“The Unmentionable Odour Of Death Offends The September Night.”

Yesterday, George Orwell blogged* this:


By orwelldiaries

Invasion of Poland began this morning. Warsaw bombed. General mobilization proclaimed in England, ditto in France plus martial law. [Radio]
Foreign & General
1. Hitler’s terms to Poland boil down to return of Danzig & plebiscite in the corridor, to be held 1 year hence & based on 1918 census. There is some hanky panky about time the terms were presented, & as they were to be answered by night of 30.8.39,[1] H.[2] claims that they are already refused. Daily Telegraph [a]
2. Naval reservists and rest of army and R.A.F. reservists called up. Evacuation of children etc. begins today, involving 3m. people & expected to take 3 days. [Radio; undated]
3. Russo-German pact ratified. Russian armed forces to be further increased. Voroshilov’s speech taken as meaning that Russo-German alliance is not contemplated. Daily Express [b]
4. Berlin report states Russian military mission is expected to arrive there shortly. Daily Telegraph [a]

*From the blog The Orwell Diaries. They blog Orwell’s diaries daily + 70 years.

Link to Orwell Diaries via Patrick Appel at Sully’s place, who also provides a link to David Silbey.



On this day in 1939, the German Army invaded Poland. Operation Fall Weiß (Case White), as it was code-named, sent more than 60 German divisions storming into Poland. It came a day after the Gleiwitz incident, one part of Operation Himmler. The latter had German troops dressed in Polish uniforms attacking German emplacements along the border in order to give a casus belli. At Gleiwitz, for example, an SS unit so dressed attacked a German radio transmitter and then retreated, leaving behind dead bodies also dressed in Polish uniforms. The bodies–those of concentration camp inmates–were called Konserve, or “Canned Goods.”

Operation Himmler served as the official German pretext for the invasion of Poland. Needless to say, the invasion was actually long-planned, and came at the end of a whole series of aggressive moves by the Nazi government, including the remilitarization of the Rhine, the forced reunification of Austria–the Anschluss–and the absorption of Czechoslovakia (with the connivance of Britain and France). The British and French had finally drawn a line in the sand when Hitler turned to Poland, but it was a line drawn next to the Baltic Sea, where those western powers were essentially helpless.

Via Poets.org W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

John Nichols in The Nation:

W.H. Auden, an Englishman who was of the left that had tried to raise the alarm about Hitler, Mussolini and their minions by speaking up for the Spanish loyalists in their fight against Franco, heard the news while sitting at the Dizzy Club in New York City.

Auden did what came naturally.

He began crafting a poem. And in it was perhaps the finest line of that or any war: “We must love one another or die.”

Auden’s “September 1, 1939” was a political poem, with its references to “Imperialism’s face/And the international wrong.”

But it was, as well, a love poem–very much a hymn to humanity and the ideal of a solidarity, both personal and universal, that might sustain us.


Don’t think that WWII isn’t capable of causing controversy today. Michael Tomasky in The Guardian:

In fine form, Pat Buchanan marks the anniversary of WWII with a column arguing that if Poland had just given Hitler Danzig, the whole mess of the next six years would have been avoided, because Hitler, you see, didn’t really want war. He just wanted Germanic peoples united under the swastika. Seriously.


Buchanan does know his history, in many particulars. There’s lots of information in the piece that I didn’t know. But it seems rather insane. At one point in the piece, he asks a series of questions that start If Hitler wanted war, then why … and lists a series of military errors or secret diplomatic overtures.

Well, maybe it’s just that Hitler was clinically insane, addicted to drugs, a pretty lousy diplomat and an absolutely terrible military strategist, whose decisions (fight to the last man in Stalingrad, and for that matter pretty much everywhere) lost him his best general (Rommel) and sent hundreds of thousands more German soldiers to their deaths than was, as it were, necessary.

Jonah Goldberg gave us Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left. Now we have Adolf Hitler: Man of Peace. I’d make a joke here about what’s next, but I really don’t think this can be parodied.

The Jawa Report:

Of course Buchanan is right when he argues that Germany never wanted to conquer the world. We would not, as some claim, be speaking German now had we not entered WWII against Germany.

But did Hitler intend to invade, destroy, occupy, and then colonize the Polish state? Absolutely! Danzig was simply an excuse for the larger cause of lebensraum.

Adam Sewer in Tapped:

Following Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Pat Buchanan went to eleven. He said that Sotomayor “believed discrimination against white males is okay”; he said she believed in “tribal justice” and “preached and practiced race discrimination against white males”; and he generally spent a great deal of time accusing Sonia Sotomayor of being a racist. He didn’t even attempt to give her the benefit of the doubt — being Puerto Rican in a country built by white people, Sotomayor was by definition the enemy.

But you know who Buchanan does think deserves the benefit of the doubt? Adolf Hitler. No, I’m not breaking Godwin’s Law or comparing conservatives to Nazis. Here’s Pat, in a column titled, “Did Hitler Want War?”:

“Comes the response: The war guarantee was not about Danzig, or even about Poland. It was about the moral and strategic imperative “to stop Hitler” after he showed, by tearing up the Munich pact and Czechoslovakia with it, that he was out to conquer the world. And this Nazi beast could not be allowed to do that. If true, a fair point.

Americans, after all, were prepared to use atom bombs to keep the Red Army from the Channel. But where is the evidence that Adolf Hitler, whose victims as of March 1939 were a fraction of Gen. Pinochet ‘s, or Fidel Castro’s, was out to conquer the world?”

That whole invading Poland thing was clearly just a big misunderstanding. He didn’t want war, he just wanted to arbitrarily annex whatever part of Europe he felt like having — the response was clearly overblown, and maybe even a little rude.


And even more rows about WWII today. Andrew Osborn in the Telegraph:

The files, which Moscow says it extracted from its SVR foreign intelligence service archive, purport to prove that Poland was pursuing an aggressive anti-Soviet foreign policy throughout the 1930s, while ingratiating itself with the Nazis.

Their release coincides with the seventieth anniversary of the start of the Second World War and is fuelling an ill-tempered discussion between Moscow and Warsaw about whose actions helped start the war.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, struck a slightly more conciliatory note between the two historical rivals on a Tuesday visit to Poland even as he ceded little of real substance.

But the release of the files and the way Russian state media have trumpeted their contents underlines the depth of ill-feeling between the two neighbours.

According to Lev Sotskov, a historian and Major-General in the SVR, the files show Poland was actively plotting the downfall of the Soviet Union and had struck a secret deal with Nazi Germany not to intervene if Berlin attacked the USSR.

Polish historians have poured scorn on the files. They say they reveal little that is new and are merely based upon subjective reports from Soviet agents at the time.

But Russian state media have devoted lavish coverage to the files, suggesting the Kremlin wants to twist the knife.

Jan Cienski in the Financial Times

Shaun Walker at The Independent:

World leaders and war veterans gathered in the Polish city of Gdansk yesterday to mark 70 years since the outbreak of the Second World War.

But while European leaders were mourning the destruction of Poland following the invasion of both Nazi and Soviet armies, Russia used the occasion to deny any responsibility for starting the war and to accuse Poland of harbouring secret plans in the 1930s to destroy the Soviet Union.

“Westerplatte is a symbol, a symbol of the heroic fight of the weaker against the stronger,” the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, said. “It is proof of patriotism and an unbreakable spirit. Glory to the heroes of those days, glory to the heroes of Westerplatte, glory to all the soldiers who fought in World War Two against German Nazism, and Bolshevik totalitarianism.”

Chris in Paris at AmericaBlog

UPDATE: More on Buchanan:

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason

Matthew Yglesias

Ethan Porter

Steve Benen

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