Griffin Smith-Nichols is a Senior Classics major in the College of Arts and Sciences. He was born in a town called Bethlehem, but not in a manger, and would rather be in 19th-century Heidelberg. The E'er Inscrutable appears every other Tuesday this semester. He can be reached at [email protected]
“He knew his heart’s core was a fat, awful worm. His dread was lest anyone else should know. His anguish of hate was against anyone who knew, and recoiled.” -D.H. Lawrence, “The Virgin and the Gipsy”
(p.t. = personal translation)
Adolf Hitler was never brought before any court of law after ’45; a dead man, albeit living-dead, can sit on no bench. There was not even the sliver of posthumous glee which was afforded the anti-Cromwellians, who dug up that Puritan’s corpse and gave it an ad hoc hanging in retribution for King Charles’ beheading. He was soaked in gasoline post mortem and burnt by his adherents and retainers in the open air of the Führerhauptquartiere complex near the Reichskanzlei.
The wind was more energetic, rowdier than it should have been. Perhaps I merely wanted the place to be completely silent. The grass outside the gatehouse looked like bare, naked seaweed, and from my vantage point in the guard tower it seemed as though it could swallow up worlds, and hold them boiling out of sight under the soil. Gravel underfoot and crow-song in the trees heralded the dullness of high summer. The barracks hung in the dampness, and a gulf opened in the clouds as I departed.
“The chief failing of the day with some of our well-meaning philanthropists is their absolute refusal to face inevitable facts, if such facts appear cruel.” -Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race
As a prelude to his article, the second of my series on tumult and upheaval in 1916, I must warn any potential reader that the content may be distressing to those sensitive to racism and violence. I would advise discretion. The controlled use of violence as spectacle has been a social glue since time immemorial: the Romans handpicked slaves to fight to the death over the graves of their patrician masters, and the despots of feudal Europe relished the drawing, quartering and parading of ghettoized pariahs and their ilk, be they Jewish, Huguenot, or Cathar. These previous blood-shows of Antiquity and the Middle Ages were the concerted efforts of knightly orders to, as they saw it, cut off gangrenous social limbs from the corpus politicum. D.H. Lawrence, in his compendium of critical analysis on the growth and stagnation of American literature, once wrote that a white man would never be at ease on American soil: the dust and mud and bronzed ochre itself would forever reject him, the usurper of one native population and the enslaver of a another he had imported.
The hour of thy great wind of love and hate. When shall the stars be blown about the sky,
Like the sparks blown out of a smithy, and die? Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows, Far-off, most secret, and inviolate rose?”
-To the Secret Rose, W.B. Yeats
The morning of April 24, 1916, began for the residents of Dublin as any other in the wartime Irish metropolis. Lilian Stokes, observing in a personal recollection, remembered her first reaction of the day as dismay that the tramway service had seemingly come to an inexplicable halt. Nervous crowds had begun to gather in the morning air. The routine of the city would not continue as normal, not today: the Irish Volunteers were throwing up barricades on the streets and brandishing green, Gaelic flags.
1916, one hundred years on, is still considered the fulcrum upon which the fate of the European 20th century hung. As the surface of a pond agitates and ripples outward when a stone is thrown into its depths, so too did the fabric of Europe itself writhe and contort as the twin Furies of war and revolution waxed, their jaws grinding and their bat-like wings outstretched in horrid pride. Nearly 20,000 young British men died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme alone; the Battle of Verdun, the centennial of which falls at the end of this month, remains an objective standard of Hell more unearthly than anything Dante or Hieronymus Bosch could ever hope to concoct. The grand chessboard of empires pitting their mettle against one another lost the respectable sheen of Napoleonic line fighting and became thinly veiled wholesale slaughter. I am not, however, concerned with the strictly martial aspect of the year, despite the looming shadow the Great War casts over it.