The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Watchword of the Kerry foreign policy (I wish...)

Not for the want of trying, Deutschtum in the original is a closed book to me [1].

Of which state of affairs I am not proud, since much good stuff was brought into the world in the German language.

Now, the language is, thanks to AH and ten thousand newsreels and war films, indelibly associated amongst erstwhile adversary nations with rapacious aggression and conquest. (Not so much amongst the young, I suspect.)

But words that ought, in a saner world, to govern the attitude to the use of military force come from a name identified as a forerunner in aggression to the Fürher - Count Otto von Bismarck.

After a couple of decades of Blut und Eisen, Bismarck was still able to pick his fights. In 1876, in the context of the disintegration of European Turkey [2] he famously vouchsafed that the Balkans were not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier [3].

The quote in German is apparently this:
Der ganze Balkan mit seinen Querelen ist mir nicht die heilen Knochen eines einzigen pommerschen Grenadiers wert!

An explication of the quotation in the context of 1876 would be interesting (I'm certainly not in the way of being able to supply it). But the quotation has transcendent value in standing for a policy of non-intervention (by military means) in conflicts where the national interests of the non-intervenor nation are not involved.

In today's sentimentalised, televised days of Oprah-ised, Diana-ised mass emotion, with politicians apologising for every damned thing (as long as it happened well before they took office!), it's hard to see any Western pol using the P-phrase. They know their constituents pride themselves on being caring, pan-galactically, and, whilst they may eventually decide - to take a current case - that it is just too difficult militarily to help the inhabitants of Darfur, the spinners will enforce on their masters a hang-dog shamefacedness as they announce the policy.

But the druther is there: Kerry takes Yankee Stadium to proclaim that, whilst the United States should always be a beacon to mankind, that doesn't mean it should go round with a Zippo lighter to every hut.

  1. My theory is that it's more efficient to choose, linguistically speaking, to be on the Germanic or on the Romance side. French leads to Italian and Spanish (and thence - I haven't gone there - to Portuguese) as a natural progression. But, once in the Romance groove, German comes as a hideous jar. Not only the accidence - all those oblique cases - but the entirely gratuitous separable verbs and much else besides.

  2. Turkey was then a (partly) European country - which it is no longer. The fact we're reliant on the French and Germans to recognise the fact, and keep Turkey out of the EU, is no comfort. Something I'm afraid we'll have to return to in short order.

  3. One's talking Congress of Berlin, bashi-bazouks and all that jazz. Try here and here to start.

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