Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bernard-Henri Levy: Beyond the War Hero

(The article originally appeared in French in Le Point)

Beyond the war hero
Bernard-Henri Levy embarks on an adventure of anti-Nazi dialectics. First stop: Tom Cruise
Sign and Sight

The release of "Operation Valkyrie" first in the Unites States and Germany and now in France is without question a good thing. Because it's always a pleasure to see the world honour its heroes. Riveting as it is however, this film poses certain questions that are too complex and too delicate to be resolved solely within the logic of the Hollywood film industry.

The first has not escaped the attention of German commentators and concerns the choice of Tom Cruise to play von Stauffenberg, a man presented as the very incarnation of anti-Hitler honour. Not that Cruise ever showed sympathy for Hitlerism. But he is a leader of a sect, the Church of Scientology, about which the least one can say is that its values have little to do with those that led to the destruction of Hitlerism. Elitism… social and political Darwinism… education as a form of dressage… brainwashing raised to a principle of conviction… sequestration… applying cybernetics to social organisation… black magic… an apocalyptic vision of the world.… This is Scientology, and this is Cruise's credo. And seen in this light having him play Stauffenberg is a mistake or, as Berthold von Stauffenberg, Stauffenberg's son, said when he learned of the decision, a very grave attack on the memory of his father.

The second question, no doubt unavoidable with this sort of enterprise, is whether raising someone to hero status does not always happen, alas, to the detriment of precision, nuance and history itself. The film shows Stauffenberg's integrity very well. It shows his courage, the nobility of his views, his firmness of spirit. But what does it tell us of his thoughts? What does it teach us about why he enthusiastically joined the Nazi Party in 1933? Why does it go into no detail on how many of his initial Nazi convictions he had to jettison to carry out his plot and how many remained in tact? A sympathy for Ernst Jünger, for example? Or for Oswald Spengler? A fierce hostility to Weimar and the idea of democracy which he shared with the other former members of the Freikorps who remained true to National Socialism and its frenetic anti-Semitism? Did Stauffenberg hope to get rid of Hitler or Hitlerism? Of a bad tyrant or the principle of tyranny? Was his project to destroy Nazism or to rescue it?

To Read the Rest of the Critique

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