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Friday, 5 October 2012

Carrion Flesh From Gunter Grass

Gunter.GrassAll flesh is grass so my own sad contribution to this week’s British National Poetry Day is to report the professional death of the man supposed to be modern Germany’s greatest writer.

I have only just read the English translation of What Must Be Said by Nobel laureate Gunter Grass, a poem both vicious and banal which would never have been published if it had been written by anyone else.

Earlier this year, Grass was barred from Israel for  suggesting Israel was contemplating a nuclear strike to annihilate the Iranian people and so represents a threat to world peace. He did not simply criticise Israel’s nuclear policy.

His malicious doggerel is a  paean in tribute to Israeli Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Israel's  nuclear plant near Dimona, who was imprisoned for 18 years – mostly in solitary confinement – for leaking details of its nuclear programme to the Sunday Times in 1986. Other countries treat traitors rather more harshly.

Grass's new collection of poetry, Eintagsfliegen (Mayflies), describes  Vanunu  as  a "role  model  and  hero  of  our  time"  who "hoped to serve his country by helping to bring the truth to light". He urges Israelis to "recognise ... as righteous" the man "who remained loyal to his country all those years".

The wicked irony is that Grass confessed only in recent years to having served in the Waffen SS rather than the general German Armed Forces.

Here’s the doggerel which caused the fuss …

"What Must Be Said,"

“What must be said

Why have I kept silent, held back so long,

on something openly practised in

war games, at the end of which those of us

who survive will at best be footnotes?

It’s the alleged right to a first strike

that could destroy an Iranian people

subjugated by a loudmouth

and gathered in organized rallies,

because an atom bomb may be being

developed within his arc of power.

Yet why do I hesitate to name

that other land in which

for years—although kept secret—

a growing nuclear power has existed

beyond supervision or verification,

subject to no inspection of any kind?

This general silence on the facts,

before which my own silence has bowed,

seems to me a troubling lie, and compels

me toward a likely punishment

the moment it’s flouted:

the verdict “Anti-semitism” falls easily.

But now that my own country,

brought in time after time

for questioning about its own crimes,

profound and beyond compare,

is said to be the departure point,

(on what is merely business,

though easily declared an act of reparation)

for yet another submarine equipped

to transport nuclear warheads

to Israel, where not a single atom bomb

has yet been proved to exist, with fear alone

the only evidence, I’ll say what must be said.

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because—burdened enough as Germans—

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

will not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger

we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.

No other course offers help

to Israelis and Palestinians alike,

to all those living side by side in enmity

in this region occupied by illusions,

and ultimately, to all of us.”

… and here’s a link to reactions in the  German Press. They do not make happy reading for Herr Grass:


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