I have just finished reading the Erik Larson book, In the Garden of Beasts, and I must say none of the insights I was hoping for ever materialized. There surely were some beautiful, gratifying passages of language; Larson the author was as satisfying as ever. I enjoyed learning about William E. Dodd and his family and the State Department intrigues that undercut Dodd’s effectiveness as our ambassador to Berlin. Yet from Larson the historian I encountered no new lessons which clarify our present-day challenges to freedom or illuminate what we must do to save ourselves and our children’s futures. As a result, I am disappointed with the book—but perhaps I was looking for things Larson’s account was never intended to deliver.
I was struck by Larson’s descriptions of pompous Nazi bigwigs in their big sleek cars, their hubris, their selfish lust for power… they were just politicians, after all, not much different from today’s politicians, American or otherwise.
In the background last night’s debate between the Republican presidential candidates has been streaming and droning on. These people, too, offer few answers of substance or value. They pander to jingoistic notions of American exceptionalism, they assume false poses of rectitude, they present a smorgasbord of empty-calorie intellectual fare. Coke or Pepsi? Bachmann or Palen? Bush or Perry? What’s the difference? Almost all of them have long since sold out to the highest bidders.
I perk up as Rick Perry gets a question about Texas executing innocent prisoners. He answers that the system in Texas offers adequate safeguards, that such errors don’t happen. He is so cock sure, so untruthful, so ignorant. (Perry doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming either.) No one challenges him. No one mentions Todd Willingham. Perry would have made a good Gauleiter in another time and place.
It is ten years since our own Reichstag Fire, and too many people seem to accept the loss of freedoms resulting from the ill-named Patriot Act. Everything Hitler and the Nazis did was legal under German law. We seem to have learned nothing from history. We seem doomed to relive it.
Groove of the Day