Friday, August 2, 2019

Fur Volk und Fuhrer: The Memoir of a Veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler by Erwin Bartmann

There are a few different ways one can approach "Fur Volk und Fuhrer."  Memoirs are usually self-serving and self-censored.  Moreover, when written decades after the events in question, memories can change or be altered by encounters with others and by the influence of literature/media and contemporary events.  Thus readers should take what's written on these pages with a grain of salt.  However, having read dozens if not hundreds of memoirs on the Second World War, especially the Eastern Front, there's much here that I found fascinating, including Bartmann's interactions with locals (French, Soviet, and German), the animosity that existed between the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, as well as some of his descriptions of combat operations.  However, there are also episodes that I would question in terms of authenticity.

Having said the above, Erwin Bartmann's memoirs read more like a number of separate and loosely connected vignettes of his time in the 1st Panzer SS Division Leibstandarte.  He discusses his childhood in Berlin, the street brawls he witnessed between Communists and Nazi Brown Shirts, and Hitler's eventual seizure of power.  After volunteering to serve in Hitler's Bodyguard unit, he is initially denied the chance and then receives an opportunity thanks to the timely intervention of Heinrich Himmler.  After undergoing training he is deployed to the Eastern Front where he experiences most of his time in combat.  The descriptions of combat against the Red Army resemble many other available German Army memoirs.  The Red Army is viewed as a faceless mass full of soldiers who torture and mutilate any German (including the wounded) they can get their hands on, while the author and his comrades fight a clean war as they attempt to save Europe from the Bolshevik hordes.  After an initial stint on the Eastern Front Bartmann's division is relocated to France for rest and eventually find themselves once more on the Eastern Front, first fighting in Kharkov after the encirclement of the Sixth Army in Stalingrad, and then at Kursk, where the author is wounded fighting around Prokhorovka.  That wound pretty much puts him out of action for the duration of the war as he attempts to heal and then is put in charge of training machine gunners.  By April 1945, Bartmann finds himself stationed close to Berlin and undertakes a meandering trip to escape the advancing Red Army with some of the recruits he's been training.  He eventually finds his way over the Elbe and is caught by Western Allied forces. 

In general, this is an author who looks back on the Second World War as a nostalgic time that he spent having sex with numerous women (which he discusses on multiple occasions) and forging close bonds of comradeship while fighting in the ranks of what eventually became the 1st SS Panzer Division, an elite unit with a rich history of battles throughout the Second World War.  He readily believed in Hitler's cause and by the end of the book admits that if given a second chance at life he would not change any of his actions.  While he acknowledges the genocidal regime that was Nazi Germany, to then admit that he would once more fight for a nation that started a World War and went on to kill millions of men, women, and children sounds like someone who has yet to learn from history or his own actions. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The First Soldier: Hitler as Military Leader by Stephen G. Fritz

Germany's initial victories, both diplomatic and military, during the late 1930s and early 1940s have given rise to a few myths about how they were accomplished.  Hitler is usually given credit for his ability to persuade and cajole Western leaders into stepping back from promises made in the immediate aftermath of the First World War as Germany's borders once more expanded to the detriment of her neighbors.  However, when it comes to discussions about military achievements, it's usually the commanding generals and Field Marshals that receive the laurels of victory while Hitler suffers in the corner as the lowly corporal who couldn't keep his mouth shut and listen to his generals when they told him exactly what he should do.  

In 'The First Soldier," Stephen G. Fritz revisits the many key decisions made by both Hitler and his commanders and attempts to contextualize how much influence each had on the other and on the final decision-making process that was visible on the ground.  For Fritz, Hitler's victories have to be accepted alongside his failures.  That is, Hitler's numerous diplomatic triumphs that many of his commanders often opposed were accomplished in spite of his generals.  The decision to invade Poland and France was also made in the face of many nay-sayers and it was in many respects Hitler who pushed Manstein's plan for the invasion of France to the forefront, which ended in utter humiliation for the French and a victory no German general, or Hitler himself, could have predicted.  The victory over France reinforced and reenergized Germany's commanders so that by the time Hitler wanted plans for an invasion of the Soviet Union there were no longer voices of disagreement to be heard.  The final major accomplishment Fritz sees fit to assign to Hitler is the decision to issue the "stand fast" order of the winter of 1941/1942, which many German commanders themselves agreed was the correct choice of action.

Fritz shows that for the majority of the war Hitler leaned on and listened to his generals or was able to convince them of his ideas.  In truth, both played off each other and used each other to accomplish their respective goals.  To what extent were German victories a reflection of Hitler's genius is a question that's still too difficult to answer.  The decision to invade Poland was based on the idea that at worst this would be a localized conflict with a partner in the form of the Soviet Union.  That plan quickly came undone and the Western Allies declared war on Germany, which Hitler was not expecting or prepared for.  France's quick defeat/surrender was as much a surprise to Hitler as it was to the Allies.  The outcome was a combination of numerous factors, part of which was the decision to employ Manstein's plan - another example of Hitler and his commanders working together.  The invasion of the Soviet Union, however, saw both Hitler and Halder interfere in numerous decisions that eventually resulted in defeat.  But, as Fritz correctly points out, the invasion was doomed to failure from the very beginning because of flawed planning and intelligence.  The decisions that followed the invasion of the Soviet Union only compounded the many inherent flaws of Operation Barbarossa.  There was no way to achieve victory militarily, only politically, but any attempt to reach out to Stalin or the Western Allies to ask for peace was out of the question for Hitler.  

As the war progressed Hitler's generals often worried about the obstacles before them and gave little thought to the greater geo-political landscape Hitler inhabited.  Fritz argues convincingly that many of Hitler's decisions, up until the last days of the war, were made with political, diplomatic, military, and economic ideas in mind, whereas his generals had only need of more men, tanks, planes, and supplies to finish off the enemy standing before them.  Both Hitler and his generals failed to take into account how the war they had unleashed on Europe and the world would play out strategically.  Compounding their flaws on top of each other, Hitler and his commanders found themselves in a situation that few thought manageable toward victory as early as 1941.  By contextualizing Hitler's decision making process, Fritz has shown first and foremost the flaws of the German commanders that surrounded Hitler.  It wasn't that Hitler was unable to wage war successfully, it was that German commanders have left a legacy of memoirs that claimed that only they could.  Their postwar accounts portrayed Hitler as a temperamental dilettante who refused to listen to reason, whereas in reality their flawed ideas revolving around military strategy, combined with Hitler's racist worldview, meant the Second World War was lost before it began.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Panzers on the Vistula: Retreat and Rout in East Prussia 1945 by Hans Schaufler

Hans Schaufler's "Panzers on the Vistula" offers readers a look at some of the retreats the 4th Panzer Division participated in during the final few months of the Second World War on the northern section of the Eastern Front – mainly through Latvia and East Prussia.  Readers can experience the chaos of this final period of the war as German losses kept mounting as a result of repeated Soviet offensive operations and German counterattacks that aimed to restore some coherence to the front but all too often proved pointless.  Schaufler’s account hits many of the usual Cold War clich├ęs about the Second World War, Eastern Front, Soviet Union, and Red Army that one would one expect from a former soldier who took part in the fighting on the Eastern Front and was regularly exposed to German propaganda.  Interestingly, at the same time that the author is calling out German reports as presenting a “totally false analysis” about the fighting situation on the Eastern Front, he himself offers a skewed look at the struggle against the Red Army. 

Schaufler presents the German situation in January of 1945 as disastrous and doomed while claiming the only reason for the Wehrmacht to keep fighting “was to save the innocent victims of this senseless war from the vengeance of the Red Army…”  Apparently, he’s forgotten that Germany began this “senseless war.”  Even though the author realizes that German defensive actions are merely prolonging the inevitable, “even the dumbest long knew the war was long,” and himself question what the correct course of action is, he nonetheless claims that the civilian population, fearing the Red Army, “all sought protection from the German troops.”  This idea of German troops continuing to put up resistance to help civilians flee from the Red Army to the west – along with the idea that to surrender would be perceived as cowardly by their comrades – is a constant theme that’s repeated by the author and others from whose reminiscences and articles he quotes throughout the book.  In some respects, it isn’t surprising that soldiers came up with reasons to convince themselves that they needed to keep fighting rather than simply surrender to the Red Army.  The excuse that they needed to buy time for civilians fleeing the Red Army presented their ultimate actions as those of soldiers protecting future victims rather than the last defenders of a regime that began a Second World War and a genocidal campaign against the Soviet Union. 

Similarly, Soviet forces are represented by a “vast superiority in numbers,” another relic of Cold War rhetoric and German propaganda.  At this late point in the war German casualties are telling.  One of the strengths of this book are the rare times when the author shares the desperate situation German forces found themselves in as when a battalion’s combat strength was reduced to a mere twelve men and they were responsible for a twelve-kilometer sector of the front, an impossible assignment.  Another interesting incident is recounted when a self-propelled gunner discusses how Red Army troops created two fake anti-tank gun positions in order to lure him into firing and give away his position.  In the midst of the author’s descriptions of Soviet propaganda urging Red Army soldiers to “Kill the Germans!” the author admits that Soviet fighting troops deserved “credit” as “the overwhelming majority of them were humane.”  But there is, unfortunately, no explanation of what specific behavior constituted “humane” or “inhumane,” although the latter is easier to imagine.  The final chapters of the book deal with the different fates German survivors experienced in various prisoner of war camps, including those who were interned in Sweden and eventually handed over to the Soviets.  Overall, this text offers a thought-provoking look at the final months of the war but readers should be aware of the author’s biases and try to put his words and actions, along with those he quotes, into the greater context of the Second World War and the overall experiences of its participants. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa: Soviet versus German Armour on the Eastern Front by Boris Kavalerchik

It's not easy to write an original monograph on the Red Army and Wehrmacht's tanks during Operation Barbarossa.  This is a topic that many historians, scholars, and researchers touch on when discussing the Eastern Front but rarely do they go into detail.  Specialist texts that look at the history of tank creation/production leave much to be desired and general WWII readers can easily become bogged down in the details.  With "The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa" Boris Kavalerchik is able to give readers a little of everything: a look at the conditions that allowed for the creation of tank industries in Germany and the Soviet Union, two countries that very much lagged behind Britain and France or were forced in the wake of the First World War to cease production of armored vehicles in general; a rundown of the various models produced, including their strengths and weaknesses; and a look at how they fit into the greater strategy and tactics utilized by the Red Army and Wehrmacht during the Second World War.  The majority of the text deals with tank design and production as well as the human element that operated these tanks.  The final chapters look at the weaknesses and strengths of the most numerous of the latest tank models (Pz III and IV and the T-34 and KV I and II tanks).  How they performed on the field of battle is analyzed through the experiences of a Soviet tank division and a German tank division in a meeting engagement in and around Raseiniai.  This is not a text I would recommend for those unfamiliar with the Second World War or the Eastern Front.  For those with a general interest and a fair amount of knowledge, this is a great addition to your library if you want to better understand how and why the Wehrmacht was successful in its encounters with large numbers of Red Army tanks throughout the summer of 1941.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Shadow Emperor: A Biography of Napoleon III by Alan Strauss-Schom

"The Shadow Emperor" by Alan Strauss-Schom aims to offer a readable historical account of the life and times of Napoleon III, one of Napoleon Bonaparte's nephews.  From his early life and childhood, including his relationship with his mother, father, extended family and brother, to his early ideas and failed attempts to take power in France and his eventual assumption of power after the 1848 revolutions.  Finding himself in the role of ruler of France, Napoleon III initially surrounded himself with a few trustworthy and reliable personalities who helped him see through numerous reforms, wars, and institutional challenges that modernized and revitalized France among Europe's major powers.

While Napoleon's time in power is best remembered for the numerous campaigns and coalitions that allied to defeat and depose the tyrant of Europe, Napoleon III spent most of his time and energy looking inward.  He helped usher in the design and restructuring of Paris, with the help of Baron Haussmann, he supported the sciences and research, the arts and agricultural initiatives that helped France's wheat, corn, and wine production.  Napoleon III was regularly consumed by thoughts about the common French man and woman, something his uncle seemingly spent little time on.  Unfortunately, Napoleon III's rule was not always peaceful and prosperous.  His attempts at colonial conquest in Algeria made sure that thousands of French soldiers suffered death and injury on a monthly basis while the local population died in massive numbers.  His help in waging war against the Russian Empire during the Crimean War made sure Russia's attitude toward France was antagonistic, at best, and his sponsoring of a campaign against Mexico made for an enemy out of Austria when the emperor's brother perished overseas.  Additionally, his support for Italy's attempts at unification against Austrian occupation was viewed poorly by many European powers.  Finally, his ill-advised antagonizing of Prussia on the eve of the Franco-Prussian war sealed the fate of his reign as the head of the Second Empire.  Napoleon III's achievements in modernizing the country seemingly came at the expense of the army, which after numerous overseas campaigns was not ready to challenge a modern European army like that of Prussia.  Schom does an excellent job of analyzing and describing the numerous deficiencies that plagued the French army as they attempted to engage in battle with a Prussian army that recently defeated two European powers (Denmark and Austria).

Schom does an admirable job of portraying Napoleon III and the men and women who found themselves a part of his life.  As a biography, this is an excellent account of Napoleon III and his major contributions to France during his time in power.  The only major weakness that I found was at times a lack of needed context to figure out why Napoleon III initially failed to gain power in France yet nonetheless eventually succeeded.  How the revolutions of 1848 facilitated his eventual rise to power remains a mystery, including their impact on French society.  Otherwise, I found this volume quite enlightening, especially for a period and ruler who are often overlooked.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures behind the Holocaust by Bullets by Father Patrick Desbois

Father Patrick Desbois is partly responsible for our understanding of "The Holocaust by Bullets," the mass murder of millions of Jews throughout Eastern Europe that is often overshadowed by the assembly line mass murder of Jews and other "undesirables" in German death camps.  In his first publication on the subject, Desbois took an original approach to the topic by aiming to interview adolescent bystanders who could still recall how and where the local Jewish population was murdered by the invading Germans and their collaborators.  

"In Broad Daylight" takes that initial research a step further as Desbois and his team have continued to gather information through interviews and presents the minutia that has often been overlooked or simply never considered by researchers or academics. We have many accounts from German concentration and death camps by survivors and perpetrators, but Jews murdered by the millions in mass graves no longer have a voice.  Those who were lucky enough to survive can only offer accounts from their limited perspective, but Desbois is interested in the minute details that were needed for mass murder to become an almost acceptable everyday phenomenon.  

He looks at a typical mass murder site starting from the night before, when locals were conscripted to help transport Jews to their final destination and when German forces and their collaborators would begin arriving inevitably leading to a night that finally saw the last vestiges of human decency disappear as Jews were beaten and raped before their eventual executions in the early morning hours.  Aside from speaking to those who only witnessed German aktions Desbois's team also initiates discussions and interviews with those who participated in cooking the food the Germans ate while on break from executing Jews, those who dug the mass graves, and numerous others who one day lived with their Jewish friends and neighbors and the next found themselves drawn to either watching their death, including hearing their cries and screams, or in some way participating in the German aktion itself.  

This is a haunting and deeply disturbing text.  For many, simply reading a list of sites where German mass murders took place throughout Eastern Europe leaves them unable to grasp what those on the ground witnessed and experienced as their everyday lives were torn apart by an invading army and a genocidal occupation policy.  Therefore, this is a volume best read slowly and methodically so that readers can contemplate what humanity is capable of all too easily when presented with a specific set of circumstances as those with a superiority complex decide human life is cheap and disposable.  This is a study that offers an important contribution to our understanding of how the Holocaust by bullets unfolded and presents in a new light the vital role played by the local population in the mass murder of East European Jewry.    

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder

Continuing revelations about Russian interference in American and European elections have become routine, almost banal.  Timothy Snyder, a historian who achieved some popularity after his previous publications (Bloodlands and Black Earth), leaves history (although not altogether) with this latest volume and enters our current political discourse.  Historians are usually wary of entering into debates about current events.  However, when our present administration regularly attempts to rewrite and adjust history to fit its needs, historians should and ought to help penetrate the fog of baseless opinions that has begun to consume and displace civil discourse and the foundations of civil society.
“The Road to Unfreedom” serves as an important starting point for readers who want a more comprehensive understanding of the political intersection between Russia, Europe, and the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As this text focuses on recent events, the diligence historians usually bring to subjects they are investigating is not always present.  News and media publications – making up a large portion of the source material – make mistakes.  Archival access is limited or nonexistent for recent government actions and operations, and Snyder himself admits that he is still processing the underlining ideas and theories he posits for readers.  Although Snyder received mixed reviews, from historians, for his last two major publications, he is nonetheless an excellent researcher and writer.  Thus, while not the final word on the numerous topics he covers, this is a volume that readers who want a better understanding of what has been happening for the past few years in the US and the past few decades in Russia need to read carefully.

The volume’s theoretical foundations rely on Snyder’s discussion and concentration on the writings of Ivan Ilyin, a little known personality until Putin’s rise to power.  Ilyin, a philosopher and Slavophile who lived through the First and Second World War, struggled to determine Russia’s place in the world and to explain the Russian Revolution.  He sought a middle ground, or a third option, between totalitarian dictatorships and democracy.  Nikita Mikhalkov helped introduce Ilyin to Putin, who in turn incorporated Ilyin’s thoughts into his own ideas about Russia’s place in the world while shaping his administration.  This leads to Snyder’s ideas about the two types of politics that we now live under: the politics of inevitability and eternity.  For Snyder, the politics of inevitability apply primarily to the United States in the shadow of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  The idea is that democratic and capitalist progress is inevitable, no matter what you do, the course is still there and will invariably be followed because others will pick up the slack or help steer the ship of state in the predetermined direction of democratic progress.  The politics of inevitability relies on the peaceful process of succession and transition of power.  If a president or prime minister performs poorly, citizens know that eventually they can vote out an existing administration and a new one can take its place to right previous wrongs.  The politics of eternity, however, are what Snyder classifies Russia’s current administration as, a state kept in eternal crisis with the outside world.  Most recent examples include the frozen conflicts in Transnistria, Georgia, and now Ukraine (regularly characterized as “fascist” to tie into Russian memories of the Second World War), and the “cultural conflict” against homosexuality that Putin’s administration consistently emphasizes when it comes to Europe and the United States. 

Although these two categories offer a Manichean view of the current state of politics, they are still useful for understanding what is at stake and they help explain, at least in part, Russian actions both at home and abroad.  Putin and Russia have evolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, this is one of Snyder’s weaknesses in that he hardly discusses the numerous decisions made by the United States in the 1990s that negatively affected Russians and their views of America, NATO, and the European Union.  Snyder offers little to no analysis of Russia’s attitude toward NATO, how Putin perceived the decision to include the Baltics and other East European states into NATO, or how Russians propagandized the decision to become a regular talking point against the US.  Nor is there any mention of the numerous economic crises suffered by Russians throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including how they altered Russian perceptions of capitalism and democracy, including their representative institutions.   This also raises a more inherent weakness of the entire volume in that Snyder constantly emphasizes Russian agency to the detriment of Europe and the US, who are portrayed more often than not reacting to Russian actions – in effect giving too much credit to Russia and exaggerating her strengths and weaknesses.  This is a strategy Putin himself utilizes on a regular basis as he simultaneously portrays Russia as a power that still matters – both in the near abroad and in world affairs – but one that hardly has the power to influence an election in the US. 
As Snyder explains, living in a country that relies on the politics of eternity means consistently manufacturing crises, including what happened a decade ago with the Russian invasion of Georgia.  Although Russia was not the direct instigator of the conflict, it created another opportunity to portray Russia as under attack from both forces on the border and those “sponsoring” Georgia, inevitably the West.  Ukraine became another victim of opportunity after the Sochi Olympics.  Putin did not necessarily plan to annex Crimea or begin a frozen conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  However, he used the opportunity to employ WWII era rhetoric, initially insisting on the need to protect Russian citizens in the “near abroad” (those located in Ukrainian territory) while portraying the post-Yanukovych government as fascist – thus an enemy of Russia and Russian citizens in general.  Russian actions in Ukraine laid bare the extremes of Russian propaganda at home and abroad, and this is the topic that Snyder does so much to bring to the forefront and analyze for the benefit of his readers.  Moreover, here is where we can begin to trace Russian interference in our 2016 election.

Following Ilyin’s philosophy, Snyder describes how Putin’s administration portrays Russia as an innocent victim vulnerable to the fascist tendencies of those surrounding her, who themselves were regularly victims of western conspiracies.  Thus perceived notions of western interference in the color revolutions and in Russian protests against Putin at home provided ready fodder for Russian propaganda outlets.  Moreover, this resulted in Putin’s hatred of Hillary Clinton (who was Secretary of State in 2012, when some of the largest demonstrations took place in Russia).  Originally, propaganda meant emphasizing the perceived good of an idea or event and an omission of anything that might look bad (in the US we call this PR).  Today’s propaganda coming out of Russia is quite post-modern in its disregard for a single “truth” and use of “whataboutism” to divert attention from indefensible positions.  The truth or facts do not matter for Russian propaganda.  Be it with respect to Russian forces showing up in Crimea, or the shooting down of MH17, Russian sources began producing numerous narratives for why “little green men” were suddenly showing up in Crimea or, in the case of MH17, who or what was responsible for bringing down the plane.  No matter the evidence, media outlets presented new versions, new sources, and new theories in order to muddle the conversation and steer it away from the truth.  The result was an inevitable degradation of informed discourse and the idea that one conspiracy theory is just as good as another or is just as good as the truth and only your emotional needs at any given point in time will decide what you choose to believe.  Snyder fears that feelings will displace logical explanations, theories that reinforce pre-existing beliefs will replace factual evidence with the result that intellectual discourse will breakdown and help usher in an “unfree” state that relies on the politics of eternity rather than inevitability.  Truth ceases to matter in a fractured society that moves from one manufactured crisis to another, kept in eternal fear of the other.  This, in essence, is what we have recently witnessed occur throughout America.  For Putin, turning the US into another version of Russia is part of the endgame.  Showing that US “democracy” at its core is no more factual, truthful, or representative of its citizens than Russia’s current government, means America carries no greater credibility on the world stage than its Russian counterpart does.  Today, there is no doubt that our current administration had regular contact with Russians – before, during, and after the election – and that Trump’s business has been sustained on money funneled through shell corporations and off-shore accounts as Russian oligarchs and mobsters laundered untold millions through questionable real estate ventures.  Trump’s business acumen relies on his either being too dumb to realize what was happening, or simply not caring because he was in debt for billions, and all his “genius” business ventures failed. 

Recently, Russian cyberattacks have surpassed interference in the US election process.  Russian bots and trolls on the internet will inevitably exploit any events that occur in America (NFL players kneeling during the anthem, Black Lives Matter, 2nd amendment, etc.) to fan the flames of anger, resentment, bitterness, and hostility in order to continue the degradation of our most valued institutions.  Russian meddling does not have to be sophisticated nor does it need to create conspiracy theories; they use and exploit those that already exist to steer us away from conversations we need to engage in and they rely on obfuscation to continue showing the US in the worst possible light.  In truth, America’s political climate cannot be solely blamed on Russian cyberattacks; the US has a host of problems and issues that it needs to address aside from Russian interference.  Snyder discusses some of them, including the rising level of inequality, the death of local news, gerrymandering, and the Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and those with enough money to buy political influence.  These problems are creating fertile territory for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and xenophobia to become battlegrounds for Russian internet trolls or serve as talking points for political pundits paid for being nothing more than a mouthpiece on behalf of special interest groups. 

We have no way of knowing to what extent Ilyin’s philosophy has influenced Putin (although Putin has referenced him in speeches) or what effect Snyder’s ideas around the “politics of inevitability” and “eternity” will have on our society.  Nor do we know the full impact or extent of Russia’s interference in our electoral process, aside from the fact that it worked in tandem with the Trump campaign’s general rhetoric against Democrats and aimed at specific segments of the American population.  What we do know is that Putin’s administration has attempted to export its ideology throughout the world by employing a type of cyber warfare.  Trolls regularly attempt to reduce the value of facts and the truth so that societal development is stalled because a conversation without an agreed upon factual foundation will never lead to solutions, only an endless cycle of arguments that rely on entrenched positions and talking points both sides have previously perfected and will continually employ.  Without an ability to make progress on issues that continue to divide our society, we will transition to a politics of eternity, reduced to a never-ending existential crisis, as we reinforce our fears instead of confronting them.