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World War One

Kafka Advises How To Deal With The End Of The World

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[Illustration by Kafka]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village of Zurau, where he is living with his sister. He is talking about the end of the Empire the townsfolk have been living under all their lives. It, and the civilization they know, is soon to be swept away. Will their lives go with it?

He speaks the truth, and he avoids the truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

 

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

 

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

Remembrance Day / Jarvis Bay in Canada

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The major Remembrance Day Service was held in a hockey arena. Which we don’t like. So we found – in walking distance – a service at a small naval memorial/park with a Cenotaph. The park was in honour of the navel ship, The Jervis Bay.  http://www.hmsjervisbay.com/

 
I’ll stab at 400 – 500 folk there. Cars parked as far as ten minutes away. Raggle-taggle group of cadets. Trumpet player who had no trouble with the high notes – but the low (Oy vey).
 
Two good ole boys near us who looked as if they had been hauled from a brawl at the local tavern – but they had their poppies.
 
Sweet li’l kidlets.
 
MC who made old, old jokes and had to be corrected a few times about the Order of Service. And had to ask if anyone was present who might lay the wreath of the government or city or …
 
He chuckled over the one guy who volunteered a number of times: “We’re puttin’ ya to work today.”
 
A train whistle in the distance that gave a loooong blast for 11:00 (though it was a coupla minutes out of sync).
 
And TOTAL silence for the two minutes of silence.
 
Then home we went to watch the Service from Ottawa, with the Governor General, Prime Minister, Silver Cross Mother, Military Pipes & Drums, marching Military Contingent, and interviews with two sharp-as-a-tack Veterans in their late nineties.
 
Best of both worlds.

War And The Army And Kafka

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Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:

August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.

That was it.

But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.

But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling.  Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

07 February 1918

I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.

There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.

“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”

That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.

[Image] https://www.ndr.de/kultur/buch/tipps/kafka115_v-contentxl.jpg

Remembrance Day / Armistice Day / Veterans Day

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One Remembrance Day, I went to the ceremonies in Halifax, NS. The main cenotaph, in The Grand Parade downtown. It is a huge place, nearly a half a city block long and wide. A towering flag-mast is near one end, as befits a sea-faring city.

The city bus, which would normally be nearly empty during a mid-morning holiday run, was nearly full. And part way along, a grouping of twenty uniformed military personnel got on. All Navy. Spit-and-polish. I noted their shoes. I approved.

I arrived nearly an hour before 11:00 o’clock, but there were already hundreds present. The Grand Parade was awash with people, so much so that they were asked to keep on the grass, so the parade itself could manoeuver when it arrived. There was a tent where actual World War Two veterans sat. It was chill and cloudy, but no rain nor snow arrived.

Pipes and drums and a military band made themselves known in the distance. A flag carrying, colour-party of veterans marched in,  followed by ranks of modern military and red-uniformed RCMP. Followed by veterans and cadets and children and organizations. In, and around, and back they marched, to finally face the cenotaph itself. Crisp orders. Boots solid on the stones. Music. Hundreds of spectators.

The ceremony follows a set routine, of course. Much is squeezed into the eleven minutes around the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A too-brief portion of God Save The Queen. Oh Canada. The Last Post. Booming artillery from high up Citadel Hill. A military helicopter clattering over us. The minute of silence. The chaplains with their words. And God’s.

There were two new (new to me, at any rate) events, and one occurrence that was impressive indeed.

Three flags – one of Canada and two smaller military – were lowered to half-staff during the ceremony. It was quite a distance to descend, and their wires screeched.

Six white doves were released. I doubt they were so-trained, but they flew into the distance and then came right back over the crowd before leaving.

And, the last note of the trumpet ended at the exact second the steeple bells began to chime its eleven times.

There is really no time to cheer during this sombre ceremony, but sometimes it is tempting so to do.

(photo)https://i.cbc.ca/1.4398936.1510415846!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/halifax-grand-parade-remembrance-day-2017.jpg

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