25 March 2016

Imperial Narratives, Urban Planning and Architecture

The movie Downfall (Der Untergang) contains many fascinating scenes but there's one in particular that recently came to mind. In the movie Hitler is pondering a magnificent scale model of the Berlin he imagined, the Berlin that he dreamed up with his architect Albert Speer. This Berlin was not just the Berlin of Bismarck and the Hohenzollerns but a new Ultra-Imperial Berlin, the "Welthauptstadt Germania" the city of not just a European power but a world empire. It was a city that would exhibit art and culture from around the world.

What is the significance of this? It is claim to geopolitical and moral mastery. It is a claim on the narrative of civilisation itself. Hitler's Aryan Germany dreamed of declaring itself master both in terms of moral authority and commentary. All cultures, all their achievements are viewed through the Imperial German eye, gauged and assessed by its values.

London and Paris both made attempts at this with world exhibitions, fairs and museums and certainly grand monuments and revivalistic styles, yet these seem paltry compared to the Ultra-Imperial dream of Hitler. Hitler's vision does remind us of Napoleon and his attempt to bring together the artifacts of the world to make Paris not just the capital of France, but of the world and a new universal culture. Hitler's vision was even on a grander scale but in terms of making it a reality, he didn't even get as far as Napoleon did.

Of course such a hegemonic and unipolar dream became a reality in the United States... or at least the United States makes the claim. This declaration is abundantly clear as you walk The National Mall in Washington DC and contemplate the meaning of the monuments, Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. The US of course has its own history and natural history museums, but the narrative of the city contains something more. The National Gallery is one of the premier art museums in the world. That in itself is not a 'claim' and could even be taken for an accolade. And yet why would a government seek such if not for prestige? The museum is not in Baltimore, Philadelphia or even the broader Washington DC area as it might be in Paris or London. No, it's on The Mall, the virtually sacred area, the shrine to the god that is America and all its saints. The monuments are referred to as temples, the architecture is unmistakably Greco-Roman and Imperial. Even the ubiquitous Masonic imagery is religious in nature.

The United States was not trying to replicate European Civilisation but transcend it and lay claim to the whole of Western Civilisation and perhaps the very notion of civilisation itself. The more I ponder the symbolism exhibiting the mindset and intentions of the Founders, the more I doubt the notion that they were content with a humble republic so to speak.

Yes, Jefferson envisioned a great agrarian nation which sounds 'humble' to today's ears. It was not so in his day. It is doubtful that he fully grasped the nature of the changes that were just beginning to form at the end of the 18th century. It would be the following century that would bring about the full force of the Industrial Revolution, a reality that would make a great 'agrarian' republic sound like something archaic, primitive and unambitious.

Did the Founders envision a great New World Empire? Given the overwhelming presence of Masonic symbols and ideas, the optimism of the Enlightenment that permeates their thought and language... it seems likely.

The Library of Congress is indeed a wonder but its very nature is imperial. It is a blatant attempt to replicate and surpass not only the library of Alexandria but it emulates the very idea that was behind it. It was a Hellenistic culture that viewed itself as master and custodian that began the project. It was an attempt to collate information but also to comment on it. Learning and culture were viewed as a means not an end. Empires aren't interested in mere learning but in shaping and controlling narratives.

Walking The National Mall it's also striking to consider the Holocaust Museum. Why is this located in Washington DC? Yes, there are museums in Europe and in particular in Germany. But why in the United States? The US did not enter WWII to stop the Holocaust. That's pure mythology even though there are some who try and suggest it.

I think its 1993 foundation is significant. The Cold War had just ended and the USSR which in fact was the primary force in defeating the Nazis and in liberating the death camps was no more. With the Cold War 'won', at least according to the US narrative, America had a new claim of moral authority and it wished to cement its unipolar aspirations. The US was not just an empire it was the source, sum and substance of world power, the very font of virtue and morality. Its public and in particular the Christian Dominionist factions were more than happy to acquiesce to these Bestial claims.

In addition the Cold War must be understood as an extension of World War II. The war expanded from a European Civil War in 1914-18 to a war for domination of the globe. After all France and Britain were global empires and wars involving imperial Europe had taken on a global aspect since the Seven Years War in the 18th century. But this war was like no other for various reasons compounded by the advent and nature of the technological age.

While not felt so keenly in the US and USSR, much of Europe felt like it was in a state of stasis or even existing in a type of vacuum. Culture marched on to be sure but there was a sense of incompleteness in European culture during the 1945-91 period. It felt like the war had ended but had never been properly resolved.

If the Cold War is viewed as an extension of 'The Greatest of Wars' then the US 'victory' in 1991 marked the dawn of a new era for both the US and the world. American strategists and intellectuals certainly thought so.

Since the US laid claim to the victory, the triumphs of 'good' in WWII as well as the custodial role of its narrative now belonged to the US. Of course the Russians have always bitterly resented the Western narrative of the war. I chuckled when I last walked around the Mall's WWII memorial and noticed the symbolic structure built around the US role and D-Day in particular.

By June of 1944 the Nazis had already been defeated in Russia and the Red Army was in the process of overrunning Eastern Europe. While the American's were crossing the Rhine, in many places unopposed, the Soviets were already in Berlin and would end up losing almost as many soldiers in that battle alone as the US would lose fighting the entire Pacific War against Japan.

While it was surely terrible on Omaha Beach, and the amphibious invasion was indeed historical, the total allied deaths for the D-Day landings don't quite reach 5,000 about half of which were Americans.

By way of contrast consider the very minor battle on the shores of Lake Balaton in March of 1945. In that roughly week long battle the USSR lost 8,500 men. This would be considered a mostly minor and insignificant battle on the Eastern Front. Compare this to Budapest where the USSR lost over 40,000 or Kursk where the Soviets lost over 100,000 men. And then we have to consider the big battles like Stalingrad, Moscow and of course Leningrad where the Soviets lost hundreds of thousands. The scale of death and combat on the Eastern Front absolutely dwarfs the fighting in Italy and France. There's no comparison. The United States altogether lost about 180,000 soldiers in Europe. The Russians lost that many people in two months just in Leningrad.

Over the course of the war, the Russians lost somewhere between 8-10 million soldiers let alone another 12-15 million civilians.

The US claims regarding World War II are based on a falsified narrative and the imperial claims made on the National Mall also allow the United States to all but whitewash the past, and more importantly their post-war collaboration with ex-Nazis both in Europe, South America and the United States itself.

It was really the Carter administration that finally after more than thirty years began to turn its back on some of the previous policies the US had embraced with regard to fascists and dictatorial regimes. And yet Carter's hands are by no means clean. His administration played a very ugly hand in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Indochina and yet perhaps his perceived 'turn' afforded him the moral authority to begin the project that would in the end result in the Holocaust Museum.

And yet American foreign policy in all its hypocrisy and brutal ugliness returned under Ronald Reagan. And once again anti-Soviet sentiment and hysteria drove US policy to whitewash not only its own collaborations but even the crimes of the Third Reich.

Ronald Reagan laid the cornerstone for the museum in 1988 even though just three years earlier he had visited the Germany cemetery at Bitburg and participated in a unity ceremony with Helmut Kohl knowing full well the graves of Waffen-SS lay nearby.

When criticised before the visit Reagan responded by saying:

"These [SS troops] were the villains, as we know, that conducted the persecutions and all. But there are 2,000 graves there, and most of those, the average age is about 18. I think that there's nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery where those young men are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."

To a degree one can understand the proffered sympathies for young men conscripted and caught up in a period of national madness. And yet on another level they too were certainly accountable. Despite protestations most Germans had a pretty good idea about what was going on and certainly they knew about the charges being made against their government. It was a closed society but people could find out... if they wanted to. Ignorance is not a sufficient excuse.

Can you even imagine if Obama or Clinton had been caught up in such a controversy? The Right would have been merciless.

Nevertheless I find it somewhat astounding that Ronald Reagan, curator of a Right-wing vision that was happy to incorporate former elements of the Third Reich in its foreign policy was the president that laid the foundation stones for the museum that claimed America's moral superiority and custodianship of world virtue.

It's both ironic and sick, very much in keeping with America's narrative and its historical reality.

The Holocaust Museum represents a declaration of US imperial authority. This is why it is located in the imperial city and in particular incorporated within the narrative shrine that is the National Mall. It's part of America's declaration that it is the maker and shaper of worlds, the source of authority and ethics. The Mall represents a metaphysical narrative regarding the world, an epistemology through which to view it and an ethic by which it is judged. It is in essence a religion wedded to a state.

Apart from the context of the Redemptive Covenants, Old Testament Israel and the New Covenant Church, such declarations are Bestial as is the whole of the Greco-Roman heritage America has sought to emulate.

The Mall is a proclamation of power, solid stones amidst a climate of dilapidation, chaos and rubbish blowing in the wind. It seeks to be a messianic anchor in its own self-generated milieu of instability and fear. While we're subjected to overbearing surveillance, pointless and humiliating searches that are not meant to actually discover or stop any real attack, we are meant to feel the raw supremacy and authority of the American Sacral Beast.

Like all man-made religions America claims to bring order out of chaos.