To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Friday, July 31, 2015

What ‘Papa’ Hemingway Might Think About The 'Cecil The Lion' Shooting

Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer, left.

The killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, by American dentist and bow hunter Walter Palmer, provided a peg for Salon to take its readers “Inside the sick, bizarre world of trophy hunting,” as its hedline put it. It’s worth the read for an understanding of the pressures on guides to “deliver the goods” for wealthy clients. It reminded me of the pressure wealthy would-be summiteers put on their climbing guides in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which set the stage for tragedy on Mt Everest back in 1996.

The Salon piece on trophy hunting also brought to mind Hemingway’s The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, published in Cosmopolitan, of all places, in 1936. The Hemingway/Macomber reference seemed especially noteworthy as the fact emerged that the dentist only wounded the lion with his arrows, and had to track him for 40 hours through the bush before finding him and killing him with a high caliber rifle.  Something similar happens in the Hemingway short story, providing a setting for Papa to dramatize the themes most dear to him: courage, cowardice and fate, all infused with plenty of testosterone.  Below is the key scene, when the Great White Hunting Guide, Robert Wilson, has to explain to the hapless and cowardly Macomber that they have to find the lion they just wounded, as a point of honor as hunters and out of responsibility for the people in the bush who might be hurt if they accidentally came upon him. The excerpt I’ve posted is a long one. But as I read through the story almost every paragraph seemed so classic that I couldn’t bear to put any of them down. Memo to the triumphant-now-hunted Walter Palmer: In the end, Macomber does have his moment of glory only to lose his wife, as well as his own life.              

Macomber stepped out of the curved opening at the side of the front seat, onto the step and down onto the ground. The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some superrhino. There was no man smell carried toward his and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side. Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover for the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. He trotted, heavy, big-footed, swinging wounded lull-bellied, the trees toward the tall grass and cover, and the crash came again to go past him ripping the air apart. Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the high grass where he could crouch and not be seen and make them bring the crashing thing close enough so he could make a rush and get the man that held it.
Macomber had not thought how the lion felt as he got out of the car. He only knew his hands were shaking and as he walked away from the car it was almost impossible for him to make his legs move. They were stiff in the thighs, but he could feel the muscles fluttering. He raised the rifle, sighted on the junction of the lion's head and shoulders and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened though he pulled until he thought his finger would break. Then he knew he had the safety on and as he lowered the rifle to move the safety over he moved another frozen pace forward, and the lion seeing his silhouette now clear of the silhouette of the car, turned an started off at a trot, and, as Macomber fired, he heard a whunk that meant that the bullet was home; but the lion kept on going. Macomber shot again and every one saw the bullet throw a spout of dirt beyond the trotting lion. He shot again, remembering to lower his aim, and they all heard the bullet hit, and the lion went into a gallop and was in the tall grass before he had the bolt pushed forward.
Macomber stood there feeling sick at his stomach, his hands that held the springfield still cocked, shaking, and his wife and Robert Wilson were standing by him. Beside him too were the two gun-bearers chattering in Wakamba.
"I hit him," Macomber said. "I hit him twice."
"You gut-shot him and you hit him somewhere forward," Wilson said without enthusiasm. The gun-bearers looked very grave. They were silent now.
"You may have killed him" Wilson went on. "We'll have to wait a while before we go in to find out."
"What do you mean?"
"Let him get sick before we follow him up."
"Oh," said Macomber.
"He's a hell of a fine lion," Wilson said cheerfully. "He's gotten into a bad place though."
"Why is it bad?"
"Can't see him until you 're on him."
"Oh," said Macomber.
"Come on," said Wilson. "The Memsahib can stay here in the car. We'll go to have a look at the blood spoor."
"Stay here, Margot," Macomber said to his wife. His mouth was very dry and it was hard for him to talk.
"Why?" she asked.
"Wilson says to."
"We're going to have a look," Wilson said. "You stay her. You can see even better from here."
"All right."
Wilson spoke in Swahili to the driver. He nodded and said, "Yes, Bwana."
Then they went down the steep bank and across the stream, climbing over and around the boulders and up the other bank, pulling up by some projecting roots, and along it until they found where the lion had been trotting when Macomber first shot. There was dark blood on the short grass that the gun-bearers pointed out with grass stems, and that ran away behind the river bank trees.
"What do we do?" asked Macomber.
"Not much choice," said Wilson. "We can't br ing the car over. Bank's too steep. We'll let him stiffen up a bit and then you and I'll go in and have a look for him."
"Can't we set the grass on fire?" Macomber asked.
"Too green."
"Can't we send beaters?"
Wilson looked at him appraisingly. "Of course we can," he said. "But it's just a touch murderous. You see we know the lion's wounded. You can drive an unwounded lion—he'll move on ahead of a noise—but a wounded lion's going to charge. You can't see him until you're right on him. He'll make himself perfectly flat in cover you wouldn't think would hide a hare. You can't very well send boys in there to that sort of a show. Somebody bound to get mauled."
"What about the gun-bearers?"
"Oh, they'll go with us. It's their shauri. You see, they signed on for it. They don't look too happy though, do they?"
"I don't want to go in there," said Macomber. It was out before he knew he'd said it.
"Neither do I," said Wilson very chee rily. "Really no choice though." Then, as an afterthought, he glanced at Macomber and saw suddenly how he was trembling and the pitiful look on his face.
"You don't have to go in, of course," he said. "that's what I'm hired for, you know. That's why I'm so expensive."
"You mean you'd go in by yourself? Why not leave him there?"
Robert Wilson, whose entire occupation had been with the lion ands the problem he presented, and who had not been thinking about Macomber except to note that he was rather windy, suddenly felt as though he had opened the wrong door in a hotel and seen something shameful.
"What do you mean?"
"Why not just leave him?"
"You mean pretend to ourselves he hasn't been hit?"
"No. Just drop it.
"It isn't done."
"Why not?"
"For one thing, he's certain to be suffering. For another, some one else might run on to him."
"I see."
"But you don't have to have anything to do with it."
"I'd like to," Macomber said. "I'm just scared, you know."
"I'll go ahead when we go in," Wilson said, "with Kongoni tracking. You keep behind me and a little to one side. Chances are we'll hear him growl. If we see him we'll both shoot. Don't worry about anything. I'll keep you backed up. As a matter of fact, you know, perhaps you'd better not go. It might be much better. Why don't you go over and join the Memsahib while I just get it over with?"
"No, I want to go."
"All right," said Wilson. "But don't go in if you don't want to. This is my shauri now, you know."
"I want to go," said Macomber.
They sat under a tree and smoked.
"What to go back and speak to the Memsahib while we're waiting?" Wilson asked.
"I'll just step back and tell her to be patient."
"Good," said Macomber. He sat there, sweating under his arms, his mouth dry, his stomach hollow feeling, wanting to find courage to tell Wilson to go on and finish off the lion without him. He could not know that Wilson was furious because he had not noticed the state he was in earlier and sent him back to his wife. While he sat there Wilson came up. "I have your big gun," he said. "Take it. We've given him time, I think. Come on."
Macomber took the big gun and Wilson said"
"Keep behind me and about five yards to the right and do exactly as I tell you." Then he spoke in Swahili to the two gun-bearers who looked the picture of gloom.
"Let's go," he said.
"Could I have a drink of water?" Macomber asked. Wilson spoke to the older gun-bearer, who wore a canteen on his belt, and the man unbuckled it, unscrewed the top and handed it to Macomber, who took it noticing how heavy it seemed and how hairy and shoddy the felt covering was in his hand. He raised it to drink and looked ahead at the high grass with the flat-topped trees behind it. A breeze was blowing toward them and the grass rippled gently in the wind. He looked at the gun-bearer and he could see the gun-bearer was suffering too with fear.
Thirty-five yards into the grass the big lion lay flattened out along the ground. His ears where back and his only movement was a slight twitching up and down of his long, black-tufted tail. He had turned at bay as soon as he had reached this cover and he was sick with the wound through his full belly, and weakening with the wound through his lungs that brought a thin foamy red to his mouth each time he breathed. His flanks were wet and hot and flies were on the little openings the solid bullets had made in his tawny hide, and his big yellow eyes, narrowed with hate, looked straight ahead, only blinking when the pain came as he breathed, and his claws dug in the soft baked earth. All of him, pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for a rush. He could hear the men talking and he waited, gathering all of himself into this preparation for a charge as soon as the men would come into the grass. As he heard their voices his tail stiffened to twitch up and down, and, as they came into the edge of the grass, he made a coughing grunt and charged.
Kongoni, the old gun-bearer, in the lead watching the blood spoor, Wilson watching the grass for any movement, his big gun ready, the second gun-bearer looking ahead and listening, Macomber close to Wilson, his rifle cocked, they had just moved into the grass when Macomber hear the blood-choked coughing grunt, and saw the swishing rush in the grass. The next thing he knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open, running toward the stream.
He heard the ca-ra-wong! of Wilson's big rifle, and again in a second crashing carawong! and turning saw the lion, horrible-looking now, with half his head seeming to be gone, crawling toward Wilson in the edge of the tall grass while the red-faced man worked the belt on the short ugly rifle and aimed carefully as another blasting carawong! came from the muzzle, and the crawling, heavy, yellow bulk of the lion stiffened and the huge, mutilated head slid forward and Macomber, standing by himself in the clearing where he had run, holding a loaded rifle, while two black men and a white man looked back at him in contempt, knew the lion was dead. He came toward Wilson, his tallness all seeming a naked reproach, and Wilson looked at him and said:
"Want to take pictures?"
"No," he said.
That was all any one had said until they reached the motor car. Then Wilson had said:
"Hell of a fine lion. Boys will skin him out. We might as well stay here in the shade."
Macomber's wife had not looked at him nor he at her and he had sat by her in the back seat with Wilson sitting in the front seat. Once he had reached over and taken his wife's hand without looking at her and she had removed her hand from his. Looking across the stream to where the gun-bearers were skinning out the lion he could see that she had been able to see the whole thing. While they sat there his wife had reached forward and put her hand on Wilson's shoulder. He turned and she had leaned forward over the low seat and kissed him on the mouth.
"Oh, I say," said Wilson, going redder than his natural baked color.
"Mr. Robert Wilson," she said. "The beautiful red-faced Mr. Robert Wilson."
Then she sat down beside Macomber again and looked away across the stream to where the lion lay, with uplifted, white-muscled, tendon-marked naked forearms, and white bloating belly, as the black men fleshed away the skin. Finally the gun-bearer brought the skin over, wet and heavy, and climbed in behind with it, rolling it up before they got in, and the motor car started. No one had said anything more until they were back in camp.
That was the story of the lion. Macomber did not know how the lion had felt before he started his rush, nor during it when the unbelievable smash of the .505 with a muzzle velocity of two tons had hit him in the mouth, nor what kept him coming after that, when the second ripping crash had smashed his hind quarters and he had come crawling on toward the crashing, blasting thing that had destroyed him. Wilson knew something about it and only expressed it by saying, "Damned fine lion," but Macomber did not know how Wilson felt abut things either. He did not know how his wife felt except that she was through with him.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Israel's Never-Ended 'Six Day War' Part 2: What Historian Tony Judt Saw At The Front

IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blows triumphalist notes at Jerusalem's Western Wall, June 1967

Like I.F. Stone, British historian Tony Judt was an ardent supporter of Israel, its insularity notwithstanding, until the Six Day War pried the scales from his eyes. Like Stone, Judt saw that victory in the Six Day War played to some of Zionism’s worst tendencies, leading to a disillusionment about Israel that would later find voice in controversial essays that supporters of the Jewish state found traitorous. Like "Holy War," Stone’s 1967 NYRB essay I posted about in April last year after the most recent round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks foundered, the essays Judt produced---for the New York Review of Books, for the New York Times and for Haaretz ---represented a powerful challenge to Zionist narratives, particularly the “moral case for Israel” that the American pro Israel community clings to so tenaciously. 

In hindsight, the antagonism with which Judt’s enemies responded stands in direction proportion to the accuracy of his charges, with Judt's apprehensions about Israel’s future now “more cogent than ever,” as Jacob Heilbrunn just noted this week in a TBR review. In fact, though Judt was eulogized for the incisiveness of his historical interpretations, he was also a bit of a seer, presciently recognizing dark spots on the Zionist psyche that would throw long shadows across the coming decades.

Judt grew up in London’s East End, joining the Labor Zionist movement as a teenager at the encouragement of his parents who were themselves secular and apolitical.  He was, he explained in an autobiographical essay for the NYRB, “the ideal recruit: articulate, committed and uncompromisingly ideologically conformist.”  He spent three summers working on Israeli kibbutzim, and most of 1966 at Machanayim, a collective farm in the Upper Galilee, where he “idealized Jewish distinction, and intuitively grasped and reproduced the Zionist emphasis upon separation and ethnic difference.” The kibbutz was suffused with a shared sense of moral purpose: “bringing Jews back to the land and separating them from their rootless diasporic degeneracy.

For the neophyte fifteen-year-old Londoner encountering the kibbutz for the first time, the effect was exhilarating. Here was “Muscular Judaism” in its most seductive guise: health, exercise, productivity, collective purpose, self-sufficiency, and proud separatism....

In time though he came to chaff at “how limited the kibbutz and its members really were” realizing “how little my fellow kibbutzniks knew or cared about the wider world—except insofar as it directly affected them or their country.

The mere fact of collective self-government, or egalitarian distribution of consumer durables, does not make you either more sophisticated or more tolerant of others. Indeed, to the extent that it contributes to an extraordinary smugness of self-regard, it actually reinforces the worst kind of ethnic solipsism…The care that left-wing kibbutz movements took to avoid employing Arab labor served less to burnish their egalitarian credentials than to isolate them from the inconvenient facts of Middle Eastern life…. I do recall even then wondering why I never met a single Arab in the course of my lengthy kibbutz stays, despite living in close proximity to the most densely populated Arab communities of the country.

Judt says he lived withcognitive dissonance,” on the one hand believing in “the principled virtues” of kibbutz life, but actively disliking it at the same time.
Release from his “confusions” came by two different developments. One was an acceptance into Cambridge, which appalled his fellow kibbutzim for whom “The whole culture of “Aliya”—“going up” (to Israel)—presumed the severing of links and opportunities back in the diaspora.” The experience as a translator for the IDF on the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War was another.

There, to my surprise, I discovered that most Israelis were not transplanted latter-day agrarian socialists but young, prejudiced urban Jews who differed from their European or American counterparts chiefly in their macho, swaggering self-confidence, and access to armed weapons. Their attitude toward the recently defeated Arabs shocked me (testament to the delusions of my kibbutz years) and the insouciance with which they anticipated their future occupation and domination of Arab lands terrified me even then.

Judt said he could identify the very moment and the circumstances of his epiphany. “I was sitting around listening to young Israeli officers talking, and there was an inevitable macho: ‘Now we’re in charge, we’re the Jews with guns, and we’ve got all this land—and boy, we’re never going to give it back, and if they don’t like it, they can just leave.’ I was a 19-year-old left-winger, and I’d never heard this kind of language on a sustained basis.”  Within a few weeks he had packed his bags and headed home. At Cambridge, he was immune to the “enthusiasms and seductions of the New Left,” and its radical spin-offs: Maoism, gauchisme, femino-Marxism. Labor Zionism had turned him into a “universalist social democrat,” with an enduring suspicion of “identity politics in all forms, Jewish above all.”

Unlike Stone, who announced his apostasy fairly quickly after losing Zionist faith, Judt kept his anti Zionist powder dry for a long time. He only started to write about Israel in the year 2002, when he began to realize “that there was a sort of suffocating silence not only about what was happening in the occupied territories and in Israel and Israeli political culture, but also that the suffocating silence was largely focused on the illegitimacy of anyone speaking lest they be accused of anti-Semitism.” And when he did start writing about Israel, he did not include his Zionist youth credentials on his bio, implicitly rejecting the idea that his ethnicity, and his ethnic experience earned him any special ethic privilege.

Judt’s most controversial essay, "Israel: The Alternative" was published in the NYRB in 2003, in which he argued for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Arabs and Jews would enjoy equal status in a secular state. To most Zionists, even liberal ones, this was anathema. In 2006, when Judt defended John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, authors of the Israel Lobby, the anti Defamation Leagure and the American Jewish Committee put pressure on the Polish embassy in New York to cancel a speaking appearance, prompting a minor public furor. Ridiculing Judt’s chagrin and the chain of angry emails it produced, New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier said that “what Judt was prevented from delivering at the Polish consulate was a conspiracy theory about the pernicious role of the Jews in the world,” on par with the thinking of Mel Gibson. Wieseltier maintained that Judt may not be an anti Semite per se, but his writing about Israel and about Jews was “icily lacking in decency.”

“The Country That Wouldn’t Grow Up,” a May 2006 feature essay in Haaretz, was not as controversial, at least on this side of the world. It is, however, probably Judt’s most devastating--and prescient, as the outlines of Israel’s status as an internationally isolated apartheid state grow more apparent by the day and the “moral case for Israel” collapses in a heap of contradictions and contrary facts.
Judt opened with a description of the atmosphere at Cambridge in the run up to the Six Day war in the spring of 1967 where the balance of student opinion at Cambridge University was overwhelmingly pro-Israel “and in politics and policymaking circles only old-fashioned conservative Arabists expressed any criticism of the Jewish state.” Today, Judt lamented, “everything is different.” The victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered represented “a moral and political catastrophe” for the Jewish state. 

Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country's shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, "targeted assassinations," the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists. Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish - which means that Israel's behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society - built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats - still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of David emblazoned upon a tank.

Today only a tiny minority of outsiders see Israelis as victims. The true victims, it is now widely accepted, are the Palestinians. Indeed, Palestinians have now displaced Jews as the emblematic persecuted minority: vulnerable, humiliated and stateless. This unsought distinction does little to advance the Palestinian case any more than it ever helped Jews, but it has redefined Israel forever. It has become commonplace to compare Israel at best to an occupying colonizer, at worst to the South Africa of race laws and Bantustans. 

Such comparisons are lethal to Israel's moral credibility. They strike at what was once its strongest suit: the claim of being a vulnerable island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of repression. But democrats don't fence into Bantustans helpless people whose land they have conquered, and free men don't ignore international law and steal other men's homes. The contradictions of Israeli self-presentation - "we are very strong/we are very vulnerable"; "we are in control of our fate/we are the victims"; "we are a normal state/we demand special treatment" - are not new: they have been part of the country's peculiar identity almost from the outset. And Israel's insistent emphasis upon its isolation and uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero, were once part of its David versus Goliath appeal.

Today the country's national narrative of macho victimhood appears to the rest of the world as simply bizarre: evidence of a sort of collective cognitive dysfunction that has gripped Israel's political culture. And the long cultivated persecution mania - "everyone's out to get us" - no longer elicits sympathy. Instead it attracts some very unappetizing comparisons: At a recent international meeting I heard one speaker, by analogy with Helmut Schmidt's famous dismissal of the Soviet Union as "Upper Volta with Missiles," describe Israel as "Serbia with nukes."

One problem Israel faced was that the Holocaust was losing its propaganda value. It could, in his words, no longer be instrumentalized” to excuse Israel’s behavior.

Thanks to the passage of time, most Western European states have now come to terms with their part in the Holocaust, something that was not true a quarter century ago. From Israel's point of view, this has had paradoxical consequences: Until the end of the Cold War Israeli governments could still play upon the guilt of Germans and other Europeans, exploiting their failure to acknowledge fully what was done to Jews on their territory. Today, now that the history of World War II is retreating from the public square into the classroom and from the classroom into the history books, a growing majority of voters in Europe and elsewhere (young voters above all) simply cannot understand how the horrors of the last European war can be invoked to license or condone unacceptable behavior in another time and place. In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint. "Remember Auschwitz" is not an acceptable response.

Judt also noted that while “Israel and its supporters today fall back with increasing shrillness upon the oldest claim of all: Israel is a Jewish state and that is why people criticize it,” the charge of anti Semitism was losing its value. “If it has been played more insistently and aggressively in recent years, that is because it is now the only card left. “

Claiming that the anti-Semitism card was a spent force in justifying Israel’s actions was one thing. But Judt was treading on real heresy when he argued that “Jews outside of Israel” pay a high price for the tactic of ‘tarring any foreign criticism with the brush of anti-Semitism. “ It makes diaspora Jews inhibit their own criticisms of Israel for fear of appearing to associate with bad company,” he maintained, and also “encourages others to look upon Jews everywhere as de facto collaborators in Israel's misbehavior.”

When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized - but then responds to its critics with loud cries of "anti-Semitism" - it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don't like these things it is because you don't like Jews.

Anticipating the wave of anti Jewish violence that swept across Europe this year in the wake of last summer’s Israeli military operations in Gaza, and the punishment that would await those like the Yale chaplain dismissed for asserting such a link in a letter to the New York Times, Judt made the connection between Israel’s behavior and the rise of worldwide anti Semitism. Such a link was anathema to Zionists who believe that anti Semitism is an almost mystical force immune from simple cause and effect and regard such a causal connection as “blaming the victim.” Judt said that “Israel's reckless behavior and insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia.” 

For tens of millions of people in the world today, Israel is indeed the state of all the Jews. And thus, reasonably enough, many observers believe that one way to take the sting out of rising anti-Semitism in the suburbs of Paris or the streets of Jakarta would be for Israel to give the Palestinians back their land.

Strong powers of denial were factors in the incapacity of Israel’s leaders to understand and respond to the meltdown of its international image, but Judt concluded

If Israel's leaders have been able to ignore such developments it is in large measure because they have hitherto counted upon the unquestioning support of the United States - the one country in the world where the claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is still echoed not only in the opinions of many Jews but also in the public pronouncements of mainstream politicians and the mass media. But this lazy, ingrained confidence in unconditional American approval - and the moral, military and financial support that accompanies it - may prove to be Israel's undoing.