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This weekend we learned that Freya von Moltke died at the beginning of the year at her home in Norwich, Vermont. A lion of the resistance to Hitler and the wife of its best known leader, Helmuth James von Moltke, she was 98. The Times reports:
“He put the question to me explicitly — ‘The time is coming when something must be done,’ ” Freya von Moltke said. “ ‘I would like to have a hand in it, but I can only do so if you join in too,’ and I said, ‘Yes, it’s worth it.’ ” So, with a wife’s assent, began a famous challenge to Hitler. At the height of the Nazi victories, Count Helmuth James von Moltke invited about two dozen foes of Nazism, many of them aristocrats like himself, to imagine a new, better postwar Germany. For him, his wife’s participation was essential, as she remembered the conversation in “Courageous Hearts: Women and the Anti-Hitler Plot of 1944,” a 1997 book by Dorothee von Meding.
Moltke’s correspondence with his wife, published as Letters to Freya, constitutes, along with Anne Frank’s Diary, Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo, and a handful of other books, one of the great moral documents to emerge from World War II. In his letters, Moltke, the scion of Germany’s greatest military family, documents the mentality of war—what he called “cowardice, servility and mass-psychosis”–and how it undermined the moral essence of men and women, converting them to “machines with a particular function in a process.” Moltke was no pacifist, but he was a firm believer in international law and the laws of war as essential tools to protect the innocent and soften the harms of warfare. The processes he so skillfully observed can be found in some measure in every society enmeshed in war, not least of all in our own. Today, January 11, marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of the death sentence that concluded his trial by the infamous Volksgericht for his courageous actions against the Hitler regime.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”