HHhH and Dead Lions; or, notes on recent reading

by Eric on January 9, 2014

HHhH, by Laurent Binet

I came to Laurent Binet’s book about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich late; it was published in 2012 in English, and attracted largely positive attention then. It takes up the true story of a British-aided 1942 mission by the Beneš government-in-exile to kill Heydrich, then Hitler’s satrap in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as well as SS-leader Heinrich Himmler’s number two (Binet’s book says the title comes from the phrase, Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich: Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich). Binet manages remarkably to make the book both a well told thriller and an extended mediation on the writer’s relation to history and the fiction he is making of it.

Together with some other British-trained Czechoslovak commandos on other missions, two assassins – Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík; a Czech and a Slovak – parachuted from a Halifax into a field near Prague, made contact with the resistance, and eventually ambushed and waylaid Heydrich’s Mercedes. Gabčík faced down the car with a Sten gun, which jammed and failed to fire. Kubiš charged from the rear with a grenade, which went off near the car’s rear wheel, driving fragments of the vehicle into Heydrich’s body. The assassins fled. Heydrich tried to shoot Gabčík, then collapsed. Taken to a hospital, Heydrich received good treatment but afterward died of an infection. Hitler and the Nazi high command gave him a martyr’s funeral. On the strength of a spurious connection, the Germans destroyed the city of Lidice, killing its inhabitants, razing it to the ground, and salting the earth. They also named an expanded program for carrying out the Final Solution (of which Heydrich had been a principal engineer) “Aktion Reinhard”. With the help of a parachutist who decided to betray his fellows, the Germans discovered Kubiš and Gabčík, together with a number of their colleagues, holed up in a Church and, over many blundering and violent hours, eventually smoked, flooded, and blasted them out of hiding; the commandos died rather than suffer capture.

I discuss the episode in my course on World War II because I think it is an important moment in the history of the Holocaust, and in the history of how the Western allies understood the Nazis – the razing of Lidice made plain their brutality and provided a concrete cause at a time when the scale of the Final Solution was still only rumor. I think also it illustrates the effect, if not the effectiveness, of the kind of covert operation we cover more often in fiction than in history. (I also talk about the Allied-sponsored murder of the Vichyite admiral who decided to assist the US and UK in their invasion of Africa, Jean Darlan, to make way for Charles de Gaulle.)

It is also a fantastic story, which is of course Binet’s concern. The two young men who decided to join the resistance – itself a risky act – accepting a surely suicidal mission on behalf of a country, Czechoslovakia, that scarcely existed, whose government consisted of a modest office in London, and which would (we know, as they didn’t) not be able to hold itself together. Perhaps they were not striking for, perhaps they were striking against; it was easier then to know that the likes of Heydrich needed stopping. It is of course a tendency now for intelligent readers of the Second World War now to emphasize the brutality and failings of the Allies, to note that the victory was won through moral compromise. HHhH doesn’t reflect this sense; to Binet the Czech resisters are clearly heroes.

To really like this book, as I did, you must accept, if not enjoy, Binet’s insertion of himself as character. He is an unreliable narrator, he wants you to know. He relates a scene, then says, how can I know any of what went on in that scene? I cannot: I will cut the scene, he resolves. Of course, if there is a version of HHhH from which that scene has been cut, it is not the one you are reading. He tells you something, then tells you he has made it up. He says he does not know something, then a page later tells you he has looked it up. At the climactic moment of the shooting, he slows down the narrative by inserting, every few sentences, the dates of his present moment, in 2008 – as if he were writing three or four lines a day, not wanting the moment quite to arrive. With all these devices, Binet is taking the reader along with him in the process of excavating the story; he is reenacting the process of learning and relating history. He hates what novelists do to history; he is writing an infranovel – which he doesn’t define. The writing of the history, the obsession with the story, has a palpable cost on Binet, or anyway on Binet-as-character.

Dead Lions, by Mick Herron

Within MI5 there is a group of disgraced agents who, for whatever reasons, cannot be sacked outright, and are instead assigned to dull desk work in the hope they will resign. Led by fat, old, shrewd Jackson Lamb, they make up a televisually appealing group including various races, genders, classes, nationalities, and sexualities. When an old hand from the Cold War dies mysteriously, they stumble to life, each member ultimately learning to contribute his or her own skill to the success of what, under pressure, becomes a team. They foil the dastardly plot, which is even more diabolical than at first it appears. One suspects Herron understands the reader must feel that disaster can actually happen, which is probably why the Shard appears here as the Needle; we know the Shard is safe, but the fictional Needle, well.

If the group of internal exiles reminds you a bit of George Smiley’s people – if Lamb’s visit to his old love interest with the encyclopedic memory reminds you of Smiley’s trips to see Connie Sachs – well, shame on you: that was MI6, not MI5. To the extent Herron shares Le Carré’s skepticism about the secret services, it is only that he also looks askance at the dire new generation of bureaucrats and bean counters who run the things; he does not evidently worry about the moral import or consequence of the mission they’re on.

If that sounds like a critique, well, it’s not much of one. Boy is this a ripping yarn and a pleasure to read, with some clever turns of phrase and juxtapositions of image, and I am assuredly looking forward to the next one.

{ 48 comments }

1

Ben Alpers 01.09.14 at 4:20 pm

I really liked HHhH, as well. I’m teaching it in my course on World War II in history and memory this coming semester.

2

Andrew F. 01.09.14 at 4:35 pm

Appreciate the reviews! Both books are now somewhere on the list.

In the novel, did the Germans go straight from Karel Curda to the church where the operatives were hiding?

From Wikipedia:

Čurda betrayed several safe houses provided by the Jindra group, including that of the Moravec family in Žižkov. At 05:00 on 17 June, the Moravec flat was raided. The family was made to stand in the hallway while the Gestapo searched their flat. Mrs. Maria Moravec, after being allowed to go to the toilet, bit into a cyanide capsule and thereby killed herself. Mr. Moravec, unaware of his family’s involvement with the resistance, was taken to the Peček Palác together with his 17-year-old son Ata, who though interrogated with torture throughout the day, refused to talk. The youth was finally stupefied with brandy, shown his mother’s severed head in a fish tank and warned that if he did not reveal the information they were looking for, his father would be next.[35] That finally caused him to crack and tell the Gestapo what they wanted to know.

Wikipedia – Operation Anthropoid

I think Alan Furst refers to the episode in one of his novels, though I could be wrong.

I also talk about the Allied-sponsored murder of the Vichyite admiral who decided to assist the US and UK in their invasion of Africa, Jean Darlan, to make way for Charles de Gaulle.

Is it clear that Darlan’s murder was sponsored by the Allies? Honest question. I had heard that a conclusion one way or the other was difficult to sustain, but never looked into it.

3

Anderson 01.09.14 at 5:02 pm

Irrelevantly, I remember trying to list a couple of recent novels featuring Heydrich, including the Binet, on H’s Wikipedia article, only to be reverted by some extremely righteous folks who said that Nazis must never be glorified as fictional characters, and even if they are, Wikipedia shouldn’t acknowledge such lapses. I had insufficient patience to keep fooling with it.

Thanks for the tip on Dead Lions! (As opposed to live dogs, I presume.)

4

Straightwood 01.09.14 at 5:07 pm

Where does righteous killing end? Do Obama’s drone strike assassinations make things better or worse? Did killing Heydrich save any lives? Should the American politicians who conducted the Vietnam war and supported Pol Pot in Cambodia have been assassinated?

5

Anderson 01.09.14 at 5:12 pm

“Did killing Heydrich save any lives?”

The UK was at war with Germany, and Heydrich was a high-ranking German officer in the SS. Why on earth would he not have been a legitimate target?

(Heh … looked up his exact rank; I’d forgotten he served a term as president of Interpol. Be sure to ask to see his portrait bust if you’re ever a visitor to their HQ!)

6

TC 01.09.14 at 6:30 pm

The assassination of Hydrich is very effectively portrayed in a poignant and grossly underrated movie: Operation Daybreak, which I would highly recommend.

7

Theophylact 01.09.14 at 6:32 pm

Well, one is Philip Kerr’s Prague Fatale. (The title was to have been The Man With The Iron Heart, but it was changed at the last minute because Harry Turtledove’s alternate history novel about Heydrich had the same title.)

8

Anderson 01.09.14 at 6:34 pm

Yeah, the Kerr was the other one I was mentioning … didn’t know that about Turtledove, whose books I’ve seen for years but never picked up, for some reason.

9

Anderson 01.09.14 at 6:41 pm

“Is it clear that Darlan’s murder was sponsored by the Allies?”

Still debated, though I had thought the best evidence was that it was the work of Gaullists, manipulating a monarchist assassin.

10

MPAVictoria 01.09.14 at 7:00 pm

“didn’t know that about Turtledove, whose books I’ve seen for years but never picked up, for some reason.”

Not missing much. His earlier stuff is okay popcorn fluff but he went a bit crazy after September 11th.

11

Anderson 01.09.14 at 7:22 pm

Eric, does Binet’s unreliable narration seem to have any direct bearing on the subject matter? Would we suppose he’d write a book on Helen Keller the same way, or is there something about his handling of the narration that is formally or thematically tied to his subject?

12

Andrew F. 01.09.14 at 7:44 pm

Straightwood –

One of your questions is interesting: should the Allies have continued to conduct unconventional operations within Axis territory, utilizing resistance forces, where these operations would be met with horrible reprisals against the civilian population?

Not an easy question to answer, even assuming the operations to be reasonably useful to the overall war effort. I suppose, to tie that question to another you raised, one of the advantages of an airstrike is that it minimizes apparent complicity by anyone who would be vulnerable after the operation. If Heydrich’s Mercedes were destroyed (surprisingly for everyone) by a missile from an UAV, presumably the awful reprisals would not have occurred.

13

Gerald Brennan 01.09.14 at 8:26 pm

Clearly Heydrich was a legitimate target; the better question is whether it accomplishes anything worthwhile to kill such a man. As Robert Gerwarth points out in “Hitler’s Hangman,” when Heydrich died, 3/4ths of the victims of the Holocaust were still alive; within 6 months, 3/4ths of the victims were dead. And there’s certainly evidence that the Germans were accelerating the killing, in part, to “honor” (in the most twisted way possible) his life. (As for drone strikes, they seem more surgical because we see and hear what we want to; they’re better than indiscriminate bombing, but that doesn’t necessarily make them good.)

I’m a little conflicted and biased on Binet’s book. I wrote my own novel (Resistance) on the Heydrich assassination, and I put it out independently at around the same time his book came out. I’ll admit, his was pretty clever in its execution, and I could relate to his obsession about the topic, but it ends up telling us more about the author than it does about the event and its context. For those of us who already know the story, all it really tells us is that Binet admires good guys, hates bad guys, and wants to be one and not the other–nothing more than we learn by reading Tom Clancy. (He may be a lot more artful in his execution of that concept, but the end result’s still the same.)

Anyway, I hope you all excuse the (hopefully mild) self-promotion, and I look forward to your additional comments.

14

Gerald Brennan 01.09.14 at 8:28 pm

(Also, Anderson, LOL on your Interpol comment! There are certainly some historical facts that people love to forget.)

15

Anderson 01.09.14 at 8:35 pm

Interesting: Binet was asked to cut part of his novel criticizing Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, but you can read it here.

16

Straightwood 01.09.14 at 9:13 pm

@11

Andrew,

Partisan activity, although heroic in terms of personal actions, was of doubtful efficacy in determining the course of WWII. The Yugoslav partisans, among the fiercest of the irregular forces in Nazi-occupied territory, were unable to eject the invaders, who controlled Yugoslavia with a relatively small garrison. WWII was won by the massive sacrifice of Russian troops in the Eastern Front battles; the resistance fighters were never more than a nuisance to the Nazis.

Reprisals need not be tied to specific attacks. If they are sufficiently brutal, they can persuade would-be attackers to spare innocents in the occupied population. The Nazis did not invent terror tactics applied to subjugating occupied lands. The bloody conquerors of ancient history provided numerous precedents. In the long conflict between North American settlers and the indigenous population, entire native American villages were wiped out as reprisals for raids on the settlers.

17

Eric 01.09.14 at 10:18 pm

Eric, does Binet’s unreliable narration seem to have any direct bearing on the subject matter?

Good question. It’s probably more suitable to a narrative featuring covert operations and the Holocaust, for both of which records are scarce and/or oblique.

18

Anderson 01.09.14 at 10:35 pm

17: fair enough. I just wonder reflexively whether the style turns out to feel compelled by the subject matter. Flashback to my grad-student days.

Gerald: thanks! And you should read that Binet link I posted – ironically, he himself fretted about the Jonathan Littell book’s potentially swamping his. There’s always a bigger fish, as Qui-Gon Jinn so sagely remarked.

19

Gerald Brennan 01.09.14 at 10:50 pm

Indeed! I remember coming across those excised passages a while back. I haven’t read The Kindly Ones, but I actually strongly agree with what Binet says about historical narrators who speak in a voice totally unsuited to their characters. (I’m reading Don DeLillo’s Libra right now and that’s one of my biggest issues–while the writing’s great, he seems so in love with his powers of prose that he has some of the characters speaking that way, too. It’s intermittent, but I can’t picture Oswald saying some of the things he says in that book. Or some of the CIA and FBI agents, for that matter. Of course, I hate Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, so that probably doesn’t help, either.)

20

Ed Herdman 01.09.14 at 11:04 pm

It seems like every time Interpol is mentioned, my mind flashes to remembering that Arthur Nebe and Ernst Kaltenbrunner were also Presidents of that institution. Nothing of import now.

FWIW, I think Gerald’s comment is the most accurate short summary of Tom Clancyism I’ve ever seen. I’ll have to look up the book some time. People tend to forget that when these decisions were made they were often made in the cold light of military necessity – like Churchill’s decision not to evacuate Coventry. Of course, it seems obvious that “military necessity” was not necessarily in direct tandem with the needs of governments-in-exile – symbolic measures were therefore more apparently important to such groups. However, I haven’t heard anything that suggests the Allies had anything but support for the plan.

The Wikipedia article on the government-in-exile has a tantalizing clue at the end of the section “from committee to government” -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czechoslovak_government-in-exile

21

Layman 01.09.14 at 11:47 pm

I’ve downloaded HHhH and look forward to reading it. Thanks to Eric for the recommendation.

OT, but Littell’s The Kindly Ones is an extraordinary book. I can’t speak to the historical accuracy, but the narrative voice is consistently gripping and thoroughly believable. And while it is clearly grounded in the notion that ordinary people can be brought to do evil – the banality of evil – I didn’t find that to be the point. The narrator is decidedly NOT ordinary people, and for me what the book does so well is demonstrate how an evil man rationalizes his evil. That, and provide an intimate portrait of unimaginable horror.

22

Andrew F. 01.10.14 at 12:09 am

Straightwood – Yes, but my real point is the ethical question concerning military operations that, while themselves legal and in many circumstances ethical, will predictably cause another party to commit mass atrocities. It could be that the answer depends on how necessary the military operations are, and how costly the reprisals visited on civilians are; it could also be that no responsibility at all should be assumed for the atrocities another party chooses to commit.

As to airstrikes and reprisals, my point is that if there is no indication of complicity by the local population, and if there is no reason to think that reprisals against the local population will shock a distant enemy into halting his attacks, then reprisals will appear completely pointless.

I raise the point only because it ties back into the original ethical question. Suppose Allied forces could kill Heydrich from the air, but at the cost of 20 civilians; and suppose Allied forces could alternatively mount a special operation using ground forces (local partisans and Allied personnel) that would result, directly, in far fewer civilian deaths – but which would also open the local population to reprisals by the Nazis, in which of course many more civilians would die.

As to WW2 being won by massive Russian sacrifice… Soviet forces played a huge role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, no doubt. But there were many roads to Berlin.

23

Chris williams 01.10.14 at 12:37 am

Ed Herdman “Churchill’s decision not to evacuate Coventry” – citation needed

24

Andrew Mason 01.10.14 at 1:15 am

@16 Yugoslavia required the constant and unflagging attention of entire German military divisions, in contrast to most Western European nation which were generally administered by a skeleton crew of German officials but with the hearty assistance of the local police and various militias.

And if they weren’t successful in ejecting the invaders, one wonders why the Germans ever left. Who liberated wartime Yugoslavia if not the Partisans?

25

Ed Herdman 01.10.14 at 2:05 am

@ Chris: Thanks for questioning me on that.

It seems that a lot of the accepted wisdom about what the British knew from intercepts, and when they knew it, is wrong. Earlier today I ran across something about whether Sir Dowding could have benefited from coded traffic intercepts during the Battle of Britain, and the author decided that conflicting reports and the evidence favor an interpretation that he did not have the assistance of evidence.

This appears to be a good recent summary of the argument against the “Churchill sacrificed Coventry” story:
http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/myths/myths/he-let-coventry-burn

I am happy to abandon what always seemed to me an extreme (at best) example of “military necessity” (in modern signals intelligence parlance I believe the term would be BEADWINDOW 2), but I still note that the general idea of not revealing capabilities remains in one of the sources cited:

“All concerned with the information gleaned from the intercepted German signals were conscious that German suspicions must not be aroused for the sake of ephemeral advantages.”

However, the knowledge that neither Churchill nor anyone else who had occasion to look at the messages had any reason to believe there would be anything but a raid on London changes our appreciation of the story considerably. Defenses long being in place within London, much less preparation for the raid would have needed than in the case of essentially unprepared Coventry.

26

Omega Centauri 01.10.14 at 2:28 am

Andrew at 17. And of course we have some decision makers who will carry on such an act in the hope there will be reprisals. We are used to seeing this with terrorist groups, who perpetrate an atrocity in order to provoke the opposition government into overreacting, thus turning the population against them. So the political/military/human calculus gets seriously obfuscated.

27

derrida derider 01.10.14 at 6:18 am

A good question is why the British were so keen to get Heydrich more than other Nazi satraps in the occupied countries, many of whom (eg Frank) were even more brutal. One theory I remember reading many years ago was that it was precisely because Heydrich was Himmler’s brain and MI6 feared he would unmask Canaris (who was of course one of Himmler’s bureaucratic enemies). Dunno how true that was – but then it’s not something that would be likely to have left much of a paper trail for the historians to prove or disprove.

28

Anderson 01.10.14 at 1:54 pm

27: haven’t heard that before, but quite plausible. I think also part of what made RH a target was that he was relatively lax about security; wasn’t Hitler furious after the attack when he heard just how lax? (Or am I just making that up? Ooh I’m postmodern!)

29

am80256 01.10.14 at 2:08 pm

@28 – yes, I remember reading a quote by Hitler, to the approximate effect of: “How could a man so valuable to the Reich be so criminally careless about his personal safety?”

30

Anderson 01.10.14 at 2:48 pm

Started reading HHhH last night btw … though my reading is going from desultory to risible. I read in parallel, not in series ….

31

Anderson 01.10.14 at 2:50 pm

… Okay, there wasn’t even a link in my response to 29, and I’m “awaiting moderation” again? I think all this moderation is getting, well, excessive.

32

Random Lurker 01.10.14 at 3:12 pm

@Omega Centauri 26
“We are used to seeing this with terrorist groups, who perpetrate an atrocity in order to provoke the opposition government into overreacting, thus turning the population against them. “

I always assumed that the logic of a terrorist group is:
1) My opponent is an estabilished state against wich I have no power;
2) But such states only exists because people under them let them exist, they do so because they assume the state is all powerful and cannot be defeated;
3) If I show that such state is just a “paper tiger”, the legitimation of such state will crumble, and with it the state itself.

Now the dynamic you describe really exists, but I don’t think that the terrorists plan for it.

Well, for what I can understand at least.

33

Omega Centauri 01.10.14 at 4:50 pm

random:
In many cases the ultra-nationalist (which is usually the terrorist), has decided that the cause transcends the value of their own lives. They would have no issue then with taking lives of the enemies of that cause. I don’t think its that much of a leap to extend that logic to include sacrificing some of those people they claim to be fighting for. Many times you see provoking a disproportionate response as a key motivator behind audacious attacks.

Some of the same logic will apply in situations like this assasination. Its not just to demonstrate the non futility of attacking the occupier. Its also about letting the occupier show his true colors to the occupied.

34

Ed Herdman 01.11.14 at 12:14 pm

Sometimes the extremist decides that the cause of an expedient solution outranks the observance of normal moral codes, as Robespierre explicitly acknowledged in calling for Louis XVI’s execution:

“I have demanded the abolition of the death penalty at your Constituent Assembly, and am not to blame if the first principles of reason appeared to you moral and political heresies. But if you will never reclaim these principles in favor of so much evil, the crimes of which belong less to you and more to the government, by what fatal error would you remember yourselves and plead for the greatest of criminals? You ask an exception to the death penalty for him alone who could legitimize it? Yes, the death penalty is in general a crime, unjustifiable by the indestructible principles of nature, except in cases protecting the safety of individuals or the society altogether. Ordinary misdemeanors have never threatened public safety because society may always protect itself by other means, making those culpable powerless to harm it. But for a king dethroned in the bosom of a revolution, which is as yet cemented only by laws; a king whose name attracts the scourge of war upon a troubled nation; neither prison, nor exile can render his existence inconsequential to public happiness; this cruel exception to the ordinary laws avowed by justice can be imputed only to the nature of his crimes. With regret I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation may live.”

35

Mao Cheng Ji 01.11.14 at 12:53 pm

“Many times you see provoking a disproportionate response as a key motivator behind audacious attacks.”

I don’t think it’s all that common, because it presumes the degree of political cunning on the part of the assassin/terrorist, that frankly doesn’t usually appear to be there. And in the same time it presumes the degree of political ineptitude on the part of the authority that usually isn’t there either. If the reprisals only cripple the authority, why would it be doing it?

I think the most common motivation has to be anger, righteous indignation, and damn the consequences. Not any cleaver political calculation.

36

Random Lurker 01.11.14 at 9:25 pm

@Mao and Omega:

well very often terrorist are/were socialists, anarchists and the such, and anyway I think the average terrorist is quite cultured, and rather media savy.

37

Mao Cheng Ji 01.11.14 at 9:54 pm

Yes, propaganda by the deed. But that’s in the past.

38

derrida derider 01.12.14 at 11:58 pm

Na, MCJ, “righteous anger” may be what motivates the terrorist organisation’s footsoldiers, but it is Politics 101 for their leaders to try and force an overreaction. That delegitimises the opponent, plus of course it creates even more righteous anger.

That, for example, is why the counterinsurgency textbooks emphasise intelligence-driven selective assassination (drones, anyone?) rather than Fallujah or Operation Cast Lead type mass reprisals – not on moral but on efficacy grounds. Or read your Mao Tse Tung, or have a good look at the Provisional IRA’s strategy (the latter ended up unsuccessful because the Brits were bsaically too wily to get sucked in that way, BTW).

In fact historically an overreaction by their real target is the way terrorists have succeeded in their political goals – absent that they have a dismal record of failure.

39

Andrew F. 01.13.14 at 12:21 am

Everyone is right. Some terrorist organizations inflict damage because they think their target will not be willing to sustain additional such damage and will act as desired (e.g. by withdrawing forces from a particular region or country); some because they think their target will react oppressively and harshly, in a way that deprives their target of support and legitimacy; others in the hope that the success of their attacks will demonstrate the weakness of the target, and encourage additional attacks.

The frequency with which each rationale occurs would be difficult to measure, and I suspect our quick intuitive takes here are largely governed by the availability heuristic. Against a committed and organized nation-state (commitment not necessarily being easy to estimate), though, I think almost any methodology would yield the result that terrorism is a fool’s errand.

40

Ronan(rf) 01.13.14 at 12:55 am

“Or read your Mao Tse Tung, or have a good look at the Provisional IRA’s strategy (the latter ended up unsuccessful because the Brits were bsaically too wily to get sucked in that way, BTW).”

I dont think the IRA’s stategy (certainly not after the initial stage of the Troubles) was to inflict mass casualities on the British or to poke them into an overreaction. Wasn’t the ‘strategy’ both sides (implicitly?) agreed upon to fight a limited, tit for tat war until the conflict could be resolved politically? (but I might be wrong on that)
I’m also sceptical of how wily the British were, certainly no more so than the Republican leadership. Let’s not forget these were originally just working class kids negotiating with the cream of the British political class – and were more than capable of holding their own.
Which isn’t to say anything about it morally( I agree the Provisionals war was immoral and unjustified) but there’s no point papering over the fact that the IRA were *extraordinarily* well run.

41

Omega Centauri 01.13.14 at 4:17 am

The IRA didn’t have to worry about the Brits creating mass-casualty type reprisals, but they did take advantage of the detention law (or whatever it was called), whereby suspects would be arrested and put in indefinite detention on no more than anonymous tips. They would phone in the name of some upstanding citizen who everyone but the Brits knew was innocent, and the Brits would look like complete fools for detaining him. That is a lot more subtle than provoking mass executions -and probably easier to live with, but it is the same strategy only at smaller scale/intensity.

In any case terrorism is just asymmetric warfare, and as we see with the original topic the allies conducted assymmetric attacks as well as symmetric (conventional attacks). Similar logic would apply here (although the planners of this assassination clearly didn’t anticipate the scale of the retribution).

42

Mao Cheng Ji 01.13.14 at 7:35 am

derrida derider 38, fair enough: where there is a well-established political organization, there must be a political calculation. But still, I feel that nowadays the extent of political control is often exaggerated. Specifically, I read a long piece last week on the Chechen ‘black widows’, where all is blamed on evil wahhabists, while some of the life stories, experiences of those women (that, according to the piece, merely rendered them vulnerable to evil wahhabist mind control) made me doubt that any any additional evil was really all that necessary.

43

Mao Cheng Ji 01.13.14 at 8:12 am

oops, in moderation. In short, I agree that yes, where a political organization is firmly in control, there must be political calculations.

44

Nine 01.14.14 at 6:33 pm

“To really like this book, as I did, you must accept, if not enjoy, Binet’s insertion of himself as character.”

I liked the book well enough without seeing much point to this device. Binet as character does not do or say anything very interesting unlike other authors e.g. Mailer or Houellebecq or Martin Amis who have done similar things. In-book “Binet” mostly talks design decisions & could just as well have been a different meta-character. I read it as suggesting that Binet couldn’t work the Heydrich story as standalone thriller or history.

45

EWI 01.14.14 at 8:53 pm

The IRA didn’t have to worry about the Brits creating mass-casualty type reprisals, but they did take advantage of the detention law (or whatever it was called), whereby suspects would be arrested and put in indefinite detention on no more than anonymous tips. They would phone in the name of some upstanding citizen who everyone but the Brits knew was innocent, and the Brits would look like complete fools for detaining him.

A curious story. The more usual explanation heard for the British Army’s seemingly indiscriminate Internment policy was that the ‘enemies list’ was drawn up by the Unionists of Stormont, who had rather expansive views on the criteria for Catholics and Nationalists being sent to prison camps without trial…

46

EWI 01.14.14 at 10:13 pm

@ ronan(rf)

I dont think the IRA’s stategy (certainly not after the initial stage of the Troubles) was to inflict mass casualities on the British or to poke them into an overreaction. Wasn’t the ‘strategy’ both sides (implicitly?) agreed upon to fight a limited, tit for tat war until the conflict could be resolved politically? (but I might be wrong on that)

The tit-for-tat certainly existed. Not least through the ‘pseudo-gangs’ that were a hallmark of the British retreat from Empire, and existed in NI as in other theatres that the British Army found itself fighting a counterinsurgency war in.

@ Omega Centauri

Andrew at 17. And of course we have some decision makers who will carry on such an act in the hope there will be reprisals. We are used to seeing this with terrorist groups, who perpetrate an atrocity in order to provoke the opposition government into overreacting, thus turning the population against them. So the political/military/human calculus gets seriously obfuscated.

So atrocities by governments are whitewashed away as regrettable mistakes, then, and just appear as if by virgin birth with no history of repression or abuse behind them? How convenient.

47

Ronan(rf) 01.15.14 at 3:05 pm

Have you read Charles Townshends new book, The Republic, EWI? I’m reading it at the minute, its pretty good though probably nothing new to the specialist.
Marc Mullholland had a good review of it here:

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1516

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EWI 01.15.14 at 7:50 pm

@Ronan(rf)

Thanks for that, it looks interesting. Townshend looks to be the first out of the traps to take advantage of the pension records (we’ll see how much stock he puts in Hart, who preferred a ouiji board).

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