Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Armageddon - Leon Uris
Of the three I really struggle to find a favorite. Exodus is the obvious choice, and I would place Armageddon second. Mila 18 isn't quite as good as them and must rest in third spot. But ultimately it is a futile exercise because they are each superb novels and can't really be judged against one another.
Armageddon is about post-war Germany. It spans the period from Germany's 1945 surrender to the end of the 1948 Berlin airlift. It must be remembered that while the events of this novel were going on the events of Exodus were coinciding in Israel. It is a good thing to keep this in mind as it gives a great depth to history and its vastness. In both novels we have two major world events happening at the same time.
This novel starts with a young American officer who has a dislike for Germans sent to a town in Germany to start de-Nazification and the rebuilding of the town. The town has a small concentration camp on its outskirts and Uris cleverly uses the local German denials of it existence to mirror collectively those of Germans and Germany after the war. The usual 'we didn't know', 'we were just following orders', etc, comes from the towns people even though the stink of death is wafting from the camp. The local high and all mighties show up denying all knowledge or culpability, and yet show no remorse to the death of the Jewish inmates. They even go as far as too say, with a seriously straight face, 'they were just Jews and got what they deserved'. So much for denials.
They then have the temerity to think they are in a position to push the Americans around. Because they were in positions of authority before, and during, the war, they state they should carry on in those positions. Their membership of the Nazi party is of course conveniently forgotten as they try to deflect blame from themselves. All the time they are still Nazi at heart and feel no shame for their crimes. The Americans are hit hard with the realisation at how difficult the Nazi poison is going to be to expunge. What Uris writes is very true and it did happen. I have personally read much of post-war Germany and how the Germans tried to act like ostriches by burying their heads in the sand and pretending it didn't happen. They learnt very quickly that is was easier to be a perpetrator and not a victim. Deny, deny, deny, became the watch word of the times.
The de-Nazification of Germany was a difficult task. Of course there were never any Nazis in Germany after the surrender!!!!.. or so the Germans would have led their conquerors to believe. The first part of the book is outstanding in portraying the initial reactions of the German people to their defeat and their denials of all the crimes committed in their name. Uris is the absolute master on condensing this country wide epidemic into a fictionalised town and setting that mirrors that of Germany as a whole.. He makes it understandable, and the reader, being all too familiar with the post war German reaction, cannot but feel disgust and revulsion at the Germans and their leadership.
It is a brutal look at a very unsavory time in German history. It pulls no punches and nor should it. The Holocaust and all the other crimes against humanity committed by Germany can not be hidden and will never be erased from its history. Uris doesn't delve into finger pointing or straight out German bashing. He doesn't need to because the facts were clear for the world to see. Uris just paints them in an unblemished fashion.
From there Uris moves to post-war Berlin and the lives of the Berliners themselves. And from them it is natural progression to the relationship between the American and Soviet occupiers. He describes the fall of Berlin from the view point of a German family. There is a wife and two daughters who are raped by Russians soldiers. It isn't pleasant reading but totally factual as the Russians were in no mood to be conciliatory towards the German people for the crimes committed against their own. The novel then moves from this important to understand period ( from the German point of view ), into the start of the Cold War. Berlin is where it all started and Uris again is on the ball.
Berlin lies in ruins and it is quite ironic that a flattened city should be fought over in a battle of words and wits. The Soviets occupied a quarter of Berlin and entirely surrounded the rest. As time went by they felt that they should occupy all of Berlin and tried all sorts of sneaky under hand tricks to get the other three powers out. The novel goes through them all and the American reactions to defeat them. It is all but farce and today we can only shake our heads at it all. But in the post-war world the tensions were very real and got to the point of another shooting war.