Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gods and Monsters

This posting continues the last one (of February 8th) which was about the book, *"Hannibal and Me"*.

Harry Truman was an example of a man who became great, not because he sought greatness, but because he had greatness thrust upon him. It was principally because he was in the right place at the right time that he became President.

The young Truman had been what the author of "Hannibal and Me" calls a "wanderer" - someone who didn't have a consuming goal in his life. Truman wouldn't even have imagined he might become President some day. But, President he became.

"Hannibal and Me" uses Ludwig Erhard as another example of a "wanderer". There was little that was out-of-the-ordinary about Erhard as he grew up, for his school grades were mediocre. He did, however, love classical music and dreamed of becoming an orchestral conductor. From today's perspective this did make him appear at least a little out-of-the-ordinary, for how many boys today love classical music and dream of becoming an orchestral conductor? Not many, I suspect.

However, in the Germany of the time in which Erhard grew up, it may have been as normal for a boy to love classical music and to dream of becoming an orchestral conductor, as it is for a boy today in America to love rock music and to dream of becoming the lead guitarist in a world-shaking rock group.

Despite a deformed foot - the legacy from polio - Erhard was, when nineteen, inducted into the army during The Great War as a gunner. During this time he caught typhus and was given up for dead. He eventually recovered sufficiently to return to duty. He again almost died, this time from severe wounds from an exploding artillery shell. Miraculously he pulled through, but at the expense of an atrophied left arm that he could hardly again ever use.

Erhard's being permanently maimed from war wounds, in addition to life in the trenches - the horrors of which have been vividly written about in books such as "All Quiet On The Western Front" and "Goodbye To all That", plus many, many other graphic accounts - it's remarkable from today's perspective that Erhard would appear never to have complained about, nor to have dwelt upon his war wounds.

No doubt this was because he would have found it too emotionally painful. Also, those of his generation didn't generally when with others, emote as do those today about their vicissitudes. However, we now know that traumas - and life in the trenches was, if nothing else, traumatic - that are not acknowledged, will usually become the proverbial eight-hundred pound gorilla in a room.

While severely wounded survivors of the trenches, like Erhard, may have tried to ignore their traumas, they (the traumas) would, as a consequence, have surfaced in the form of violent nightly dreams for the rest of the survivors' lives. This was a theme in the excellent film, "Gods and Monsters", of a few years ago.

I'll continue this next time.........


  1. Just adding a bit here from my own memory (though I was very small) and my dad's: The primary way Uncle Lulu seems to have dealt with his traumas of youth was the old-fashioned way: with humor.

    And I mean that in a big way: Whenever he DID talk about those dark, bad things, he made them so funny that the family was in stitches. That was his therapy, perhaps.

  2. It is to his great credit that he allowed himself this outlet to ameliorate the pain of these memories.

    If I might act the tiresome grammarian once again, I noticed on page 99 this sentence, ".......In their desperation, the Roman senate appointed a senator, something they did only in extreme circumstances.......".

    Since "senate" is singular, should not "their" and "they" be respectively "its" and "it"?

    I pose this as merely a question because, for all I know, this sentence is, today, grammatically correct. And if this sentence passed muster with those who edited your book, it probably is grammatically correct. So it's I who am wrong in thinking it isn't.

    However, when I was in high-school fifty years ago, this sentence would have been regarded as grammatically incorrect. If it's now considered correct, it's a tiny example of how language changes over even a short time.

    It's also possible that this sentence would always have been OK in American English, but would still not be OK in English English, which is what I was schooled in.

    German isn't the only language that's a grammatical minefield!!

  3. It's also possible that the editor/editing INSERTED these mistakes. This happens often. For instance, it's possible that I originally wrote "the senators" or "the Romans", that the editor then changed that to "senate" and forgot to change the verbs. At The Economist, this happens all the time.

    It's infuriating when it does. Sorry. I'm usually very careful with this sort of thing.

  4. Because this same sort of grammatical error also occurs earlier in the book, and because I've seen this error elsewhere on the web, not least in the web-pages of the Guardian, I wonder if today's twenty-somethings, even if they're copy editors, know that a single collective noun must have a single possessive pronoun.

    Think of the current practice of writing sentences like, "a driver should use their rear-view mirror to avoid accidents", so to avoid gender bias in the single possessive pronoun.

    Hence the rule that nouns and their pronouns must always agree in number is no longer sacrosanct.