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The poisoning of humanity by militarism

ORIENTERING 1971 / In our time of invasion and occupation [read Ukraine], MODERN TIMES brings here Sigurd Evensmo's review of Finn Alnæs' The Fortress is Falling. A book quote reads: "Without blinking, we follow the motto 'the end justifies the means'. Without blinking, we follow a security policy that makes us accept national and international crimes."


An untold number of Nazi war criminals stood before the courts and said: "I acted on orders." Whether they had murdered hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands, whether they were privates, non-commissioned officers or higher in rank, they all found their freedom from guilt in these words. The fact that some of them lied is seen without interest in relation to the fact that the great majority undoubtedly thought they were without personal responsibility when they had been ordered to carry out the mass murders. Millions of people were exterminated because the war criminals automatically obeyed the age-old law of obedience, even though many of them probably knew that their actions were against the laws of war. Obedience stood above all else and gave no choice.

And in the post-war period, through My Lai: the same up again. The lieutenant who massacred civilians, old men, children and women, had received his orders from the captain, who had received his orders from the colonel, who had—and the crime dissolved into thin air, against a sky of golden stars.

The fortress falls

Then listen to this assessment, presented to a colonel by his second-in-command (NK) – a decisive revolt: "The line of responsibility must be reversed when it comes to the individual's own actions: that the person who literally commits the crime is most guilty of precisely the material moisture meter shows you the the crime, that the executioner is more guilty than you, that you are more guilty than the high command who is more guilty than the politicians who triggered the chain of command."

The colonel answers with the question: "Is the private soldier responsible for planning and launching the war?" NK: "No, of course it is the generals and the politicians. But the soldier is co-responsible for the political conditions that made the planning and initiation of the war possible, and therefore he is co-responsible for the war, in which he also participates. We are all co-responsible. In addition, we have the main responsibility for each and every action we carry out to order. This is the natural order that here crosses the artificial, and it is the only one that provides a basis for a real experience of responsibility. Because it is near. The collective responsibility can be a shield behind which we hide our cowardice, which can pulverize attempts at change."

Alnæs raises fundamental questions about the individual's responsibility in war and peace.

The quotes are taken from the book The fortress falls av Find Alnæs (Aschehoug, 1971), one of the very few significant political novels written by Norwegian authors after the war. Alnæs raises fundamental questions about the individual's responsibility in war and peace, and hardly anyone has, like him, gone straight against a main current of the time – the one that all of us little "commoners" in society have neither the prerequisites for nor any obligation to assess – possibly fight – the civilian and military expert government and its actions. In his uncompromising demands on the individual, Alnæs is to an extraordinary degree a compatriot of Ibsen.

The fortress falls is a settlement with bloc and power politics and with militarismns poisoning of mankind. After the first novels Koloss (1963) and Gemini (1968), one could be unsure where this gifted, often explosively fabulating author would end up.

The occupying power may be the United States, the occupied country may be Norway, but that is immaterial.

With the third book, Alnæs has reached a clarification that leaves no doubt about his basic views. An individualism with strict moral requirements accommodates a revolutionary, humanistic rebellion that is directed as much towards the West as towards the East, because Alnæs finds on both sides a fateful combination of centralized social power, technocracy, militarism and the striving for world domination.

In order to emphasize the generality of this threat to the people of the whole world, he has chosen to give the novel a timeless and placeless touch: We only learn that one of the superpowers has found it necessary to occupy a small, allied country, and that the assault has been met of a national resistance movement, while the other superpower has remained calm because the balance of power has not shifted the fortress itself. The fortress falls is an ingenious defensive structure, constructed by the novel's protagonist NK – engineer and officer, after the local resistance has been defeated.

The occupying power may be the United States, that occupiede country may be Norway, but this is immaterial. We must be forced to see the problems and the decisive break in the human mind as a challenge regardless of national borders.

Albert Speer on the right

Albert Speer

There are many powerful, current realities behind the camouflage of namelessness, and for me it was almost impossible to read the 290 pages without thinking of a specific, living person connected to the novel's "NK", who from being the loyal constructor ends up blow up the fortress, because he has reached a realization that requires this – and his own life.

A couple of years ago, Hitler's minister of armaments won Albert Speer international sympathy with the autobiography in which he acknowledged his sins, above all a blindness which now obviously seems inconceivable even to himself. Speer was no psychopath, but the genius technocrat and organizer, an expert who became obsessed with the challenge of the war's "professional" tasks and did not see the monstrous horrors his clients were wreaking around the world. Presumably Speer prolonged the war by many months, and no one will ever be able to count the human lives this cost. Now he has done penance and is free, forgiven and thus soon forgotten. As a human type, he is the most terrifying warning the world has received, but he has countless successors in today's science and technocracy. One of Speer's spiritual relatives, the "pioneer" Werner von Braun, entered American service shortly after his efforts for Hitler.

Find Alnæs

Security policy and oligarchy

At Alnæs, NK undergoes a development and finally takes a stand that spares him Speer's 20 years in prison. We can say that NK is both a portrait of the Speer type and the author's wishful dream of his counterpart: a Speer who, while the war is still going on, discovers his function as the ingenious servant of barbarism and breaks out.

A passionate appeal for a sense of responsibility in every single person.

This is NK's recognition: "The balance of power and the material seasickness have now gone so far into our blood that there are no longer any limits to our tolerance towards our own and other people's excesses. Without blinking an eye, we follow the motto 'the end justifies the means'. Without blinking, we follow a security policy that makes us accept national and international crimes." Democracy – where is it? he asks himself. "Where is the built-in mechanism that prevents the parliamentary system from becoming a tyranny for the pleasure of the technocracy and capital, and the dictatorship of the proletariat a dictatorship also over the proletariat? Where is the state that has done everything in its power to give the people free access to the information that is the first condition for a democratic government? – For generations, for centuries, for millennia, people have talked about democracy, but the world has not yet seen it. – Everything has been misused, everything has become a distorted image of its original idea."

The great novel has its core in a passionate appeal for a sense of responsibility in every single person, no matter how "small". There is only one protection against state abuse of power: "the individual's courage and ability to disobey at the right time. The need for disobedience is consequently humanity's greatest need.” Earlier in his reflections, the novel's NK looked forward to the fact that after the war he had to enter into "a political activity aimed at blowing the machinery to pieces from within".

The quotes can only be random samples from a poet's struggle with the overriding problems of our time – the manipulation of the people under different social systems, the world's being or not being. Hardly any other Norwegian writer in the post-war period has dared to make such a leap as Alnæs. No one raises expectations like him, but he also makes demands on his readers, as he makes demands on every single person who feels powerless in their existence. Read him slowly and do not give up under the pressure of the reflections in the novel!

Dag Solstad's sale of Klassekampen was far more significant in the newspaper columns...

Rarely have the daily press' "setting the tone" reviewers demonstrated the miserable level of Norwegian criticism, as in the treatment of Alnæs' novel. Dagbladet recently had a series of articles about the year's literature, and not one of the critics commented on it The fortress falls. Then Dag Solstad's sale of Klassekampen was far more significant in the newspaper columns for months.

But Finn Alnæs will probably manage to survive.

            (Alnæs died in 1991, 
                59 years old,
ed. note)

Sigurd Evensmo
Sigurd Evensmo
Evensmo was formerly editor of Orientering, MODERN TIMES's forerunner.

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