Ivan’s private site

October 3, 2010

Lessons of the past…

Filed under: General,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:00
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Two photos of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin

Two photos of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin; the left one represents the outer part of the grid, whereas the right one in the middle

A few years ago I was in Berlin and I also visited the Holocaust Memorial. It is a fascinating site, though it took a certain time to understand the intention of the artist. But, suddenly, I think I got it. The memorial consists of a set of gray blocks arranged on a grid; one can walk among the blocks along the grid lines although there is barely enough place for two persons at a time. On the outer parts of the grid the blocks are small; however, by getting closer to the center they become suddenly and unexpectedly high and oppressing (the extra trick is that the ground is also going down, but this is barely visible from the side, so the effect is surprising). And I mean really oppressing. The photos are just an an attempt to show the effects.

In some ways, the memorial is a representation of the poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Why do I speak about this now? Because, the last week-end, a liberal and a center-right party in the Netherlands have signed an agreement with a guy called Geert Wilders to form a minority government: the set up is that those two parties form the government but they can count on the votes of Wilders’ party in the parliament. Of course, this has not been done by the kindness of Wilders’ heart: the government has to adopt many of his ideas. And those are, in many respect, simple: his party is one of the toughest anti-muslim parties in Europe at the moment, whose fundamental approach is that anything that has even remotely something to do with Islam is evil and to be fought against with all legal (?) means. In other words, a party that takes one part of the population, declares it collectively to be the enemy and responsible for most of the woes in the country. Familiar?

One could say that, although I am a foreigner living in the Netherlands, I am not directly affected, so why bother? And that is true; after all, I am an atheist and a “European”, not a Turk or Moroccan that form the majority of the muslim population in the country. But I am also the descendent of Holocaust victims, so I cannot stop asking myself: is this just the first step Pastor Martin Niemöller is talking about? Maybe East-Europeans are next?  (After all Wilder’s party took a fairly strong anti-Rumanian and anti-Bulgarian attitude at the time of the European elections). Maybe any foreigner? Maybe the Jews?

Maybe it is time for me of thinking packing my stuff and move away from here?

January 1, 2008

The Manhattan Project

Filed under: General,Private — Ivan Herman @ 16:00
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A friend of mine (Bebo White) drew my attention on the “Manhattan Project” book[1], which turned out to be really interesting. It is not yet another history book on the Manhattan Project, but rather a compilation of eyewitness accounts, of texts of those who had written on the subject, and even extracts of fiction that used the Manhattan Project as a background. Despite its nature the book it gives a good overview of what happened and, because it is a compilation of sources, it reflects the sometimes conflicting opinions on the more controversial issues.

In some ways, the last two chapters of the book (“Reflection on the Bomb” and “Living with the Bomb”) were the most interesting for me. The chapter on reflections shows the enormously diverging views on the issue whether the US was justified or not to use the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are 13 different texts there, and almost 13 different views… In some ways, the short text written in 2005 by Gar Alperovitz sums up the situation the best: “One might think that by now historians would agree on all fundamental issues. The reality, however, is just the opposite. All the major issues involved in the decision are still very much a matter of dispute among experts.” I must say I did not realize that before.

The last chapter (“Living with the Bomb”) is even more discomforting. I personally grew up in a World when the A- and H-bombs were the constant subjects of political discourse. However, since the end of the Cold War, this issue has pretty much disappeared from the collective psyche, as if the problem had gone away. Far from being true… The book cites two articles that were published about a year ago: a paper written by a number of US politicians from both sides of the aisle[2] and another one written by Mikhail Gorbachev[3], both arguing that, well, the issue is still very much alive (to say the least) and that major powers should make decisive steps towards a complete elimination of those weapons. And it is not comforting at all that none of these papers were discussed publicly (not being a regular reader of the Wall Street Journal I did not hear about them until now). The recent turmoils in Pakistan, i.e., the danger of an A-bomb falling into the hands of a completely chaotic and disorganized political leadership is just a reminder of the danger…

Good book. Worth reading it.

[1] Cynthia C. Kelly. The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses and Historians. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2007

[2] George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn: A World Free of Nuclear Weapons, Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2007.

[3] Mikhail Gorbachev, The Nuclear Threat, Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2007

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