August 22, 2006

John Irving’s SS Moral Compass

As has been reported in the press ad nauseam, Günter Grass, the esteemed left-wing German novelist, has caused a row in Germany by announcing that, as a teenager, he was drafted into the Waffen SS. This has ignited a stir because Mr. Grass, the famed author of The Tin Drum and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was the self-styled conscience of post-war Germany.

Throughout the decades, in addition to offering apologias for various left-wing totalitarians, Grass has hectored the German public, urging his fellow Krauts to come clean about their Nazi past. And now, after years of sanctimonious preaching, Mr. Grass turns out to have been hiding his own Nazi past. Ah, the wages of hypocrisy!

As a famous novelist, however, Mr. Grass naturally has his share of literary pals, the kinds of folk who can rush to his defense with a timely op-ed in some large-circulation rag. And thus novelist John Irving has penned a remarkably obtuse, slipshod apologia for Grass in—wait for it—The Guardian. Of course, The Guardian is a perfect fit for such a piece: The paper is a prime apologist for Islamic fascism, the Nazism of today, and so it makes sense for it to give space for an excuse for Nazism of the old-fashioned variety.

Interestingly, unlike the other Guardian op-eds, Mr. Irving’s pathetic disquisition doesn’t allow on-line readers to offer their comments on the piece. Perhaps Mr. Irving realized that he hadn’t exactly hit an argumentative homerun.

For good reason: Humorously titled “Günter Grass is my hero, as a writer and a moral compass,” this article makes its case by studiously ignoring the obvious problems with Mr. Grass’ behavior. For instance, Mr. Irving explains:

Grass enlisted [in the Waffen SS] when he was 15; he said he volunteered mainly “to get away.” I wonder if any of his critics truly remember themselves at 15.

To which we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” reply: Mr. Irving, you’re a complete dolt. From all the criticism of Mr. Grass we’ve read, we’ve yet to find writers who find fault merely for Mr. Grass’ teenage transgression—even though he claimed that he believed in the Nazi cause until the end of the war. Grass was surely morally obtuse (stick that in your compass, Mr. Irving) but he was an adolescent.

Rather, critics have harped on the quintessential hypocrisy Mr. Grass has demonstrated as an adult—and about this glaring hypocrisy Mr. Irving is eerily silent. No one likes to be bullied into coming to grips with their problematic past by a fellow who fails to come to grips with his problematic past. Is this really so hard to understand?

Apparently it is for John Irving. That he has composed such a feeble defense of his friend perhaps demonstrates that the Günter Grass Moral Compass has led him astray.

Posted at August 22, 2006 12:01 AM | TrackBack