Sunday, March 8, 2009

Apocalyptic Laboratories

I read The New York Times online, but only rarely do I find any images I might use in poems. Today, I can't stop thinking about this tidbit from an article by Frederic Morton about the Bankruptcy Ball in Vienna in 1913:

"At the same time, Vienna was incubating in its own streets some of the century’s prime virtuosos of violence. One of them was active close to the imperial palace, Schloss Schönbrunn, where the emperor had received his heir. An elegant building on Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse housed young Josef Stalin, dispatched by Lenin to explore the empire’s explosive nationalities situation. It was during Stalin’s weeks in Vienna that he initiated his lethal feud with young Leon Trotsky, who, a few streetcar stops away, was publishing the original Pravda. All this while on the other side of town young Adolf Hitler was seething obscurely, painting postcards for a living.

What those three did the day after the Bankruptcy Ball history does not record. We do know that the Austrian Parliament voted against appropriating money for the housing bill. We also know that the emperor turned down the archduke’s plea for negotiation rather than confrontation with Serbia. Franz Ferdinand walked out of the palace defeated — to die 16 months later of a Serb nationalist’s bullet, igniting World War I.

His killer, Gavrilo Princip, was not a Muslim, but his buddies in his guerrilla band called him “hadzija,” after the Muslim pilgrims who make the hajj to Mecca. Why? Because the penniless zealot had walked from Sarajevo to Belgrade to receive the military training that would help him discharge his pistol at the archduke.

“Austria,” said Karl Kraus, who was Habsburg Austria’s H. L. Mencken, “is the laboratory for the apocalypse.” What would he say about America today?"

There's lots in this Sunday's Opinion page for your inner Apocalypse Girl/Guy to enjoy. For example, Thomas Friedman muses about what he's calling the Great Disruption, when both our natural world and our economic world are saying, "We can't go on like this" (to use the words of Samuel Beckett, in Waiting for Godot). Go here for the whole article.

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