The Magazine

The Grass File

SS veteran, Nobel laureate, America hater.

Sep 17, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 01 • By JEFFREY GEDMIN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

During the Cold War, Grass could scarcely control his rage about America. United States foreign policy, he once insisted, was aimed at "destroying us all." There was simply no difference for Grass between the Soviets in Afghanistan and the United States in Central America. As a personal guest of the Sandinistas' secret police chief in Nicaragua, Grass once declared that he was "ashamed that his country was an ally of the United States." The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa chastised the German writer for his views on the region: Why should a "one-party state" be the ideal for Latin America, asked Vargas Llosa. Grass, the tireless opponent of U.S. interventionism and imperialism, had made no secret of his fondness for spreading the Cuban model.

In 1989-90, Grass opposed German unification. He showed contempt for East Germans when they rejected at the polls their chance to form a "true socialist state." He had once denounced freedom-loving Poles as similarly misguided.

I wish I could read Peeling the Onion while separating all this out. But why should I? Grass is a hectoring and sanctimonious anti-American, with dubious commitment to liberal democracy. If he had had his way, the Nazism and totalitarianism of the right, which he so deplored, might well have been replaced by various forms of left totalitarianism. He once said that poverty in New York was akin to human rights abuses in the Soviet Union.

I figure that, if you cannot have the slightest emotional or intellectual connection to the author you are reading, why bother? That is, unless the book is assigned to you for review. Which, for the huge majority of you readers, it isn't.

Jeffrey Gedmin is president of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty.