Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 10 Comments
As the Jerusalem Post notes, this is the 60th anniversary of the production of the play, A Flag is Born. Behind the history and the praise is the interesting legacy of the playwright, Ben Hecht.
Ben Hecht was a self-taught Chicago journalist, playwright, screenwriter behind such classics as Scarface, The Front Page, Gone With the Wind.; a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a reporter who mingled easily with the gangsters, ladies of the evening and killers and corrupt cops of Chicago's underworld before going abroad as a foreign correspondent in post WWI Germany exposing the seamy side of German reconstruction and serving as a personal eyewitness to the Moabit prison massacre, which would set the stage for Nazi atrocities.
He was a professional writer who mixed hearty doses of cynicism towards authority with idealism for the human race, a Jewish Mark Twain who was an unsuccessful if critically praised novelist, a thoroughly assimilated Jew who spearheaded a campaign for Europe's Jews being massacred in the Holocaust and then for a Jewish state before turning his back on it all.
A lifelong liberal who fought fiercely for civil rights, even as he fought against the Roosevelt Administration and the Liberal Jewish elite on the side of Jabotinsky, the Irgun and Lehi backing them against the socialist Labor Zionists. A Hollywood screenwriter whose stand against Britain's role in the Holocaust earned him a nationwide boycott by the British government so that many of his later movies had to be done under pseudonyms.
An agnostic who came to believe in God on his own terms and a man whose career embraced everything from Chicago's worst prisons to Broadway and Hollywood, to foreign affairs, activist, his own column and finally his own tv talk show on ABC quickly canceled due to its controversial content; Ben Hecht remained a paradox of quickly fading memory.
Hecht prefaced Perfidy with the notation, A Man Stood Up In Israel. He meant it to refer to Shmuel Tamir, but it could far better refer to Hecht. He was certainly not the sort of man anyone would have expected to emerge into the moment, yet in his surge of activism he managed to help bring together a wide range of figures from Rabbi Eliezer Silver to Marlon Brando to Dorothy Parker and Walter Winchell and Will Rogers; a collection of people equally as unlikely as he.
Hecht was born when the 20th century was new in a far more independent America in which the individuals was still considered preeminent over government. The individual was Hecht's theme as he lived to see the era of FDR seize on the great depression to reduce American liberties to government handouts from a spiraling bureaucracy. This was where Hecht broke with his fellow liberals who splintered into Communist and FDR camps supporting a socialist reconstruction as the solution, while Hecht remained an individual battling fiercely for individualism.
It was that individualism which allowed him to break from the mass whether it was when he stood out from the rest of the correspondents and their packaged story when he was in Germany reporting on the first wave of atrocities of the Ebert\Noske government, or when the Germans had resumed their atrocities and the Roosevelt-worshiping Jewish leaders of America were satisfied to lick the great cripple's boots waiting for another type of handout while millions died. It was an individualism that shattered the consensus by pointing to what was right and what was wrong.
Most people live or die by the consensus. Most people believe by consensus as well. It is this crippling servitude that leads men to cry out for strong leaders whether it is a king or a president or a prime minister who will solve their problems for them, not realizing how fundamentally misguided that is even when their leaders prove useless and corrupt. The will of a people is inherent in individuals, when individuals don't have it, then the nation doesn't either. When one man can't point to a wrong and denounce it and oppose it, then the nation can't either. And so we see today's American plodding behind the propaganda that Islam is a religion of Peace and today's Israel making concession after concession to the terrorists.
The great men of Jewish history were individuals who defied the consensus beginning with Avraham, the Ivri who stood on the other side Al Ever Hanahar, of the entire world. One man who spoke of a faith in one God. Yaakov, hounded and persecuted by the world, who founded a nation. Moshe, raised in the house of a Pharaoh, turned his back on it all and seeing an Egyptian beating a Jewish slave, struck him and killed him. Cut away from his people, taught to identify with the Egyptian ruling class, he was able to toss all that aside and stand for what was right.
Moshe began a long tradition of prophets, often isolated, persecuted and standing against the consensus and the will of Kings, who nevertheless were determined to speak the truth. Hecht identified himself with that legacy of prophets, with that individualism which stood against a world of idolatry and defied it. In his time Ben Hecht took a hammer to his own share of idols from corrupt politicians and gold-gilded statues of Presidents to a self-serving Jewish leadership both over here and in Israel. He wielded that hammer with the talent of his pen writing columns, articles, plays and speeches. He was a man, among few, who stood up in Israel.
With him were those of the Peter Bergson group, himself a nephew of Rav Kook, Jabotinsky who warned that the Holocaust was coming while most refused to listen and died before he saw it come about, the fighters of the Lehi and Irgun, sneered at by British anti-semites as the Stern Gang, who nevertheless drove the British out of Israel. They were all men who stood up and as the Holocaust raged, more stood up in Europe and American, Jewish and non-Jewish, resisting the tide.
Today the history is whitewashed and sandbagged, villains have become heroes and heroes have become villains. The Likud which was the last remnant of Jabotinsky's legacy, such as it was, was smashed to bits with the creation of the renegade Kadima party. The children of former heroes grew up to be corrupt sell-outs like Olmert and Tzahi Hanegbi. But there are still men in Israel, just not in the places you expect them to be.
There is Tzafri Ronen, an irreligious Kibbutznik, who led protests and did far more to fight Disengagement, then any of the so-called Yesha Council or the Rabbis and endless article writers. Like Hecht, he does not come out of the consensus, but from outside it as an individual opposing a clear evil.
In Ben Hecht's time the world faced the vast collective evils of Nazism and Communism, today we face the collective evil of Islam. As we did under FDR, the solution proposed is to expand the government, subsume the individual into the mass and defeat it that way. What eventually worked in WW2 won't work now. The power of a nation is in its individuals and the US government has spent decades perpetuating a massive bureaucracy incapable of actually solving any problems while subsuming individual initiative into collective committees, organizational charts and focus groups. The army isn't allowed to fight, the air force isn't allowed to bomb and law enforcement isn't allowed to do its job. Instead of fighting the war the nation winds up held hostage by factionalism and the decaying rhetoric of defeatism.
As airlines and the press are discovering, there is no way to keep the public safe from terrorism, except by individual initiative. There is no technological system that can spot every explosive device, no level of security that can stop every terrorist threat. The power lies not in bureaucracies but in individuals. As Flight 93 showed, it is not the government that is the first line of defense but the individual, those men who too stood up and refused to sit and wait while they and hundreds of others were murdered by terrorists.
It is this attitude that is a desperately needed antidote to a modern society taught to sit and wait for the police to handle it. For the last 5 years we have been sitting and waiting for the 'police' to handle it and listen as they pat themselves on the back for all they've accomplished even as the Islamic terrorist threat continues to spread and grow.
On reporting on Sweden's plague of Muslim rapes, a friend of mine Lemon-Lime Moon asked where all the Swedish men are. The answer is they're citizens of a socialist state to which most of their income goes and which they expect to care for them from cradle to grave and they expect the authorities to handle it. Men who would never have tolerated such things a century ago, today sit placidly waiting for someone else to care of it, because much as Communism has crippled the ability of the Russian to work honestly for a living, socialism has crippled the ability of the European and increasingly of many Americans to take action on their own.
When the society takes precedence over the individual, the only two paths for a nation are stagnation and decadence or tyranny and dictatorship. The West has chosen the former, it may in time choose the latter, but either way Europe and America will remain crippled societies until there is the resurgence of the individual. Not phony individualism like the flower children of the 70's dancing to the beat of a single drum, the mass consumerism of the 80's and the dot.com social networking and isolationism of the 90's and 00's.
The return of the individual means a return to a society with more risk in it but also more possibilities. It means the creation of a society with frontiers to push and borders to expand. It means choosing to live rather than choosing to shop. A society whose two great pillars are consumerism and government bureaucracy is a static society waiting to fall, a society willing to make any compromise and concession to its enemies in order to maintain its placid way of life. There is no room in the world for such societies except as victims for the next generation of the world's civilizations, such as they may be.
Ben Hecht's outcry was the outcry of the individual against injustice. As was Theodore Herzl's. As was Jabotinsky's and a thousand others who made a difference by being individuals, far from perfect, who stood up against everything their milieu believed and fought for what was right. We may not have prophecy with us any longer but the voice of the prophet still rings in the man who proclaims for right against wrong. To those who wonder what the answer is, the answer is in us. To those who wonder what they can do, who look for a strong leader, the answer is in the words of the Prophet Yoel. On these words the Jewish people were founded, on these words the state of Israel was rebuilt. On these words it and its sister nation the United States will stand or fall.
Bring forth the mighty men, let them press forward,, let them rise up, beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears, let even the weak man say I am a mighty warrior.