Book Review: Lusitania

Lusitania cover

A fascinating read and a deeply disturbing reminder that the roots of atrocity remain a part of our culture to this day. Willi Jasper looks at the sinking of the Lusitania from a German perspective, but it’s about much more than that. It’s about the culture that didn’t simply let such an attack happen, but hungered for it, reveled in it, and perhaps turned a corner with it that would ultimately result in one of the most horrendous acts of evil in human history only a quarter century later. 

Jasper helps to dispel the myths around the submarine crews, reminiscent of the mystique that’s grown up around Confederates from the American Civil War…the ‘Lost Cause’ romanticization nonsense. Not the neo-Vikings and honorable heroes they have often been re-branded as, they were often zealots of the military-state, fully aware of what they were doing, and indeed delighted to do it.  Here we have written evidence from the very ‘heroes’ about their desire to kill civilians, to commit literal acts of terrorism, reveling in the idea that they as Germans were toppling “civilization” and the “West.”

Reading this book has helped to crystallize something that’s been bothering me lately, the fluid concept of the West and the East, and how with each new permutation of conflicts, we redefine what it means to be Western or Eastern.  I suppose because England and the United States are pretty far West, they each have an easy time labeling anyone to their East, “the East,” and then demonizing it as some foreign, alien evil. In this same way, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Germany, among others, have at various times decried England, the United States, and others as “The West,” and demonized them in turn.

Anyway, here’s to being deeply disturbed by how similar the words out of people today are to the words out of people a hundred years ago, how similar their actions. History echoes.  The more I read about World War I and the days leading up to it, the more I feel like current events are frighteningly similar. Attitudes and actions of my fellow countrymen sound an awful lot like those of early 20th Century Germans, chest-pounding militarism, punching downward, spitting on the oppressed and laughing at their suffering, and at ideas of justice, law, and dignity.  Everything old is new again.

I saw someone on the internet say something to the effect of “I can’t teach you that you should care about other people.”  How do you deal with someone whose idea of good is your idea of evil? Is an apocalyptic world consuming war how this argument has to be made?

Gah.  Read the book.  It’s quite good and filled with lots of interesting information.  It just depressed the hell out of me.  Like so much History I’ve been reading (not to mention Science Fiction), it all feels far to timely, far more timely than it should.


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