Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Life With Albert Speer: Part Two

Martin Kitchen calls Speer's defense at the Nuremberg trials “masterly.”  Some of it was pure fabrication, such as the shocking contention that Speer contemplated Hitler's assassination by injecting poison gas into the air intake vents of Hitler's Bunker.  This had the added theatrical effect of bringing out arch Nazi Hermann Goering's rage at Speer for everyone to see.  This served to separate Speer from the other Nazis. 

But Speer went further than this by being the only defendant present to admit some form of responsibility (but not “guilt”) for the crimes under which he was tried.  Though this was definitely a calculated risk (any admission at all could bring a death sentence), it does not appear to be mere theatrics. Speer was battling depression at the time (a fact Kitchen implies was merely his nature and had little context with his specific actions or behavior – again, an unfair assessment in my opinion), struggling to accept that he, in fact, clearly aided and abetted the disaster that befell Germany as a result of the war.  The famous Berlin lawyer Dr. Hans Flachsner was his attorney.

“Speer gave a remarkable reply to Flachsner's question as to whether he felt that his responsibility was limited to his own area of competence.  'This war was an unimaginable catastrophe for the German people and caused a worldwide catastrophe.  It was therefore obviously my duty to admit my responsibility to the German people.  This obligation was all the greater because the head of the government avoided his responsibility towards the German people and the world.  As an important member of the leadership of the Reich from 1942 therefore I accept joint responsibility'.” (page 294)

For the risks he took to salvage Germany's infrastructure near the end of the war, for his admission of being basically an accomplice of the regime he served, and for his considerable cooperation with the American and British analysis of the war (particularly with regard to the effects of strategic bombing) immediately after Germany's defeat, Speer's life was spared.  He served a 20-year sentence for crimes against humanity, namely the widespread use of slave labor and for his part in sustaining Germany's war of aggression.  He served the entire sentence in Spandau where he tried to make the most of his imprisonment.

“To keep fit he became a passionate gardener.  The gaol had a large walled garden that had been left unattended for years. The prisoners were given individual plots.  Funk specialized in tomatoes, Donitz favored beans, while Speer grew a variety of flowers.  Gradually the other inmates lost interest or became too ill to keep their plots in working order.  At the British prison director's suggestion, Speer, who was the youngest and fittest of the prisoners, turned this space into an intricate garden with pathways, lawns, flowerbeds, shrubberies, a rock garden and fruit trees.

“In the summer he spent hours every second day watering it by refilling a watering can fifty times. He sowed four thousand square meters of lawn, which then had to be regularly mowed by hand. The garden was Speer's private world where he could do whatever he wanted.  Here he was free to use his imagination, to create and to dream.  But this was only one part of his fitness program.  He regularly made long walks around the garden, keeping an exact record of the distance covered each day.  His record was 24.7 kilometers. His fastest pace was 5.8 kilometers in one hour.  To make walking in a confined space more interesting he set out on an imaginary walk around the globe. (page 316)

“For years Speer continued his lonely walk around the world until, having walked 31,816 kilometers, he sent a message to Rudolf Wolters: 'please pick up 35 kilometers south of Guadalajara Mexico'.” (page 325)  I find this personal project and application of his mind and body to be fascinating.

Speer secretly completed the rough draft of his memoirs in November 1953 but he would have to serve 13 more years of imprisonment before he could work on the final draft, by which time he had several publishers interested in his autobiography. Kitchen is quick to point out throughout the biography that Speer made every effort throughout his life to obtain grandiose sums of money for his efforts – in terms of fees as an architect, through various business dealings while serving as Armaments Minister, as well as positioning himself for great wealth for his life story at the end of his prison term.  Kitchen harps on how this fails to jibe with Speer's mythic conception of himself as living a modest, even spartan, lifestyle – an idea he fostered to further contrast himself from most of the other principle Nazi's, who usually preferred to live in aristocratic style.  

“Speer's aim in the published version of the Spandau Diaries was to present himself as having lost twenty years of his life from ages forty to sixty, enduring a harsh prison sentence, in return for which he was absolved of all wrongdoing.  The entire book was in a sense an amplification of his answer to a letter that his daughter Hilde had written to him on her birthday 17 April 1953, asking him how he could possibly have served a regime that was so transparently evil.  Speer did not reply until 14 May.  He makes no mention of this painful exchange in his diaries.  He began by saying that: 
'There are things, you see, for which one has to carry the blame, even if purely factually one might find excuses.  The immensity of the crime precludes any attempt at self-justification.'  He spoke here of blame.  At Nuremberg he spoke of 'joint responsibility'.  He purposefully avoided any mention of the word 'guilt', for fear to then having to justify himself.  He then repeated the familiar line that although he knew nothing of the 'dreadful things' that had happened, he blamed himself for not finding out about them.  He went on to compare himself with Oedipus, who was horribly punished by providence for transgressions for which he bore no responsibility.  He claimed to have been overwhelmed by Hitler's friendship, the power that he thereby gained, and by the limitless opportunities he was given to pursue his career as an architect.  He was blinded by a Faustian pact, a tragic hero enmeshed in inextricable fate.  He only began to question the regime when Hitler threatened to destroy what was left of Germany. His opposition, such as it was, was not to the persecution of the Jews or to an aggressive war.  In conventionally anti-Sematic terms he wrote: 'I really did not have any feelings of aversion towards them [the Jews], in other words no more than the uncomfortable feeling that all of us sometimes have when in contact with them.'

“This makes for painful reading now that we know that not only was Speer fully aware of what had happened to the Jews, but also played an active part in their persecution.” (pp. 321 – 322)

Kitchen concludes his biography with a summary critique of Speer as a Nazi.  “There can be no doubt that Speer did indeed help prolong the war longer than many thought possible, as a result of which millions were killed and Germany reduced to a pile of rubble.  To take pride in such an achievement did not quite fit with his public image as a public penitent, handing over a fortune to the victims of National Socialism, renouncing the material pleasures of life and living on locusts and wild honey.

“He argued that his guilt was based on omission rather than commission.  He clearly implied that guilt by omission was necessarily the less reprehensible.  His self-serving public display of scrupulosity sidestepped a confrontation with the nature of what he had done.  He had not merely looked away. This was not an argument over the validity of his ignorance, nor was it a question of due moral diligence.  He had been an active participant in Nazi crimes.” (page 364)
  
Evaluating Speer is a unique challenge compared with his Nazi peers.  That is why Kitchen's critique, while eye-opening and fascinating, is also overbearing to the degree that it loses objectivity in favor of his personal agenda against Speer.  One point, however, that Kitchen makes repeatedly (as does virtually all the other authors mentioned previously) is that the “hardcore” Nazis like Martin Bormann never trusted Speer and constantly conspired against him because he was not a “true” National Socialist.  This is an important and fundamental fact.  Although he was not in any way involved with the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler, the alliance felt Speer could be trusted enough to support them in forming a new government after the Fuhrer was dead. Why this distrust of Speer by the Nazi elites and trust of him by the planners of the would-be coup against Hitler?  Kitchen doesn't even pose this question because to do so would take him too far from his vendetta against Speer.

When you add all this up and ledger it against the crimes he was personally responsible for then you get a complex character that does not fit the mold of a Himmler or Goebbels or Goering. Speer was guilty of a lot but he did not possess an ideological or close social affiliation with the other Nazis.  He was definitely an outsider, even though he clearly took advantage of opportunities to solidify and perpetuate his own power within the scheme of the system.  The fact is Speer did not order nor did he supervise any act of genocide.  His alleged anti-Semitic nature was, in fact, merely a general pronounced indifference and amorality that he held toward almost everything that was not immediately useful to him.

It is easy to say that a person like this should have known better.  But it is difficult for any of us to step away from the entire cultural atmosphere that engulfs the circumstances of our lives.  Each of us lives in a society that seems self-perpetuating, one that dictates the circumstances of living, and that will likely continue after we are dead.  Thankfully that was not true of National Socialism, but living in Germany at the time it seemed Hitler would build an empire. Speer could have walked away from all that, but it was simply not in his character to do so; nor was it in the character of his entire nation, for that matter.

Van der Vat was proud that he wrote his biography outside of any personal interaction with Speer.  He felt Speer was thoroughly disingenuous and that he corrupted whoever interacted with him, making an objective historical assessment impossible. But, I wonder, is it necessarily wise to examine a life and cast judgment upon it without any consideration of the man himself? 

For over 40 years I have been as interested in Speer, the person, as I was in Speer, Hitler's architect. Kitchen supplies several interesting examples of areas of affinity I have with Speer the person.  For example, Speer's interest in classical music has always been one area of personal interest for me. In Inside the Third Reich he details how, before the war, he accompanied Hitler to various operetta performances. Kitchen records how, as the war was coming to a close, Speer again turned to classical music.  In Kitchen's eyes this is an example of Speer's extravagance and decadence. Again, this is an instance where I feel the author has overplayed his hand.  Speer was an architect and had a sophisticated appreciation of literature, art, and music.  Regardless, as the war was ending, on 4 April, 1945:

“He organized a highly successful concert in Berlin with Brahm's first symphony and the Schumann Piano Concerto, with Wilhelm Kempff as soloist. He then hosted a musical evening at the villa on the Wannsee.  Speer chose Kempff, the young virtuoso violinist Gerhard Taschner and his pianist wife Gerda Netta Taschner.  Admiral Donitz, who was also a music lover, was the guest of honor. Kempff began with some Handel, then at Speer's request he played the Kreutzer Sonata with Taschner.  This was followed by the Taschners playing the Cesar Franck Violin Sonata.  Then Kempff played pieces by Schumann, Chopin and Lizst.  Champagne having been served during the interval, Taschner and Kempff entertained Speer's guests with a display of virtuoso pieces. This lavish soiree does not quiet square with Speer's expressions of indignation in his memoirs at the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by the Nazi elite at a time when ordinary Germans were suffering such deprivation.” (page 272)

Then “...on 12 April, at Speer's instigation, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwangler gave a final concert in the Philharmonic Hall in Berlin.  The audience was treated to Beethoven's Violin Concerto, Bruckner's “Romantic” Symphony  - Speer's favorite – and, appropriately enough, then end of Gotterdammerung.  Speer had told the orchestra, as well as a number of friends and colleagues, that when Bruckner's fourth appeared in the program the end was near.  It would then be prudent to go into hiding.  It is reported that members of the Hitler Youth held baskets full of cyanide tablets that were offered to the audience as they left.  Speer professed to be horrified at this macabre spectacle, which he attributed to some unknown party functionary.” (page 274)

I see no reason to doubt, as Kitchen does, Speer in this instance.  This was weeks after he had defied the Fuhrer's “Nero Order”.  Hitler's spell was broken. Admittedly a bit late in the game for Speer but broken nevertheless.  Who was it that regained who he was before the spell was first cast? Who was this person who suddenly became horrified by the macabre death-throes of Nazism?  Kitchen and van der Vat would claim it was just an act like so much else about Speer we now know was an act.  But I think there is a genuine person there and that justice was served with a 20-year sentence punishing that person.  

I have to go looking for the person.  Kitchen doesn't think any of it is important compared with the clinical nature of, say, being aware of and authorizing the construction of the crematoria at Auschwitz.  Admittedly, such guilt is heavy and tangible and Speer lied a lot to keep that fact from seeing the light of day during his lifetime.

Kitchen is sterile, legalistic, detailed and factual to a degree that we can no longer even see who Speer was before Hitler cast his spell.  Speer disappears into the bureaucracy and body politic of a great tide that swept up the entire German nation throughout the 1930's. I think there is a person there that is not evil, he is not like Hitler even if he did befriend one of the great mass murders of the twentieth century.  Speer was a person, like you and me.  Maybe we would be more honest than he was.  Maybe we wouldn't be. 

In my opinion, Sereny does a much better job that either Kitchen or van der Vat of reminding us of who we are dealing with, not just what this person did.  The person lies in the what but not in the what alone.  The what is taken out of context if it not balanced with the who.  I do not believe everything Speer revealed was disingenuous.  The garden at Spandau was not a lie.  The books he read, the music he appreciated were not lies.  His natural self-centered introspection was not a lie though it might have the source of some of his subsequent lying.  After 40 years of reading and studying him, I relate to Speer on his introspection and creativity more so than on his other traits and crimes.

“And then one day, at the end of the usual noon visit, Hitler, who had never seemed to notice him, suddenly turned to him as he was leaving and said, 'Come along to lunch.'

“'Can you imagine this?' said Speer.  'Here I was, young, unknown and totally unimportant, and this great man, for whose attention – just for one glance – our whole world competed, said to me, 'Come and have lunch.'  I thought I'd faint.  Just that morning, climbing about on the site, I'd got some plaster on my suit and Hitler noticed me looking doubtfully at my dirty sleeve, 'Don's worry about that,' he said, 'We'll fix it upstairs.'  And upstairs he took me into his private quarters and told his valet to get his dark blue jacket.  And before I knew it, there I was, walking back into the drawing room behind Hitler, wearing his own jacket.

“'The party elite were assembled for lunch – soon afterwards I should discover he always had large groups for lunch – and Goebbels eyes popped.  He immediately noticed what I hadn't seen, Hitler's golden party badge, the only one of its kind. 
'What are you doing there.' he said sharply.  'What are you wearing there?'

“'He is wearing my jacket,' Hitler said, and pointed to the seat next to him. 'Sit down here,' he said.

“'Can you imagine what I felt?' Speer said again.  'Here I was, twenty-eight years old, totally insignificant in my own eyes, sitting next to him at lunch, wearing his clothes and elected – at least for that day – as virtually his sole conversational partner.  I was dizzy with excitement.'” (pp. 102-103)

“Hitler had never discussed his future plans with him, said Speer, except 'in connection with building.  In his closing speech at the 1937 Nuremberg Party Congress he emphasized his plan for 'a Germanic Reich of German nationals.'  I happened to be present afterwards when his adjutant told him that Field Marshal Blomberg was so moved by this sentence, he had begun to cry.  I saw Hitler accepted this emotion as a confirmation of the Field Marshal's fundamental agreement with him in this matter.

“'Very shortly after that evening in Nuremberg,' Speer continued, 'Hitler stopped me as we were going up the stairs to his flat in Munich.  He told his retinue to go ahead, and when we were alone he said, 'We are going to create a huge Reich combining all Germanic people, starting in Norway and going down to northern Italy.  I must still achieve this myself; nobody else has the experience or the will.  If only I can keep my health.  And your Berlin buildings will be the crowning achievement. Do you understand now the need for their huge dimensions – the capital of the Germanic Reich?'” (page 185)

Soon after this Hitler authorized Speer to begin construction on Germania.  So you can see Speer's perspective of the necessity of what he was doing to Berlin and its citizenry.  It justifies nothing, but it does bring it into higher resolution.  

“'Of course I was perfectly aware that he sought world domination,' Speer said.  'What you – and I think everybody else – don't seem to understand is that at the time I asked for nothing better.  That was the whole point of my buildings. They would have looked grotesque if Hitler has sat still in Germany.  All I wanted was for this great man to dominate the globe.'” (page 186)

Sereny, as I said, pulls a great deal out of Speer that is revealing and honest.  When she catches him backtracking over something he has told her she calls him on it.  She watched him with her own eyes struggle with what he had done as a person.  She made him struggle with her clever questions and extended exchanges of dialog with Speer, not always allowing him to have his way.  She observed all this and, to me, gives us a more complete portrait of Albert Speer. But the Kitchen book is a must-have as well. Second only to Sereny, Kitchen gives us a fascinating matrix of documented details on how closely associated Speer was to the inner Nazi circle. 

Speer claimed to be a misfit among mass murderers. Kitchen shows us how Speer contributed to the mass murdering (not just to forcing millions of slaves to work resulting in the deaths of thousands more from horrific work conditions) by authorizing the building of the crematoria at Auschwitz.  This was his high tide of sin where the Final Solution was concerned.  Otherwise, he wanted to save the most skilled Jews.  He needed their labor and craftsmanship.

In both cases, the crematoria and the skilled Jews, Speer was completely indifferent to what was happening.  As long as projects were built and productivity was maximized, Speer really was more interested in classical music than he was in the ideology and politics of National Socialism.  In April 1944, recovering from illness and the war now probably lost, he became enraged at Hitler's handling of an encroachment on Speer's authority. Speer shouted in front of several witnesses “The Fuhrer can kiss my ass!”  Now how many people got away with that in Nazi Germany at this time?

Kitchen seems to claim these moments are not genuine but I disagree.  The person of Speer was indifferent to everything except for whatever could be of use to the task at hand.  Even the Fuhrer could be a jerk and piss Speer off.  His priorities, right or wrong, were his own, and he was not a product of National Socialism; he wanted to build things, he wanted to feel the immense power of the grand neo-classical style, he wanted to live a dignified and privileged lifestyle.  Outside of those types of things, he felt nothing at all.  

Should Speer have been hanged along with Sauckel and the others at Nuremberg?  If all that Kitchen documents in his biography were known at the time of his trial he would undoubtedly have hanged.  But I am glad he wasn't.  20 years is no mild sentence.  Speer caused great suffering by his actions, but genocide was something he simply observed. He did not work for it and certainly he did not work against it. He had the moral cowardliness, or at least apathy, to distance himself as much as possible from it, as did most Germans during that horrible time. His sentence was just, in my opinion.  And I think the world is a richer, wiser, more diverse place because Speer served his time and got away with creating a mythic self-image before his death.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Catching Kings of Leon Live

What's a concert trip without the obligatory $40 tee shirt?
Jennifer and I caught the Kings of Leon concert at Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheater last night. Deerhunter was the opening act and we were really impressed with their sound. Dirty electric guitar and saxophone and guy who sings like a young Bono.   They mostly reminded me of early U2 and Stone Temple Pilots and the influence of KOL was fairly obvious.  They were the surprise of the evening, actually.

Kings of Leon performed a really good show.  There were audience sing-alongs with "Use Somebody" and "Back Down South" and "Sex on Fire", among others. There were wild lighting and projection effects to accent the event.  I love Kings of Leon. Their music is mostly upbeat and cocky and hopeful with a real drive to it.

Their musical performances didn't seem to have any particular passion about them last night, however.  By now, they have played most of these songs to death.  But the material was nevertheless strong and varied and fun, especially since this was my first time to see them live. Initially, I think, the band got into the crowd, rather than the other way around. And that seemed to pull things along. That's the great thing about live music.  There is a play of energy that doesn't exist in your headphones or your stereo.

This was my first time to the Lakewood Amphitheater. I was not overly impressed with the quality of the sound.  But then I was just sitting and lounging on blanket in the large grassy area facing the stage.  Which is a fantastic way to take in a venue like this, by the way.  There were probably 16,000 people and the stage in front of me.  So cool.  It was a perfect spring evening in Georgia, warm and clear with a slight breeze.  The sound quality was probably considerably better for those thousands of people under the roof near the stage.

Nevertheless, it was easy to get into the music with so many people around singing the songs too and dancing and laughing.  Everybody was having a blast with enormous $9 beer cans in the their hands.  The band did a really great rowdy rendition of "WALLS".  Normally a minimalist effort by lead man Caleb Followill, this version ended with the entire band jamming out on stage as if it were always a rock song instead of a laid-back contemplative number. 

"Closer" was superbly performed, one of my KOL favorites. "Supersoaker", "On Call" and "Notion" were also highlights of the evening for me. But, last night did not offer remarkable Kings of Leon. They performed very well and at the times mentioned above, they were excellent.  But, you can tell when a band becomes comfortable with their commitment to their music.  They don't butcher it, but they don't feel it like they used to either. That's OK.  At my age (which has about 30 years on the average KOL fan going wild about the music last night), I understand how routine things can become, even if you are really good at them.

But that's not what matters.  What matters is that 16,000 people had fun last night.  I was a among them.  I felt the collective energy and pleasure of the moment; and the band, if not spectacular, was nevertheless beautiful to behold. 
Jennifer and I arrive at the amphitheater. There were a few hundred scattered people enjoying Deerhunter, and band that surprised us with how good they were. We sat high up next to the wall near center stage. 
As Deerhunter ended the crowded started to gather for Kings of Leon.  This was taken at sunset in this beautiful venue.


Kings of Leon kick things off.

Cool light show stuff all through the concert.  You can see the crowd is huge by now.

The band and the crowd.  Everybody got in sync with everybody else and it was a good, fun evening. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Non-historical Basis for the War on Confederate Symbolism


The Civil War was caused by slavery.

The Civil War was fought over slavery.

These two historical contentions represent the essence of our difficulty in seeing America’s bloodiest war in its proper context.  One of these statements is a historical fact.  The other is a historical fiction, or at least an incomplete fact. And the primary problem today is that many do not recognize the difference between the two statements at all and thus legitimize a fiction by equating it with a fact.

How we got here has been a topic of interest on this blog before.  But, more recently, three incidents in particular have come to my attention that require me as a thinking person to respond, clarify and attempt to correct the subtle, fundamental error made by many today.

First, there is the initiative by the mayor of New Orleans to rid the city of its public Confederate statues and memorials. According to the mayor’s office, this is an attempt to redress the statues placed in the late nineteenth century by “The Cult of the Lost Cause” and that these statues should be placed “in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context…”  I personally have no problem with the memorabilia of the Southern Confederacy put on display in a museum and I agree there was a “cultural force” in post-war America known as the Lost Cause.  But I question the use of the word “context” and the mistaken mentality that implies.

Next, Trevor Noah is a very funny guy.  I watch his monologs on The Daily Show fairly regularly.  Last week he did a very humorous piece lampooning Confederate Memorial Day.  During that segment he said: “If it’s all part of your history, then maybe you should include all of the history.  If you want to have the monument, then you should have to have a slave next to it ― for context!”  There’s that word again. 

Apparently the context of Confederate Memorial Day cannot include anything if not the fact that Southern secession was a bid to maintain white supremacy in a slave-holding nation.

Then there is a piece in The New Republic.  I like this publication and read it regularly each week.  It featured some of the best reporting on the 2016 election that I read anywhere.  But in a piece critiquing Corey Stewart for tweeting about how Confederate General Robert E. Lee deserves to be honored as a “hero” the magazine wrote: “’Hero’ is doing a lot of work here. Mainly, it is obscuring the fact that Robert E. Lee was a traitor who fought for the right to own human beings.”

Apparently, the fact the Robert E. Lee freed all his slaves in 1862 right after his great victory at Fredericksburg and yet continued to demonstrate great military prowess for Southern cause doesn’t suggest, as it should to any rational mind, that he fought the war for different reasons and that his ownership of slaves had little to do with his decision to fight.  Whether or not he was a “traitor” can be debated as well, though obviously he opposed the use and threat of Federal power at the time - which makes him a “traitor” in the legal sense. But I’ll get into that more below. 

“Context” is precisely what these three incidents fail to deliver.  Or, rather, the context is intended for contemporary purposes to over-ride the historical fact, without regard to historical fact.  It is almost impossible these days to discuss the issue of slavery and the Southern rebellion in an historical perspective.  Everyone already "knows" all the "facts" necessary to "inform" their opinion - so no genuine discourse on the issue is necessary anymore - apparently.

Context is something that has been lost in recent years.  In 2015, Salon Magazine, another constant source of information for me, featured Col. Ty Seidule, head of the department of history at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Salon’s headline reads: “Was the Civil War fought over slavery?:  Here’s the video to show idiots who think the answer is ‘no.’”

Yet, Col. Seidule commits the subtle but egregious error of starting off by asking: “Was the American Civil War fought because of slavery?”  Then proceeds for remainder of the video explaining: “Slavery was, by a wide margin, the single most important cause of the Civil War for both sides.” Almost every aspect of the video deals with politicians and events leading up to the war; very little is devoted to the war as it was fought.  So Col. Seidule’s initial question is, by definition, not answered by his own analysis.  

The word "idiot" gets thrown around a lot by people who are probably pretty smart. They just don't know as much about history as they think they do.  Unfortunately, those who might be contrarian toward this issue are generally a bunch of toothless, obese, biker, trailer dwellers.  That doesn't really aid the cause of history either, nor does it do much to discount the idiot thing. Anyway...

In this case the colonel is, nevertheless, correct about the “cause” aspect of the war. There is really no denying that the wealthy Planter Class of white southerners brought this nation to war over the political, economic, and cultural issue of slavery.  I certainly don’t wish to suggest that white supremacy was not a factor in the war.  It most certainly was the primary political reason for the war. But what the colonel does, and what Salon allows him to get away with unquestioningly because they are so anxious for him to prove "idiots" wrong, is cleverly (perhaps unwittingly) conflate what “caused” the war with the reason the war was “fought”. These are two very different things.  So while slavery "caused" the war, the war was almost certainly not "fought" primarily over slavery.  This is an important distinction, especially with respect to military flags and commemorations. 

James McPherson and Gary Gallagher are two heavyweight historians of the period. They have written excellent books based upon extensive research of period newspapers, letters, and diaries. Both scholars acknowledge that slavery and emancipation was a minor issue among the actual soldiers and commanders on both sides in the war. McPherson's book For Cause and Comrades (1998) states that among Union soldiers only 3 in 10 at best were motivated (in some way, perhaps large, perhaps small) by slavery.  Most of the rest fought for "Union" and for their State as represented in the Union army.  (States were viewed then the way we might view college football teams today. An important disconnect with contemporary thought.) Among Confederate soldiers slavery is rarely mentioned at all unless the soldier owned slaves. The vast majority fought for the honor of their State and under the impression that the South was being invaded, among many other, lesser issues (fear of northern industrialism, southern honor, and - yes - even states' rights). You cannot coalesce the war into a single issue. Sorry Salon.

Gallagher's more recent book, The Union War (2012), indicates that many Union soldiers did not support the emancipation proclamation. The majority gradually came to accept it "sometimes grudgingly so, as useful or even necessary too to achieve victory over the Rebels." (page 103)  But emancipation itself was clearly not why the majority of Northerners fought.  Reading the two primary northern newspapers covering the war, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly, reveals that these "nowhere mentioned emancipation or the destruction of slavery, though some readers could have interpreted the language regarding freedom and the dictates of humanity to include African-Americans.  Most white northerners, within a mid-nineteenth century context, probably would not have done so." (pp. 18 - 19)

Lee saw the State of Virginia as where his ultimate citizenship lay.  Virginia was a more sovereign power, in Lee’s mind, than was the Union of States. That is why Lee turned down the Union's offer to lead its armies at the beginning of the war and, instead, chose to defend Virginia as a cultural idea. The mass of Americans fought the war for their States, not for the Federal or Confederate governments or their respective policies.  It was the “meta-honor” of the State that was at stake, not any “country.”  In this regard, while legally a “traitor”, I submit that Robert E. Lee was loyal to his citizenry as he saw it.  He was, first and foremost, a citizen of Virginia. From his perspective it would be traitorous to be otherwise.

It is difficult for us today to relate to a State as a cultural force.  But that is the way most Americans viewed their respective states in the 1860’s.  Again, it is the same with college football fans or hockey fans or whatever sport you choose. The way people feel about “their” team today is roughly the way people felt about “their” State at the time, and for most Americans the State was “theirs” while the nation was “ours”. Federal power was a collective thing whereas State power was a personal thing.  

Now do you see how easy it is to get off course when you divorce yourself from the received wisdom of the time in which you wish to study in history?

I fail to see, even though the war was predominantly caused by slavery, how it is "idiotic" to conclude that it was fought for reasons besides and other than slavery by the vast majority of participants on both sides.  Indeed, the historical evidence is pretty clear on this. The key, of course, is to understand "the context of the mid-nineteenth century," not to impose contemporary values (and frustrations) upon historical fact.  That is not history at all. That is social criticism.

Of the slavery motivation for fighting the war McPherson writes: “The kind of liberty that most Americans associate with the Civil War was the liberation of four million slaves. But that was not the liberty for which most Civil War soldiers fought.”  Liberty did not mean “freedom of the slaves.” Instead it was about “the republican liberty and constitutional government of 1776 and 1789 – which left slavery intact.” (page 116)

“Few Union soldiers professed to fight for racial equality.  For that matter, not many claimed even to fight primarily for the abolition of slavery.” (page 117) However, it must be admitted that as the war progressed: “While restoration of the Union was the main goal for which they fought, they became convinced that this goal was unattainable without striking against slavery.” (page 118)   

Still, it is important to note that emancipation was not what the average Yankee soldier had in mind. “But plenty of soldiers believed that the Proclamation had changed the purpose of the war. They professed to feel betrayed. They were willing to risk their lives for Union, they said, but not for black freedom. ‘I don’t want to fire another shot for the negroes and I wish that all the abolitionists were in hell,' wrote a German-born bricklayer in a New York artillery battery.” (page 122)

It is arrogant to put the received wisdom of your enlightened perspective in a righteous place overlooking the received wisdom of past perspectives.  The people of the South fought the Civil War for a wide variety of reasons. Slavery was among them, but it was not the grand gust of wind from a patriotic crusade that we seem to want to believe it was. Rather, it was a breeze, something inevitable while the war itself was the mighty thunderstorm that purified the air.  The thunderstorm itself was fought by brave men on both sides, brilliant men, stupid men, heroes and cowards – on both sides. Most of those on both sides fought for their respective States and the honor of their regiments. 

McPherson sees Victorian America as a fundamental difference with our perspectives and values today; highlighting ideas and beliefs that seem irrelevant or quaint today.   “Duty and honor were closely linked to concepts of masculinity in Victorian America.  Boyhood was a time of preparation for the tests and responsibilities of manhood. And there could be no sterner test than war.  It quite literally separated men from boys. The letters and diaries of Union and Confederate volunteers alike – those in their thirties as well as those in their teens – are full of references to the need to prove one’s self a man.” (page 29)

“The cultural values of Victorian America held each individual rather than society mainly responsible for that individual’s achievements or failures. What really counted were not social institutions, but one’s own virtue, will, convictions of duty and honor, religious faith – in a word, one’s character.” (page 61)

I submit that the Robert E. Lee statute referred to in The New Republic and that apparently Trevor Noah wants to have a slave statue next to for “context”, in fact, has another context. A disassociated and unique context, as do most of the other Confederate memorials across the South. They celebrate the Southern style of Victorian America.  They celebrate great military battles, both victories and defeats.  These events may or may not have had a political impact on slavery. But, most certainly, as they all took place virtually none of the participants was thinking “I’m doing this for the slaves.”

There was no mass outcry in the North about any Confederate statues or memorials placed in the re-united States during the 1880’s.  That was because 1) the war was not seen as being fought over slavery, therefore memorializing it was not a "bad" thing and 2) those who fought it saw their adversaries as worthy and their compatriots as brave in the face of such worthy adversaries. That is the context of the day.  You can redefine that context if you choose, but I submit you are arrogant to do so and it leads to conclusions without historical merit.

So, by and large, that is what is supposed to be honored on Confederate Memorial Day, though white supremacy still holds power in this country. With a handful of exceptions (the Fort Pillow massacre, among others), white supremacy had little to do with the war as it was fought.  To chain all these memorials to slavery is to not put them in context.  On the contrary, the historical evidence clearly shows it is to take almost all of them out of context.  A historically factual summation of the war would be as follows.

The Civil War was caused by slavery.  The Southern Confederacy was a revolt as a slave nation against modernity.

The Civil War was fought for a variety of reasons: among them - honor, duty, and State sovereignty more so than emancipation.  The Southern armies fought almost always for military rather than political objectives.

Conclusion, forcing the application of slavery to the context of every Confederate memorial is a distortion of the factual evidence of the time in which the war was fought.  Applying and afflicting this context is in itself a prejudice that makes it impossible for the gallant would-be emancipators of today to fully understand the original intent of the memorials and, indeed, the whole of Confederate symbolism. 

More importantly, this not only applies to the revisionist conflation of the war's “cause” and the reasons it was "fought” but also to the various hate and racist groups that have stolen the Confederate Battle Flag and other Southern symbols in the name of white supremacy.  Certainly, the South was a supremist racist society (as was most of the North), but in fighting the war itself racism was a minuscule motivation. Today’s fringe elements (KKK, Aryan Nation, etc.) elevate racism to a ridiculous level on par with how Hitler elevated (and misunderstood) Nietzsche’s idea of the overman.  Hitler appropriated the overman as the perfect Nazi.  That is not what Nietzsche meant at all.  Likewise, the KKK define Confederate racism as a crusade for which it fought, which is historically untenable.  Much of the revisionist self-righteousness is inspired by the use of Confederate symbolism by fringe groups - giving the false impression that the revisionist agenda is historically justified. 

Race is fundamental to Southern society but, once more, there was more to the North fighting the South than slavery. Revisionists and racists alike fail to understand Confederate symbolism in the context it was accepted by both the North and the South at that time. And for that, the past becomes, ironically, a myth of emancipation when, in fact, there were several other cultural forces, more important to the average American, at war with each other. Remember that, too, before you decide to tear it all down.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Life With Albert Speer: Part One

I recently finished reading Speer: Hitler's Architect, a fascinating and highly critical biography of a historic figure who has interested me since high school.  I intent to write a review of that book.  It will be in two parts.  The new material mixed with my recollections of the older material in my library and this motivated me to review my modest collection on Albert Speer.  This new biography by Martin Kitchen is my fifth biography on Speer.

Let's start with the fact that I have read Speer's autobiography Inside the Third Reich several times in my life, though not recently.  I have read his prison memoirs, Spandau, twice.  His last work, Infiltration, was so boring and obviously self-serving that I never finished it.  I was always impressed with Speer as a genuinely intelligent, creative and introspective person, with a keen awareness of technology and productivity and dramatic affect.  His entanglement with the Nazis was a source of interest to me. Here was a man who obviously knew what he was doing.  He was never popular within the Nazi circles themselves, he was never political or racist enough for their tastes. How could such a man become so involved with world events that he served a 20-year prison sentence for force-ably working millions of slaves in the Nazi industrial war machine?

My biographies on Speer mostly dismantle the post-war mythic image that Speer cleverly created for himself, which I accepted at face value for many years.  My personal journey of discovery about Albert Speer began with me completely accepting his perspective of events.  Through many years I have evolved into a more sober understanding of the man. The initial hammer blow came from Matthias Schmidt who wrote Albert Speer: The End of a Myth, which revealed for the first time that Speer had been directly involved with the forced removal of tens of thousands of Jews from Berlin as part of his city planning for the massive building project he managed known as Germania.

Gitta Sereny wrote a humanizing biography of Speer entitled Albert Speer: His Battle with the Truth.  It is critical of Speer but generally sympathetic to the idea that he was existentially wrestling with the guilt of his involvement in World War Two.  Sereny seems to draw things out of Speer, such as his genuine contrition while depressed at the beginning of his prison sentence and his absolute belief that Hitler was going to win the war.  Likewise, Joachim Fest, Speer's personal editor since Inside the Third Reich, apologetically writes in Speer: The Final Verdict of Speer as a capable, talented person caught up in the powerful political tide of Hitler, as the Fuhrer's closest friend.  He admits Speer was responsible for the eviction of 75,000 Jews from Berlin, but, importantly, their fate was not necessarily death at that point. The Final Solution was not a matter of policy when the Speer's eviction idea was initially implemented.  Speer didn't know (nor did he care at the time) what would happen to them.

With Dan van der Vat we reach the first comprehensively negative biography of Speer's life, The Good Nazi: The Life and Lies of Albert Speer. Van der Vat is proud of the fact that his work is “the first book about Speer over which he had no personal influence.”  At best, van der Vat finds Speer a master at improvisation, which led to his success within the realities of Third Reich.  For the most part van der Vat is critical, showing conclusively that Speer had to have known about the Holocaust (something Speer specifically denied during his life) even if he didn't directly participate in it himself.  The substance of van der Vat's polemic biography is more thoroughly elaborated in Kitchen's new biography so I'll save the specifics for there.  But, suffice it to say The Good Nazi opened the world's eyes for the first time to the greater depth and breadth of Speer's involvement within the Nazi regime. 

A few ancillary books round out my collection. Hitler's Engineers provides interesting insights into both Speer and his predecessor Fritz Todt and their supervisory roles in a wide range of architectural and engineering achievements (everything from the Autobahn to the V-2 Rocket) for Germany. Tales From Spandau delivers a factual account of Speer's prison life, along with the lives of the other Nazi's imprisoned there.  The Wages of Destruction is a brilliant book in its own right, dealing more broadly with the German economy under Hitler, but naturally including a lot of critical information about Speer as Minister of Armaments.  The primary conclusion of that book is that the so-called “Speer Miracle” in armaments production (Germany expanded rapidly and peaked in production very late in the war under Speer, despite heavy Allied bombing) was largely due to policies already established by Todt before Speer took over his ministry.

So, with all that in mind, I'll start with an overview of Speer's life as I understand it based upon all the information contained in these books.  Prior to 1942, Speer served as Adolf Hitler's architect having designed the Party grounds at Nuremberg in 1934, winning a gold medal for his design at the 1937 international exposition in Paris, and supervising the building and construction of the new Reich Chancellery 1936 – 1938.  Also in 1937 Hitler made Speer the General Building Inspector for the Reich Capitol - planning the details and supervising the initial demolition for Hitler's dream of transforming Berlin into the incredibly ambitious urban space known as Germania.

It was his close association with Hitler (said the be Hitler's closest friend, if he had any at all) that allowed him to become so intimately involved with the aesthetics of these massive architectural projects and to accumulate power within the Third Reich.  As Minister of Armaments he was infamously credited with having extended the war effort by a year or more, thereby costing many millions of additional lives, given the severity of the fighting in 1944-1945.

For demanding the work of millions of slave laborers employed by the Nazi industrial efforts (though he was not directly responsible for supplying the slaves to Germany, that person was Fritz Sauckel - who was hanged), Speer received a 20-year sentence at the Nuremberg trials. His defense at Nuremberg was a gamble that worked. Speer shockingly accepted "joint responsibility" for the crimes of the regime he supported through his work.  In doing so, he cleverly distanced himself from the other Nazi's on trial like Hermann Goring, whom Speer despised.  He also claimed to know nothing of the Holocaust and to have served merely an administrative function within Hitler's circle rather than having any political or ideological affiliation.  He spent his sentence in Spandau prison with several elite Nazi's who had, like Speer, escaped being hung as a result of the trial, most of whom were serving lesser sentences.

There is much more to his story, as I will get show in my next post, but that, in a nutshell, was all I knew when I first read Speer's immensely popular autobiography Inside the Third Reich as a high school student.  My library features a first edition hardcover of that book today.  I have read the book 4-5 times; obviously Speer's life has fascinated me. Here was a man seemingly involved with creative pursuits when he was suddenly thrust into playing a critical strategic role in Germany's war effort.  He was close to Hitler and the book provides many intimate details about Hitler's inner circle as well as a front row seat to the collapse and eventual defeat of the Nazis. Speer professed to be aloof from the politics of the Reich, serving as a technocrat without any political convictions or aspirations.  Like so many others, I bought that story for many years.

His follow-up book, Spandau, was also interesting to me and I have read it a couple of times.  It is an account of his 20-year prison sentence, his interactions with the other Nazi officials imprisoned there, his struggle with guilt and depression, his therapeutic use of his hands and his imagination to build a lovely garden in a walled-off courtyard at the prison.  He walked the central path he constructed around the garden thousands of times as a prisoner, calculating the distance carefully so as to match his reading about various parts of the world which he "visited" through books and walked to in his imagination as a coping mechanism to ward off the monotony of his long sentence. 

The book also contains some details on how he secretly managed to write his memoirs on whatever scraps of paper he could find and have those writings smuggled out of the prison to be later edited after his release.  (Writing by the prisoners was severely limited to a few letters to friends and family now and then.  Such a large-scale biographical project was forbidden to everyone while imprisoned there.) Spandau fascinated me almost as much as Inside the Third Reich. Here was a man very different from the other Nazis, who were mostly unrepentant.  Speer was struggling with contrition, obviously more articulate and intelligent than his fellow prisoners, and interested in putting his mind and body to the best possible use within the confines of prison life.

Without exception my teen self unquestioningly accepted the view that Speer was ignorant of the Holocaust and was a "reluctant but effective" apolitical administrator over Germany's war economy. But gradually through the years it has become apparent that Speer, as most people do when writing their memoirs, cast himself in the best possible light. Through misdirection, omission, and outright decent, his cleverly constructed myth of an apolitical technocrat only responsible for the horrors of the Nazi regime through "joint responsibility" has given way to a much more personal and direct involvement with some of the crimes committed.  This was an eye-opening process for me taking place over a couple of decades.

The most recent contribution to Speer scholarship is Martin Kitchen's Speer: Hitler's Architect.  It is a thorough accounting of Speer's character and personal achievements and actions – placing this against sobering the backdrop of his full support for Hitler's regime.  It is a sharply critical summary of Speer's life, taking into account the research contained in most of the books mentioned previously while blazing new trails regarding Speer's guilt and individual responsibility. Ultimately, I find Kitchen's judgment to be somewhat unfair to Speer.  He seems to think the amoral Speer should have nevertheless acted differently; that is, morally.  I'll post more about that in part two.  Nevertheless, Kitchen's research is thorough, detailed, and thought-provoking.

Kitchen records that Speer wrote an essay in 1936 praising “the Fuhrer's buildings” (mostly Speer's designs) as an epitome of National Socialism.  The article, Kitchen implies, proves that Speer was more politically and philosophically ingrained with Nazism than he admitted in Inside the Third Reich. Further, Speer's claim to have built the new Reich Chancellery in less that one year was a lie.  It actually took two years to complete.  For Kitchen this is an example of the lying and myth-making engaged in by Speer that can be found in earlier research by Schmidt and van der Vat.  The one year claim not only made for a better story and greater prestige within Nazi circles, it also revealed how far Speer would bend the truth to make himself look “miraculous.”

Kitchen builds a strong case for Speer's manipulations of facts but he goes a bit too far in my opinion when he critiques Speer's colossal gold-medal winning German Pavilion design for the 1937 international exhibition in Paris.  Kitchen points out that the Soviet design was erected directly across from Speer's and it also won a gold-medal.  Kitchen claims Speer's design was “inferior” to the Soviets.  This may or may not be the case.  But the argument is knit-picky.  Kitchen takes every opportunity to put down Speer as a fraud and a swindle, without artistic talent.  On this particular point, among others, Kitchen overplays his hand.  The fact is Speer won a gold medal.  To argue that his design was inferior is little more than the sour grapes of neo-liberalism.  It is an unnecessary argument.  Speer can be accountable for other “crimes” without being a “bad” architect. His architectural talents are a matter of style and taste, not a matter of honesty or competence.

On the other hand it is fair to note that Speer chose the titles “Our Empire Style” and “The Globe” for the chapters about his work on Hitler's Germania project as presented in Inside the Third Reich, indicating a sense of arrogance regarding this massive building project. Of this Kitchen writes: “Germania was designed to be the backdrop for a permanent display of the regime's awesome might. Its architecture was intended as a power-political instrument at the service of National Socialism.” (page 71)  It is fair to conclude that Speer's efforts were not just artistic but had the intent to convey the strength of Hitler's movement.  Speer admittedly was enraptured with Hitler's world-dominating bid for a Great German Empire.  

Kitchen shows how closely Speer worked with the notorious SS on many of the Germania-related projects, including the eviction of Jews from Berlin. This began in late 1938 when the demolition of certain sections of Berlin were scheduled to commence for the eventual construction of what would have been the largest architectural achievement of any capital in the world.  The demolition work would displace a large number of German residents.  Speer's solution was to evict the necessary number of Jews from their apartments and, in turn, make those available for the resettlement of the affected German citizens.

“By the time Speer was appointed Minister of Armaments on 8 February 1942 his plans to rebuild Berlin had created a nightmare.  In close collaboration with the SS, he ruthlessly exploited the labor of concentration camp inmates in quarries, brickyards and factories producing building materials....Speer made thousands of Jewish families homeless, most of whom were handed over to the Gestapo to be shipped to what was delicately described as 'the East'.” (page 96) By November 1942 almost 24,000 apartments involving 75,000 Jews had been cleared for German Berliners displaced by the Germania project. (It is important to note that the Germania project actually never got passed the planning phase.  Nothing more than some test elements were ever built.)

Kitchen also points out that by the time Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) Speer had tens of thousands of workers formed in special units to build prisoner of war camps in Poland and Russia.  Many of these prisoners were used by Speer as labor for works in Berlin. “In his first address as Armaments Minister Speer claimed that 'until recently I lived in a world of ideals'.  He was constantly to harp on this theme as he made himself out to have been nothing more than an architect, who was suddenly thrust into the armaments industry, an artist who overnight had to transform himself into a technocrat.  He used this line of defense at Nuremberg so as to disguise the more sordid aspects of his career....The brutal treatment of Berlin's Jews and the construction of a number of concentration camps for the slave labor he required for his mammoth building projects were a significant part of this ideal world.” (page 121)

More damning, perhaps, is the fact that Speer's organization was directly involved in the expansion of the notorious concentration camp at Auschwitz, expanding the housing facilities there as well as constructing the crematoria.  This was known within the SS as “Professor Speer's Special Program.”  While not directly involved in the project (in order to accumulate his vast powers he delegated almost everything), Speer was personally informed of all the details by his key subordinates “whereupon Speer told Himmler that he agreed to all of Hoss's demands.” (page 156)

Speer's influence gradually came to be felt throughout more and more of the Nazi war economy.  He rose to incredible power over almost every aspect of raw materials, factory maintenance, war goods manufacturing, technical research, and the production of firepower.  Speer exploited labor from every conceivable source, including the Nazi concentration camps.  “By 1944, 500,000 concentration camp inmates were working for Speer...Speer was later to claim that working for him gave prisoners 'a chance to survive'.  This is a shameless perversion of the truth.” (page 221) In fact, the conditions were often horrific and many died as slaves to Speer's war economy, although Speer did express general concern over the need for nutrition in order to maximize productivity.

But even Kitchen finds some redeeming aspects to Speer's actions.  When Hitler came to see that all was lost in early 1945 he ordered that all industry and transportation assets (factories and bridges, etc.) be destroyed in areas lost to the conquering allied armies so that they would be of no use the liberators.  “It has to be said, however, that it is to Speer's credit that he put a significant amount of effort, and ran considerable risks in doing what he could to countermand Hitler's orgy of destruction.” (page 272)  Kitchen also refers to Speer as “an outstanding organizer and manager.”

In part two I will complete my review of the Kitchen biography and look back on 40-plus years of interest in the humanity of this enigmatic man. Where lies his guilt?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Mailbox is in the Ditch

Last week I received a call at work from Jennifer stating that the mail box had been knocked over. She said the box itself was fine but that the 4x4 wooden post was "split."  I didn't know exactly what that meant so I cancelled an upcoming appointment at work and drove home to check things out.  

The post snapped off in a diagonal fashion about one-third of the way up.  It was sitting next to my neighbor's mailbox which was also clipped off only his was about two-thirds of the way up.  How this happened I could not tell.  There were no skid or tread marks.  No dents or marks on the actual posts themselves other than the breaks.  The only piece missing was my neighbor's mailbox door.  

It took more than a casual force to cause such damage, maybe a piece of farm equipment swiped them as it came through. Regardless of the cause, I had to either get a new post or repair the old one.  I picked up the mailbox and saw that it would fit back together is I could find something to securely fuse the two sections of the broken post.  

So, I rushed back to town to see what Home Depot had to assist me.  I was disoriented looking for pre-drilled metal plates of some sort.  A guy in the plumbing section offered to help me (even though it was outside his departmet).  We rummaged through a smorgasbord of plates until I found two 15-inch heavy-duty ones exactly 4 inches wide.  A perfect fit for my post.

"I don't know if you are going to want to buy those," the Home Depot guy told me, still sorting through the disarrayed collection of pieces.  "How much are these?" I inquired.  They were about $8 each (the other items in the assortment were $2-$3).  I thought, what an incredible bargain! This was exactly what I had in my mind as I was driving back to town.  But, I figured the guy was used to people nickel and diming him a lot.  "Ouch," I emphatically replied.  "Oh well, I still need two of them."

As insurance that I had what I needed, I bought a couple of smaller, thinner plates as well, along with a box of screws. Since Jennifer was on business, as I drove home I planned how I was going to manage to prop up the mailbox, make sure it fit snugly and properly, while drilling the screws.  It sure would be easier if someone could hold it in place while I had two free hands to bolt it together like an orthopedist operating on a broken arm or leg.

Then a wave of good karma happened upon the situation. Literally as I was topping the hill before my driveway I saw my neighbor (who was not home when I was there earlier) rounding his house with his electric drill in hand.  I pulled into the drive in perfect timing with him arriving at the scene of the debacle.  

"Somebody's been messing with us," I smiled to him as I got out of my truck.  He ranted about how fast people drive through here and how reckless some people are and how we weren't raised to cause such damage and not at least try to contact the owners to accept responsibility for the accident (if it was an accident).  He also said that whoever did had to have mess up their vehicle, even though neither of us saw any indication of how the breaks actually occurred.  I couldn't disagree with anything he said.  But his tone changed when I delighted him about the plates I had just picked up at Home Depot.

Working together, it took us all of about 15 minutes to fix both mailboxes.  The heavier metal plates mended my 4x4 perfectly solid and steady.  The smaller plates did the trick to stabilize his mailbox.  It is amazing how fast you can accomplish things when you have the right help and the right tools all line up at precisely the right time.  If life were always so easy.  

We looked everywhere for his missing door flap but only could a couple of small chunks of it scattered across my driveway.  Afterwards we stood and talked for a good long time.  He offered to pay me for the plates and screws but I wouldn't hear of it. "That's what neighbors are for," I offered. And that took him on a tangent about how country people have come together through the years all around us and helped each other.  There was more than a little nostalgia in his voice as he lamented about the fast-paced, impersonal carelessness of the world.

I shared with him that this was only the second time since 1993 that I have a problem like this.  The last time my mailbox was on the opposite side of my driveway and had been taken out by the garbage truck.  The company promptly bought me another one and I moved it to where it sits today in order to stay away from the garbage pick-up.  I still have no idea whether this was some sort of bad high school prank or the accident of extra wide farm equipment or what...but I am glad the damage was not any worse than it was.  

Fortune smiled upon me when I returned from town at precisely the moment my neighbor was ready to fix his mailbox.  It was a good visit to catch up with him; we haven't really talked other than to say "hello" since before Christmas. He's right. Stuff like this is what neighbors are for.  And the world has gone crazy, even if all we had to show for it in this case was a couple of mailboxes somewhat mysteriously chopped in the ditch.