Friday 9 June, 2023


King’s Cross station the other day.

Quote of the Day

”Not everybody trusts paintings, but people believe photographs.”

  • Ansel Adams

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Robert Schumann |Arabesque in C major Op.18 | Lang Lang


Long Read of the Day

Eichmann in Jerusalem – 1

The first article in Hannah Arendt’s famous 1963 series. I had never read it, and found that I needed to make an appointment with it to do so. It’s difficult to summarise, even though many sought to do it with the phrase about the “banality of evil”.

His memory proved to be very unreliable about what actually happened. In a rare moment of exasperation, Judge Landau asked the accused, “What can you remember?” (if you don’t remember the discussions at the so-called Wannsee Conference, which dealt with the various methods of killing Jews); the answer, of course, was that Eichmann remembered the turning points in his own career rather well but that they did not necessarily coincide with the turning points in the story of Jewish extermination, or, as a matter of fact, with the turning points in history. (He always had trouble remembering the exact date of the outbreak of the war or of the invasion of Russia.) But the point of the matter is that he had not forgotten a single one of the sentences that at one time or another had served to give him what he repeatedly called a “sense of elation.” Hence, whenever, during the cross-examination, the judges tried to appeal to his conscience, they were met with “elation,” and they were outraged as well as disconcerted when they learned that the accused had at his disposal a different elating cliché for each period of his life and each of his activities. In his mind, there was no contradiction between “I will jump into my grave laughing,” appropriate for the end of the war, and “I am ready to hang myself in public as a warning example for all anti-Semites on this earth,” which now, under vastly different circumstances, fulfilled exactly the same function—that of giving him a lift.

These habits of Eichmann’s created considerable difficulty during the trial—less for Eichmann himself than for those who had come to prosecute him, to defend him, to judge him, or to report on him. For all this, it was essential that one take him seriously, and this was very hard to do, unless one sought the easiest way out of the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them, and declared him a clever, calculating liar—which he obviously was not. His own convictions in this matter were far from modest: “One of the few gifts fate bestowed upon me is a capacity for truth insofar as it depends upon myself.” This gift he had claimed even before the prosecutor wanted to ascribe to him crimes he had not committed. In the disorganized, rambling notes he made in Argentina, in preparation for the interview with Sassen, when he was still, as he pointed out at the time, “in full possession of my physical and psychological freedom,” he had issued a fantastic warning to “future historians [to] be objective enough not to stray from the path of truth recorded here”—fantastic because every line of these scribblings shows his utter ignorance of everything that was not directly, technically, bureaucratically connected with his job, and also shows an extraordinarily faulty memory.

Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a “monster,” but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown.

It’s an extraordinary report about an extraordinary trial, and sparked a wide controversy and much criticism of Arendt after it was published. (There’s a useful summary of some of this in the Wikipedia article on the piece.

Ten years ago, Edward Snowden warned us about state spying.

Spare a thought for him, and worry about the future, writes Alan Rusbridger in this nice — and deserved — tribute to Edward Snowden by the Editor who stood by him.

Within a few days, the source of the documents, Edward Snowden, unmasked himself on the Guardian website and for weeks thereafter the stories dominated the news around the world. It has since been memorialised in at least three films, stage dramas, books, numerous academic papers … and even an album.

It led to multiple court actions in which governments were found to have been in breach of their constitutional and/or legal obligations. It led to a scramble by governments to retrospectively pass legislation sanctioning the activities they had been covertly undertaking. And it has led to a number of stable-door attempts to make sure journalists could never again do what the Guardian and others did 10 years ago.

Even now the British government, in hastily revising the laws around official secrecy, is trying to ensure that any editor who behaved as I did 10 years ago would face up to 14 years in prison. Lamentably, the Labour party is not joining a cross-party coalition that would allow whistleblowers and journalists the right to mount a public interest defence.

So do not hold your breath for future Edward Snowdens in this country. The British media is, by and large, not known for holding its security services rigorously to account, if at all…

My commonplace booklet

The archives of the Nuremberg Trials are now online

They’re here, courtesy of Stanford Libraries. They come with a (needed) health warning.

Users are advised that material in Taube Archive of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg, 1945-46 contains language and imagery depicting human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide, wartime violence, and offensive stereotypes of people and cultures. Stanford Libraries makes this material available to facilitate scholarly research and education, and does not endorse the criminal ideologies and actions herein

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