Feliz Navidad 2011

Merry Christmas (or click here for your choice of alternative winter holidays) to all, from high atop the Fidel Castro observation tower, overlooking the United Nations penal facility for war criminals (formerly known as Guantanamo Bay detention camp)…

Note: This is a slight adaptation (for the holidays) of an earlier work titled “Spandau Reborn,” a vision of justice realized, a fantasy of turning Guantanamo into a latter-day Spandau operated by the United Nations.

– Monsieur d’Nalgar

The following notes are from the original 2007-2008 work:


Spandau Prison (52° 31’ 16” North, 13° 11’ 07” East) was a prison situated in the  borough of Spandau in western Berlin, constructed in 1876 and demolished in 1987.

After World War II it was operated by the Four-Power Authorities (France, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) to house seven Nazi war criminals sentenced to imprisonment at the Nuremberg trials:

  • Rudolf Hess (died 1987)
  • Walther Funk (released 1957)
  • Erich Raeder (released 1955)
  • Albert Speer (released 1966)
  • Baldur von Schirach (released 1966)
  • Konstantin von Neurath (released 1954)
  • Karl Dönitz (released 1956)

Of the seven, only four fully served out their sentences.  Neurath, Raeder, and Funk were released partway into their sentences due to ill health.  Between 1966 and 1987, Rudolf Hess was the only prisoner in Spandau Prison.  When he died, the prison was demolished, largely to prevent it from becoming a Neo-Nazi shrine.  All materials from the demolished prison were ground to powder and dispersed into the North Sea.

A Kaiser’s Supermarket and a Media Markt consumer electronics store occupy the former prison grounds.


Guantanamo Bay detention “camp” is a United States military prison   operated by Joint Task Force Guantanamo since 2002 in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.  The detainment areas consist of three camps in the base: Camp Delta (which includes Camp Echo), Camp Iguana, and Camp X-Ray (which has been reportedly closed).  The facility is often referred to as Gitmo.

Prisoners are held in small mesh-sided cells, and lights are kept on day and night.  They are kept in isolation most of the day, are blindfolded when moving within the camp and are forbidden to talk in groups of more than three.  The Bush administration has declared that the Third Geneva Convention does not apply to Gitmo’s guests, since they are not uniformed soldiers of a recognized government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, raised in East Germany, has criticized the U.S. detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the “enhanced interrogation technique” known as waterboarding, calling it a form of torture: “An institution like Guantánamo, in its present form, cannot and must not exist in the long term.”

UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said the camp’s existence is “unacceptable” and tarnishes U.S. traditions of liberty and justice. “The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol.”

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion urging the United States to close the camp.

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter claimed that the arrests of most of the roughly 500 prisoners held there were based on “the flimsiest sort of hearsay.”

UK Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, who heads the UK’s legal system, has condemned the existence of the camp as a “shocking affront to democracy.”

By 2008 there had been at least 4 suicides and hundreds of suicide attempts in Guantanamo that are public knowledge.  On June 10, 2006, three detainees were found dead, who, according to the Pentagon, “killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact.”  Prison commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris claimed it was “an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.”

Guantanamo officials have reported 41 unsuccessful suicide attempts by 25 detainees since the U.S. began taking prisoners to the base in January 2002. Defense lawyers contend the number of suicide attempts is higher.  When it was reported in August 2003 that at least 29 inmates of Camp Delta had attempted suicide, the Pentagon reclassified suicides as “manipulative self-injurious behaviors.”

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893 – 1918) is regarded by many as the leading poet of the First World War.  Dulce et Decorum Est was written in 1917 and published posthumously in 1921.

Five-Nines were the 5.9-inch (150 mm) artillery shells used by the Germans in WW1 to “deliver” poison gas to the other side (all sides used poison gas).  These gases ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine.

“Dim through the misty panes…” should be understood by anyone who has ever worn a gas mask.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is a Latin phrase from Horace, and translates literally into something like “Sweet and proper it is for your country (fatherland) to die.”  This poem was originally drafted as a personal letter to Jessie Pope, famous for her jingoistic, pro-war poems (“Who’s for the trench — Are you, my laddie?”).

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This is one of the most famous poems of World War I.  It was written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae on May 3, 1915, after he witnessed the death of his friend the day before.  The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders (Belgium) where war casualties had been buried.

The poem has achieved near-mythic status in Canada.  Most Remembrance Day ceremonies will feature a reading of the poem in some form, and it is still memorized by Canadian schoolchildren.  Some versions substitute “grow” in the first line and schools in Guelph (McCrae’s birthplace) once taught that “the poppies grow” could refer to spreading blood stains on the shallow graves.


Naji Salim al-Ali (c. 1938 – 1987) was a Palestinian cartoonist whose drawings often reflected Palestinian and Arab public opinion and were sharply critical of Palestinian leadership and the Arab regimes.  He was born in the village of Al-Shajara in Palestine in 1937 or 1938, but fled with his family to Lebanon in 1948.  They first lived in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon but eventually, Naji al-Ali moved to Beirut where he lived in a tent in Shatila refugee camp (later infamous for the 1982 massacre by a Christian militia, while the camp was under the control of the Israeli army).

Naji al-Ali’s cartoons were first published in 1961.  In his career as a political cartoonist, he produced over 40,000 drawings.  He was a fierce opponent of any Middle East settlement that would not vindicate the Palestinians’ right to all of historic Palestine, and many of his cartoons express this opposition.

Handala is the most famous of Naji al-Ali’s characters.  He is depicted as a ten-year old boy, and first appeared in the Kuwait newspaper Al-Siyasa in 1969.  The figure  turned his back to the viewer from the year 1973, and clasped his hands behind his   back.  The artist explained that the ten-year old represented his age when forced to leave Palestine and would not grow up until he could return to his homeland; his turned back and clasped hands symbolized the character’s rejection of “outside solutions.”  Handala became the signature of Naji al-Ali’s cartoons and remains an iconic symbol of Palestinian identity and defiance.

On July 22, 1987, Naji al-Ali was shot outside the London office of Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas.  He died five weeks later.  It is still not known who was responsible for his assassination, but many believe he was murdered as part of a plan to silence critics of the PLO.  The PLO blamed the intelligence services of other Arab countries.  An investigation determined Israeli agents knew about the plot well in advance but refused to share their information with British counterparts.  As a result, two Israeli spies working under diplomatic cover were expelled and a furious Margaret Thatcher closed Mossad’s London base in Palace Green, Kensington.

Brass Serpent

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.  Numbers 21:6 – 9

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up…  John 3:14

Fear and War

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged.  “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?  Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany.  That is understood.  But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” I pointed out.  “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United   States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same way in any country.”

From a private conversation between Gustave Gilbert and Hermann Goering on April 18, 1946, while the Nuremberg trials were halted for a three-day Easter recess.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  John 8:32


From a distance, “Spandau Reborn” is an abstract work. Patterns of horizontal lines and swaths of bright color suggest a Caribbean seascape. But they also mock our present season of pagan deities, the patriot’s tri-colored gods of nationalism and the pale blue demons of American nightmares: faceless, foreign United Nations bogeymen hover just beyond the walls of our prejudice and superstition…

Closer inspection reveals orange-clad factory workers, a graduating class, or perhaps even a mélange of Buddhist monks gathering for their Last Supper. The interplay of politicians, neocons, terrorists, and evangelists peddling Apocalypse was mostly random; delightful “accidents” that coalesced as this vision was dragged out of my dreams and onto a virtual canvas.

What new conspiracies are afoot? What fading memories of bygone glory and conquest are being replayed in the Cuban sunshine? Is this the only group of prisoners? Are there more Armageddon Negado villains stage-left and stage-right, or is this a last, dwindling remnant still interred in this charnel house of a prison, a collective Rudolph Hess in this born-again Spandau? You get to decide.

A final thought. In McCrae’s famous poem, there is a sharp distinction between the pastoral, sacrificial tone of the first nine lines and the recruiting-poster rhetoric of the third stanza. Hold high his torch and gaze upon battlefield horrors. We break faith with the dead when we romanticize their “quarrels,” when we cower behind their mutilated corpses and use them as our excuse for perpetual war. They have already paid dearly for obscene dreams of empire, our faux patriotism all dressed up in cheap lapel pins and tawdry bumper stickers that echo fools’ speeches about honor and winning, and staying the course…

Let them sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/12/18/feliz-navidad-2011/


    • Mike Nunn on December 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    We have been a nation infatuated with war. Anyone who has attempted to avoid war has been castigated and taken out of power. Even Obama allows Quantanamo to exist. When war is not condemned by any religion, it is a tacit approval of war. The Jews, Christians and Muslims are war tolerant religions. Until that changes, there is no hope for any viable peace. Eat or be eaten seems to be the primary code of life.

  1. Mike, it’s a bit too simplistic to castigate any religion generally as war-friendly. Unless you’re narrowly focusing your accusation against a particular flavor in a particular place, at a particular time in history, the brush is too broad.

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