Rasputin IV: Why is Rasputin Still Famous?


For most of his life, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was little more than a lowly, ill-mannered, poorly educated peasant from the Siberian village of Pokrovsho in the Tyunsky Uyezd of Tobolsk Governate (or for the rest of you the Yarkovsky District of Tyumen Oblast). The very idea that we would still be talking about whether Rasputin we should consider him famous, or infamous, whether he was a good guy or a bad guy, would’ve shocked the Russians, because it means we’re still talking about was a lowly peasant from their era. They probably assumed we’d be talking about one their leaders from the era, their military heroes, their artists, philosophers, or even their murderers, but this lowly peasant wasn’t any of those things. Yet, his story, his legacy, is still the subject of numerous modern movies, bios, news magazine pieces, web articles, and blogs over 100 years after some Russian nobleman, and the richest man in Russia, murdered Rasputin on Dec. 30, 1916. 

6) He Brought Down an Empire. A story about a relatively benign citizen bringing down an empire would be noteworthy regardless the circumstances. The idea that a lowly, ill-mannered, poorly educated peasant did it in early 1900’s Russia is one of the primary reasons we’re still fascinated with Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.

For a variety of reasons, there will always be gaps between the classes. There are gaps in every country and every era, but the gaps we have now don’t even compare to the cultures and societies of the early 1900’s and before. Russia’s class structure was so entrenched, in the early 1900’s that if a Russian teacher were caught teaching her students that they could be anything they wanted to be, the parents of those students would’ve complained that the teacher was engaging in a very cruel joke. The idea that a commoner, much less a peasant might climb so far up the ladder to one-day advise the ruling family of the empire was likely so far-fetched that they probably never so much as considered it a possibility before. 

While many historians argue about the actual level of influence the peasant we now know as Rasputin exerted on the Romanovs, some of them argue that Rasputin’s murder precipitated the fall of the Romanov Empire. Whether it was a direct result of Rasputin’s influence, his murder, or some sort of tangential influence, I believe the correlation derived from what I now call The Rasputin Paradox.

The Rasputin Paradox occurs when a team uses a scapegoat to explain their relative lack of success. When the leaders of this enterprise found, or take over, an enterprise they believe they were the ones who can lead it to success. When they fail, they might not view the individual they deem responsible for that failure a scapegoat in the purest sense, of course. They do believe that when they remove that person, it will open their path to success. What often happens, shortly after they remove this person, is that they find themselves exposed to blame for anything that goes awry in the aftermath. The leaders might attempt to convince the team members, and themselves, that the scapegoat’s coattails can still be found in the accounting figures, but the team members eventually focus the blame on the remaining leaders.

In the relationship between the Romanovs, Rasputin, and the citizens of Russia, it’s vital to note that the Romanovs may not have ever considered Rasputin a scapegoat in the purest sense. They probably assumed they were doing just fine. The citizens didn’t, and they might have placed an inordinate amount of blame for the ineptitude of the empire on Rasputin. After his murder, however, their perception of glaring failure on the part of the Russian Empire focused squarely on the Romanovs, and it eventually led to their bloody overthrow in a February revolution that started less than two months after Rasputin’s murder.

5) He was a Piece of Junk who Influenced an Empire. Even by the hierarchical standards of early 1900’s Russia, in which they viewed peasants as below vermin, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a slob. He was an ill-mannered poorly educated drunk who stunk. We’ve all met men who have no regard for standards of politeness, but most of them find a way to conceal their ignorant, belligerent ways around women. They may not revere women the way most of us do, but they’re usually respectful in their company, especially if that woman exhibits impressive levels of refinement. No matter how one chooses to characterize refinement, chivalry, or manners, historians suggest Rasputin was likely the exact opposite. Russians reviled him as a sexual deviant. They suggest that he was a little more than a con man who used women to make political connections and gain influence.

When these women recommended Rasputin to the empire, they informed the court that he had the otherworldly powers necessary to help the Romanovs cure their son of hemophilia. When the Romanovs agreed to see him, his appearance before the court must have shocked them. Did they find some way to overlook his characteristics for the presumed benefit of their son, or did his appearance, and the rumors of his demeanor, lead them to presume he was a conduit to otherworldly powers? When the well-mannered, more attractive men, schooled in refined ways stood before the court, detailing the ways they could help Alexei Romanov, the Romanovs were likely more skeptical. What was Rasputin’s appeal? He had a history of “curing” people long before he stood before the Romanovs, and that word-of-mouth surely made it to Alexandra and Nicholas before the interview, but that likely didn’t prepare them for the appearance of this man. When he appeared before them, they likely fell prey to the very human belief that a person who eschews common pleasantries and niceties is more mysterious and more in tune with spiritual and less conventional means of healing. (Most historians suggest that Nicholas never fell under Rasputin’s spell, but Alexandra did.)  

Another element that aided Rasputin’s rise was that the Romanovs were desperate to end the suffering of their child’s pain, and they exhausted the conventional means of the more conventional men of medicine with far more education. Were they so desperate that they were willing to try anything, or were they more susceptible to what they considered the more spiritual means that Rasputin appeared to fulfill? Whatever the case was, Rasputin managed to use this speculation, based on his appearance, to gain more influence in the Russian Empire, and he used it to achieve a place in history for which Russian peasants didn’t even bother dreaming.

4) His Appearance. “Those eyes,” is the first and last thing we say when we see a photo of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. Some have “nice eyes”, others have “striking eyes”, but there is something notable, striking, and unusual going on in Rasputin’s eyes. We don’t know exactly what we’re seeing when we look into those eyes, but we can’t look away. No matter how we look at those eyes, we cannot walk away without thinking that man had a powerful gaze.

We can feel the power of those eyes, just looking at them. A cheap, con man, hypnotist might pay good money to attain those eyes. We can only imagine how Russian citizens must have reacted under their spell, but the photos we now have of Rasputin are black and white. If those eyes were as coal black as they appear in black and white photos, we might almost feel soothed by the certain consistent definition they appear to have. The idea that they were blue, which some describe as an “intensely, cold blue”, as depicted in the colorized version below, must have proved so unsettling that a part of Rasputin’s purported charm and charisma probably came from reassuring those who saw “those eyes” that he meant them no harm.

We all act to enhance and counteract our physical characteristics, and Rasputin might have developed a soothing tone to counteract the imaginations of the spiritual and easily spooked villagers he knew. Coupled with the eyes, we have the long hair, the infamous beard, and overall unkempt appearance, and we assume we have an appearance trapped somewhere between our caricatures of Jesus of Nazareth and Satan. If the eyes were as hypnotic as some suggest, we can imagine that he would be the most memorable person those of the era ever met in any crowd or gathering. Couple his unsettling appearance, with his much talked and charm and charisma, and the rumored size of his member, and we have a figure who left such a profound mark on history that we’re still talking about him 100 years after his death.          

3) He Cured a Child of Hemophilia. As stated in the Rasputin II: A Miracle at Spala article, Rasputin never “cured” the tsar’s son Alexei. Alexei Romanov had hemophilia the day he was born, and he died with it. What is not in dispute is the fact that Rasputin temporarily ended the suffering Alexei experienced as a result of the temporary, painful symptoms of hemophilia. How Rasputin accomplished this is the subject of much speculation. (Some suggest Rasputin used horse-whispering techniques to soothe the boy, some say he understood the healing powers of magnetism, and others suggest he knew more about medicine than most of his peers, including the medical professionals of his day).

No matter what he did, the consensus at the time suggests he did soothe the boy into temporary health. Some historians suggest that Rasputin simply called for Alexei’s doctors to stop giving him aspirin, an agent of blood thinning, as we now know. Did Rasputin know more about aspirin than Alexei’s team of doctors, or did he happen upon someone who just happened to theorize that aspirin thins the blood, and Rasputin happened to witness the results that no other medical professional in his era knew?

As a lowly peasant, Rasputin also had less to lose than the medical professionals who were lining up to be a close advisor to the Romanovs. If he failed, he would go back to living the life he always knew, as a peasant. Did he step in and say something as simple as, “Why don’t we try something different?” That might seem so simple, but we can guess that the medical professionals didn’t want to make all of their other colleagues look bad, or they simply followed the “proper diagnosis” of hemophilia by giving Alexei aspirin. Our modern minds suggest this is less a compliment to Rasputin’s ability and/or know how and more a critique of the medical knowledge of the era. If this speculation is true, we might regard Rasputin as nothing more than a right-time, right place charlatan who took advantage of the lack of knowledge in his era to become a close advisor of the tsarina Alexandra Romanov. In light of this theory, we might even consider the “healing” of Alexei a footnote in history.

Historians debate what Rasputin actually did to cure Alexei, but what is not in debate is that everyone from Alexandra on down regarded what Rasputin did amazing, at the least, and miraculous at most. This poorly educated peasant essentially saved the empire by saving their heir to crown, and mother Russia was so grateful that they (Alexandra specifically) awarded him the role of close advisor.

He would use this seat to not only advise Alexandra on how to treat Alexei’s ailments, but some believe he fostered such a quality relationship with her that he began advising her on matters of state. Some believe she would then whisper such advice to Tsar Nicholas II. When the tsar then went to join his fellow countrymen in battle, the tsarina was left in charge, and some believe Rasputin’s influence grew in that capacity. 

Some, including the British Secret Intelligence Service, believed that Rasputin’s influence on Alexandra, and thus Nicholas, was so strong that it might precipitate Russia withdrawing forces in WWI. They believed that Rasputin, for all of his folklore, was actually something of a pacifist, and that he was advising the empire to withdraw its forces from World War I. This conspiracy theory suggests that Britain needed Germany concentrating at least some of their forces on Russia, until the United States would enter the war. This theory suggest that the British Secret Intelligence Service was so worried about Rasputin’s influence on the empire that they might have encouraged, devised, participated in, or financially funded the murder of Rasputin. The author of this theory, Joseph T. Fuhrman, further states that “Britain’s Military Intelligence, Section Six, (MI6), [recently] promised to publish its files on Rasputin’s murder, but it decided to delay it, we can assume, to avoid cooled relations between Moscow and London.”

2) His Murder. “They tried poisoning him, shooting him and drowning him,” my History teacher said, “but Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a man who would not die.” The various stories of the assaults on Rasputin suggest that a prostitute without a nose stabbed him, and that he survived, even though his blood loss was considerable, and his internal organs allegedly fell out.

Two years after the prostitute stabbed him, a team of nobles led by Felix Yusupov, the richest man in Russia, attempted to lace his tea and cakes with cyanide to assassinate him. When Rasputin showed no signs of succumbing to the cyanide, they upped the dose they put it in his wine. When that didn’t produce immediate results, they tried stabbing him, and then they tried shooting him. They shot at him five times, and three of those shots hit. He was not dead at this point, allegedly, so they tried clubbing him to death. Convinced that he was finally deceased, the team of assassins rolled him up in a carpet and threw him in the Malaya Nekva river. Some speculate that he was not dead when he hit the water, and that he drowned or died of hypothermia. My History teacher added to this myth stating that “The assassins secured Rasputin in this carpet with chains connected to concrete blocks that they hoped would bound him to the bottom of the river.” The History teacher added that when Russian officials were finally able to crack through the Malaya Nekva river to retrieve the body, they found the carpet, the cinder blocks, and the chains, but they found no body.

“Is he alive today?” one of my fellow students asked.   

“They never found a body,” our teacher answered.

Even if only one-tenth of this story is true, we thought, it’s quite a tale. Historians suggest that it might be quite a stretch to say one-tenth of that tale is true. They all agree that a prostitute with no nose stabbed him, but they suggest that it’s debatable that his interior organs fell out. They agree that a team of assassins gathered to poison, stab, and shoot him. They agree that the nobles shot at him, five times, and three hit. The historical accounts we’ve read suggest that the final shot, the one delivered execution style to the forehead, killed Rasputin. The autopsy report, these reports say, confirm that. The historians suggest that it’s plausible, due to the dose of cyanide and the locations of the bullets on Rasputin’s body, that any mere mortal could’ve survived in the short-term, but that Rasputin would’ve eventually succumbed to them. They suggest that when Rasputin didn’t die immediately, the team of assassins panicked. They may have assumed that Rasputin’s much-speculated supernatural powers kept him alive through all that. Historians speculate that much of what followed Rasputin’s demise, including the clubbing and chaining him to the bottom of the river was based on irrational fears that led the assassins to some literal measures of overkill.   

No matter the much-debated truth of the matter, the myth of the man who couldn’t be killed, and wouldn’t die, fascinates us so much that it comprises much of the reason we’re still reading and writing about him over 100 years after his murder.

The myth of the man who wouldn’t die also probably influenced the writers of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street. For many of us the details of how Rasputin lived pale in comparison to the manner in which he was killed. He was the original Man Who Wouldn’t Die. As discussed throughout this article and Rasputin III: The Murder of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, there is speculation, interpretation of eyewitness accounts, and myths surrounding Rasputin’s. There are some facts, such as those detailed in the autopsy report, and official reports, but are those facts? We might never know for sure, but the one thing we do know is most great story tellers don’t let facts get in the way of a great story.

1) The Myth. Some might say the man who wouldn’t die is the number one reason the fascination surrounding Rasputin might never die, but I believe it is a combination of all of the above. If, for example, Rasputin managed to leap through the strict class structure of his culture to the roles of advisor to the empire and Holy Fool, he saved the life of the tsar’s son, and he escaped death a couple of times, but he looked like Jimmy Carter, it might have affected his historical value. The fact that not only are the facts of Grigori Rasputin’s story a little spooky, but he looked creepy and spooky ups his historical value exponentially.  

The Russian Empire, at the time of Romanov rule, was so mired in secrecy that we will never know the truth of what happened during these years. The problem with a government that engages in secrecy is that folklore, myths and conspiracy theories fill the gaps. Yet, we do have to sympathize with the Romanovs for how damaging would it be for them to release information that when the Romanovs finally produced a male heir that he was constantly on the verge of death, until a “lower than vermin” peasant came along and “cured” him. It would do nothing but damage their cause to publicly admit, or historically record that crown, or the court, received advice from a peasant on state matters. When we gather all of the secondhand information together, and we couple it with the notion that some of the information we have about Rasputin, the Romanovs, and their relationships was likely spread by the regime that took over after the revolution to advance their own agenda further complicates any attempts at separating fact from fiction. Even if one tenth of these tales are true, they’re so wild and fascinating that we’ve been passing it down for over 100 years, and those who hear these stories will probably be passing them on for 100 more.  

Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud


Late bloomers envy those who knew, at a relatively young age, what they wanted to do for a living. Most of us experienced some moments of inspiration that could lead us down a path, but few of us ever read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals in our formative years. We preferred an NFL preview guide of some sort, teenage heartthrob magazines, or one of the many other periodicals that offer soft entertainment value. Most of us opted out of reading altogether and chose to play something that involved a ball instead. Life was all about fun for the kids in our block, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. They may not have known they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted huge chunks of their young lives to learning everything their young minds could retain. “How is this even possible?” some of us ask. How are they able to achieve that level of focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?

At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, these people claim some levels of tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not the level of focus to which you are alluding.” They might have diverged from the central focus, but they had more direction than anyone we knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it wasn’t as specific as we might guess.

The questions regarding what we should do for a living has plagued so many for so long that comedian Paula Poundstone captured it with a well-placed joke, and I apologize, in advance, for the creative paraphrasing: “Didn’t you hate it when your relatives asked what you wanted to do for a living? Um, Grandpa I’m 5. I haven’t fully grasped the mechanics or the importance of brushing my teeth yet. Those of us of a certain age have now been on both sides of this question. We’ve been asking our nieces and nephews this question for years without detecting any irony. What do you want to do when you grow up? Now that I’ve been asking this question long enough, I’ve finally figured out why we ask it. Our aunts and uncles asked us this question when we were growing up, because they were looking for ideas. I’m in my forties now, and I’m still asking my nieces and nephews these questions. I’m still looking for ideas.”

Pour through the annals of great men and women of history, and that research will reveal legions of late bloomers who didn’t accomplish anything of note until late in life. The research will also reveal that most of the figures who achieved success in life were just as dumb and carefree as children as the rest of us were, until the seriousness of adulthood directed them to pursue a venture in life that would land them in the annals of history. Some failed more than once in their initial pursuits, until they discovered something that flipped a switch.

Those who know anything about psychology, and many who don’t, are familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. Those who know anything about Freud are aware of his unique theories about the human mind and human development. Those who know anything about his psychosexual theory know we are all repressed sexual beings plagued with unconscious desires to have relations with some mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that some of his theories might have originated from Freud’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of nineteenth-century science, the elusive eel testicles.

Although some annals state that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered eel testicles in 1777, other periodicals state that the search continued up to and beyond the search of an obscure 19-year-old Austrian’s in 1876.[1] Other research states that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel, and his studies resulted in postulations that stated either that the beings came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”.[2] One could guess that these answers resulted from great frustration, since Aristotle was so patient with his deductions in other areas. On the other hand, he also purported that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat. “Others, who conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water. One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the ‘action of sunlight on dewdrops’.”

Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first real job, he was 19, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, “Amid stench and slime for long hours” the New York Times described Freud’s working environment. [3] His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on an animal’s mating habits, one that had confounded science for centuries. Conceivably, a more seasoned scientist might have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young 19-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing eels, hoping to achieve an answer no one could disprove.

Unfortunate for the young Freud, but perhaps fortunate for the field of psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex.” Freud eventually penned that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said Freud correctly predicted where the testicles should be and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. Freud’s experiments resulted in a failure to find the testicles, and he moved into other areas as a result. The question on the mind of this reader is how profound was the effect of this failure to find eel testicles on Freud’s later research into human sexual development?

In our teenage and young adult years, most of us had odd jobs that affected us in a variety of ways, for the rest of our working lives. For most, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through to get paid. Few of us pined over anything at that age, least of all a legacy that might land us in annals of history. Most of us wanted to do well in our entry-level jobs, to bolster our character, but we had no profound feelings of failure if we didn’t. We just moved onto other more rewarding, more fulfilling jobs.

Was Freud’s search for eel testicles the equivalent of an entry-level job, or did he believe in the vocation so much that the failure devastated him? Did he slice the first 100 or so eels open and throw them aside with the belief that they were immature? Was there nothing but female eels around him, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what plagued the other scientists for centuries, including the brilliant Aristotle? There had to be a moment, in other words, when Sigmund Freud realized that they couldn’t all be female. He had to know, at some point, that he was missing the same something everyone else missed. He must have spent some sleepless nights struggling to come up with a different tactic. He might have lost his appetite at various points, and he may have shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology. He sliced and diced over 400 after all. If even some of this is true, even if it only occupied his mind for four weeks of his life, we can feasibly imagine that the futile search for eel testicles affected Sigmund Freud in a profound manner.

If Freud Never Existed, Would There Be a Need to Create Him

Every person approaches a topic of study from a subjective angle. It’s human nature. Few of us can view people, places, or things in our lives, with total objectivity. The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves. Some say that we are the central topic of speculation when we theorize about humanity. All theories are autobiographical, in other words, and we pursue such questions in an attempt to understand ourselves better. Bearing that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans? Did he bring objectivity to his patients? Could he have been more objective, or did Freud have a blind spot that led him to chase eel testicles throughout his career in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?

After his failure, Sigmund Freud would switch his focus to a field of science that would later become psychology. Soon thereafter, patients sought his consultation. We know now that Freud viewed most people’s problems through a sexual lens, but was that lens tinted by the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago? Did his inability to locate the eel’s reproductive organs prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere he went, in the manner that a rare car owner begins to see his car everywhere, soon after driving that new car off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others might say that this could have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on sexual development have been if he found his Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail of science at the time? How different would his life have been? We could also wonder if Freud would have even switched his focus if he found fame as a marine biologist with his findings.

How different would the field of psychology be today if Sigmund Freud remained a marine biologist? Alternatively, if he still made the switch to psychology after achieving fame in marine biology, for being the eel testicle spotter, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind from a less subjective angle? Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all? If it didn’t, is it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve occurred to someone else over time, even without Freud’s influence?

We can state, without too much refutation, that Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory has sexualized the beliefs many have about human development, a theory others now consider disproved. How transcendental was that theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved in it? How much of the subjective interpretation derived from his inability to find the eel testicle fueled it? Put another way, did Freud ever reach a point where he began overcompensating for that initial failure?

Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles. This theory, influenced by Freud’s theories, suggests that those who claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner, and the more a man says he doesn’t, the more repressed his homosexual desires are.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6 percent of males in the U.S. population are either openly gay or bisexual.[4] If these findings are even close to correct, this leaves 96.4 percent who are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner. Neither Freud nor anyone else has been able to put even a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals who harbor unconscious, erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex, but the very idea that the theory has achieved worldwide fame leads some to believe there is some truth to it. Analysis of some psychological studies on this subject provides the quotes, “It is possible … Certain figures show that it would indicate … All findings can and should be evaluated by further research.” In other words, no conclusive data and all findings and figures are vague. Some would suggest that these quotes are ambiguous enough that they can be used by those who would have their readers believe that most of the 96.4 percent who express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not just support the view, but to actively involve themselves in that way of life.[5]

Some label Sigmund Freud as history’s most debunked doctor, but his influence on the field of psychology and on the ways society at large views human development and sexuality is indisputable. The greater question, as it pertains specific to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was Freud a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by his initial failure to find eel testicles? To put it more succinct, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with finding during his lifetime?

 

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eel_life_history

 

[2]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/oct/27/the-decline-of-the-eel

 

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/health/psychology/analyze-these.html

 

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

 

[5]http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/freud.html

 

The Perfect Imperfections of Kafka’s Metamorphosis


It’s not funny that a man, a Gregor Sama, awakes one day to discover that a he has transformed into “a monstrous vermin.” (Some readers have declared that Sama changed into a giant insect or a cockroach.) This concept could be funny, some would suggest, in the hands of more humorous writer. The plot could be less cerebral, more slapstick, and loaded with innuendo in other hands. The premise is just ripe for one-liners, hilarious getups, and situational comedy gold. In Franz Kafka’s hands, however, Metamorphosis is not only unfunny. It’s not even humorous. If the story didn’t have such a preposterous premise, we might call it tragic. As David Foster Wallace, suggests, however, that’s what makes the story so funny.

If a stubborn reader takes umbrage with the fact that some consider Kafka’s masterpiece Metamorphosis funny, they would have to admit that using such a disturbing transformation as a vehicle to explain human psychology is one of the finest literary definitions of the word clever.

For young, aspiring writers, Metamorphosis may also be one of the finest examples of Chekov’s razor we have in the literary canon. For what modern writer would attempt to write a story of a man turning into a bug without some sort of explanation of that transformation? Amazon.com reviewers would surely roast a modern writer at the stake for not setting this story up with a proper scientific explanation for how a man could turn into vermin. The modern reader might not pay attention to such a story without sufficient explanation. They might even suggest that the omission is distracting. Moviegoers might require a detailed, computer-generated-imagery (CGI) visual description of this transformation, brought to you by the fine people from Lucas Films, LTD. A writer shouldn’t start a story after the transformation, modern audiences might complain. The transformation is the story, or at least the cool part of the story.

We can only guess that throughout the gestation of Metamorphosis Franz Kafka attempted some explanations, and that he couldn’t come up with one he considered satisfactory. Those of us who know literary techniques could also guess that at some point in the creative process, Kafka learned of Chekov’s razor, and Kafka began to believe that those explanations were of no value to anyone but himself, thus leading him to place the metamorphosis on the editing room floor. The only explanation we get is, “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams. He found himself in his bed into a monstrous vermin transformed.” Kafka might have deemed all preceding detail irrelevant and best left to the imagination of the reader.

Gregor’s dreams weren’t even horrific! Evil! or Maddening! Kafka does not lead the reader to believe the transformation was the result of the dreams. The dreams were “uneasy”. Subtle, in other words, and inconsequential to the story.

Kafka’s apparent adherence to Chekov’s razor informs the reader that the transformation, or metamorphosis, is not the story. Kafka apparently deemed the transformation so low on the scale of importance, in the story, that when his publisher informed him that a bug would be on the cover of the story, Kafka replied, “Not that, please not that!” Kafka may have hoped to attract readers with the premise of the transformation, he did title the story Metamorphosis after all, but he hoped that readers would approach the story with more nuance. If Kafka were alive today, and awash in modern lexicon, he might say that readers should read Metamorphosis from an “It is what it is” perspective and nothing more.

Although, Kafka spends some time revealing how the other characters react to Gregor’s transformation by screaming, fainting, and falling, he does not portray these reactions in a humorous manner that we could call overt. The mother falls over a table, and Gregor’s employer runs from the apartment. A reader, reading from the “more is always more” perspective would not be pleased with Franz Kafka, and Kafka might even find himself the subject of constructive criticism for Metamorphosis if he published this story today.

“You could do so much more with these scenes,” one imagines a group of beta readers informing Franz Kafka, in a modern day writing circle. “Why don’t you have the sister, this Grete, vomit? You could then describe the vomit in intricate detail.” “What about having the father pee his pants in alarm? Bodily functions are always funny,” and Kafka might hear something along the lines of, “You’ve just left us hanging here, begging for more.”

In Kafka’s “it is what it is” hands, however, these reactions are portrayed in a serious, if not sad vein, as the victim of the metamorphosis becomes more ostracized from his own family due to his affliction. The humor, if there is any in this scene, is for the reader to define.

The lesson Metamorphosis provides to the aspiring writer that seeks to learn a lesson in style, is in the power of subtlety. The outlandish storyteller, seeking to provide modern lessons in disturbing and evocative imagery, learns in one reading of this story that the “it is what it is” principle of storytelling should be employed to lay a foundation of pedantic reality from which the reader can leap.

“It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor,” David Foster Wallace wrote, postulating on the frustration of teaching Franz Kafka, “but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get –the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke– that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens … and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch (Translation: That’s really funny).”

Even to those of us who appreciate subtlety, find it difficult to read this quintessential Kafka story, Metamorphosis, without feeling a little letdown by the anti-climactic ending. The monstrous vermin, that is Gregor Samsa, dies without ceremony. The advent of his death is subtle and inconsequential. By the time Gregor succumbs to death, his family is glad to be rid of him. To them, he has become a burden and an embarrassment. The reader infers that the Samsa family members are already at peace with the loss of Gregor, but there is little evidence of this fact in the passages that follow the transformation. The mother does state that she wants to visit her son, at one point, but the family easily dissuades her from doing so. Her plea, we can only guess, is nothing more than a mother attempting to display motherly concern, and the idea that the other two family members are able to easily dissuade her suggests that her concern is largely self-serving symbolism. After the transformed Gregor finally dies, the Samsa family calls upon the maid to dispose of the carcass, in the manner they might any other burdensome vermin.

Kafka scholars state that he agreed that Metamorphosis had an unsatisfactory ending stating: “Unreadable ending. Imperfect almost to its very marrow.” After the initial reading of the story, this reader found himself letdown too. I fell prey to imagining the possibilities. I thought of other avenues for the story, great one-liners, hilarious getups, and the manner in which the situation could be weaved to comedic gold for others “to get”. The more I thought about Metamorphosis’ ending, the more I thought the imperfect ending might have been the perfect one. For, if as David Foster Wallace suggested, “The horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”

If there is humor in Metamorphosis, it cannot be located from the subjective distance most might view a fantastical tale of a man who transforms into an insect of some sort. To my mind, it requires a long form, almost objective interpretation (if the term objective can be used to describe attempting to view the subject matter from the perspective of a senior citizen). If the reader is able to view this story from the perspective of one of the lucky few to live a long life, and the terms lucky and long are always relative and subjective for those who view us as living beyond our expiration date. For, if we are one of those lucky few, we will begin to gain distance from what we meant throughout our life, and that struggle to establish, and re-establish ourselves will begin to wane, as it did for our loved ones when they began to age and metamorphosed into senile, old people who were incapable of taking care of themselves. Those loved ones who are lucky enough to live long lives will eventually became a burden to us, as we all will if we are lucky enough to live so long that we become reduced to the perspective our loved ones will have of us. We will reach a point where they no longer cherish what we once were –when we took care of them and guided them through life– and it’s almost a relief to them that we’re gone, and we arrive at our anti-climactic ending that requires our loved ones pay others for our disposal.

 

Wearing a Mask the Face Grows Into


The subtext within Shooting the Elephant involves the struggle to find an authentic voice in the midst of ceding to authority and group thought. Shooting the Elephant is about a moment in Eric Arthur Blair’s (George Orwell) young life when he was forced, by a number of external forces, to shoot an elephant. The task of a great writer is to take a relatively benign moment in their life and translate it into a meaningful moment, and by doing so unearth the ideas and characters involved. In the course of discovery, an author might become obsessed with why they acted the way they did. What was my motivation at the time, a writer may ask, and what does it say about me, or what does it say about humanity as a whole? 

As a standalone, i.e., listing off the events that took place, I’m guessing that the aspiring Eric Arthur Blair considered the story incomplete and without purpose. I’m guessing that he probably wrote and rewrote it so many times, and introduced creative bridges, that he couldn’t remember which details took place and which details he created to support the bridge between actual events that took place and that which would make the moment transcendent.

We can also guess, based upon what Blair would achieve under the pseudonym George Orwell, that the search for the quality story, supported by a quality theme, was the driving force behind his effort. If the driving force behind writing a story is to achieve fame or acclaim, so goes the theory, you’ll have neither the fame nor a quality story. The mentality most quality writers bring to a piece is that fame and acclaim are great, but it should be nothing more than a welcome byproduct of a well-written piece. Shooting the Elephant is a really good story, but the thought provoking, central message is the reason Eric Arthur Blair would go on to achieve fame as George Orwell.

It’s possible –knowing that Shooting the Elephant was one of Orwell’s first stories– that the theme of the story occurred in the exact manner Orwell portrays, and he built the story around that theme, and he then proceeded to build a writing career around that theme. The actuality of what happened to Orwell, while employed as the British Empire’s police officer in Burma is impossible to know, and subject to debate, but the quality of the psychological examination Orwell puts into the first person, ‘I’ character is not debatable, as it relays to the pressure the onlookers exert on the main character, based on his mystique. It’s also the reason Orwell wrote this story, and the many other stories that examine this theme in numerous ways.

The first person, ‘I’ character of George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant was a sub-divisional police officer of the town of Burma. Orwell writes how this job, as sub-divisional police officer, brought him to a point where he began to see the evil underbelly of imperialism, a result of the Burmese people resenting him for his role as the one placed among them to provide the order the British Empire for the otherwise disorderly “natives” of Burma. Orwell writes, how he in turn, began to loathe some of the Burmese as a result, while secretly cheering them on against the occupiers, his home country Britain. It all came to a head, for him, when a trained elephant went must<1>. Orwell’s responsibility, to those he swore to protect, and to those who commissioned him to protect, as a sub-divisional police officer, was to shoot the elephant.

Orwell describes the encounter in this manner:

“It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act.”

The escaped elephant gone must wreaked some carnage in his path from the bazaar to the spot where Orwell came upon him. En route to the eventual spot where Orwell came upon the elephant, Orwell encountered several Burmese people who informed him of the elephant gone must. Orwell then discovered a dead man on the elephant’s destructive path that Orwell describes as a black Dravidian<2>coolie in one spot of the story, and a Coringhee<3> coolie in another. Several witnesses confirmed, for Orwell, the fact that the elephant killed the man.

When the ‘I character’ finally comes upon the elephant, he sees it “peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow,” Orwell then describes the Burmese throng that surrounded him:

“It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib<4>. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”

Orwell states that he did not want to shoot the elephant, but he felt compelled by the very presence of the thousands of “natives” surrounding him to proceed. He writes:

“A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that (coolie) up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh.”

In the aftermath of the shooting of the animal, Orwell describes the controversy that arose, and he concluded it in the following manner:

“I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”

The Hard-Ass Boss

At a warehouse-sized office I worked in, we had a supervisor who enjoyed the mystique of being a hard-ass. He enjoyed having those of us under him believe that he would do whatever it took to help the employees on his team achieve maximum efficiency. If we did well, he took credit for it. He was proud to take credit for it, and we were supposed to feel proud when we made him look good. Some of my team members were proud, for there are always some who enjoy autocratic rule. What they didn’t consider was what might happen if they had a poor quarter. Not only did he deflect 100% of the blame to the accused, but in a stylistic homage to Josef Stalin, he had them unceremoniously stricken from the record. We had a friend sitting next to us, laughing at our jokes and telling us stories from their life one day, and we had an empty desk sitting next to us the next. If he didn’t choreograph the chilling effect this had on the team, he might have taken credit for it if we asked him about it.

In this particular office, a sub-par employee had so many chances to recover from past performance that it was an ongoing joke among the employees that we could set the building ablaze and nothing of consequence would happen. If our perceptions of this climate were anywhere close to the truth, this supervisor stood out. In a corporate climate of managers defining supervisors on their creative abilities to retain employees and receive quality, employee review scores from those employees, our supervisor was an aberration. I do not know if the numbers we produced for him placed him above reproach among his superiors, or if my fellow employees were afraid to score low on their reviews during his tenure as their boss, but he managed to remain a supervisor of a team that hated him. If the reader knows anything about the corporate climate of America today, and the constant reviews employees and their bosses undergo, they know that is a near-herculean chore. 

The walk to an unscheduled, closed-door, one-on-one with this supervisor was equivalent to a criminal suspect being frog marched into a courthouse. The audience of it found themselves caught between trying to see the emotions on accused’s face and trying to look away to preserve the accused’s dignity. These moments informed us that in a world of supervisors claiming to have our back, in closed-door sessions with Human Resources and their managers, we had one that had so little concern for us that he did not even try to fake the support other supervisors did.  

Those of us who worked under this hard ass boss knew he would not defend us, even if we had verifiable reasons that warranted a defense. We figured that if we had that reason that we might have to go to our Human Resources department to mount our own defense, and there was also a sneaking suspicion that we might have to mount a defense against him in that meeting.

This resulted in most of us believing that he cared little about us and only about advancing his mystique, until it advanced him within the company. Was this a fair characterization? It might not have been, but it was pervasive throughout the team, and he never did anything to dispel us of this notion.

Thus, when I was frog marched into my first unscheduled one-on-one session with him, I was astonished to find out that not only did I receive the least severe punishment possible, but I didn’t receive the punishment specifically proscribed for my offense. He informed me of the charges against me, and he provided print outs of my action in the event that I might mount a defense, and then he cut my punishment in half. He did so in a congenial manner that I found unsettling, and his unassuming smile of sympathy was so shocking that I experienced an inexplicable disappointment.

Another inexplicable emotion I experienced was a diminished respect for him that I couldn’t avoid pursuing. My characterization of him, compiled data furnished by him and the group thought that pronounced such characterizations after all of his actions, left me with blanks to fill that included pleasant and unassuming characteristics.

He offered me another pleasant and unassuming smile in the silence that followed.

“See, I’m not such a bad guy,” he said.

Had he had asked me what I thought of this side of him, before I left the boardroom, I would’ve told him that he would have been better off refraining from all that smiling. “Smiles look weird on your face,” is something I might have said. I would have added that there was nothing unusual, or unattractive about that smile, but that it just looked odd on him. I also would have informed him that we both would’ve been better off if just gave me the proscribed punishment for my offense. I would’ve told him that the mystique he had a hand in creating, and that which was so firmly entrenched by the time I entered this boardroom, placed him in a no-win situation … “If,” I would add, “it is  your hope that I like you, or in anyway consider you to be something other than a bad guy.” I would’ve informed him that once you establish a firm, hard-ass leadership mystique, doing otherwise will only lead the recipient of your leniency to believe that you are flexing an authoritative muscle in a condescending reminder to those under your stewardship that they will forever be subjected to your whims and moods, until they leave the room loathing you more than they had when they entered.

I would’ve ended my assessment by informing him that he’s so worked hard to foster this image, and sustain this mystique, that he should probably just sit back and enjoy it. The employees on your team are now working harder than they ever have, because they fear that you won’t do anything to help them if they don’t. They are also putting a great deal of effort into avoiding anything that could even be reasonably perceived as wrongdoing, based on the idea that if they get caught up in something that you won’t defend them. I would tell him that by firmly establishing yourself as a hard-ass boss you’ve given up the freedom of latitude in your actions. We’ve adjusted our working lives to this mask you created, and any attempt you make, going forward, to foster a “nice guy” image will be perceived as weakness, and it will not redound to the benefit for any of the parties involved.

It’s too late for you, and your current mystique, I would inform him, but if you want to escape this cycle in your next management position, clear your desk library of all of these unread “how-to lead” guides that you have arranged for maximum visibility and pick up a copy of Orwell’s Shooting the Elephant. In this story, you will find the true detriment of creating a hard-ass boss mask, until your face grows into it, and while it may impress your superiors to be this way, the downside will arrive when you try to impress upon the natives” the idea that you’re not such a bad guy after all, and you spend the rest of your days trying to escape the spiraling duality of these expectations.

<1> Must, or Musth, is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones.

<2> A Dravidian is described as any of a group of intermixed peoples chiefly in S India and N Sri Lanka

<3> A Coringhee coolie” refers to such an Indian immigrant working in colonial Burma as an unskilled laborer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

<4> Sahib –A name of Arabic origin meaning “holder, master or owner”.

Killing Hitler


Any discussion of World War II (WWII) begins and (unfortunately) ends with one name: Adolf Hitler.  The whole point of WWII was to stop the advancing dictator, and it would’ve ended a lot quicker if a more reasonable tyrant were in charge of Germany’s side of it.  Without Adolf Hitler, so goes the story line, there is no second World War, hundreds of thousands do not die in battle, or as a result of battle, and there is no Holocaust.  The latter may be truer than either of the former speculations, as the Holocaust appears to be a direct result of Hitler’s insecurities and anti-Semitism.  The question that people of my generation have often asked is:

If you could go back in time, would you kill Adolf Hitler?”

Hitler in Hell, 1944, George Grosz
Hitler in Hell, 1944, George Grosz

Everyone says, “Of course!  Think of all the many hundreds of thousands –check that— millions of lives that could’ve been saved, if this one man had been killed.”  Just about everyone I know lists killing Hitler as the primary objective involved in building a time machine in the first place.

The first question that has to be asked of this theoretical assassination attempt is what date would you put into your time machine’s database?  If you landed on the small farm outside of Linz, Austria to find a young, carefree Adolf, what good would killing that young boy have done?  Many have theorized that post-WWI Germany was in such dire straits that it was vulnerable to an Adolf Hitler type that could make them feel proud to be German again amid the devastation that the first World War laid upon their country.   It is possible that Hitler’s gifts of persuasion, and overall charisma, were such that he managed to get some people to do some things that may not have done if they weren’t so overwhelmed by his charm, but it’s also possible that someone, or some equally heinous movement, would’ve done the same.

After WWI, Allied leaders ignored the status of the country, believing that a devastated Germany would not have the ability, or the will to fight again. They also considered the country’s devastation a just punishment, and an exclamation mark on their victory.  Hitler’s rise to power, amid this devastation, set a precedent for the world to follow regarding war-torn countries.  As a result, countries like the United States and Britain, now provide aid, financial and otherwise, to war-torn countries to try to prevent another situation from which a Hitler-like leader would be eagerly accepted by that country’s people.

If the time machine maker were to wait until Hitler took over, to thus deprive the Third Reich of its megalomaniac leader, and hopefully cripple it, it could be said that Hitler may have become a martyr that rallied Germans to unify to greater evil.  The point to this is that not only did Hitler shape world history in all the evil ways that have been well documented, but the reaction to the aftermath of all that Hitler did set a number of precedents for how the world was going to act if they hoped to prevent another Hitler.

The Foolish Neville Chamberlain

One of the greatest scapegoats of WWII was Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain is historically perceived as naïve for believing that he could trust Hitler’s proclamation, in the Munich Agreement, that if Chamberlain were “to give” the German speaking portions of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, Hitler would go no further.  Most historians will concede that there was some naïvete on Chamberlain’s part, in that, as Michael McCarthy writes in The Independent:

“He should have seen then that appeasement would not stop such a power-mad dictator,” that a “A resolute show of force (with the French) might have persuaded Hitler to pull back,” and that “(Chamberlain’s) appeasement actions convinced Hitler of Britain’s weakness and encouraged him to make further demands.”

The historical record also states, however, that Chamberlain was hamstrung by the fact that Britain’s forces were ill-prepared for war in 1938, and that it was far better prepared in 1939.  Britain’s government also feared a widespread bombing campaign by the Germans.  All of the intel that Chamberlain had at his disposal, according to these sources, said that an attempt at appeasement was the proper course to follow to at the very least slow Hitler’s exploits until Britain was fully ready for the battle.  The intel also stated that after WWI, the British citizens were so against any further war that a “Peace in our time” type of proclamation, would go over big in Britain.

Nick Bauman, from Slate, also writes that listed in all of the intel gathered before the Munich Agreement:

“Chamberlain was informed that many of Britain’s WWI allies could not be counted on to join a fight against Germany.  Due to the post-war constitutions, and laws, of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., Britain believed that her ill-equipped forces would be going it alone against Germany’s superior, and better prepared, forces.  The Soviet Union was, at that point, something of an enemy of Britain’s, and Chamberlain didn’t think he could count on France holding Germanic forces back for a long period of time.”  

One of the many reasons Chamberlain is still regarded as a scapegoat for all that would eventually go down in WWII was the manner in which he characterized his actions in Munich Agreement.  Some Czechoslovakians felt that Chamberlain had sacrificed them to appease Hitler.  As evidence of this, they pointed to Chamberlain’s statement that Czechoslovakia was “A faraway country of which we know nothing”.  His words may not have been politic, but they reflected the worldwide sentiment at the time, as British historian and Chamberlain biographer, David Dutton details:

“People regarded Czechoslovakia as an artificial creation.  The perception by the ’30s was there was a problem, it was soluble by negotiation, and we ought to try.  (Czechoslovakia) was not the sort of thing that would unite the country (as) an issue to go to war over.” 

Ouch!  A great deal of scorn was directed at Chamberlain, and the remaining Allies that backed this sentiment, but it was apparently the sentiment that Chamberlain brought to the Munich Agreement.

It’s also important to note that not only did Chamberlain receive literal applause in Britain for his actions, but he received proverbial applause from Britain’s allies.  War had been averted to most minds, and the diplomatic maneuver by Chamberlain was well received by all but Chamberlain’s fiercest, and most vocal, critic: Winston Churchill.

At this point in history, however, Churchill was largely disregarded based on a history of making poor judgments when it came to military affairs. The historical record is on Churchill’s side, of course, but with the war that tore Europe apart (WWI) only twenty years removed, citizens of Britain, and the world, were eager to dismiss Churchill’s warnings and embrace Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” proclamation … Even if they suspected that it was a only band aid.

In the subsequent months, of course, and in most popular discourse over this issue, Chamberlain became the “naïve” scapegoat, but “Over time,” Dutton writes, “The weight of the historiography began to shift to a much more sympathetic appreciation” of what Chamberlain had to do at the time.

On his deathbed, Chamberlain remained steadfast that his actions in Munich, in 1938, delayed war, and subsequently allowed for Britain to prepare, and eventually defeat Germany.  He further stated that he believed that with the “True inside story” of these years in the hands of historians, that he would receive a favorable verdict.

Churchill, though sympathetic in general to Chamberlain’s goals, characterized Chamberlain as “Well-meaning but weak.”  Churchill also stated that he believed that a pre-war grand coalition of European States may have been able to have Adolf Hitler removed.  Churchill further countered Chamberlain’s position on Munich and 1938, and the subsequent interpretations provided above by Nick Bauman and Michael McCarthy, stating that “The year’s delay between Munich and war worsened Britain’s position.”

History, it has been said, is merely a story of events, cataloged for future students to learn “So that,” as philosopher George Santayana has said, “They are not doomed to repeat it.”  Historians, blessed with the gift of hindsight, have largely called the Munich Agreement, a failure, and they have stated that Churchill was right with his opinions that many of Hitler’s actions, and thus WWII, could’ve been prevented.  If Chamberlain had been as gifted with the art of persuasion as Hitler, he could’ve led a grand coalition to remove Hitler, such as the one Churchill prescribed.  If Chamberlain had been as charismatic as Hitler, and he was able to persuade Britain’s allies that Hitler provided an urgency that would require them to circumvent their constitutions and laws, for the “one time” emergency of removing the unprecedented threat Hitler posed the world in 1938, all of this could’ve been averted.

There’s also the lesson to be learned from the fact that Chamberlain appeared to believe that the threat Hitler posed was exaggerated, and that he didn’t need to do all that Churchill prescribed, and that threat could be appeased, as current diplomats and current social leaders believe current irrational proponents of evil can be appeased, and are exaggerated.  But perhaps the most vital aspect of the historical lesson WWII taught to us existed in the fact that Hitler was able to exploit the desire for “Peace in our time” to restore Germanic pride to the heinous levels he did.  Killing Hitler, before he was able to accomplish this, probably wouldn’t have prevented this loophole from occurring in history, as someone, or some group, probably would’ve come along to provide history a lesson they would be doomed to repeat.

To paraphrase Voltaire, if Adolf Hitler had never existed, or someone built a time machine to remove him from the historical record, and the many lessons he taught the world, there would be a need to create him.