While I was at the Hoover Institution, two articles appeared in California newspapers that should be of interest to readers of this memoir. The first resulted from an interview I had with Bob Lyhne, a columnist for The Peninsula Times Tribune in Palo Alto. Lyhne’s article, titled “When novelists take on journalistic responsibility,” was published on January 23, 1981. I have reproduced it verbatim below.
IF YOU LIVED in East Germany, you’d read novels—not the daily paper—to keep up with the world.
That’s the way I get it from Richard A. Zipser. East Germany is a long way from here, but Zipser’s startling perception of fiction as the mainstream of social criticism is something to know about—and perhaps a reason for living here.
Zipser, who teaches German language and litereature at Oberlin College, Ohio, has spent months in East Germany off and on, knows 60 writers and has interviewed 45 of them. That is how he formulated his ideas. Now he is working on his material on a year’s fellowship at the Hoover Institution.
In a closed society, literature plays a role unfamiliar to us, Zipser observed. There is no free press. There is state censorship. Literature therefore leads into politics.
“There is almost no such thing as apolitical literature in East Germany.”
FICTION ASSUMES MANY of the roles normally taken by journalism in an open society. “East Germany has no magazines which criticize society. There are no good news magazines, or magazines that point out social problems.”
This puts a burden on writers to deal with problems that concern people. “Generally, the problems have to be cloaked. There are taboos—the wall, for one—and writers have to find a way to deal with them through symbolism.”
“The people can’t travel to the West, but literature can allow a person to dream about it. Literature can express that grand desire, and each reader can feel it—the sense of wanting to do it with the realization that it’s not possible.”
“Writers write about what they see, and the readers identify with it.
Take housing. People get divorced, yet they still have to share the same apartment. It’s simple to get a divorce, since there’s no private property as we have it. Women work; there’s no alimony. The only problems are child support and getting an apartment.
So a writer describes the problems. Living together, they try to ignore each other. Remarry? Not much help, since housing is based on need.”
“NO JOURNALIST could write about these problems. When a novelist does, people identify with it. When a child leaves the parents’ house and enters the work force, he can get a studio apartment. The state wants workers, wants children. Therefore, getting pregnant is a short circuit way from the studio to a two-bedroom apartment.”
These problems might not be discussed in the newspapers, “but it’s hard to censor a description of such an everyday situation in fiction.
The writer has serious problems—how to say what he wants, yet get it into print. It starts with the first censor, who seems to be his friend, his publisher’s reader, or editor. Why shouldn’t the writer cooperate? Why shouldn’t they be palsy? Why make trouble? The writer may avoid it through conscious or unconscious self-censorship.”
Some writers, Zipser said, put “red herring” passages in their work. The strong stuff is there to be censored, with the expectation that the rest of the book will then be passed. The closed state cannot flatly deny publication to popular novelists.
THE EAST GERMAN state has its way with dramatists out of favor. “With some plays, they contrive to put on short runs, five days, say. Then the house is packed with party functionaries, for whom the tickets are a reward.” They’re immune to influence by the inflammatory ideas on stage, and the authorities cannot be criticized for suppression.
The West Germans read three times what we do in the United States, and the East Germans read more than the West Germans. There’s not much else to do. “East Germany is a boring country,” Zipser said. “The TV is boring. There’s no night life. Yet you can’t leave this dumpy country except to go to a few other countries that are backward. There are many restrictions on where they can go—never to the West.
“Yet the East Germans are westerners—they’re Germans. And they all watch West German television—that’s condoned now—which is spectacular. They know what life COULD be.
Zipser’s analysis hardly favors the communist government of East Germany. Curiously, none of his interview subjects asked for anonymity. In fact, he said, “They’re very eager to talk. They want to be sure they’re recognized abroad.”
The second article I co-authored with Lewis H. Gann, a prominent historian and political scientist who was a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The original title was “Anniversary of the Berlin Blockade: What If It Happens Again?” The Sacramento Union gave it a catchy title, “Cuba offers U.S. a handy lever in a Berlin Crisis” and published it on their op-ed page on June 14, 1981. In the article we propose that the U.S. adopt a new strategy for dealing with various types of hostile acts by the Soviet Union and its puppet state, East Germany, towards the city of West Berlin and its citizens. The new foreign policy would be based on the principle of linkage, as set forth in the op-ed piece I have reproduced verbatim below.
The 24th of June 1948 was a grim day in the history of the West. For on that date, the Soviet authorities in East Germany stopped all communications to West Berlin, hoping thereby to drive the Western occupation powers out of their bridgehead in the capital of the former German Reich. This move marked the first Soviet attempt to change the precarious four-power settlement between East and West. By this openly hostile act, the Soviets helped to start the Cold War.
THE SOVIETS did not attain their immediate objective; but their attempt to seize control of the entire city turned West Berlin into a bastion of democracy in Eastern Europe. Contrary to expectation, a Western airlift managed to keep more than 2 million West Berliners supplied with food and fuel, an achievement hitherto unparalleled in the history of air transport. In May 1949, the Soviets ended their Berlin blockade, yet West Berlin remained in a precarious position. In 1961, the East Germans built the Berlin Wall to stop the massive emigration to the West. Since then, Moscow has increased or diminished tension over Berlin in accordance with Soviet policy goals. The threat of interference with railway and highway traffic to and from West Berlin has become a recognized weapon in the political armory of the Soviet Union and its puppet state, East Germany. Over the last 30 years, the threat of a second Berlin blockade has unfortunately grown due to several developments: First, the size and strength of Soviet and East German military forces around Berlin have increased dramatically; second, West Berlin’s dependence on East Germany for food, water, and sewage disposal has risen; and third, the growth of a militantly anti-Western student movement at the Free University of Berlin has created, for the first time, a strong anti-Western lobby within the confines of that traditionally pro-Western city.
THE BERLIN problem gave impetus to West Germany’s Ostpolitik. West German policy-makers assumed that by cultivating economic relationships between East Germany and the West, by making West German funds available for investment and trade credits, the other German state could somehow be coaxed into charting a friendlier course. While Ostpolitik brought economic rewards to East Germany, it also brought millions of Western visitors to that country each year. And the influx of Westerners had a negative influence, as East German citizens—eager for more personal freedom and a higher standard of living—applied in large numbers for emigration to West Germany.
In order to reduce contact with the West without losing valuable hard currency and trade benefits, the East Germans in October 1980 raised the foreign exchange fees for visitors from the West and put new restrictions on West Berliners’ family visits to the East. The East German regime thereby broke the 1972 four-power Berlin Agreement on East-West communications. The East German authorities also violated various provisions of the 1975 Helsinki pact. The many concessions made by West Germany since 1972 suddenly no longer mattered; the inter-German version of détente was in danger of collapse.
HOW SHOULD the Western alliance—and especially the United States as its leader—respond when West Berliners are victimized by such acts? According to the appeasers, we should do nothing more than protest through diplomatic channels. But if the West refuses to take action in a time of crisis, we can certainly expect more trouble around Berlin. If we continue the supply of loans and trade credits to Eastern Europe after East Germany and the Soviet Union have unilaterally abrogated their part of agreements, we shall only invite further exploitation of Western weakness—or what is perceived as such.
The United States has a powerful weapon that it has never attempted to wield in past disputes over Berlin: Cuba. If West Berlin is vulnerable, so is Cuba. Castro’s island is an isolated bastion of communism within the American sphere of influence, militarily indefensible, and vulnerable to a naval blockade. Before the next crisis occurs, American leadership should make it clear to the Soviet Union and East Germany that all future sanctions against West Berlin will promptly be answered by similar sanctions against Cuba.
In the future, we must base our relations with the Soviet Union and its allies on the principle of linkage. This is the only policy that the communist leadership in Moscow understands. It is also the only policy that—in the long run—will preserve peace without surrender.