Here is what, to me, is the most extraordinary thing about the recent flap over publication of Gunter Grass’ poem “What Must Be Said,” in which he excoriates the Israelis and depicting their undeclared nuclear program (and not Iran’s) as a threat to world peace. Grass is of course entitled to have, and to publish, whatever views he holds about Mideast politics and world peace. But really — wouldn’t you think that someone who was exposed, in 2006, as having been wartime member of the Waffen SS (and having lied about the matter for some 50 years) — and we’re not talking about attendance at some Hitler Youth picnic as a 9 year old, we’re talking about membership in the most vicious arm of the most vicious regime in human history — would have the good grace to spare us his views on this particlar matter? What kind of egomaniac would think people do (and should) give a shit about what he thinks, when they shouldn’t (and, I hope, don’t).
And then — really, the unmitigated chutzpah! — he asks [as if we care]:
“Why do I wait until now/aged and with my last drop of ink/to say that a nuclear-armed Israel/ puts at risk an already fragile world peace?”
[Warum sage ich jetzt erst/gealtert und mit letzter Tinte:/Die Atommacht Israel gefährdet/den ohnehin brüchigen Weltfrieden?]
His answer: because “it must be said” (Weil gesagt werden muß), and because “tomorrow might be too late” (was schon morgen zu spät sein könnte), and because he won’t be deterred any more by the “familiar charge of ‘anti-semitism'” [das Verdikt “Antisemitismus” ist geläufig]
It would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic and awful. Can you imagine Grass sitting around at home and thinking: “The world needs to hear what I have to say about Israel! I must speak! I can’t be held back anymore just because people might think that I, a former member of the Waffen SS, might be anti-Semitic!!” [“And perhaps I’ll wait until right before Easter — a holiday sadly connected to some of the most brutal anti-Semitic activities over the past 2000 years — to publish the poem! That’ll be a nice touch!”]
It was the great songwriter-satirist Tom Lehrer, I believe, who said: Satire was no longer possible after Henry Kissinger had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I know now what he meant.