granny, what big teeth you've got!"

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

An Even More Dangerous Turn in Political Events

In the wake of Trump’s demagogic displays, I thought it would be instructive, ironic, and as I discovered, somewhat disheartening, to read Barack Obama’s inaugural speech when he first took office.  Such idealism, only to be ambushed by a political party which, as evidenced by their new standard bearer, Donald Trump, would prefer that America be frozen in a snow globe or a Norman Rockwell painting. 

From the onset of Obama’s presidency he was challenged by the Republican base and this morphed into a stone wall of opposition, no matter what the consequences were to this nation.  It was an invitation to disrespect the mere office of the Presidency, perhaps even because it was now occupied by a man of color who said in his inaugural speech: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed --why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Is it any wonder that an ego-maniacal mass-media caricature of a presidential candidate should rise like a Phoenix from the ashes his own party created?

“Let’s make America Great Again?”  By alienating, or, worse, eliminating by deportation or excluding with walls -- physical as well as immigration blockades -- minorities he declares unsuitable?  I thought that was appalling enough until his now well-publicized comments about District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose parents are from Mexico, accusing the Judge of having a conflict of interest as he considers lawsuits against Trump “University.”  Instead of recognizing that this is a serious transgression of the separation of powers, and an act of racism, Trump turned the table on the press, suggesting that reporters who ask about the matter are the racists by merely asking the question – yet another attack on the fourth estate.

Trump’s world view is there are only winners (him) and losers (anyone he chooses to call as such).  He doesn’t want to appear to be weak, and therefore be “kicked off the island.”  No, to show his “strength” he even suggested that if he becomes President he’ll pursue a civil case against the judge, the argument being that his Mexican heritage is an "inherent conflict of interest." Ironic, how many presidents have been schooled in law and now we have a candidate who uses his wealth to routinely litigate or threaten to litigate to bully things his way. We all know how preposterous his litigation threat is and he may think as President he might be able to manipulate the separation of constitutional powers.  He’s already said “I consult myself on foreign policy, because I have a very good brain.”  So who needs advisers, and for that matter Congress, the Judiciary, and the Press?

It is a severely flawed personality trait, one that does not belong in the Office of the President.  It is a form of blame shifting, even paranoia.  Weakness is a trait of a “loser;” thus he must appear powerful by blaming others or circumstance. “All I’m trying to do is figure out why I’m being treated so unfairly by a judge,” he said on Fox News.  About his refusal to release his tax returns: "I have friends that are very rich….They've never been audited." He’s a victim!

This is seriously scary stuff.  During my publishing career I reprinted Gustav Gilbert’s Psychology of Dictatorship in which he said “throughout history social movements of far-reaching consequences have been decisively influenced by leaders, and that the behavior of such leaders is necessarily motivated to some extent by psychological tensions rooted in their individual character development.  We must further recognize the fact that the personalities of political leaders, like all human beings, are largely the products of their cultural mores and social tensions, and that they become leaders only if they effectively express the aspirations (or frustrations) of significant segments of their contemporary society.” Although these words apply to all kinds of societies, they were particularly aimed at those that gave rise to dictators, narcissists who tap into a discordant societal vein. 

Contrast Trump’s call for denying any Muslim immigration to what Obama said when inaugurated: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West --know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  Perhaps overly idealized, but some of these words could be directed to Trump himself: know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Orphan Master’s Son

North Korea is an enigma (to me at least).  Only a few months ago the young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was saber rattling nuclear missiles, threatening not only South Korea, but American bases in the Pacific as well.  Bizarrely, at about the same time, basketball celebrity Dennis Rodman visited the country and the new leader (apparently Kim Jong-un likes basketball).  Rodman thinks he played peacemaker.   How weird to see the heavily tattooed Rodman sitting side by side with the young chubby cheeked dictator. 

Did I really want to know more about the circus-like-train-wreck of North Korea?  However, the accolades for Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son were overwhelming, calling to me. So, I’ve read it and can understand why it deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature last year.

This is a compelling novel, such a good story, and so well written.  But can life in North Korea really be as Johnson writes?  While no one can say whether his depiction is accurate, it is fiction, and it succeeds as an allegory of universal themes. 

At times episodic, with shifts in time and voice, mixing the 3rd person narrative of Jun Du AKA Commander Ga, and the 1st person narrative of an interrogator who is dedicated to extracting the “truth” from his interrogees by writing their biographies (vs. the brute torture inflicted by the “Pubyok”). Interspersed are propaganda broadcasts which surreally move the story further along.  The entire narrative ultimately revolves around the caprice of “The Dear Leader,” Kim Jong II, (Kim Jong-il, the father of the present leader) who is the ultimate Orphan Master of an entire nation. 

One can only describe the action as an extended nightmare, following the narrative down a rabbit hole into a totalitarian state whose underpinning is brainwashing; its people expecting no more than a life that would seem like Dante’s Inferno to any westerner. The book makes normalcy of brutality and propaganda, portraying a society where insanity is sanity.  In fact, I was constantly thinking of my college psychology professor, Gustave Gilbert, who wrote The Nuremberg Diary, had interviewed all the major Nazi figures who were put on trial there, and came to the conclusion that as they were raised in a culture where deference to authority took precedence over all, their actions would not be considered “insane” in such a society.  I also couldn’t help but think of another WWII allusion, a work of fiction though, Jerzy KosiƄski’s The Painted Bird, chronicling the horror witnessed by a young boy, who was considered a Jewish stray, during the War.

And similarly, this is a coming-of-age story of Jun Du (or, as some have aptly noted, a “John Doe”) who, although the son of a man who ran the “Long Tomorrows” orphanage, is raised as an orphan himself, as his beautiful mother, an opera singer, had been shipped off to Pyongyang for the amusement of the New Class, as is so often the fate of beautiful women in that State.  From helping to run the orphanage (his father was frequently drunk), he “graduates” to “tunneler” – working in the dark in tunnels under the DMZ to kidnap South Koreans and then Japanese by boat.  He further graduates to study English and becomes a radio surveillance 3rd mate on a North Korean fishing ship, reporting English conversations for reasons unknown.  One of those conversations is of two American women rowing across the ocean, one of which figures later in the novel.

When Jun Do had filled out his daily requisition of military sounds, he roamed the spectrum.  The lepers sent out broadcasts, as did the blind, and the families of inmates imprisoned in Manila who broadcast news into prisons – all day the families would line up to speak of report cards, baby teeth, and new job prospects.  There was Dr. Rendezvous, a Brit who broadcast his erotic “dreams” every day, along with the coordinates of where his sailboat would be anchored next.  There was a station in Okinawa that broadcast portraits of families that US servicemen refused to claim.  Once a day, the Chinese broadcast prisoner confessions, and it didn’t matter that the confessions were forced, false, and in a language he didn’t understand – Jun Do could barely make it through them.  And then came that girl who rowed in the dark.  Each night she paused to relay her coordinates, how her body was performing and the atmospheric conditions.  Often she noted things – the outlines of birds migrating at night, a whale shark seining for krill off her bow.  She had, she said, a growing ability to dream while she rowed.

What was it about English speakers that allowed them to talk into transmitters as if the sky were a diary?  If Koreans spoke this way, maybe they’d make more sense to Jun Do.  Maybe he’d understand why some people accepted their fates while others didn’t  He might know why people sometimes scoured all the orphanages looking for one particular child when any child would do, when there were perfectly good children everywhere.  He’d know why all the fisherman on the Junma had their wives’ portraits tattooed on their chests, while he was a man who wore headphones in the dark of a fish hold on a boat that was twenty-seven days at sea a month.

Not that he envied those who rowed in the daylight.  The light, the sky, the water, they were all things you looked through during the day.  At night, they were things you looked into.  You looked into stars, you looked into dark rollers, and the surprising platinum flash of their caps.  No one ever started at the tip of a cigarette in the daylight hours, and with the sun in the sky, who would ever post a “watch”?  At night on the Junma, there was acuity, quietude, pause.  There was a look in the crew members’ eyes that was both faraway and inward.  Presumably there was another English linguist out there on a similar fishing boat, pointlessly listening to broadcasts from sunrise to sunset.  It was certainly another lowly transcriber such as himself.

Our hero finally metamorphosizes into Commander Ga, a hero of the State (and the reader is more than eager to suspend disbelief of this change) as this page turning novel becomes a thriller of the first order.  He is united with Commander Ga’s wife, Sun Moon who is the State’s movie actress, a favorite of “The Dear Leader.”  From there, all of the main characters in the novel converge, even Sun Moon and the American rower, the propaganda speakers announcing:  Citizens!  Observe the hospitality our Dear Leader shows for all peoples of the world, even a subject of the despotic United States.  Does the Dear Leader not dispatch our nations’ best woman to give solace and support to the wayward American?  And does Sun Moon not find the Girl Rower housed in a beautiful room, fresh and white and brightly lit, with a pretty little window affording a view of a lovely North Korean meadow and the dappled horses that frolic there?  This is not dingy China or soiled little South Korea, so do not picture some sort of a prison cell with lamp-blacked walls and rust-colored puddles on the floor.  Instead, notice the large white tub fitted with golden lion’s feet and filled with the steaming restorative water of the Taedong.

Contrast that Halcyon scene with the reality of our hero’s imprisonment: In Prison 33, little by little, you relinquished everything, starting with your tomorrows and all that might be.  Next went your past, and suddenly it was inconceivable that your head had ever touched a pillow, that you’d once used a spoon or a toilet, that your mouth had once known flavors and your eyes had beheld colors beyond gray and brown and the shade of black that blood took on.  Before you relinquished yourself – Ga had felt it starting, like the numb of cold limbs – you let go of all the others, each person you’d once known.  They became ideas and then notions and then impressions, and then they were as ghostly as projections against a prison infirmary.

It is a love story as well, and it is the cry for individualism in a totalitarian state.  The nameless interrogator’s final dreamlike thoughts express it best:  I was on my own voyage.  Soon I would be in a rural village, green and peaceful, where people swung their scythes in silence.  There would be a widow there, and we would waste no time on courtship.  I would approach her and tell her I was her new husband.  We would enter the bed from opposite sides at first.  For a while, she would have rules. But eventually, our genitals would intercourse in a way that was correct and satisfying.  At night, after I had made my emission, we would lie there, listening to the sounds of our children running in the dark, catching summer frogs.  My wife would have the use of both her eyes, so she would know when I blew out the candle.  In this village, I would have a name, and people would call me by it.  When the candle went out, she would speak to me, telling me to sleep very, very deeply…I listened for her voice, calling a name that would soon be mine.

Adam Johnson has written an epic novel, one that required research and a colossal imagination.  Sign me up for his next work!