Imagine, in the same month as the death of the muse of high camp, Susan Sontag, we have England in an uproar about Prince Harry and his silly arm band. All this while The Producers is playing to packed houses in London. They’re even talking of banning the swastika. That’ll be on in the eye for Indian symbols! The airlines will have to start handing out reminders to the Navajo before they land at Heathrow.
The theme of the party where some jerk snapped Harry was Colonialists and Natives. I suppose the lad could have gone as Lord Curzon or Lord Kitchener, but most of Harry’s male relatives still have to dress like that anyway for formal military occasions. The Afrika Korps uniform was a nice idea and a lot more original than putting some shoeblack on his face and going as a native.
How bitterly Harry must regret not dressing up as Captain Cook. Then he could have had an enjoyable Tour of Contrition to the Antipodes and the Pacific region, apologizing to the Maoris and Hawai’ians for insensitivity to genocide. Who wants to go to Auschwitz at this time of year?
Of course the leaders of major Jewish organizations have had a field day, broadcasting their shock and dismay on an hourly basis and telling Harry to jog round the Auschwitz perimeter another couple of times. Moral reprobation from these folk about fancy dress looks threadbare in an age when Israeli soldiers force a Palestinian to play his violin at a border crossing.
How come Sharon didn’t send those soldiers to Auschwitz to apologize for having forgotten that it’s only sixty years since Jews with fiddles in Eastern Europe were being told by genuine Nazi murderers to hop about and play a few tunes. How come Sharon doesn’t have to apologize for anything?
“Where do you stop with the taboos?” wrote David Ball of Milton Keynes to the Daily Telegraph. “Do you not dress as a Dominican Friar, whose order was responsible for the persecution and death of thousands of ‘Heretics’ i.e people with different views, in the Middle Ages. Do you not dress as a US cavalryman, who assisted in the systematic destruction of the indigenous native population of America, or as a conquistador, who decimated the Inca population. History is full of evil-doers. Do we try and ignore their existence or accept them for what they were? I don’t think Harry was going around shouting neo-Nazi slogans and giving Heil Hitler salutes. He was just dressed as a soldier, complete with all the insignia- swastika included, that the uniform entailed. An insensitive choice, but probably only youthful indiscretion. To bar him from Sandhurst, would be crass. If anything, the training is likely to teach him some values and a better appreciation of the influence his position has got.”
I’ll buy that, same way as I buy the view of the Pravda editorialist who wrote: “Prince Harry turned up in an Afrika Korps uniform – who better to mock than
the German colonials under Hitler, the greatest imperialist project in human history since perhaps Genghis Khan?. If this young man was invited to a Colonials and Natives party, what was he supposed to wear? A pink ballet dress, to be accused of being a fairy, a trans-sexual or a cross-dresser?”
Rommel was a perfect choice. The English have always had a soft spot for him, the Desert Fox, the Good German outgeneraled by Montgomery and then forced to commit suicide by Hitler. Actually Rommel was outgeneraled by the Matrons who ruled over matters of hygiene at the schools attended by the British officer class. How well I remember Matron at my own school, Heatherdown, who used to line us little boys up and then clasp our testicles in her chill hand and demand we cough. I’m never quite sure why; maybe to detect signs of incipient syphilis in case we eight-year olds had been infected by the girls at Heathfield, the other side of a wall even more forbidding than the one the Israelis are running through the occupied territories.
It was these matrons, so I was recently reminded by Mark Harrison in my Christmas issue of Oxford Today, who instilled in British officers in North Africa and elsewhere importance of hygiene. In the Western Desert of Egypt in 1942, Harrison writes in his essay “Medicine and Victory”, because of “proper waste management” the British Army “enjoyed a marked and consistent advantage over their opponents, as sickness rates were 50-70 per cent lower than in the German forces. By the time of the climactic battle of El Alamein, the Afrika Korps carried the burden of 9,954 sick out of a total strength of 52,000.” Out of 10,000, the Panzer division had slightly less than 4,000 men fit to fight.
All this gives fresh resonance to the phrase “dirty Germans”. Colonel H.S. Gear, assistant director of hygiene in the British Army, claimed the Germans’ defensive positions were “obvious from the amount of faeces lying on the surface of the ground the enemy appears to have no conception of the most elementary sanitary measures”. The official historian of the campaign, F.A.E. Crew wrote that “It is not improbable that the complete lack of sanitation among both the Germans and the Italians did much to undermine their morale in the Alamein position.” Matron won! Prince Harry should have gone to the party dressed as Matron, or Matron’s softer antecedent in the lives of these young men: Nanny, the emotional rock to which many an upper class lad clung for the rest of his life.
All this talk of matrons and nannies brings me to Harry’s great uncle, Edward VIII (titled, after abdication, the Duke of Windsor), a keen admirer of Hitler, as pious British reprovers of Prince Harry have not failed to point out. Wallis Simpson, herself a Nazi agent, won the Duke’s eternal affection by understanding exactly what fancy dress he really craved.
In his wonderful The Duchess of Windsor (recently reissued with sensational new material along with his equally gripping Howard Hughes) my friend Charles Higham quotes the Duke’s equerry, Sir Dudley Forwood, who used to peer through the bedroom keyhole, as saying of saying of Windsor that “It is doubtful whether he and Wallis ever actually had sexual intercourse in the normal sense of the word. However, she did manage to give him relief. He had always been a repressed foot fetishist, and she discovered this and indulged the perversity completely. They also, at his request, became involved in elaborate erotic games. These included nanny-child scenes: he wore diapers, she was the master.”
Harry could have gone to that party in diapers, or even as a foot. But instead he tried to be a manly man and went as a soldier, and got into a whole heap of trouble. He’ll know better next time. Even if he’d gone as a 1942-vintage Luftnachrichtenhelferin, as fetchingly depicted in my treasured copy of Women at War, 1939-45, probably no one would have batted an eye.
John L. Hess Gone at 87; A Great American Reporter Misses Chance to Flay Bush Inaugural
John Hess grew old the way journalists are meant to go old, but almost never do. He never stopped stamping on the toes of the powers-that-be, never lost his edge, never got out of harness.
He wrote almost till he dropped, more taken up with the latest outrages of the Bush administration, of the New York Times, of scoundrelly real estate tycoons and self aggrandizing liberals than he did about the boring business of putting food in his mouth. Like many folks who get to be 87 and enjoy working, he reckoned a cupful of fuel ould keep the engine running all month.
A friend of CounterPunch, one of John’s favored and grateful outlets in his last years, called to tell us last week that John had keeled over in a faint and was in the Jewish Home on the Upper West side of Manhattan. I called him from Petrolia, here in California, and at first he sounded, as the Irish say, pretty shook.
I had some difficulty making out what he was saying but then he gathered force and soon was pressing me to suggest a publisher for the writings and commentaries he’d done since his splendid, acrid memoir of his life on the New York Times. We chatted a while and a few days later, on Jan 15, we got an email relayed by his children Martha and Peter:
From deepest rehabilitation — Greetings. I’ve been too disabled by reality to spread my usual cheer at a time when there’s been so much to spread,
i.e. — Kerik and Gonzales. As Rummy likes to put it, we have to deal with the humankind they gave us.
Onward and upward. Till the next time.
I figured he’d soon be back in action, but it turns out John’s race was almost over. We got an email early on Friday from his son Peter saying he died peacefully in his sleep even earlier that day, at the age of 87. Thus he was spared the Inauguration, about which he would have filed one of his inimitably succinct commentaries. At 84, his wife Karen –active collaborator in those seignant days and nights when the Two Musketeers took the Food Establishment by storm–survives him.
Whenever I saw John, rare in recent years since we live at opposing edges of this continent he reminded me of the old, green eyeshade days, when the best journalists were bohemian in spirit, parlous in financial stability, knew their way round libraries, back alleys, lobbies, precinct houses, waiting rooms, morgues, corporate balance sheets, wine lists, the Eighteenth Brumaire. They mostly didn’t go to roundtables at the Council on Foreign Relations but if they did they could take the striped pant pundits down in a second with a couple of facts and a knowledgeable anecdote. They had real politics and the fire of the great populist muckrakers and hellraisers of an even earlier time.
That was John and in this land of some 250 million souls, there are others–not too many, to be sure–who resemble him, dissenters to the end, bloodied but unbowed before the pettiness, ignorance, arrogance and malevolence of power.
Footnote: I’m sad to have had the opportunity to honor, albeit briefly, John Hess in this diary. My somewhat heterodox thoughts on Prince Harry’s fancy dress first ran in the print edition of the Nation that went to press last Wednesday.