Synopses & Reviews
A hidden moral history of the twentieth century unfolds in William Pfaff's fascinating story of writers, artists, intellectual soldiers, and religious revolutionaries implicated in the century's physical and moral violence. They were motivated by romanticism, nationalism, utopianism -- and the search for transcendence. To our twenty-first century, already plunged -- once again -- into visionary terrorism and utopian quests, they leave a warning....
The account begins with Italy's Futurists, who glorified war as "the world's only hygiene"; painted speed, action, and noise; invented "found sound" and chromatic pianos; thought violence sublime; and demanded "reconstruction of the universe."
Gabriele D'Annunzio, poet, playwright, and nationalist buccaneer, created a revolutionary utopia in a Dalmatian city stolen in 1919 from Woodrow Wilson and the Versailles Treaty makers. In doing so, he invented the political style and rituals of Fascism, as well as Third World liberation. T.E. Lawrence, archaeologist and spy, guided the Arab revolt against the Turks, becoming both "Uncrowned King of Arabia" and masochist secular saint. Ernst Jünger, artist and scientist, the German army's most decorated hero of World War I, made heroism a political ideology and became intellectual leader of the National Cause. Hitler was a follower. In World War II Jünger plotted Hitler's assassination and survived to become a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation. Willi Münzenberg, Lenin's propaganda genius and an original member of the Comintern, invented the political "front" organization, created the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and seduced a generation of "innocents" to the Communist cause before becoming a dissident himself. He wasstrangled by Soviet agents in a French forest. André Malraux, fantasist "Byron of the 1930s," world-famous novelist, emulator of T.E. Lawrence, and make-believe leader of the Chinese revolution, discovered "that daydreaming gives rise to action." He created and led an air squadron for Republican Spain, wrote himself into the script of the French Resistance as a hero -- and became one. Arthur Koestler, the most famous scientific journalist in Europe, was a Comintern spy in Spain; condemned to death there, he abandoned the cause and wrote Darkness at Noon, the most influential anti-Communist work of its time, before committing suicide in 1976.
Others with roles in The Bullet's Song are Benito Mussolini, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Che Guevara, Charles de Foucauld, Simone Weil, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Europe's terrorists of the 1970s, and "Popski" -- Vladimir Peniakoff -- the honorable man who found happiness in leading his private army to war.
"In Pfaff's view, the Romantic movement and its notion of 'redemptive, utopian violence' fueled the century-long conflagration that first engulfed Europe in August 1914. A National Book Award finalist for Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century (1989) and a political columnist for the International Herald Tribune, Pfaff believes the death of chivalry, 'a code of national and personal conduct,' and the growth of totalitarian utopias were the legacy of WWI. To explore this, Pfaff closely examines six influential artists, writers and intellectuals T.E. Lawrence, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Ernst Jnger, Willy Mnzenberg, Andr Malraux and Arthur Koestler 'who believed themselves committed to progressive causes' and styled themselves romantic warriors; all ended up disillusioned or murdered. In crisp learned prose, Pfaff weaves a tale of men driven by a lust for power fueled by the heroic notion of human society perfected through the application of romantic ideals. Pfaff holds the classical view that human life is fundamentally tragic, and for him, these utopias necessarily devolved into cruel, murderous totalitarian regimes. He concludes that we have no worldview today to replace the belief in religious or secular progress; he vaguely argues for a reawaking of the power of virtue over idealism. At a time when war has been cast as redemptive, this book deserves to be widely read and discussed. Agent, Emma Sweeney." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution A work that combines intellectual courage, passion, and discipline. By connecting the dots among a dozen or so emblematic lives -- and by tying together the insights he has accumulated during his own long career as an astute and eloquent commentator on politics and international affairs -- Pfaff helps make sense of the uniquely brutal century that has now passe into history and draws lessons for the one just begun.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. William Pfaff is a master at relating ideas and politics. The Bullet's Song illuminates our understanding of the violent twentieth century through fascinating studies of intense people at the mercy of intense ideas. If we wish to avoid the last century's utopian disasters, The Bullet's Song offers invaluable lessons for the future.
William Greider, author of The Soul of Capitalism William Pfaff is brilliant, intriguing, and disturbing in this deep history of how our modern political civilization became a machine for massive killing. Millions of lives were -- still are -- sacrificed to the romantic longings of left and right for utopian futures. This dread disease may yet be curable, he guardedly allows, but this would require revival of a distinctly unmodern quality -- a sense of humility toward mortal existence itself.
Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor, Cornell University In this stunningly original account of the West's contradictory love affair over the past century with both the idea of progress and the supposed benefits of mass violence, one of our most distinguished authors utilizes beautifully realized biographical sketches of leading and lesser-known twentieth-century figures to warn that this terrible love affair has direct, tragic meaning for our post-9/11 world.
James Chace, author of 1912 William Pfaff has given us a classic for our time -- beautifully written, deeply moving, and indispensable to our understanding of a world now threatened by terrorism and utopian ideologies.
If the past is prologue, one can read in The Bullet's Song the story of the roots of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism that took the lives of hundreds of millions in Europe and Asia in the 20th century, affected the United States radically, and which goes directly to the terrorism and violence of the Middle East today.Pfaff begins with the Italian Futurists of the 1920s, who glorified war and embraced Benito Mussolini, who militarized Italy and combined nationalism with socialism--the two most volatile innovations of the century.
About the Author
William Pfaff is a political columnist for The International Herald Tribune, London's The Observer, and other newspapers. A political essayist for The New Yorker from 1971 to 1992, he is the author of eight previous books, including Barbarian Sentiments: How the American Century Ends, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the City of Geneva's Prix Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He lives in Paris.
Table of Contents
1. Romanticism and Violence
Part One: Chivalry
3. The Fallen Hero
4. The Warrior
5. The Happy Man
Part Two: Utopias
6. The Mediterranean Superman
7. The Confidence Man
8. L'Homme Engagé
9. The Anti-Communist
10. Coda: The Romantic Revolutionary
Appendix: "Out-Münzenberging Münzenberg"