Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gunter's defence

One of the standout articles in the newspapers this weekend was a piece in The Guardian by Gunter Grass talking about, and trying to justify, his involvement with the Nazi forces in the Second world war. It is uncanny to see this while reading The Tin Drum and although I have not had the time to read the article to its conclusion yet there is already a sense that his argument is one based not just on the circumstances of the time but also his age.

“So there were plenty of excuses. Yet for decades I refused to admit to the word, and to the double letters. What I had accepted with the stupid pride of youth I wanted to conceal after the war out of a recurrent sense of shame. But the burden remained, and no one could alleviate it.

True, during the tank gunner training, which kept me numb throughout the autumn and winter, there was no mention of the war crimes that later came to light, but the ignorance I claim could not blind me to the fact that I had been incorporated into a system that had planned, organised, and carried out the extermination of millions of people. Even if I could not be accused of active complicity, there remains to this day a residue that is all too commonly called joint responsibility. I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.”


Whatever you make of the Grass and SS debate you have to hand it to him that he has the ability as a writer to be able to put pen to paper and come up with a defence, one that he has dubbed ‘The Last Word”, that at least is reasoned and perhaps could help him regain some ground lost.

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