Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


How the Germans saved Western civilization

On Monday, I took an old friend to lunch. He’s an old friend secondly because we’ve been friends for 11 years, and firstly because he was born in 1928. I told him I’d take him anywhere he liked for lunch, and unfortunately it turns out he likes Bob’s Big Boy.

I liked Bob’s Big Boy when I was 10, because the Big Boy had his own line of comics — “Adventures of the Big Boy” — and while they were lame, hey, at least they were comic books. Whenever our family would drive from our home in southern New Jersey the six or so hours to my mother’s birthplace of Johnstown, PA for a visit, I’d scream to stop at either the Bob’s Big Boy along the way so I could get one of those comics, or the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant (aka “HoJo’s”) because it had the most bizarre vending machine, where you could get miniature flashlights, and pocket knives, and rabbit’s feet, and other sorts of novelties and useless gadgets manufactured precisely to delight 8-year-old boys. Although five Bob’s Big Boy locations remain in Southern California, and several dozen in the midwest, they’re all gone now from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and there is only one HoJo’s left anywhere in the universe, in snowy upstate New York.

It had been about 10 years since I’d eaten at the Bob’s Big Boy that my friend had selected, not since the time I had lunch there with Robert Patrick, who played the evil Terminator in “Terminator 2.” I don’t know what Bob had — I couldn’t quite see over to his table near me — but what I had that time would have been turned down by a vulture. Still, I was game to see my friend because I like him, because he’s my friend, and because, well, tempus fugit (remember, born in 1928). I had a hankering for fried chicken, so when we sat down, sandwiched in as we were in a booth sideways along the backsides of a row of middle-aged people in a large booth enduring the offspring of their offspring, that’s what I ordered.

My friend was eager to tell me all about a few different books he’d recently read, all revolving around the premise that it was the Irish who had won the American Revolution, the Irish who had enabled all of our advances, and the Irish who had saved Western civilization. (I should note that, shockingly, he is of Irish descent.) Not having been aware that anyone had saved Western civilization — I’ve actually been rather worried about it, especially the past eight months — I leaned in to hear more. I also leaned in to hear more because, while my hearing is pretty good, the Big Boy’s acoustics are pretty bad, especially against the din of many diners. My chicken arrived, extra salty and deeply coated in impregnable roofing shingles, and as I struggled to eat any of it or the gluey mashed potatoes snuggling against it, I started to listen.

It turned out that the Irish had won the American Revolution because they stayed in the field at Valley Forge while others went home; that they had saved Western civilization because they made a secret deal with Rome to save all the best knowledge; and that they were connected to every essential advance because, I think, there was always some Irish guy around at the right time. That seemed to be the gist of it.

He offered to lend me one of the corroborating books that prove all of this beyond any doubt, but I begged off. “I have 78 books in my reading queue,” I said, which is true. By the time I would get to reading his book, we’d need some Irish to save us from the war with our own Martian colony.

“I haven’t read these books–” I started.

“I’ll lend them to you!” he offered again.

“–But these sound like they selected their facts. You know:  You decide the story you want to tell, then you choose the facts that fit and build your interpretation around them.”

To support my point, I said I was going to write a book entitled “How the Germans Saved Western Civilization.”

“It’s simple,” I said. “They set such a terrible example in the 20th century, what with those two world wars and all that genocide, that suddenly people had to set up systems to protect us from them! After World War II, it became clear that we needed a United Nations, and the Geneva Convention of 1949, and the Germans needed to learn the lesson of their history and teach it to future generations. Now, in our apparent absence, they seem to be the keepers of the flame of Western democracy. Thank God for the Germans!”

(Perhaps I should note that I am of German descent.)

After lunch, I dropped my friend off to the dentist. He is able-bodied, but was in for a painful procedure. Looking on the bright side, I told him he was lucky he still had his teeth. (We’ll see how well I do, 35 years from now.)

Tonight, while at the gym, I was reminded of our lunchtime discussion of the previous day. While I was working out, Republican President Donald Trump — and that’s what I’m going to keep calling him, to make a point and to keep making it — Republican President Donald Trump came on the television with remarks from his campaign rally in Phoenix. I had gone to the gym to lose weight, and wound up losing my mind instead, suffering through this insufferable speech against the backdrop of 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer set to level 10. Trump went on and on about how the “fake news media” had inaccurately reported his comments about Charlottesville, VA — but then carefully elided the words that got him into deservedly deep water:  “on both sides.” He kept reading, and rereading, the sections where he condemned the actions of people in the event, but never once read three words:  “on both sides,” as in condemning the violence “on both sides” and blaming people “on many sides.” He seemed to find all the words surrounding those words — all the others that sounded better — but left out the precise ones that everyone else, particularly Klan leader David Duke, heard and seized on. To support his latest version of the argument, he had selected only the words he wanted.

Ah, I thought, I recognize this sort of argument. It’s a sort of fake news of itself — the selective use of facts, leading to selective interpretation. Kind of like how the Germans saved Western civilization.


3 Responses to “How the Germans saved Western civilization”

  1. Dan Says:

    Well he’s afraid to repeat those words.

  2. Joe Stafford Says:

    Well I cannot summon a glib Facebook response here. It’s very heady stuff. I will reread this. I promise. I do think that Republican President Donald Trump has not yet dog paddled (whistled?) out into the critical mass building up for him and us. (US). When he does, the recoil will be spectacular.

  3. Uncle Rich Says:

    One commentator I listened to mentioned that in the Arizona speech, Trump bought up the point about saving our culture from those who would destroy it. Has anyone seen a description of exactly what version of ‘our’ culture we’re trying to protect? Maybe they’ve already given one and I just missed it. My best guest is that it’s the familiar ‘values upon which this nation was founded’, which are in imminent danger.

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