This is the first time I’ve read anything by Ernst Junger — I mourn because surprise is so much part of the pleasure I’m deriving in reading him. Alas, you can’t discover a great author twice.
I’ll always remember what I was doing when I first picked up Storm of Steel — the time of year (late spring), the weather (hot). Anyhoo, absolutely taken aback by Junger’s nonchalance and insouciance, mouth dropping open practically every page, here he is in Flanders field (again)
The total absence of self-pity (“Our army is losing! There’s a good chance I might die here!”) is remarkable:
Fall, 1917, Flanders field:
The morning hours of 26 October were filled by drumfire of unusual severity. Our artillery too redoubled in fury on seeing the signals for a barrage that were sent up from the front. Every little piece of wood and every hedge was home to a gun, whose half-deaf gunners did their business.
— Storm of Steel, p. 197
At eleven o’clock on October 26, Junger is ordered to the front with four men. As he nears the command dugout, “we came under aimed machine-gun fire, a sure sign that the enemy must have forced our line back.”
We’re back with the 19-year-old Ernst Junger, who signed up on the first day of the War, August 1, 1914. It’s now December 27, and the first entry in the diary: Junger detrains in Champagne.
“No finer death in all the world than . . . ” Anything to participate, not to have to stay at home!
Finally we reached Orainville, one of the typical hamlets of the region, and the designated base for the 73rd Rifles, a group of fifty brick and limestone houses, grouped round a chateau in parkland.
Used as we were to the order of cities, the higgledy-piggledy life on the village streets struck us as exotic.
There is such a knowing air to this passage! Sure this was written when Junger was just 19? Maybe some bits were added later? I’m thinking, in particular, about that last sentence, the one about “the order of cities . . . It seemed that, if anything, life was a little slower and duller here, an impression strengthened by the evidence of dilapidation in the village.“
This concept (Depth of Focus) is so beautifully described (still on the Introduction to Storm of Steel — if this book is full of the ‘blood lust,’ this Introduction may be as close as I get to Ernst Junger) by Michael Hofmann:
“While the most characteristic depth of focus of the book is maybe ten yards or so — the interiors, the trenches and dugouts, the cars and lorries, the ruined houses, the beautiful, cultivated catalogues of war junk (like the one on p. 94) — still, there are also equally memorable distance shots, repeatedly of the sky, and of the colors and sounds of various ordnance, moments of eerie contemplation, like the background of a Renaissance portrait, and with just that in-and-out effect . . . “
Whew! I was expecting to spend at least two more days reading Spies, Lies, and Algorithms (fascinating book!) but today I discovered that the Acknowledgment section is about a third of the book (and I skipped that).
So, it’s on to her next, Storm of Steel, by Ernst Junger:
Ernst Junger is a very interesting writer. I’ve heard him described as a “right-wing, conservative” German author, which nearly put me off from reading him permanently, but I decided to read recent reviews from goodreads. One reviewer contrasted him with World War I English writers. At Stanford, self took a course called Literature of World War I, taught by the late, great Albert J. Guerard (prior to this, I knew nothing about either Guerard or World War I Literature). Required reading: The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, and the following authors: Siegfried Sassoon, Ford Madox Ford, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, and Vera Brittain. I crammed, and retained most of what I read.
Which brings me to this article in the Wall Street Journal (March 3), which I clipped because I was interested in Babi Yar. Ernst Junger is one of the authors mentioned, which led me to Storm of Steel.
Reading the introduction (more carefully than normal, because I do not want to spend the next week reading a book written by a Nazi), I learn that his memoir of World War I sold in the six figures, he was twice offered a seat in the Reichstag (but turned it down), and never joined the Nazi Party. He volunteered on 1 August 1917, the first day of the war, when he was 19. The writer of the Introduction, Michael J. Hofmann, struggling to describe him, tries out the word “solipsistic” (I have to look it up). I agree that any man who fills up 16 notebooks while fighting in a war is probably (at the very least) solipsistic!
His gifts as a writer are primarily those of a diarist: descriptiveness and an ear for speech, intellectual stamina and disjunctiveness, at his best over medium distances, as a writer of passages rather than of books or sentences.
Hofmann points out that Junger has a “particularly devoted following in France.” Andre Gide wrote, in his diary, in 1942: “Storm of Steel is, without question, the finest book on war that I know: utterly honest, truthful, in good faith.”
(Just read a one-paragraph excerpt quoted by Hofmann in the Introduction. Umm . . . umm . . . WOW! Pray it’s not all like this: “My first victim was an Englishman whom I shot between two Germans at 150 metres. He snapped shut like the blade of a knife and lay still.” If untenable, the next book on my reading list is Geoff Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. Stay tuned)
Over the weekend, yahoo news published an article about George Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos had a strong reaction to a survey that stated if the elections were held today, with Trump running against Biden, Trump would win. Whoaaa!
Where do these polls come from? Self has never, ever been asked to participate in a poll, never.
She is thinking of this while reading Chapter 10 of Spies, Lies, and Algorithms (Will she ever finish this book? Hopefully this week!)
At noon on May 21, 2016, Houston’s Islamic Da’wah Center became the site of two dueling protests. On one side of the street, a group called Heart of Texas rallied to “stop Islamization of Texas” with protestors carrying Confederate flags and wearing “White Lives Matter” T-shirts. On the other side, United Muslims of America staged a counter-protest to “save Islamic knowledge” with homemade placards declaring “no hate” and “peace on earth.”
Real Americans. Real divisions. Real anger. All taking place on a Texas street. The entire scene was instigated by the Kremlin — but none of the protesters knew it.
Heart of Texas and United Muslims of America were Facebook groups created by a shadowy Kremlin-backed organization called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Inside nondescript offices in St. Petersburg, Russia, hundreds of trolls masqueraded as Americans in around-the-clock shifts — tweeting, liking, friending, and sharing in English to attract American followers.
Hanssen’s treachery led to the exposure of four Russian HUMINT, three of whom were executed (What happened to the fourth?)
Ames’s treachery “led to the execution of at least ten Soviet sources of the CIA and FBI.” (And all the while, this rotter drove his Jaguar to work. Why did no one wonder how a mid-level CIA case officer could afford a Jaguar?) Ames blew the cover of Gen. Dmitri Polyakov, who was executed on March 15, 1988. “Polyakov never asked for money. He spied out of conviction.” (Spies, Lies, and Algorithms, p. 158)
Self driven to hair-pulling distraction by all this coverage of “pomp and circumstance” on cnn. Something happening tomorrow? Hard pass.
She’s on Chapter 6 of Spies, Lies, and Algorithms, and it’s about another thrilling event (possibly second only to the killing of Osama in the thrills meter): the arrest of the FBI mole, Robert Hanssen.
Just after Hanssen had left a small garbage bag under a bridge (his last dead drop ever ever ever), “ten FBI agents” came out of the woods, “surrounded him, cuffed him, and read him his Miranda rights.” Self can just imagine the scene! That’s what makes the Hanssen arrest so satisfying.
Here was the damage:
“Hanssen was found to have betrayed at least four Russian agents working for US intelligence, three of whom were executed as a result of his treachery.”
Spies, as Zegart points out, do not just work for adversaries. She cites the case of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel. “One day an alert coworker saw Pollard carrying what looked like a classified envelope into the parking lot and reported him.” He served 30 years of a life sentence.
“Today, according to former U.S. intelligence officials, two to three million people are engaged in espionage around the world, most of them aiming at the United States.”
— Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence, p. 146
Spies, Lies, and Algorithms maintains that US special forces almost captured bin Laden in the December following 9/11. The CIA traced bin Laden and about a “thousand of his men to a maze of tunnels and caves high in the icy peaks of the Hindu Kush.” Yet, even “with bombs pummeling Tora Bora from above,” bin Laden slipped the noose. He would elude American agents for 10 long years.
What followed was the arduous task of sifting through “phone calls, emails, radio signals, tweets and text messages” — 1.7 billion of which were intercepted every day. It turned out this was all futile effort, because after Tora Bora, bin Laden and his “trusted lieutenants had ditched their cell and satellite phones” and for the next 10 years would rely solely on trusted couriers. “US airplanes dropped flyers with bin Laden’s face behind bars and offered a $25 million reward for anyone who helped turn him in,” but the trail still went cold.
In the end, the break came from a tip from a detainee: the name of a courier. Other information came from what detainees did not say. When they ran the courier’s name past Abu Faraj al-Libbi, al-Qaeda’s third in command, Faraj al-Libbi denied ever knowing him. They ran the name past “another senior al-Qaeda leader in custody, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who downplayed the courier’s importance.” Then “KSM returned to his cell after questioning and communicated to other prisoners that they should not mention anything about this courier.” American interest in this “courier was now sky-high.”
Eventually — this took years — they were able to identify the courier’s real name and discover what kind of car he drove: a white Suzuki. Tracking the car was what eventually led them to the compound in Abbotabad.
Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet wrote a memo declaring war on Osama bin Laden nearly three years before 9/11, urging that “no resource or people (be) spared,” but only a few agency heads received the memo and all of them ignored it.
— Chapter Three, p. 69, Spies, Lies and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence
The cyber partisans, a group of anonymous dissidents, have hacked their way to the very top of Belarus’s authoritarian regime. They claim that last year when Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s dictatorial president, said he was more scared of cyber weapons than nuclear weapons, he was thinking of them. “What opposition group can say that they have the passport information of all its country’s citizens :-)” typed a hacker identified only as Cyber # 3. They have reason to grin. The Cyber Partisans are are the cutting edge of a militant wing of Belarus’s opposition that is gearing up for action.