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April 12th 2012 print

Michael Galak

Little poem, big stink

Last Wednesday, everything changed. Gunter Grass published a poem and the previously universally respected and admired Nobel Prize winner became shrouded in controversy.


It’s official. Gunter Grass, the Nobel Prize Laureate, cannot be silent any more – he has to talk. And talk. And talk. He wants everyone to know that he wants world peace.


Just like Bob Geldof, Bono, Barack Obama, and every Miss Universe ever chosen for an ability to flutter her eyelashes prettily.

For those who are not quite familiar with the name, Gunter Grass is a post WWII German writer and the author of The Tin Drum – a memorable, albeit unorthodox, novel about a dwarf living in Nazi Germany. This dwarf did not wish to grow up to become a soldier and succeeded remaining small in stature. He has another two attributes – a tin drum he bangs every time he becomes upset and a falsetto voice, which cracks glass. Naturally, Gunter Grass has written other pieces but is most famous for this novel, and he was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. The anti-war and anti-militarist novel contrasted sharply with the persona of the writer himself, who, as a teenager, unknown to the adoring public, was a member of Waffen SS. This unexpected twist of fortune and ideology of one of the active members of the “Übermensch” generation offered an insight, indeed, a hope for the post WWII Germany’s redemption. It promised a genuine repudiation of the Nazi ideology of racial superiority, anti-Semitism and world conquest.

As a Nobel Prize winning writer Gunter Grass was a noted part of the generation traumatised by the Germany’s Nazi past. He regularly urged his compatriots to face up to their country’s sordid history. Calling upon others to own to their past, to learn from it and to be remorseful, he, nevertheless, did not disclose his own membership in the criminal SS until 2006.

Suddenly, last Wednesday, everything changed. He published a poem and the previously universally respected and admired Nobel Prize winner became shrouded in controversy. Israel’s Interior Ministry declared Grass persona non grata; The Guardian, with classic British understatement published a slightly miffed editorial of Blitz time intensity; The Jerusalem Post was genuinely angry in an editorial sermon, proclaiming “Shame on Grass”; Russian news website Lenta.Ru was full of schadenfreude; and Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper, where the offending poem was published, was puzzled at the truly world reaction to the little German poem “Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”).

The poem was written on the occasion of the sale to Israel of two conventional German-built submarines, potentially capable of carrying nuclear tipped missiles. It laments the possible fate of the Iranian people, who, according to the poem’s author, are awaiting the Israeli aggression like lambs led to slaughter. Imagine that! Iranian mullahs, like a collective Red Riding Hood’s granny, are sitting pretty, awaiting the arrival of 13th Imam. They insult nobody except USA, UK, France, Israel, and the rest of the world; they threaten nobody except Europe, America, Israel and the rest of the world; they terrorise others only through proxies and never by themselves; all they do is quietly enrich uranium to weapons grade concentration. Suddenly, without any reason whatsoever, without the slightest provocation, Israelis might decide to attack Iran. Herr Grass feels that they could do so with nuclear weapons, thanks to the German submarines sale. To make a bad situation even worse, Israelis don’t care that they will destroy all Persian carpets from Tabriz to Tehran in the process. This is, I think, the real reason for the sudden anti-Israeli outburst of the former SS member.

Of course, there is always another possible reason for an uncontrollable logorrhea – all Gunter Grass wants is world peace. I am sure he does, despite not being as pretty as an average Miss Universe or, even worse, not having eyelashes to flutter with. To achieve world peace all that is necessary is to prevent Israel from being able to defend itself and everything will be hunky-dory.

To be abundantly clear in his meaning, Gunter Grass has promptly declared himself to be a friend of Jewish people and explained that his poem is directed towards the Netanyahu Government, not, repeat, not against Jews per se. Now, that is a relief. G-d forbid, Herr Grass would declare that he does not like Jews after all. Can you imagine what could’ve happened? He could’ve protested against the sale of two German built potentially nuclear capable submarines to Israel and written a poem against this sale! Perish the thought.

Now, finally, I get it – Gunter Grass is upset that Israelis are not about to rely on him to defend them from annihilation. That must be deeply upsetting. No wonder that he, insulted to the depth of his soul, is so distressed.

People like Gunter Grass still do not comprehend the main lesson Jewish people have learned after two millennia of being on the verge of total annihilation. This simple lesson is – Si vis pacem parabellum. If you wish for peace – be prepared for war. In other words – if you do not defend yourself – nobody else will. No Nobel Laureate’s poems will change that. Actually, nothing will.

Translation of Gunter Grass’s “What Must be Said” here…