22 May 2010

Hitler's Holy Relics II

In yesterday's blog entry I discussed the case of the missing relics of the "first Reich," the Holy Roman Empire, and the efforts on the part of the U.S. Forces, European Theatre, to secure them at the end of the Second World War.

I didn't say anything there about Horn's troubled relationship, in the course of his investigation, with the man to whom he had to report in Nuremburg, Captain John Thompson. Thompson is portrayed here as a clueless bureaucrat, who didn't understand all this fancy stuff about arts and antiquities. As evidence in support of this characterization, our author, Sidney Kirkpatrick, mentions a conversation between the two men in which Thompson, wondering why the Nazis would have gone to such trouble to hang on to some of the more religious artefacts in the vault, such as a reliquary containing a sliver purported to be from the True Cross, casually described the Nazis as pagans.

This remark induced Horn to give Thompson the benefit of a quasi-academic lecture about how "The Fuhrer's ideologues sought not to do away with God but to champion their own twisted notions of Aryan Christianity, Germanic history, and rulership. Lines couldn't be drawn separating the ecclesiastical treasures from the regalia of the emperor. The 'stuff,' as Thompson so blithely referred to the contents of the vault, was all sacred symbols of Reich continuity and the dynastic succession of the Holy Roman Emperors."

Here we get to how the whole story matters. Some may take the book as an unusual angle on the military-occupation period in German history. But I see it as making a timeless point about sovereignty. People believe in (earthly) sovereignty not so much because the idea is logically compelling, but because it is bound up in a lot of things. Stuff. It has physical manifestations that surround us and with which we become familiar, to which we become attached. The town hall by the green. The flag on the big pole out in front of the town hall. Fenway Park! -- or wherever it might have been in your case, dear reader, where you first saw a professional ball game and where you were happy to stand for the national anthem as part of the ritual of it all. We become attached to sovereignty because it floods through our lives, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, in sounds and sights and even smells.

The Germanic artefacts around which this book's plot turns are a token of a type.

It has for a very long time been very difficult for most people to think their way out of the box of sovereign power, or a unilateral imposition of legitimacy, because we have to try to think our way past a mist through which we have been walking our whole lives, and we havew become attached to that mist. It someone says, "perhaps we could see better if we could clear this mist away" he is met by indignation. "How dare you! Aren't you grateful to the mist-givers for all they've done for you???"

And yet, we all in our various times and places do so badly need to clear away the mists.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.