Gunter Grass Slays Israel

Gunter Grass, literary explorer of the rise of Hitler and author of “The Tin Drum,” has create a minor controversy by daring to speak out against Israel’s increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against Iran.

Grass takes an extreme view, implying that Israel plans a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran. I don’t think that anyone believes that any nuclear strikes are being planned, even Grass himself, though his critics apparently seem to miss this point.

That Israel does possess nuclear weapons (though this has never been publicly stated), does tip the power scales in it’s favor. Most distressing are the implications of genocide inherent in nuclear weapons by a state formed in response to the systematic murder of Germany’s Jews.

I do not agree that Israel plans the extermination of the Iranian people, but I do agree that making military threats against Iran, which has not been shown to possess nuclear weapons (or even anything close), is a threat to world peace (of which there seems to be little). It likely scores plenty of political points at home just as it does here.

The issue of Israel is complex, so complex that I have a difficult time coming to a simple conclusion of what the problems are what should be done. Aside from the complex regional politics of Israel/Iran and nuclear weapons, which are difficult to parse (for me), my view is that Israel is an apartheid state similar to South Africa of days past. This is about all I will say on the matter.

Critics have railed Grass as a “neo-Nazi” and anti-Semite due to this particular poem. I question this characterization, but present the poem so that you can make your own judgement.

What must be said

Why have I kept silent, held back so long,
on something openly practiced in
war games, at the end of which those of us
who survive will at best be footnotes?

It’s the alleged right to a first strike
that could destroy an Iranian people
subjugated by a loudmouth
and gathered in organized rallies,
because an atom bomb may be being
developed within his arc of power.

Yet why do I hesitate to name
that other land in which
for years – although kept secret –
a growing nuclear power has existed
beyond supervision or verification,
subject to no inspection of any kind?

This general silence on the facts,
before which my own silence has bowed,
seems to me a troubling lie, and compels
me toward a likely punishment
the moment it’s flouted:
the verdict “Anti-semitism” falls easily.

But now that my own country,
brought in time after time
for questioning about its own crimes,
profound and beyond compare,
has delivered yet another submarine to Israel,
(in what is purely a business transaction,
though glibly declared an act of reparation)
whose speciality consists in its ability
to direct nuclear warheads toward
an area in which not a single atom bomb
has yet been proved to exist, its feared
existence proof enough, I’ll say what must be said.

But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel’s atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because—burdend enough as Germans—
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
will not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger
we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.

No other course offers help
to Israelis and Palestinians alike,
to all those living side by side in emnity
in this region occupied by illusions,
and ultimately, to all of us.

–Günter Grass

Translated by Breon Mitchell

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About Peter Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

One response to “Gunter Grass Slays Israel”

  1. Charles says :

    Little hard to agree that Israel is an apartheid state. It’s the only functioning democracy in the middle east among clutches of Arab tyrants who regularly and systematically murder large sections of their own citizenry. There are many Arabs in Israel who hold Israeli citizenship. Israel it seems cannot get anything right. Even if it merely builds a wall to keep suicide bombers at bay it is still in trouble. And a strike on an Iranian atomic facility cannot be viewed in the same way as the systematic murder in concentration camps of six million people.

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